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Hawaii’s new sunscreen law to protect coral reefs begins in 2021

Nina Wu

Hawaii’s law banning the sale of over-the-counter sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate in order to protect Hawaii’s marine environment goes into effect on Friday, New Year’s Day.

The ban, which was signed into law by Gov. David Ige in the summer of 2018 after the passage of a legislative bill, was scheduled to go into effect three years later. The bill was supported by numerous environmental groups and opposed by retail and health industry representatives.

At the time, Hawaii was the first state in the nation to pass such a law.

“We are very excited about it happening,” said Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, noting the legislation had broad, international impacts. “It has been a super example of grassroots community and committed state leaders uniting to make something happen, and that started right here in Hawaii…The word spread around the world.”

Many visitors to Hawaii became aware of the upcoming ban, she said, while other places in the world followed suit with their own bans, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Key West Florida and Palau.

The grassroots movement that pushed for the ban has also resulted in changes to the industry, which reformulated their sunscreens to adapt to consumer choices. Bishop said many refer to the adaptation as the “Hawaii protocol” in order to comply with the state’s new law.

Under the law, visitors may still bring sunscreens with the banned chemicals into the state, but Bishop said many in a survey expressed they would prefer to buy ones deemed safe for the reef in Hawaii.

Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve reopened to the public in December following an 8-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with limitations on visitors numbers, days and hours.

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve gift shop, which remains closed, had voluntarily stopped selling sunscreens with the two chemicals years ago, and was selling mineral-based sunscreens, she said.

The most common alternatives include mineral-based sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which have been recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as generally safe and effective.

The FDA, however, continues to evaluate the impacts of more than a dozen other chemicals contained in sunscreens.

Some environmental advocates would also like to see a ban of sunscreen chemicals like avobenzone and octocrylene, which they say is harmful to to both human health and the environment.

A bill earlier this year that proposed sweeping legislation to only allow sunscreen products with zinc and titanium be sold in Hawaii died in committee.

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