Planning a Trip to Hawaii? Don’t break the sunscreen law! Only reef-safe sunscreen can be used on Maui and other islands

Planning a Trip to Hawaii? Don’t break the sunscreen law! Only reef-safe sunscreen can be used on Maui and other islands

Vacationing in Hawaii?  Two new laws for beach tourists to know about. 

Are you dreaming of your next Hawaii vacation? Dream away, but if you do book your trip to the famous pacific islands you should make sure you know about two new laws that might impact you. 

The first relates to your sunscreen. Hawaii is known for pristine beaches, nature, and coral reefs, but it turns out that most of the sunscreens American’s use today are toxic. 

In 2018 Hawaii passed Senate Bill 2571 into law, making Hawaii the first place in the world to ban “the sale, offer of sale, and distribution of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate” after many studies showed that those two chemicals cause genetic damage to marine life, including coral reefs.

CVS eliminated oxybenzone and octinoxate from its store-branded sunscreens in August 2020 But environmentalists and health experts are worried about chemicals like avobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate and octisalate that are being used instead of oxybenzone and octinoxate. If your sunscreen uses those chemicals then you should be aware that Maui county and the state of Hawaii are planning on banning those by next year also.

Before visiting Hawaii, make sure you read the active ingredients before purchasing a sunscreen or bringing one from your home city. Many brands advertise their products as “reef safe” if they don’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, but they may still contain harmful chemicals that might be banned in Hawaii. 

The bans are happening for a good reason, the evidence shows that many of these chemical sunscreens are toxic not only to the ocean and wildlife, but also to your skin and body! 

An average of 55-gallon barrels of toxic sunscreen chemicals wash into Maui’s nearshore waters every day. 

Right now, the only active ingredients in sunscreen the FDA fully considers safe and effective are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two of the main chemicals in mineral-based sunscreen.

To play it safe for your body and your Hawaii vacation, focus on mineral sunscreens containing the appropriate level of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. 

Scientists generally consider mineral-based sunscreens to be less harmful than chemical sunscreens because they’re less likely to rub off a person’s skin in the water and the particles are too large to be absorbed by coral.

It's also smart to stay out of the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and cover up with rashguards, hats and clothes when in the sun.

Dr. Craig Downs, a leading expert in the field whose groundbreaking research connected the use of non-mineral sunscreens to coral reef decline, recognized the historic nature of the law. 

“Maui’s Ordinance 5306 is the first regulation in the United States that protects its natural resources from all the potential environmentally harmful petrochemical sunscreen ingredients, and only allows for mineral sunscreens,” said Downs. “This audacious measure should inspire governments the world over that wise conservation measures can help mold tourism to be ecologically sustainable and profitable, while ensuring the conservation of one of its most treasured natural resources.” 

Also don’t forget that coral reefs and coral itself is an animal, not a rock! 

The Hawaiian name for coral is ‘āpapapa. Hawai‘i’s coral reefs are a fragile ecosystem that has been damaged by people standing on coral heads or removing living coral. Beach goers should not remove or otherwise damage coral. Coral (as well as with rocks to which marine life is attached) is protected under Hawai‘i state law. Breaking, taking, damaging, or selling coral obtained through illegal means is not permitted. People who damage coral are subject to fines up to $3,000 per violation.