Hawaiʻi made worldwide news in May of 2018 when it passed the nation’s first law banning the sale of sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common sunscreen ingredients that “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems.” That law went into effect in January of 2021.
But why wait for the law to go into effect when you can get the jump on protecting Maui’s coral reefs? It’s easier than ever to switch to sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate. Let us help you get started.
It’s easy to make the switch to safer-for-the-reef sunscreen. Check out our short video.
The problems with oxybenzone and octinoxate
Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause developing corals to bleach, baby corals to die, and lead to genetic damage in corals and other organisms, reported a study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology in 2015. The study also found both chemicals can increase reproductive diseases in creatures from sea urchins to parrotfish and mammal species similar to the Hawaiian monk seal.
Oxybenzone has a toxic effect on corals at a concentration of 62 parts per trillion – equivalent to one drop in six-and-a-half Olympic-size swimming pools. Up to 6,000 tons of sunscreen are estimated to wash into coral reefs around the globe each year. Rather than being evenly distributed, much of that sunscreen is concentrated at popular diving, swimming, and snorkeling sites.
How to switch to safer-for-the-reefs alternatives
1. Check the ingredient list on your current sunscreen and toss out products that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Shop carefully for replacements, avoiding products with oxybenzone and octinoxate. Some (but not all) of the sunscreen products developed specifically for babies are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate.
2. Read the ingredients of your skin care collection, too. Moisturizers, face creams, lip balms and even some shampoos offering “SPF protection” probably contain oxybenzone and octinoxate.
3. Choose products that feature zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Both are mineral sunscreens, which sit on top of your skin (rather than get absorbed into your skin and bloodstream).
Which one is better? Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide both protect against UVA and UVB rays. Zinc oxide protects against UVB, UVA1 and UVA2 rays. Titanium dioxide protects against UVB and UVA2 rays, reports the Skin Cancer Foundation.
4. Because zinc oxide and titanium dioxide physically block the sun, they work as soon as you apply them. Itʻs best to apply sunscreen in front of a mirror to be sure you don’t miss any spots.
5. Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are water resistant. To be safe, reapply every two hours or after swimming or playing in the ocean.
6. Because zinc oxide/titanium dioxide based sunscreens sit upon your skin, they can create a whitish cast, especially when wet. Wear it proudly, knowing youʻre doing your part for your skin and the coral reefs.
Another option is to look for products made from clear zinc oxide, which generally has less of a whitish cast.
7. Reduce your need for sunscreen by covering up with a hat, rash guard, beach umbrella and maybe even swim tights (made with stretchy, quick dry fabric).
Worldwide, coral reefs are in danger, and switching to a reef-friendly sunscreen option is one way you can help. Even if you live away for the ocean, keep in mind that the chemicals you wash off your body eventually find their way into the water table and ultimately into the sea. When you’re home, do a good turn for coral reefs everywhere by avoiding all body care products with oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Provided as a public service by Maui Visitors Bureau, Maui County Office of Economic Development, and Maui Nui Marine Resource Council.