Did you know that two ingredients found in many popular sunscreen products — oxybenzone and octinoxate — are known to harm and kill corals?
When you apply sunscreen with these chemicals and then swim or snorkel, sunscreen washes off your body and contaminates the reef ecosystem. Sunscreen pollution is especially problematic in popular snorkeling locations, where sunscreen is washing off dozens or possibly hundreds of people each and every day.
Why oxybenzone and octinoxate are bad for reefs
Scientific testing shows that oxybenzone and octinoxate may stunt the growth of baby corals, reports Dr. Craig Downs, executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Virginia.
Oxybenzone can also cause coral bleaching. An oxybenzone concentration of around 400 ppt over several days is enough to induce coral bleaching in warm waters. Downs’ team tested ocean water off popular beaches on Maui and detected oxybenzone contamination of up to 4,000 parts per trillion (ppt).
Oxybenzone is toxic to seven coral species, according to Dr. Downs’ team, who tested the impact of the sunscreen chemical on corals in the lab.
Oxybenzone may be an endocrine disruptor among marine animals such as shrimps and clams.
Great news! Hawaiʻi law now bans the sale of sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate
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.
Hawaii’s Senate passed a second bill in March 2021 that would add two additional petrochemicals, avobenzone and octocrylene, to the ban. If it becomes law, this new ban would go into effect on January 1, 2023.
Switch now to sunscreen alternatives that are safer for our coral reefs and marine life. It’s easier than ever to switch to sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octocrylene. Let us help you get started. Learn more at https://www.mauireefs.org/sunscreens/
Maui Nui Marine Resource Council reaches out to Maui County visitors and residents to educate everyone about sunscreen pollution. Our education and outreach programs include:
1. Large-scale window displays in the southwestern terminal of Kahului Airport offering information about sunscreen choices and reef protection.
2. Radio public service announcements on all of Maui’s major radio networks.
3. Print public service announcements in visitor publications.
4. Coral reef information signs at 39 Maui beach and shoreline locations, containing information about sunscreen choices.
5. Social media ads about sunscreen targeted to visitors who are on Maui.
6. A sunscreen resource and information page at https://www.mauireefs.org/sunscreens/
Working with the local visitor industry
We offer Sunscreen Information Cards to local concierge to distribute to visitors.
Many snorkel cruise companies on Maui now provide their guests with sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate — thanks to members of our team who worked with others in the local community to source affordable alternative products in bulk.
What you can do:
Act now to help protect our oceans by choosing your sunscreen with care. Learn more at our resource page at https://www.mauireefs.org/sunscreens/
1. Check the ingredient list on your current sunscreen and toss out products that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octocrylene. Shop carefully for replacements. Some (but not all) of the sunscreen products developed specifically for babies are free of these chemicals.
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).
Here are some natural food stores and dive shops on Maui that carry sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate:
Ask for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide based sunscreens that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate wherever you shop for body care products. Encourage stores to carry these safer alternatives.
Remember that even if you are miles away from the ocean, chemicals washed off your body in your shower or bath will eventually find their way to the sea. When you’re home, do a good turn for coral reefs everywhere by avoiding all body care products with oxybenzone and octinoxate.