Hawaii is largely known by its beaches and coral reefs. However, with recent changes to the climate and also human impact threatening to destroy its marine environment and surrounding ecosystems, the state is working to prevent further environmental damage. This includes reducing contamination of Hawaiian waters caused by the common over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen active ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate. This is attempted through a proposed ban of the sale of OTC sunscreen products containing these two active ingredients.
The state’s ban comes after the act of many counties in Hawaii attempting to forbid the presence of these two active ingredients. Both oxybenzone and octinoxate are used in SPF sunscreen products to effectively protect the skin against UV radiation. However, many studies have linked the chemicals’ presence in marine waters to the die off, bleaching, and genetic damage of coral reefs and neighbouring organisms. A small presence of these two actives is enough to cause detrimental damage to coral reefs. Research has shown that in samples taken of snorkeling spots around Maui, the amount of oxybenzone and octinoxate is far above the toxicity limit for the coral reefs. Hawaii hopes that preventing this coral reef disruption will ultimately protect the ocean and reserve ecosystems living along the Hawaiian shores.
Oxybenzone and octinoxate can easily enter the marine environment via wash off sunscreens. The chemicals cannot be removed by the state’s wastewater treatment plants and can therefore enter waters through sewage discharge. Many Hawaiians are in large support of this ban, citing the need to protect the environment as well as the need to use safer alternatives to oxybenzone and octinoxate in sunscreens.
Bill SB 2571 has recently been passed by Hawaiian lawmakers and if finalized, will go into effect starting January 1, 2021.