Hawaii is on the verge of banning two chemicals used in sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, to protect its coral reefs. The compounds absorb ultraviolet light.
The Hawaii State Legislature earlier this month passed a bill that would prohibit the sale of sunscreens containing either of the two compounds as of Jan. 1, 2021. According to the measure, octinoxate, which is also known as octyl methoxycinnamate, and oxybenzone “have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs.”
Some published studies have linked oxybenzone to deformities in coral larvae and both sunscreen chemicals to coral bleaching, a condition in which stressed coral lose symbiotic algae. Hawaii’s government in 2016 began asking swimmers, surfers, and divers to avoid using sunscreens with oxybenzone.
The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents sunscreen makers, opposes the bill. “While we applaud attempts to limit coral decline in Hawaii, we have strong reservations of doing so by limiting access to an ingredient which has proven benefits against deadly skin cancers,” the group told Hawaiian lawmakers last year. “There is no scientific evidence that under naturally-occurring environmental conditions, sunscreen ingredients are contributing to coral degradation.”
Gov. David Ige (D) has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation, which would exempt prescription sunscreens.