Stab Magazine | Hawaii Votes To Ban (Most) Sunscreen

Hawaii Votes To Ban (Most) Sunscreen

Well, at least sunscreen that is argued to damage the already withering coral reefs. 

news // May 7, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Surfers and sunscreen are an inseparable duo; if you live anywhere that tilts above 20 degrees centigrade and your skin mimics a snowcapped mountain, then you likely lather yourself in the screen each and every surf.  

For most, the decision is simple: cover yourself in a slightly inconvenient cream or risk the chance of a life threatening skin cancer.

But now, a new factor has entered the once previously simple equation. A factor which ruins everything fun and lazy in life – saving the planet.  

For a while, some scientists and those who tend towards being ‘enviro-aware’ have argued that skin-care products aren’t as benevolent as they ordinarily appear. According to many, they’re no good for our coral reefs.

The main suspect in question is the chemical, oxybenzone, which can be found in more than 3,500 skin care products according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. According to a 2015 study, Oxybenzone is reported to be responsible for “gross deformities”, “damaging DNA” and being an “endocrine disruptor” to our favourite patches of coral.

A chemical so bad it forces the non-sentient coral to commit suicide: “[oxybenzone forces] the coral to encase itself in its own skeleton, leading to death”.

Who knew a simple “slip, slop, slap” could be do damn deadly!

In 2021 however, Hawaiian residents will no longer be given the option to protect their skin and cause gross reef deformities in the process. The government recently passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreen products containing both oxybenzone or octinoxate from January 1st, 2021 onwards.

This law is a world first, which Senator Mike Gabbard was quick to praise in an email as reported by the Star Advertiser:

“Hawaii is definitely on the cutting edge by banning these dangerous chemicals in sunscreens. When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow.”

The ubiquitous ABC stores, Hawaii Medical Association and the Personal Care Products Council were some of the bodies opposed to the bill, but the bill received vocal support from other groups such as Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and the Surfrider Foundation. 

Headlines around the world have echoed the news of Hawaii’s decision, but not everyone’s jumping at the opportunity to ban sunscreens containing these potentially harmful products. Terry Hughes from James Cook University labelled the decision as “overkill” to the ABC (not the same as the 7/11-esque corner store).

“People make a long list of bad things that humans do to coral reefs – I would place sunscreen at number 200.”

The Cancer Council in Australia also suggested to the ABC that the impact of these chemicals was not entirely known, but reiterated that most of their skin products were already sans oxybenzone.  

I wonder if they recycled those containers. The president of Friends Of Hanauma voicing her support for the ban of oxybenzone sunscreens. Photo. Star Advertiser

A simple Google research reveals that staple brands such as Banana Boat, Neutrogena and many other major brands currently stock a product containing oxybenzone. So does this mean that Hawaii will no longer be stocking these products, leaving the pale amongst the poor to perish under the scorching equatorial sun? 


It’s much more likely that these companies will adapt their products and remove oxybenzone, to match the number of higher end products which don’t contain oxybenzone, such as Sun Bum and Vertra.   

So despite the jury still being out on the legitimacy of the evidence surrounding the impact of oxybenzone and similar chemicals on coral reefs, Hawaiian folk will all be sporting chemical free screens from 2021 onwards.

In the mean time, Hawaiian’s and the rest of us can go on purchasing the cheap stuff, surf in a steamer all year round or even resign ourselves to surfing outside of sunlight hours entirely in order to protect ourselves from the sun. 


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