The NCSL Blog


By Riley Hutchings

Hawaii just became the first state to ban sunscreens harmful to coral reefs.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed legislation that will prohibit the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been linked to widespread damage to coral reefs. Photo: Caleb Jones / Associated PressThe governor signed Senate Bill 2571 on July 3, which will prohibit the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. The law will take effect in 2021, and will apply to all sunscreen products containing those ingredients, unless prescribed by a licensed health care provider.

Both chemicals are active ingredients in most major sunscreen brands, and according to the Consumer Health Products Association (CHPA), which represents sunscreen-makers, the law will affect at least 70 percent of sunscreens on the market.

The law comes in response to studies demonstrating the impact of oxybenzone and octinoxate on marine ecosystems, particularly coral reefs.

According to SB 2571, swimmers and beachgoers constantly carry the chemicals into the ocean, which can kill coral or cause coral bleaching. The chemicals can also lead to reproductive diseases in marine invertebrate, vertebrate, and mammals or cause deformities or neurological behavioral changes in fish and other animals.

Dermatologists and sunscreen producers fear the law will lead to increased UV exposure for residents and tourists in Hawaii, where the death rate from melanoma is already 30 percent higher than the national average.

The American Academy of Dermatology released a statement in May outlining concern that the bill could increase the risk of skin cancer by restricting access to effective sunscreen.

Other effective UV repellants such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide will likely replace those with oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. In that way, Senator Mike Gabbard (D), the bill’s sponsor, predicts that Hawaii will become the “gold standard” for jurisdictions all over the world. The Caribbean island of Bonaire passed a similar ban to Hawaii’s, which will also come into effect in 2021. 

Concern over the effects of personal care products on water resources is not limited to Hawaii or sunscreen. At least seven states banned plastic microbeads from soaps and toothpastes before Congress passed a federal law in 2015. Portions of that law went into effect just over a week ago, on July 1.

Riley Hutchings is an intern in NCSL's Environment program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.