Starting in 2021, Hawaii Will Ban Chemical Sunscreen

March 13, 2020

Photos by Erik Kabik

Starting on the first day of 2021, a law will ban the Hawaii sale and distribution of sunscreen with the controversial ingredients, oxybenzone and octinoxate. Several studies have proven that these chemicals harm coral reefs and have hormone disrupting properties

Here’s how this pollution happens: Every time people swim near reefs while lathered up with oxybenzone, octinoxate or both, bits and pieces of their sunscreen drift down onto the coral and its inhabitants. This contamination smothers the coral and makes it less adaptable to climate change. The other marine species in the ecosystem lose a valuable source of nutrients and protection.

These substances can also directly damage the reproductive capabilities of local wildlife. The more genetic deformities these creatures suffer, the harder it is for them to repopulate and restore the environment.

To help you respect the law and avoid being part of this problem, we’re going to answer some FAQs and explain exactly how the oxybenzone/octinoxate ban could impact your travel plans. Don’t worry. You can still have plenty of fun in the sun.

How can I avoid oxybenzone/octinoxate during my trip to Hawaii?

Come 2021, it will be illegal for Hawaii sunscreen retailers to sell you any product with these prohibited chemicals. Before you buy, however, remember to check the ingredients list on the back of the container.

If you plan on bringing travel-size sunscreen, remember to check that ingredients list or subscribe only to brands that boast reef-safe sunscreen. Reminder: If the container holds more than 3.4 ounces, you won’t be able to get it past the TSA, and you could be spending extra time at security.

What will happen if you accidentally bring or buy sunscreen with oxybenzone/octinoxate?

You’ll be fine. According to Evan Pascual, a marketing and public relations employee at the Maui Ocean Center, Hawaii law enforcement will not take action against consumers and tourists who carry oxybenzone/octinoxate-containing products.

We recommend, however, that you refrain from bringing those products on your trip. Respect the wishes of locals who want to preserve coral and marine wildlife.

If you buy a product in Hawaii and assume it is reef-safe, but later discover it has banned ingredients, report the retailer and brand to the Hawaiian government.

What if I need oxybenzone or octinoxate for medical reasons?

With a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider, you may purchase sunscreen with oxybenzone or octinoxate in Hawaii. This exception most likely exists for people who are extremely sensitive to the sun and need the powerful, lasting protection of chemical sunscreen.

Are there other chemicals I should be concerned about?

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the only banned sunscreen chemicals, and there is the largest amount of evidence condemning them. Nonetheless, there are other common sunscreen ingredients that could be damaging to aquatic environments, according to Haereticus Environmental Laboratory Executive Director Craig Downs, Ph.D. 

If you care deeply about the environment and don’t want to take any chances, scan ingredients lists for these chemicals as well:

  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene

What’s the most eco-friendly option?

Mineral-based sunscreen (without any of the above chemicals)! Compared to chemical sunscreen, you’ll need to apply it more often, rub it in more vigorously and be OK with a visible white coat that might not be super photogenic. 

It’s worth it, though. Whether you’re a resident or tourist, we all have a responsibility to keep Hawaii beautiful.


Bio: Joseph Rauch manages the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from controversial products and misunderstood ingredients to simple recipes and self-care advice