Hawaii State Legislature Passes Bill Banning Certain Chemicals In Sunscreen
The Hawaii State Legislature passed a bill last week that would ban the in-state sale of sunscreen containing two chemicals, oxybenzone and octinoxate, which studies have shown damage coral reefs and other ocean wildlife. If Gov. David Ige signs the bill into law, it will go into effect on January 1, 2021.
A study conducted in 2015 in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel found that oxybenzone and octinoxate rob coral reefs of nutrients and leave them bleached white. They have also been shown to have a disruptive effect on the development of fish and other sea creatures. The chemicals reach the reefs when swimmers wear sunscreen in waters around them, and also when it enters the sewage system after beachgoers go home and wash it off.
“Reef friendly” alternatives include sunscreen made with titanium oxide and zinc oxide, both natural mineral ingredients. Oxybenzone and octinoxate can be found in over-the-counter products from Hawaiian Tropic, Coppertone and Banana Boat, among others. The bill passed by Hawaii’s legislature would continue to permit prescription sunscreen containing the chemicals.
Paul Christensen, president of supplier Natural Trends, says if the bill is passed into law it would certainly have an impact on the promotional products market. “We’re watching it closely, but the reality is that the major retail brand choices are going to set the SPF industry direction and consumer expectation. As is happening with most consumer products, it will likely follow the trend toward ingredients that are perceived as more natural solutions, but they typically cost more and aren’t without their concerns either.” He notes a study that states two alternatives, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, will also wash off skin and “enter the aquatic environment with unknown effects on our tropical marine ecosystems.”
Gary Schlatter, CEO of supplier OraLabs, Inc., says he thinks the Hawaii ban is a proper response. “As a leader in this business, we have already done extensive R&D due to environmental and consumer concerns.” In addition to mineral-based natural formulas, OraLabs also has vegan formulations.
Sunscreen manufacturers have voiced opposition to the bill, noting that within the U.S. there are few choices among active ingredients that are as effective as oxybenzone for products over SPF 50. The Hawaii Medical Association has called for more study on the issue, with more research on sunscreen’s effect on coral bleaching, primarily because of overwhelming evidence that not wearing sunscreen affects cancer rates.
Supplier Raining Rose, Inc., which sells a mineral-based sunscreen, is a contract manufacturer for a number of other brands. Nate Robson, director of promotional sales, says there’s little oversight for reef-safe products right now because studies are ongoing. “There’s an overwhelming amount of evidence on some of the ingredients, but I would anticipate in the next couple of years seeing that governance start to increase as to who can claim ‘reef safe’ and who cannot. It will be interesting to see how that list grows in terms of what ingredients are harmful to a reef—there’s a lot of testing being done.”
Christensen adds, “It may be a bit of a balancing act, but we will continue working to provide the very best, most desirable quality solutions for our promotional customers.”