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On May 1st—May Day—Hawaiian legislators answered the reef’s Mayday and passed a bill banning chemical sunscreens that have been proven to harm coral reefs. State Bill 2571 bans the use or sale of oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common chemical sunscreens. It goes into effect in January of 2021, giving the reefs a much-needed break!![i]
Legislators in Hawaii have been trying to ban sunscreens like oxybenzone and octinoxate for some time because of their hazardous effects on coral reefs, but what does that mean for people? Maybe you’ve read how quickly the reefs are disappearing and that we need to act now to save them. Maybe you’ve heard the opposition argue that people still need sunscreen to protect themselves from sunburns and skin cancer. Do people really have to choose who and what they want to protect?
Hawaiian legislators only ban sunscreens oxybenzone and octinoxate
The simple answer is “no.” Not all sunscreens are harmful to the reefs. Mineral sunscreens like the ones used in Goddess Garden’s products are safe for the reefs and people alike. We can protect ourselves and the reefs, and most people won’t even notice a difference. There are currently 16 sunscreens the FDA will allow as an active ingredient for sun protection. Of those, only eight are used regularly and only two of those eight protect against UVA rays, the rays that cause skin cancer and premature aging.[ii] The legislative ban in Hawaii affects two of the 16 ingredients—oxybenzone and octinoxate—leaving plenty of sun protection options, including zinc, that protect from cancer-causing UVA rays.
What’s really happening in Hawaii with sunscreen?
Even though this has only recently gained attention, there has been a lot of effort happening behind the scenes. In January of 2017, Senator Espero, along with Senators English, Chang and others, introduced a bill to ban reef-harming chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone from being used or sold in marine life conservation districts. It passed through the Senate and the House of Representatives, but narrowly missed becoming a bill.
Opponents cited the need for more research and countered with the importance of people protecting themselves from sunburns and skin cancer. Reef-safe sunscreens like Goddess Garden’s have been available for a long time, and the best UVA/skin cancer protectors were not even up for the ban, but their arguments were strong enough to sway the vote. The ban failed to pass at the time, but reef-safe education was out there and a plan was in place. Senator Espero promised to keep fighting for the reefs and was true to his word.
How was Goddess Garden involved in Hawaii?
Since 2005, we’ve been making reef-safe mineral sunscreen. Our motivation originally stemmed from our founders’ need for a safe and effective sunscreen for their daughter who was allergic to the chemicals in sunscreens. As it turns out, the reefs have sensitive skin as well. Goddess Garden Founders Nova and Paul have always been dedicated to protecting the environment. Long before the bill was introduced, they worked with the University of Colorado Boulder to study the effects of sunscreen chemicals on the coral reefs. As a company, we’ve used that and other research to educate the public about the need to use reef-safe sunscreen. We’ve offered samples to help people do their part to protect this fragile ecosystem and we supported organizations who are protecting the reefs and oceans. When Hawaii proposed the ban, we knew we had to support it, too!
In 2017, we provided testimony in support of the bill and wrote to senators and representatives urging them to protect the reefs. We sent free sunscreen to multiple groups for educational events all over Hawaii. People traded in in their chemical sunscreen for a free bottle of our reef-safe sunscreens. We provided monetary assistance to groups helping to spread the word. And most importantly, we made our reef-safe sunscreen available in the places people shop. In 2017, when the bill was first introduced, we expanded our sunscreen sales into retailers like Walmart to make it easier for people to find safe options. If people were going to make a change, the change needed to be as easy as possible. We knew safe sunscreen needed to be more accessible!
A single ounce of chemical sunscreen product can contaminate 114 million gallons of ocean water.[iii] This can ultimately kill the coral reefs and affect all the life that depends on them. When you consider 14,000 tons of chemical sunscreen reach the reefs every year, you can see why Hawaii wanted to ban sunscreens oxybenzone and octinoxate and why the bill was such a milestone. Hawaii is blazing a trail we hope other states will follow, but we still have work to do. Because the ban doesn’t take effect until January of 2021, reefs are still at risk. Hawaii isn’t the only state with coral reefs either. We need to continue to educate people on the use of reef-safe mineral sunscreen and give all our remaining reefs a fighting chance. We need to help other states follow in Hawaii’s footsteps, ultimately leaving footsteps only in the sand and not on the reefs!
- Why We Care About the Reefs
- Helping Save the Reefs, One Bottle of Sunscreen at a Time
- Give Chemicals the Bird: Environmental Damage
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