Hawaii Will Ban Up to 78% of Sunscreens

Doctors frequently tell their patients to wear sunscreen every day, and that’s even when they aren’t going to the beach. Vacationers in Hawaii, though, are going to find that over 70% of sunscreens are illegal to buy in Hawaii as the result of a new law the governor there is expected to sign.

Most sunscreens contain oxybenzone (70%) and octinoxate (8%, frequently labeled as octyl methoxycinnamate). These chemicals are considered safe and effective against skin cancer, but there is concern that these chemicals kill coral reefs, although research supporting that concern has been done in lab conditions rather than through observations in the ocean.

Hyatt Regency Maui

It’s unclear how much of a difference this law, which goes into effect in 2021, will make protecting coral,

  • The ban is only on the sale of these sunscreens in Hawaii, tourists will still bring their own sunscreen from home (not least of which because sunscreen – like many products – can be expensive to buy not least of which because of the perverse effects of the Jones Act).

  • Oxybenzone will still come “from other sources, such as wastewater discharge from ships”

Hawaii’s stated concern is that degrading coral reefs will reduce tourism. The ban will drive up demand for mineral-based products that “reflect the rays away from the skin.” The flipside of course is with fewer sunscreens available, and potentially more expensive, more people will go without sunscreen and increase cancer risk.

The Caribbean island of Bonaire is banning these same sunscreens starting in 2021.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. This is great news. I love snorkeling in Hawaii, have been visiting since 1990 and seeing the reef decline is horrible. Anything we can do to protect them is worth the cost. NY Times/Wirecutter recently reviewed some reef safe sunscreens that are relatively inexpensive and avoid the specific compounds that have been found to damage reefs: https://thewirecutter.com/reviews/best-reef-safe-sunscreen/ or this Hawaii.com article: https://www.hawaii.com/blog/reef-safe-sunscreen/

  2. So really it is a choice of coral reefs or your health. From Consumer Reports:

    Mineral sunscreens—which typically contain such ingredients as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both—protect against UV rays by deflecting them. (For this reason, they are technically called physical sunscreens.) Chemical sunscreens—which contain such ingredients as avobenzone or oxybenzone—absorb UV light.

    In the past six years of sunscreen testing, Consumer Reports hasn’t found a mineral product that offers both top-notch UVA and UVB protection, says Susan Booth, the project leader for our sunscreen testing. So while a mineral sunscreen provides some protection, if you trust your skin to one of these products, you could be getting more UV damage than you think.

  3. Bare Republic is a great sunscreen and “reef friendly”, haven’t gotten burned since I’ve started using it. Anything we can do to make a difference counts and worth the effort.

  4. I think this is a smart move. If we don’t make small sacrifices now to save the environment, so much of nature’s beauty won’t be there for us to share with future generations.

  5. I totally agree with this ban. I did a lot of research before a trip to Fiji to find a sunscreen that was actually “Reef Safe” and used it with success. I actually didn’t get burned after spending several hours in the water, and folks on the tour with me who used conventional sunscreen actually did.

  6. So ur telling me sunscreen in a 50 ml tube is suing the ENVIRONMENT or reefs. GTFO. how about oil spills or chemicals from processing plants… drain cleaner that washes off the street into the sea.

    Misguided focus.

Comments are closed.