Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Protecting Coral Reefs for Our Future Generations
Why do Coral Reefs Matter, and What Does Sunscreen Have to Do With them?

Often confused as rocks or non-living ocean ornaments, coral is a vital living animal with strong cultural ties to Hawaiʻi. The ways coral contributes to a thriving ocean ecosystem are seemingly endless and still being discovered. Our reefs provide unparalleled coastline protection, offer necessary nutrients for marine food chains, and purify our water and air. Unfortunately, reef systems globally are rapidly declining — without them, the ocean as we know it will be no more.

Coral reefs are an integral part of overall ocean health. Even though they make up less than 1% of the seafloor worldwide, 25% of all marine life depends on them, which is one of the many reasons coral loss is alarming. Hawaiʻi has seen a 60% reduction in live corals in some coastal regions statewide, and our marine life is at serious risk. If we don’t take swift action, the results will be devastating. Thankfully, we can all try to reverse this, and one of the easiest ways begins with the first item in most beach bags — sunscreen.

Chemical-based sunscreens and their adverse effects on coral reefs have been a hot topic, especially in Hawaiʻi. Many things contribute to widespread coral bleaching and death, including overfishing, warming oceans, and rapid coastal development. Some of these threats can seem daunting to tackle, but sunscreen is one piece of the puzzle that each of us has the power to solve. 

What Does the Law Say?

In 2018, Hawaiʻi’s Governor, David Ige, signed Senate Bill 2571 into law, implementing a statewide ban on selling, distributing, or using sunscreen products containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. This move was a historic win for Hawaiʻi’s coral and made Hawaiʻi the first place in the world to introduce legislation banning these chemicals. Although it was undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it didn’t completely solve the problem — oxybenzone and octinoxate aren’t the only chemicals in sunscreen that threaten coral reefs. Hawaiʻi’s Senate has since passed a second bill adding avobenzone and octocrylene, two common chemicals also found in sunscreen, to the list of banned sunscreen ingredients. 

As a long-term marine conservation advocate, Maui Ocean Center is committed to promoting the County of Maui’s Ordinance No. 5306 (https://www.mauicounty.gov/DocumentCenter/View/130826/Ord-5306), which bans the sale, distribution and use of non-mineral sunscreens without a prescription as of October 1, 2022 throughout the islands of Maui, Moloka`i and Lana`i. For more information, visit the County of Maui’s webpage (https://mauicounty.gov/sunscreen).

Where We Stand on Sunscreen

As Maui Ocean Experts, we’re proud to support this ordinance and are hopeful for the future of our reefs. We have always emphasized ocean-safe sun protection options, and we’re excited to introduce reef-safe sunscreen to our gift store, Maui Ocean Treasures. We’re stocking our shelves with non-nano mineral-based sunscreen options from Raw Elements and other Maui-made brands we trust so all of our guests can adopt one small way to live Ocean Aloha each day.

Raw Elements is formulated with ingredients that are safe for humans, land, and sea. It’s free from fragrances, which can hide hundreds of reef-damaging chemicals, and is lightly scented with natural essential oils instead. There are no synthetic preservatives in any Raw Elements products, and they have eliminated 99% of virgin plastic packaging by opting for sugarcane resin tubes and aluminum.

Want to try it before you buy it? We’re installing complimentary Raw Elements sunscreen dispensers at our park entrance and exit for everyone to get acquainted with the new wave of reef-safe mineral-based SPF.

If you’re ready to learn more, check out MOC Marine Institute’s 2021 report, which surveyed visitors, retail stores, and sunscreen products throughout Maui.

Safe Sun Protection Solutions

With this new ban, it’s understandable that you may have questions. Sun protection is essential, and these new laws won’t prevent you from staying sunburn-free at the beach!

Here are several ways to stay safe on sunny days without using chemical sunscreens:

  • Invest in a UPF rash guard for beach days
  • Step up your beach game with an umbrella or tent
  • Head indoors during the peak hours of the day
  • Rock a wide-brim hat
  • Use non-nano, mineral-based sunscreens* when direct sun is unavoidable

*Be sure to check the labels! Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide should be the only active ingredients if it’s genuinely reef-safe.

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