Gov. David Ige on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 2571, which will prohibit the sale or distribution of any sunscreen that contains the chemicals oxybenzone and/or octinoxate in Hawaii to anyone without a prescription from a licensed health care provider.

The bill aims to protect Hawaii’s coral reefs from oxybenzone and octinoxate, which scientific studies suggest contribute to coral bleaching.

Hawaii is the first state to pass this type of legislation, which will take effect Jan. 1, 2021.

“We are blessed in Hawaii to be home of some of the most beautiful natural resources on the planet,” said Ige during the bill signing ceremony. “But our natural environment is fragile and our own interaction with the Earth can have everlasting impacts, and this bill is a small first step worldwide to really caring about our corals and our reefs in a way that no one else anywhere in the world has done.”

Governor David Ige shakes Sen Kim's hand after signing the SB2571 oxybenzone ban at the Capitol Rotunda.

Gov. David Ige shakes Sen. Donna Mercado Kim’s hand after signing SB 2571 in the Capitol Rotunda.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige acknowledged that there are a multitude of other factors contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs, including invasive species, land-based pollution and climate change.

The legislation comes after much debate between environmental groups and the business sector.

Organizations like the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, Friends of Hanauma Bay and the Hawaii Fishing and Boating Association submitted written testimony in support of the bill and its effort to protect the state’s coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

“This is landmark legislation, not only for Hawaii, but for the United States and the world,” Lisa Bishop, president of Friends of Hanauma Bay, told Civil Beat. “I think this is going to be the precursor to having similar bans on reef-toxic sunscreen being sold all over the world.”

But some testimony cited a shortage of evidence supporting the effects of these chemicals on coral, claimed banning certain sunscreens will deter people from using any protection and thus be more vulnerable to skin cancer, and argued that removing some sunscreens from the market will hurt Hawaii businesses.

Rep Chris Lee speaks Gov Ige bill signing SB2571 oxybenzone with scores of supporters in the Capitol Rotunda.

Rep. Chris Lee addresses scores of supporters who attended the bill signing.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Among those in opposition to the bill were the Hawaii Food Industry Association, ABC Stores, and the Hawaii Medical Association.

“This measure will hurt local retailers by encouraging consumers to buy their favorite sunscreens online, where it is unlikely this law will be enforceable,” said Lauren Zirbel, executive director of Hawaii Food Industry Association, in a written testimony opposing the bill.

Bishop said consumers will adjust to the changes, and that the variety of sunscreens available in stores is unlikely to change dramatically for the time being.

“I wish it were going to be effective tomorrow, but that’s a good compromise because it allows the major sunscreen manufacturers who make chemical sunscreens to reformulate their product and to be able to have more available on the market that don’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate,” Bishop said.

She emphasized that the only way to know whether or not sunscreen contains the two chemicals is to check the label. Bishop recommends purchasing mineral sunscreens that are not absorbed by the skin and avoid sunscreens sold in aerosol form.

For more information on oxybenzone and octinoxate-free sunscreen options, visit Environmental Working Group’s website dedicated to sunscreen. It provides research findings and offers tips for shopping for alternative sunscreens.

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