Hawaii Aims to Ban Common Sunscreen Ingredients Based on Environmental Impact

The chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate appear in as much as 70 percent of the sunscreens marketed in the U.S. Where they may not appear in future years is on the beaches and waters of the state of Hawaii, which believes that they have a harmful impact on coral reefs, marine life, and other important aspects of Hawaiian ecosystems. This is because the sunscreens and their components wash off skin when people enter the water. (However, there is an exception for people who have prescriptions from their doctors to use substances containing these chemicals.)

This would be the first such law in the United States, and some observers in the health care industry oppose it out of concern that many people will not use sunscreen at all, leading to adverse health effects such as skin cancer. Some corporations also oppose it, citing FDA approval and scientific research supporting the safety and effectiveness of their products. In contrast, Hawaii politicians have cited the importance of the coral reefs to the state’s economy. They account for many jobs in tourism and other industries, generating $30 billion or more in value each year.

The law is not scheduled to take effect until 2021, so sunscreen companies will have the opportunity to adjust the composition of their products to comply with it if they choose. Some companies have said that they have already moved to remove the two chemicals from their sunscreens, while others likely will continue to contest the law. At this stage, there is no active or pending litigation challenging it.