This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

On Tuesday, Hawaii passed a first-of-its-kind law to ban the sale of certain over-the-counter sunscreens deemed harmful to coral reefs.

Senate Bill 2571, which received almost unanimous support across the House and the Senate this week, will prohibit the sale and distribution of sunblock containing chemicals found to be especially toxic (specifically, oxybenzone and octinoxate) to marine ecology.

According to Senator Mike Gabbard’s floor comments, the legislation was heavily influenced by the scientific findings of experts like Dr. Craig A. Downs, Ph.D., a forensic eco-toxicologist and executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Lab.

“Scientific evidence,” Senator Gabbard said, “indicates that these chemicals induce coral bleaching, harm and kill coral larvae by creating gross deformities and act as an endocrine disrupter.”

The Toxic Effects of Sunscreen

“We’ve been doing the science since before 2008,” Downs told The Points Guy. Originally studying Virgin Islands National Park, on St. John, Downs and his forensic team were searching for the invisible force that had decimated Trunk Bay.

A local suggested they visit the beach at the end of the day, after the flood of tourists dissipated. What they saw were waters shimmering with rainbows like an oil slick — and what they found were extremely high concentrations of oxybenzone.

Later, when Downs and his team sampled the waters around Maui in 2015, they were “stunned by the levels of oxybenzone.”

Based off a 2015 average of merely 2,600 swimmers per day, the report determined that Hanauma Bay was subjected to 370 pounds of oxybenzone per month — a conservative estimate when you consider that this popular Oahu destination can now see more than 6,500 visitors in a day. “It’s no wonder we saw the highest levels of oxybenzone [here],” said Downs. “And we went on an off day.”

Meanwhile, at Maui’s Ahihi Kinau Bay, which averaged 1,200 swimmers per day in 2017, Downs and his team estimate that the waters were polluted with nearly 61,000 pounds of sunscreen product last year.

The results of the exhaustive studies found significant traces of oxybenzone in beach sand, sea turtle eggs, coral larvae, fish and other marine creatures.

How the Tourism Industry Is Involved

Hawaii may be the first to pass a law of this kind, but it’s not the only destination to take steps toward regulating the presence of these chemicals. Senator Gabbard noted that Mexico has taken “administrative action” to ban these products from their nature preserves.

As the tourism industry has a particularly high stake in preserving natural resources, travelers may notice these aggressive efforts to regulate these chemicals while visiting Mexico, Belize and the Caribbean.

Certain snorkel and dive operations in Mexico, Downs noted by way of example, will forbid you from bringing your own sunscreen and instead supply reef-friendly products.

Though Hawaii’s bill does not go into effect until January 1, 2021, limiting the reefs’ exposure to these nefarious toxins has been a top priority for hospitality groups in Hawaii.

“It’s encouraging to know that our tourist industry is stepping up,” Gabbard said. “Companies such as Hawaiian Airlines, Aqua-Aston, Sheraton, Outrigger, Kaanapali Resort and Napili Resorts are all doing their part to provide reef-friendly sunscreens to guests.”

At Aqua-Aston properties, for example, of which there are more than 40 across the Aloha State, reef-safe sunscreen dispensers have been installed at multiple locations, and these environmentally-friendly products have been introduced to on-site spas and shops.

What Travelers Need to Know

First, you’ll want to empty your medicine cabinet of any sunscreens containing oxybenzone, nanosized titanium dioxide, and octinoxate.

In addition to damaging delicate marine ecosystems, studies have shown that sunscreen products using these chemicals may actually be less effective than their reef-friendly counterparts.

Shop instead for ecologically-kinder products using zinc oxide and non-nanosized titanium dioxide. Downs says these sunscreens are better at protecting against UVA and UVB radiation, and are better for the environment.

Downs also suggests stocking up on UPF clothing. “One of the best methods of protecting the reef, and yourself, against radiation is wearing sunwear clothing. It’s the biggest conservation tool we have.” Simply wearing a sun shirt can cut sunscreen usage by 50 percent.

“Imagine that, on a daily basis, with 3,000 swimmers on the beach. That [would be] a major victory.”

Travelers should also be conscientious about using products that contain parabens. “Parabens are probably going to be the next emerging chemical of public awareness in the next five years,” Downs told The Points Guy. “It’s pernicious, and it’s everywhere.”

To start, swap your shampoo, conditioner and — you guessed it — sunscreen with paraben-free versions (including Raw Elements, All Good, and Hawaiian-made Little Hands Hawaii).

Featured image by Hrvoje Grubisic on Unsplash.

Know before you go.

News and deals straight to your inbox every day.

2018 TPG Award Winner: Mid-Tier Card of the Year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% - 25.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.