Hawaii Sun Cream Ban: What Is It And How Are You Affected?


Hawaii is a consistently popular tourist destination among cruise aficionados, and with its sun-drenched shores and volcanic beauty, we can certainly see why.

Lazing on a Maui beach, sunnies on and tropical drink in hand, sounds like our idea of heaven – as long as we keep our suntan lotion at the ready! But while sun protection is crucially important in the battle against photoaging, cancer and other sun-related concerns, a recently issued ban on certain sunscreens means you need to think about saving more than your own skin.

Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about the state’s latest regulation…

The Hawaii sun cream ban explained

In July 2018, the Hawaiian government passed the first bill in state history to protect coral reefs from the damage caused by two key ingredients in sunscreens. Set to go into effect from 1 January 2021, the revolutionary new legislation will prohibit the sale or distribution of over-the-counter sun cream containing octinoxate and oxybenzone.

The case for this ban spans from long-term damage to the coral reefs in Hawaii, emblematic of the broader global struggle to safeguard these beautiful underwater ecosystems. According to Vox, a fifth of the world’s reefs have died in the last three years alone, and sunscreen is purported to be one of the major contributors to their demise.

Sun cream ban in Hawaii | Cruise1st UK

While highly effective at filtering sunlight on dry skin, their power in water diminishes greatly as it is washed off the body, with devastating effects on coral. Indeed, some 6,000 to 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen pollute the seas every year, exposing the reefs to ingredients that bleach the coral, damage their DNA and affect developing polyps.

A 2017 study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that Hawaii’s reefs are some of the most at risk, with 56% of the Big Island’s corals bleached. It’s a clear indicator that this legislation is vital for the protection of Hawaii’s many stunning coral reefs, and paints a stark picture of the wider coastal erosion affecting our planet’s oceans.

So, what exactly constitutes a banned sunscreen?

Any sun cream that incorporates oxybenzone or octinoxate is a certified no-go. According to National Public Radio, oxybenzone and octinoxate are found in an estimated 3,500 sun-protection products, so unfortunately, it’s best to assume that most popular brands will formulate their suntan lotions with these ingredients. That’s not to say all of the products comprise chemical sunscreens though, so make sure you check the label before throwing away your preferred sunblock.

While you’re looking, be sure to keep an eye out for any of the ingredients associated with oxybenzone and octinoxate, too. These include avobenzone, homosalate, octocrylene and nano particles – all active ingredients that provide the same chemical effects, and therefore should be avoided during your time in Hawaii.

Spray-on sunscreens are problematic on a whole different scale. Not only is the spray more likely to stick to the sand than your skin, but it is actually partially inhaled as you spritz – the effects of which are worryingly undocumented. We say, skip these altogether.

What creams can I use while holidaying in Hawaii?

Sun cream ban in Hawaii | Cruise1st UK

In contrast to chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens tend to be a safer choice for the environment, owing to their lower ecotoxicity levels and marine-friendly properties. A good rule of thumb is to use products that list zinc-based or titanium oxide in their ingredients list. This is not a hard and fast rule though, as some clear zinc technologies can be toxic to water-dwelling species if handled incorrectly

A word on nano particles

We’re getting really scientific now, but it’s important you make the distinction between non-nano and nano-sized particles when on the hunt for a coral-friendly sun cream. Uncoated, nano-size ingredients harm marine life in a different way, entering at a cellular level and causing oxidative stress. Unless you’re a science nut that can work out what this means, we suggest researching brands that state they use coated, non-nano particles. Choose from their range and be safe in the knowledge that these products are backed by science.

Our recommendations

Stream2Sea is a line of biodegradable sunscreens developed by Autumn Blum. These sunscreens are formulated to offer safe, marine-conscious sun protection at affordable prices. The non-nano titanium dioxide alumina-coated products represent the latest in sunscreen technology while still being stable for the environment. The line also includes hair and skincare products, because Blum highlights that these products also end up in the sea, when we shower them off.

Badger sunscreens feature a single active ingredient of mineral zinc oxide, which is not linked in any way to the chemicals that harm coral reef. The good about this line is that the formulas and ingredients lists are relatively fuss-free, with many products featuring inactive components such as USDA Organic plant oils, Vitamin E and beeswax. The biodegradable nature of these ingredients means they are water-safe.

ThinkSport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ is one of the most advanced formulas at entry-level price on the market. It’s a revolution in a tube, free of biologically harmful chemicals, paraben, phthalates and all the other nasties that go into our seas when we do. Plus, it has the all-important non-nano zinc oxide particle size of more than 100 micron, making it technologically superior to many other reef-friendly creams out there.

Sun cream ban in Hawaii | Cruise1st UK

Other things to keep in mind

Don’t believe every product that says it is reef-safe, when the ingredients will tell you another story. Always do your homework and check the label – if in doubt, leave it out!

As with many who visit Hawaii, you may take trips that involve snorkelling, scuba diving or other watersports. Be sure to choose excursion providers who respect the ocean and marine life around them. A good way to gauge this is by asking if they carry coral-friendly sunscreen on board. Chances are if they do, they care about the small details – and that adds up to a big difference.

Of course, if you’d prefer not to put the reef at risk in any way, there are always options that don’t involve any sunscreen. All good surf shops on the island will have an array of protective clothing or equipment to keep you and the reef safe. Hats, wetsuits and rash guards are among the gear we recommend when heading into the beautiful Hawaiian sea. If it’s too hot to cover up, why not sit back and catch the breeze in a well-shaded area? Staying out of the sun is a great way to keep cool and avoid harming the environment. Two birds, one stone.

We love Hawaii here at Cruise 1st UK, and we’re even more taken in by its preservation of the natural beauty that draws admirers from all over the world. If, like us, you want to play your part in saving its marine life from further harm, consider the choices you make as both a traveller and consumer. It might be something as simple as switching your sunscreen, but it’ll aid the cause more than you know.

Cruise1st UK is a leading provider of cruise holidays aboard the world’s greatest liners. For a full range of deals, head over to our homepage or give our friendly customer care team a call on 0808 2746 777.


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Claire has worked in the travel industry since leaving college in 1994. One of this blog's most regular contributors, Claire covers cruise news and industry trends.

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