Beginning January 1, 2021, Hawaii will ban “the sale, offer of sale, or distribution in the State of any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription issued by a licensed healthcare provider to preserve marine ecosystems.”

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are killing coral. By acting as endocrine disruptors, harming the DNA of coral, and making it difficult for coral to survive climate change, they have caused much damage to an intrinsic part of nature’s ecosystem.

Coral is not only a tourist attraction. Coral reefs are also the home of many marine species and act as a barrier to protect coastal cities from water damage.  Oxybenzone has also shown up in toxic levels in sea turtle eggs, shellfish, sea urchins, and dolphins, inhibiting reproduction and fertility. Less information is available on octinoxate but it produces similar hormonal alterations.

The toxicity of oxybenzone has been known for over 10 years. But a study from 2015 was the final impetus for Hawaii’s legislature. In a particularly disturbing manner, the chemical causes the coral larvae to die inside its own body: “…it induced ossification of the planula [coral], encasing the entire planula in its own skeleton.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of oxybenzone in 1978 and has not changed its regulation of the chemical since. It stands by its claim that it’s safe for use in humans, without acknowledging studies that prove otherwise. A 2008 US Center for Disease Control (CDC) study found that of 2,500 people tested, 97% of Americans were contaminated with oxybenzone. In addition to skin allergies, oxybenzone contaminates women’s breast milk, weakens estrogen levels, causes low birth weights, and may harm the adrenal system.

Evidently the FDA’s priority is not protecting people. This list is daunting, but it’s a good snapshot to have as you shop for your sunscreens, and act as your own oversight committee:

The chemical oxybenzone is also called benzophenone-3 (BP-3), Escalol 567, Eusolex 4360, KAHSCREEN BZ-3, Uvasorb MET/C, Syntase 62, UV 9, Uvinul 9, Uvinul M-40, Uvistat 24, USAF Cy-9, Uniphenone-3U, 4-methoxy-2-hydroxybenzophenone and Milestab 9.

The chemical Octinoxate refers to the chemical (RS)-2-Ethylhexyl (2E)-3-(4-methoxyphenyl)prop-2-enoate, and is also known as ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, octyl methoxycinnamate, Eusolex 2292, Neo Heliopan AV, NSC 26466, Parsol MOX, Parsol MCX, and Uvinul MC80.

It’s a smart decision by Hawaii to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate. Unfortunately it’s not happening until 2021. With a skyrocketing rate of contamination, let’s hope it makes a difference.