On Tuesday, Governor David Ige signed a bill that bans sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate in an attempt to protect the coral reef that surrounds the island.
“This is just one small step toward protecting and restoring the resiliency of Hawaii’s reefs,” Ige said at a signing ceremony for the bill, which takes effect in 2021.
“Two chemicals contained in many sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline,” the bill read.
The bill is largely based on a study by Craig Downs of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Va., which said the chemicals stunted the growth of coral and caused reproductive problems in fish.
Critics of the bill have said the science is weak, and that banning sunscreens will be detrimental to the health of Hawaiians’ skin.
Jörg Wiedenmann, head of the Coral Reef Laboratory at the University of Southampton, told Nature in 2017 that there are many issues that contribute to the deaths of coral reefs.
“Banning sunscreen will not solve other problems: for example, temperature anomalies, overfishing, coral predators and the big issue of coastal runoffs that pollute and destroy reefs,” he said, according to Nature.
“But if you have places with a high load of tourists going in, it is not unreasonable to stay cautious and say, ‘Yes, there may be additive effects.”
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About 70 per cent of over-the-counter sunscreens contain at least one of the two chemicals, which filter out UV light and protect the skin from sunburns.
“The health, safety and welfare of millions of Hawaii residents and tourists has been severely compromised by the passage of SB 2571 … based on weak science blaming sunscreens for damage to coral reefs,” a release from the U.S. Consumer Healthcare Products Association said in May, when the bill passed state legislature.
“This irresponsible action will make it more difficult for families to protect themselves against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.”
(The bill allows an exception to those who have a prescription for the sunscreen.)
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However, there are already sunscreen products that don’t contain the chemicals affected by the ban.
Mineral-based sunscreens containing substances such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are permitted by the ban, and dermatologist Monica Li told Global News they are a very good alternative.
She says some of these mineral-based creams can be even more effective than their chemical counterparts, because the minerals block out the sun instead of filtering it.
That includes brands like TropicSport and Raw Elements, the New York Times reports.
The mineral-based sunscreens are widely available and apply clearly just like the chemical-based ones — they’ve come a long way from the creams of the past which were more solid in appearance.
Li says it’s very important to continue using the alternatives to protect yourself from skin cancer and other diseases.
“Of course the same kind of parameters apply,” Li said. “The number at minimum should be 30 (SPF). Ideally 50 and higher, it should still be reapplied every two hours.”
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She says to look for broad-spectrum sunscreen that protect from UVA and UVB rays, and if you’re going into the water, you’ll want to make sure the sunscreen is water resistant.
She also said that sunscreen is only one component in protecting yourself from the sun. Other methods include:
- Wearing a large wide-brimmed hat,
- wearing sunglasses,
- wearing lose-fitting clothing with long sleeves,
- seek shade during peak sunlight hours (11 a.m.-3 p.m.).
“Sunscreen is one element. It’s not the only element, but it’s very important element,” Li said.
Another alternative is to wear UV clothing; the Canadian Cancer society recommends that you look for clothes with a UV protection factor (UPF) of 15 or higher.
*with a file from the Associated Press