sunscreen reef safe maui

As parents, we instinctively want to protect our babies and children. Sunscreen has long been touted as a way to protect them from sun damage. But wait! Before you rub on the sunscreen this summer, learn the recent findings about these products to better protect the health of your family, as well as Maui’s coral reefs. 

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are two common sunscreen ingredients that have been proven to harm or kill corals, even in small concentrations. When you use sunscreen with these chemicals and then swim or snorkel, sunscreen washes off your body and contaminates the reef ecosystem. Hawaii made news last year when our legislature voted to ban sunscreen products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. However, the law doesn’t go into effect until January of 2021, so please continue to shop carefully to avoid these ingredients. 

“We’re asking our residents and visitors to get a jump on protecting Maui’s reefs by making the sunscreen switch today,” says Amy Hodges, Programs Manager at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. “Act now to avoid polluting our ocean with reef-harming oxybenzone and octinoxate.”

Human health may also be at risk from sunscreen chemicals. The Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, part of the US Food and Drug Administration, studied four common sunscreen chemicals — avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene – and found that just one day of use caused these ingredients to enter the bloodstream at levels high enough to trigger a government safety investigation. Other studies suggest that oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor among marine creatures. So, with this in mind, here are some tips to help protect your keiki and Maui’s reefs:

1. Check any personal care products that offer “SPF protection” and toss out any containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. 

2. Choose mineral-based sunscreens featuring zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient. Mineral-based sunscreens rest on the surface of your skin and reflect away sun rays. Zinc oxide is the only single active ingredient that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

3. Skip spray-on sunscreens at the beach: the chemicals get deposited in the sand and wash into the sea. They also pose an inhalation risk for nearby beach-goers, especially kids. 

4. Minimize sunscreen use by outfitting each family member with a wide-brimmed hat, rash guard and swim tights for beach adventures.  

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Anne Rillero is a mom of two grown “kids”, a grandma, as well as an avid swimmer and gardener. She is also the Communication, Community Outreach and Development Manager at Maui Nui Marine Resource Council. Please go to to learn more about how we can look after our reefs.


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