After Palau became the first country in the world to ban the use of harmful sunscreens in 2020, Thailand and Hawaii have now followed Palau's example and banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4MBC and butylparaben.

Thailand’s Ban of coral-damaging sunscreens

In Thailand's national parks, sunscreens containing hazardous ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, 4MBC, and butylparaben have been banned. The measure is an attempt to conserve the maritime national parks' fragile coral reefs. According to studies conducted by Thailand's National Parks, 14,000 tonnes of hazardous substances injure corals each year. The restriction has been in effect since August 4th, with violators facing fines of up to 100,000 baht. To limit the need for excessive amounts of sunscreen, tourists and divers are advised to use coral-friendly sunscreens, such as zinc oxide-based lotions, and to wear caps and long-sleeved swimsuits. The dramatic drop in tourists in Thailand since the outbreak last year has resulted in natural regeneration of the country's coral reefs.

Hawaii’s Ban of coral-damaging sunscreens

From January 1, 2021, the use of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and/or octinoxateis is prohibited in Hawaii.


HONOLULU – Gov. David Ige signed SB 2571, Act 104 — prohibiting the sale, offer of sale, and distribution of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawai‘i, beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The purpose of this law is to preserve marine ecosystems, including coral reefs. Scientific studies have shown that oxybenzone and octinoxate are toxic to corals and other marine life. The new law becomes effective on Jan. 2, 2021.

“Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life. Our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawai‘i’s coral reefs,” &nbsp Gov. Ige “Healthy reefs are a fundamental part of a larger ecosystem which is important to the health of our planet. This bill has enormous significance and I’m so happy on behalf of the Senate to be here participating in the signing of this very important bill. Governor, by signing this measure, you are presenting our community with a unique moment in time to protect our coral reefs,”&nbsp Hawaiian Senator Roz Baker “In my lifetime, our planet has lost about half its coral reefs. We’ve got to take action to make sure we can protect the other half as best we can because we know that time is against us,”&nbsp Rep. Chris Lee

Palau’s Ban of coral-damaging sunscreens

Pristine Palau has begun 2020 by prohibiting the use of sunscreens that contain chemicals that harm coral reefs and fish.

“Environment is the nest of life.”&nbsp Former President Tommy Remengesau

Palau, has placed a ban on "reef-toxic" sunscreens to safeguard its coral reefs and UNESCO World Heritage site, with beginning of 2020. According to the International Coral Reef Foundation, the new rule prohibits the sale and use of sunscreens containing any of ten compounds, including oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are recognized environmental hazards. Former President Tommy Remengesau, who signed the bill in 2018, said, "We have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life, and without it, nobody in Palau can survive.”

Based on scientific research suggesting that the chemicals included in most sunscreens are harmful to coral reefs. In accordance with Palau’s Eco-Pledge "I resolve to walk softly, act generously, and explore attentively.” What do you mean by "toxic sunscreen ingredients"?

"Toxic sunscreen compounds have been identified in the tissues of Palau's most famous species,"&nbsp T. Remensgesau

Many of the banned chemicals are endocrine disruptors, which means they harm the juvenile development of most coral, as well as many fish and algae species. "When science tells us that a practice is damaging to coral reefs, to fish populations, or to the ocean itself, our people take note and our visitors do too," Remengesau added.

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Effects of the Coral Reef

Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems on the planet. They provide economic and environmental services worth billions of dollars, such as food, coastal protection, and tourism. However, climate change, unsustainable fishing, land-based pollution, coastal development, illness, and invasive species all pose severe challenges to coral ecosystems around the world. Some of the chemicals present in sunscreen and other personal health items have also been revealed to be harmful to coral reefs, according to scientists. The impact of these and other substances on reef ecosystems is still being studied. As part of a National Academy of Sciences study due to be finished in 2021, researchers are looking into the environmental effects of sunscreen chemicals.

How sunscreen chemicals enter our environment: The sunscreen you apply may not stay on your skin. When we swim or shower, sunscreen may wash off and enter our waterways. How sunscreen chemicals can affect marine life:

  • Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.
  • Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young, and even kill.
  • Mussels: Can induce defects in young.
  • Sea Urchins: Can damage immune and reproductive systems, and deform young.
  • Fish: Can decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish.
  • Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.

Chemicals in some sunscreens that can harm marine life include: Oxybenzone, Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-8, OD-PABA, 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor, 3-Benzylidene camphor, nano-Titanium dioxide, nano-Zinc oxide, Octinoxate, Octocrylene Here are a few ways to protect ourselves and marine life: Consider sunscreen without chemicals that can harm marine life, seek shade between 10 am & 2 pm, and use Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) sunwear.

underwater photo of red soft corals on wall in Palau

The Reef-Friendly Sunscreen Guide

The secret to keeping ocean life happy is to use an SPF with actual UVA and UVB filters (as opposed to the chemical ones that have been connected to coral reef deterioration). By turning the SPF tube over and looking for the active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, you'll be able to find them. According to Joshua Zeichner, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, “the word reef safe often signifies that the sunscreen contains solely mineral UV-blocking compounds like oxide and titanium dioxide.” “Both nanoparticle and regular zinc oxide sunscreens are safe and effective, and both will be regarded safe for coral reefs. The only difference is the skin's aesthetic feel.” So you're pretty well set with a mineral-based solution.

How do I know if a sunscreen is "reef friendly”?

Unfortunately, the word "reef friendly" is not regulated, so you can't always rely on products that claim to be "reef friendly." It's crucial to read the "active ingredients" label on the back of your sunscreen or personal care product to be sure no reef-harming chemicals are there. The size of minerals might have an effect as well. To avoid nanoparticles, use micro-sized (or non-nano) mineral sunscreens. These tiny particles can be harmful in excessive doses. Stick to lotions and avoid spray or misting sunscreens, particularly ones containing titanium dioxide, which can be detrimental to your health if breathed.

Check the label! Make sure your sunscreen does not contain the following harmful substances on the list

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan
  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)
  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”