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Choose the right sunscreen when you visit Hawaii. Some types may soon be banned

Choose the right sunscreen when you visit Hawaii. Some types may soon be banned
When swimmers and snorkelers covered in sunscreen enter the ocean waters surrounding Hawaii, the chemicals in most brands harm coral, such as this reef off Kona. (Kawika Singson / Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau))

Choose carefully which sunscreen you bring on your next Hawaiian vacation. Hawaii will become the first state in the U.S. to severely restrict sales of certain sunscreen products if the governor signs a bill sent to him last week.

The bill, which cleared its final legislative hurdle May 3, would ban the sale, as of Jan. 1, 2021, of sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate. The legislation says the intention is to "preserve marine ecosystems."

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Studies have found that Hawaii's already fragile coral reefs are harmed by oxybenzone, also known as BP-3. It washes off sunbathers and swimmers and drifts onto coral, contributing to problems such as DNA damage and deformities in baby coral.

A 2015 report from the National Ocean Service, a federal agency, revealed that oxybenzone "is highly toxic to juvenile corals and other marine life."

The chemical is a core ingredient in more than 3,500 skin-care products sold around the world. So what sun protection should you use instead?

A Live Science blog article said "mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to physically block the sun's rays are still allowed. These sunscreens have fallen out of favor because they often leave a white sheen on the skin, but marine biologists say it's worth looking a little goofy to save reefs."

Scientific studies have found that the sunscreens worn by most people can harm marine life, particularly young coral.
Scientific studies have found that the sunscreens worn by most people can harm marine life, particularly young coral. (Tor Johnson / Hawaii Tourism Authority)

Also, a handful of sunscreens that don't contain BP-3 are on the market. One is Raw Elements, whose marine-friendly products are sampled and sold at a number of resorts across Hawaii.

Raw Elements also has partnered with Hawaiian Airlines in a program to protect the reefs. Through June, the airline will sell Raw Elements products at discounted prices on flights between the U.S. mainland and the islands.

Other reef-safe sunscreen brands identified by the Environmental Working Group can be found on this list.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has not said whether he will sign the bill. Spokeswoman Cindy McMillan said the measure is going through the usual "policy and legal review."

Twitter: @latimestravel

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