Sun Safety
Saves Lives!

Sunscreen should always be a part of your daily sun safe practices.

Person applying sunscreen
Little boy in a scuba mask

Sunscreen is an Important Part of Sun Safety

Using FDA-approved sunscreens should always be part of your daily sun safe practices. UV protectant clothing such as long sleeve rash guards, hats and sunglasses and seeking shade during peak sunlight hours are also important sun safety measures. Sunscreen protects exposed skin from UV exposure, helps prevent sunburn, and reduces the risk of skin cancer.

Bans on sunscreens threaten the health of everyone in Hawaii. In 2022, Maui County and the County of Hawai’i Island passed bans on all sunscreens, except mineral sunscreens. These bans were passed, even though the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published a report in August 2022 clearly stating that there is insufficient evidence to conclude that sunscreens are harming the marine environment.

Taking away FDA-approved sunscreens people use most often may cause them to skip sunscreen altogether with serious health consequences. Hawaii already has the highest rate of UV-caused melanoma in the nation, and further bans could worsen the problem.

Sun Safety Saves Lives

Preventative measures can reduce some types of skin cancer by nearly 80%
Every year, about 500 Hawaii residents develop new cases of melanoma
You can lower your risk of skin cancer by as much as 50% by wearing sunscreen

Coral Reefs Are in Danger, But Sunscreens Are Not the Main Cause of Coral Decline

In August 2022, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) published a report that clearly states that there is currently insufficient evidence to conclude that sunscreens are harming the marine environment. In light of this report, laws restricting the use of any kind of FDA-approved sunscreens out of concern for the environment do not make sense.

“We must not lose track of the larger goal of carbon reduction and the search for solutions to protect corals from temperature increase, the number one global cause of coral loss. The energy and funding spent on concentrating on lesser impacts does coral reefs a great disservice. While it is inviting to think that a critical problem like coral reef decline can be impacted by something as simple as selecting a different sunscreen, the reality is not so easy. Focusing on an issue such as sunscreens, that have not been shown in the overall literature to damage reefs and have not been substantiated in the ocean, detracts from the real issues and shifts the efforts away from effective conservation and restoration efforts.”

Ku‘ulei Rodgers, Ph.D. University of Hawai’i, Hawai’I Institute of  Marine Biology, Coral Reef Ecology Lab Principal Investigator

Sunscreen Is Not Cited as a Stressor to Coral Reefs

reef sites graph
reef sites graph legend

SOURCE: Setter RO, Franklin EC, Mora C (2022) “Co-occurring anthropogenic stressors reduce the timeframe of environmental viability for the world’s coral reefs.” PLoS Biol 20(10): e3001821.

A recent University of Hawaii study looking at major environmental stressors to coral reefs in aggregate does not even mention sunscreen. The authors noted, “In this paper, we studied five of the most pervasive known stressors to coral reefs” and sunscreen is not cited as a stressor. Even when they list out five specific “human disturbances” they do not cite sunscreen as a stressor. Further, when the authors noted “additional disturbances that could be included in our analysis,” sunscreen was still not mentioned — instead, they noted salinity and turbidity.

What Is the Harm? A Lot.

Some say banning sunscreen ingredients is a good idea in case there is a chance they are harming the corals. But while there’s insufficient evidence of coral harm from sunscreens, there is clear evidence that banning sunscreen ingredients is a harm to humans. Note the graph below showing the dramatic increase in self-reported sunburns in Hawaii immediately after the first law proposing sunscreen ingredient bans.  Your risk for melanoma doubles if you’ve had more than five serious sunburns.

Get the Facts Straight on Sunscreens

Many sunscreens are marketed as “reef safe,” but it’s important to know that “reef safe” is not a regulated term. Whether or not you choose a chemical, or mineral sunscreen, the best option is the one you will regularly use and apply in adequate amounts.

“Reef Safe” Is Meaningless

The NASEM report confirms there is no regulatory or scientific definition of “reef safe” sunscreen. It is a marketing term with no scientifically meaningful, or accurate methodology used inconsistently by some brands. It’s unfounded to say that mineral sunscreens are “reef safe” or organic sunscreens are not “reef safe.”

The Lab Is Not the Ocean

Studies that have suggested sunscreen ingredients harm marine life were performed in lab environments that are not reflective of the actual reef and ocean environment “where pollutants may rapidly disperse and be diluted.”

Not All Sunscreens Are Equal

Over years of testing, Consumer Reports has found that mineral sunscreens have consistently performed less well than those containing organic chemical UV filters.

Sunscreen Is Used Daily – Not Only at the Beach

Sunscreens are used daily by people who work outside, go running, do yard work or simply commute every day in the sun. Hawaii has the highest daily average UV index in the nation, making sun protection a crucial public health issue.

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We are Hawaii for Sun Safety

We are Hawaii for Sun Safety — a coalition of parents, outdoor enthusiasts, scientists, medical professionals, skin cancer survivors, environmentalists, and businesses.

With so many bright and sunny days here in Hawaii, we know how important sun safety is to our health, and we are committed to sharing accurate, evidence-based sun safety information with our communities to help Hawaii residents and visitors protect their skin on our sunny islands.

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