Innovating Around Hawaii’s Sunscreen Ban
“When you think about it, our island paradise, surrounded by coral reefs, is the perfect place to set the gold standard for the world to follow. This will make a huge difference in protecting our coral reefs, marine life, and human health,” said State Senator Mike Gabbard, who introduced the bill, in an email to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
What’s the ban all about?
Oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common ingredients found in thousands of sunscreens, sprays, gels, powders, and creams, are shown to kill young developing coral, increase coral bleaching, and cause genetic damage to other marine life, according to a study conducted by the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory.
Typically, coral bleaching occurs when rising ocean temperatures kill the algae living inside coral. The coral, then removed of the nutrients that sustain 25% of marine life, turns white. However, seawater with added oxybenzone is shown to have increased coral bleaching, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
So, how can a personal care product that’s supposed to protect humans affect our oceans so much? It’s a simple equation: After a sunbather plunges into Hawaii’s sparkling waters for a swim or snorkel, sunscreen washes off their skin and into the ocean. And, with a record 9.3 million visitors traveling to Hawaii last year, that’s a lot of sunscreen entering the local waters and coral reefs.
In fact, experts estimate about 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter the world’s coral reefs annually, according to the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, and an average of 412 pounds of sunscreen was deposited daily at Hanauma Bay in Oahu in 2015.
Despite any inconvenience it creates for them, people are behind the ban. A petition urging Hawaii Governor Ige to sign the bill into law already has over 36,000 signatures.
An innovation opportunity
The newly proposed ban will present a situation where manufacturers will either have to reformulate SPF sunscreen products or stop selling those products in Hawaii altogether. Currently, oxybenzone “is found in more than 3,500 skin care products worldwide for protection against the sun’s harmful effects,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But, based on current personal care product purchasing trends, it seems the tide will ultimately turn towards more eco-friendly, reef-safe sunscreens. The subject of environmentally friendly sunscreen has been the subject of continued coverage in tastemaker publications like Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and Vogue.
We’re written before about how product innovators have risen to the challenge, and it’s no surprise there are marketers who were prepared to leverage the situation in Hawaii for positive impact.
Hawaiian Airlines gave passengers free samples of Raw Elements, a natural sunscreen that is chemical-free, reef-safe, and mineral-based, in April of 2018, to much fanfare and applause. Aqua-Aston Hospitality, a large chain of hotels in Hawaii, also partnered with Raw Elements to offer guests a free bottle of the natural sunscreen at check-in or at towel stations at their resorts last year.
As consumers get “greener,” so must products
Strong consumer support for the bill shouldn’t come as a surprise. Although SB2571 would make Hawaii the first state in the entire country to pass such a law, it’s hot on the heels of an increased demand for more clean, green, and natural personal care products from consumers. Choosing natural products is now not only seen as a personal decision, but also as a political choice and chance for consumers to “vote with their dollars.”
With the explosive growth of the sunscreen market and the proposed SB2571 bill, new sunscreens formulated without oxybenzone and octinoxate will provide a unique market opportunity for manufacturers and formulators. It’s their chance to seize competitive advantage by offering consumers sun protection, sun damage prevention, and eco-chic safety in a single tube or bottle, and build goodwill and loyalty.