King said banning oxybenzone and octinoxate to help protect Hawaii’s marine ecosystem only solved part of the problem.
“Those chemical names are trademark names. So, you can take any of those chemicals, you can add a little something something to it, you can call it something else, and now it’s not on the list of banned chemicals,” King said. “So, we just decided to go for it, make all chemicals illegal, do the most protective thing we could do.”
As of Oct. 1, only mineral-based sunscreens can be used, sold or distributed on Maui, unless you have a prescription. Chemical sunscreens damage Hawaii’s coral reefs, state lawmakers say, and therefore threaten native sea life.
Fines run up to $1,000, but warnings are more likely to be issued through a complaint-based system with the Department of Environmental Management.
“It’s not like we have the sunscreen police driving around, looking at people’s sunscreens and reading labels,” King said.
She added that retailers and distributors will have to pay the most attention to the new rule.
“It’s highly unlikely that a tourist is going to get a warning and then be in the same place, you know, for the second warning and ever get a fine. But once we can eliminate the distribution, then I think that slows it. That’ll make a tremendous difference.”
Tourists will still need to be educated on the change, according to King. A similar bill is scheduled to go into effect on Thursday, Dec. 1 on Hawaii Island, but only for the sale and distribution of chemical sunscreens.
“Allowing people to have that understanding that they can still use what they’d like to use, we just don’t want a broader distribution and availability in our stores here,” said Hawaii County councilmember Rebecca Villegas.
Lawmakers said a statewide ban on chemical sunscreens is tricky. Rep. Lisa Marten said there was pushback from health industries with concerns over skin cancer in the past.
“And that is an extremely legitimate concern, you know, here in Hawaii we have very high rates of skin cancer, and if we didn’t have great alternatives to the chemical sunscreens, then I wouldn’t support it myself,” Marten said.
Marten said a statewide ban — if it is proposed and passed — would likely follow the Big Island model that still allows chemical sunscreens to be used but not sold.
“That’s what you see at this store, that’s what you buy. It won’t be a big deal, I don’t see any reason to go after the individual consumers,” Marten said.