Before the news about the volcano blasted our newsfeeds, the big story for Hawaii was the new bill that was being passed about sunscreens. You may have heard the phrase “reef-safe” being thrown around. The bill, Senate Bill 2571, prohibits the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing the reef-damaging ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. What chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate do is contribute to coral bleaching, which causes high stress and increases mortality rates among coral. According to the National Park Service, 14,000 tons of sunscreen that contain these chemicals are released into coral reef environments every year. This Sunscreen Ban seeks to eliminate these chemicals from causing further damage to Hawaii’s underwater environments. The bill will go into effect January 21, 2021.
But that’s no reason to hold off on switching sunscreens!
I recently went on a trip with my family to the Big Island. (And, no, we were nowhere near the lava. No, it was not drowning the land, laying waste to all. The only difference was some vog every other day or so.)
Here’s me and my mom.
On our first day, we made a quick shopping trip for the essentials: snacks and sunscreen.
“Get something reef-safe,” I tell my mom. I’ve been hammering this topic home for a good week beforehand.
“Okay,” she responds as she wanders off to the other side of the store. As if I can’t hear her roll her eyes.
Once at the hotel, she pulls out Alba Botanica's Hawaiian Sunscreen.
“Look,” she says, pointing to the green label, “’Reef-safe’.”
I scrutinize the spray-on instantly.
No oxybenzone, it says next to the image of a leaf. I turn it around and read the active ingredients.
Another reef-bleaching chemical. While the ban covers two chemicals, there are, in fact, eight that are toxic to reefs: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, PABA (Aminobenzoic Acid), enzacamene, octisalate, homosalate, and avobenzone.
I don’t blame my mom. The front of the bottle does declare itself reef-safe, but the marketing and chemist teams at Alba Botanica were obviously focused on avoiding the two chemicals in the ban. They didn’t care to research about the other dangerous chemicals.
So, I had us go out and find a proper reef-safe sunscreen.
Raw Elements was the “Ocean Sunscreen” for our family vacation. The Alba Botanica became our “Pool Sunscreen.”
I wasn’t the first to use our zinc-based sunscreen, in fact. My brother became the first discoverer of its mysterious properties.
He stood before me with white streaks on his face.
“Rub in your sunscreen,” I ordered.
“I did,” he huffed in response. He went over to one of the hotel mirrors and massaged the white into his face even more. “I only put a little bit on.”
After several moments of massaging his cheeks and forehead, we resolved the blatant white-out of my brother’s face by spreading it down his neck and to his shoulders before it finally became more evenly distributed.
My first experience with it confirmed what my brother already realized: a little goes a long way. In a concentrated dollop, it feels heavier and perhaps a bit greasier than normal sunscreen. After spreading it and letting it settle on your skin for a few minutes, it’s not so bad. I had a feeling the texture would be different, which is to be expected from a brand that most commonly caters to surfers. Guaranteed to stay on for 80 minutes in the water before reapplication, it makes sense for a sunscreen that sits on top of your skin instead of blending in would be heavier.
Other than the feeling during application, it works just like normal sunscreen.
Which means if you don’t put it on before you go outside and don’t spread it everywhere it needs to be, you will get burned. Just like me and my mom when we went to hike out to Makalawena Beach and remembered 15 minutes into the hike that sunscreen was important, whereupon we haphazardly slapped some on and proceeded on our hike. Not to mention, we did not reapply after going in the water and hiking out two hours later.
In summary, Raw Elements, as a sunscreen, does its job, provided you use it correctly.