Hawaii-based Project Reef founder on taking stand for marine health in SPF

By Ravyn Cullor

- Last updated on GMT

The Maui-based sunscreen ban has turned to mineral UV filters to address reef health impacts in their backyard. © Project Reef
The Maui-based sunscreen ban has turned to mineral UV filters to address reef health impacts in their backyard. © Project Reef

Related tags Sunscreen Spf Sun care reef-safe Sun protection protective beauty

As a ban on chemical UV filters goes into effect later this year in Maui a Hawaii-based sunscreen brand partnered with Four Seasons to start protecting reefs now.

Project Reef is a Maui-based brand that sells only mineral-based suncare products in order to protect reefs, particularly those around the island. 

Founder Matt Roomet told CosmeticsDesign that as an owner of a tourism business on the islands he’s seen the purported effects of chemical UV filters on the most visited reefs. He designed his brand around environmental concerns appearing in his own backyard.

“This brand was built and designed not to make money, it's designed to make systemic change and large impact,”​  Roomet said. “When we say we're sustainable, we want to do good and we put people first, we really mean it.”

Beating the chemical UV filter ban to the punch

For World Ocean Day, Project Reef partnered with Four Seasons Resort Maui on a sunscreen swap and replacing the chemical UV-based sunscreen in the hotel’s complimentary sunscreen dispensers.

While the chemical UV ban in Maui doesn’t take effect until October 1, Roomet said he felt it was important to urge companies who have a footprint in sunscreen usage in Hawaii to make the change early.

He said he also wanted to use the event on World Ocean Day to not only educate guests about reef health and UV filters but to educate locals as well about what labels like “clean” and “sustainable” really mean.

“It feels great that a small new business was able to plant the seed and an idea with a larger, existing, very powerful and iconic brand like Four Seasons and they were on board with it because it was the right thing to do for the planet,”​  Roomet said.

While research on the impacts of chemical sunscreen is not conclusive, the Federal Drug Administration is preparing an environmental impact statement on chemical UV filters oxybenzone and octinoxate over questions on its reef safety.

Roomet said while research may still be out on chemical UV filters, he prefers to err on the side of safety with mineral filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, generally considered safe for the environment and humans.

A local brand focusing on local impact

Participating in local philanthropy and events is an important part of Project Reef’s brand, Roomet said. Aside from the World Ocean Day event, the company has sponsored and participated in other events, removed ocean-bound plastic and works with local non-profits.

One of those organizations is the Coral Reef Alliance, an international organization with two chapters in Hawaii, one of which is on Maui. Roomet said the company joined the organization before they were seeing sales.

In the deal Project Reef has with the Coral Reef Alliance, all the money and resources the brand contributes go back into the islands.

These practices and a focus on change over profitability are part of the brand’s long-term goals, Roomet said. He wants to be sure the business foundations for the brand are strong in order to have a stronger hand in enacting change.

“We really want to drive large-scale change and systemic change,”​ Roomet said. “We don't want to go too quickly without making sure that some of these foundational elements are in place and also that we maintain our why we're doing this, making sure that we're a positive business in the community.”

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