Our Picks for the Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Hawaii Edition

Understanding the Importance of Reef Safe Sunscreen

Living in Hawaii for the past two years, I’ve been blessed to witness the vibrant beauty of our coral reefs firsthand. However, I’ve also learned about the hidden dangers that these delicate ecosystems face, particularly from a surprising source – our sunscreen. Many traditional sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been found to cause coral bleaching. This alarming fact led to Hawaii becoming the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens containing these harmful ingredients.

The Detrimental Effects of Traditional Sunscreens on Coral Reefs

You might be wondering, “Why does it matter?” Well, here’s the scoop. Traditional sunscreens, while great at protecting our skin, can be downright disastrous for coral reefs. They contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which contribute to coral bleaching. When we take a dip in the ocean, sunscreen washes off our bodies and into the water. The chemicals in these sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone and octinoxate, are absorbed by corals. This absorption causes the corals to bleach and undergo significant stress, which can lead to their death. According to the National Park Service, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs every year. In fact, a staggering 412 pounds of sunscreen is deposited daily on Hanauma Bay’s reef, Oahu’s most popular snorkeling spot. That’s a lot of chemicals wreaking havoc on our precious marine ecosystems!


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The Hawaiian Response: Banning Harmful Sunscreen Ingredients

In response to the threat posed by these chemicals, Hawaii took a bold step. In 2021, the state implemented a ban on the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. It’s a significant move towards preserving the health of the coral reefs and marine life. This move was not just about protecting the environment, but also about safeguarding our health. After all, if these chemicals can harm our reefs, what can they do to our bodies? But remember, while you can still bring non-reef-safe sunscreens to Hawaii, why be that person? There are plenty of alternatives that protect both you and the reefs.

Decoding the Labels: What Makes a Sunscreen Reef Safe?

So, what exactly makes a sunscreen reef safe? But what should you look for? And how can you tell if a sunscreen is truly reef-safe? It’s all about the ingredients. Reef safe sunscreens are free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, but there are other ingredients you should avoid too.

Harmful Ingredients to Avoid

First things first, check the label. Avoid sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, and parabens. These are the main culprits behind coral bleaching. Also avoid sunscreens containing petrolatum, also known as mineral oil. This ingredient takes years to biodegrade and can be harmful to aquatic life. Instead, look for sunscreens that contain natural minerals like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and are labeled as non-nano and paraben-free.

The Truth about “Reef-Safe” Sunscreen Labels

Here’s the kicker. Just because a sunscreen says it’s “reef safe” doesn’t mean it is. The terms “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” are not regulated, and there’s no agreed definition for these products. Some brands use this label as a marketing tactic, even though their products still contain harmful ingredients. So, always check the ingredients list before you buy. Remember, a truly reef-safe sunscreen should not contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, or parabens.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s dive into the good stuff. Here are my top picks for the best reef safe sunscreens for Hawaii. I’ve personally tried and tested each one of these, so you can trust they’re the real deal.

Top Picks for the Best Broad Spectrum Sunscreens

Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+

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Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ is a top-rated broad-spectrum sunscreen that provides effective protection against UVA and UVB rays. This sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for those who enjoy water activities. It’s free of biologically harmful chemicals, including avobenzone, oxybenzone, paraben, phthalates, PABA, and 1,4 dioxane. This sunscreen is also a member of the Safe Cosmetics Campaign Compact.

Key (active) ingredients: Zinc Oxide 20%.

Best Natural and Mineral Sunscreens

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen

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EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen is a dermatologist-recommended mineral-based sunscreen that is oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores. It’s designed for sensitive skin types and is safe for use on the face. This sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection and includes niacinamide (vitamin B3), hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid, ingredients that promote the appearance of healthy-looking skin.

Key (active) ingredients: Zinc Oxide 9.0%, Octinoxate 7.5%.


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Best Sunscreens for Infants and Children

Mustela Sunscreen Lotion

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Mustela Sunscreen Lotion is a 100% mineral-based sunscreen that’s perfect for infants and children. It’s enriched with naturally derived ingredients, including aloe vera, jojoba oil, and shea butter, to moisturize and soothe the skin.

This sunscreen is water-resistant and offers broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. It’s also free of parabens, phthalates, and phenoxyethanol.

Key (active) ingredients: Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide.

Best Sunscreens for Face and Body

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk Body & Face Sunscreen SPF 60, Oil Free Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin, Sport Sunscreen Lotion, Sun Protection & Sun Skin Care, Oxybenzone Free La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk Body & Face Sunscreen SPF 60, Oil Free... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk is a fast-absorbing, velvety finish sunscreen that offers advanced broad-spectrum protection. This sunscreen is formulated with Cell-Ox Shield technology: broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection plus antioxidants. It’s suitable for all skin types and is tested on sensitive skin. This sunscreen is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Key (active) ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 10%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 7%.

Applying Your Reef-Safe Sunscreen Correctly

Now that you’ve got your reef-safe sunscreen, it’s important to apply it correctly to ensure maximum protection.

How Much to Apply

A common mistake is not applying enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, use about a shot glass full (or two tablespoons) of sunscreen for your entire body and a nickel-sized amount for your face.

When to Apply

Apply your sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading out in the sun. This gives the sunscreen time to absorb into your skin and provide the best protection.

Reapplication is Key

Remember to reapply your sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating. Even if your sunscreen is water-resistant, it’s not bulletproof.

The sunscreen brands that we all know

Let’s take a closer look at some popular sunscreen brands and see where they stand on reef safety.

Hawaiian Tropic: A Closer Look

Hawaiian Tropic is a well-known brand, but is it reef safe? Unfortunately, many of their sunscreens contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. However, they’ve recently launched a new line called Simply Protect, which is free from these harmful chemicals. I’ve tried the Simply Protect Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion and can vouch for its effectiveness and gentleness on the skin.

Sale Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Lotion SPF 30 | Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, 8oz Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Lotion SPF 30 | Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, 8oz @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Hawaiian Tropic’s Sheer Touch Lotion Sunscreen offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection. It’s oil-free, water-resistant, and has a pleasant tropical fragrance. However, it’s important to note that not all Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens are reef-safe. Be sure to check the label for oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Banana Boat: Reef Safe or Not?

Banana Boat is another popular brand, but like Hawaiian Tropic, many of their sunscreens contain harmful ingredients. However, they’ve also launched a new line called Simply Protect, which is made without oxybenzone and parabens. I’ve used the Simply Protect Kids Sunscreen Lotion and found it to be gentle yet effective.

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Banana Boat’s Simply Protect is a mineral-based sunscreen that offers SPF 50+ protection. It’s water-resistant, lightweight, and free from oxybenzone and octinoxate. Plus, it’s formulated with fewer ingredients, making it a good choice for those with sensitive skin.

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen

Blue Lizard’s Australian Sunscreen is another excellent option. This sunscreen offers SPF 30+ protection and is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. It’s free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, making it safe for Hawaii’s coral reefs.

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+, 5-Ounce Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30+, 5-Ounce @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Alba Botanica and Reef Safety

Alba Botanica is a brand that’s committed to making 100% vegetarian products. Their Very Emollient Sunscreen is reef safe and biodegradable, making it a great choice for eco-conscious consumers. I’ve used the Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen and love its lightweight, non-greasy feel.

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Alba Botanica’s Hawaiian Sunscreen is a lightweight, quick-absorbing sunscreen that offers SPF 45 protection. It’s made with aloe vera, sunflower seed oil, and tropical fruit extracts to nourish the skin while protecting it. And yes, it’s reef-safe, biodegradable, and free from oxybenzone and octinoxate.

Sun Bum: A Reef Friendly Choice?

Sun Bum is a brand that’s often recommended for its high-quality sunscreens. Their Original SPF 50 Sunscreen is reef friendly and free from oxybenzone and octinoxate. I’ve used the Original SPF 50 Sunscreen and love its light, tropical scent and non-greasy feel.

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Sun Bum’s Mineral SPF 50 is a great choice for those looking for broad-spectrum protection. This sunscreen uses zinc oxide to provide physical UV protection. It’s also enriched with Vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals. Plus, it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it perfect for beach days.

Neutrogena and Coppertone: Where They Stand

Neutrogena and Coppertone are two of the biggest names in sunscreen, but unfortunately, many of their products are not reef safe. However, they do have some products that are free from oxybenzone and octinoxate, so always check the label. I’ve tried the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen and the Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion, both of which are free from harmful chemicals and provide effective sun protection.

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Buying Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii

Where to Find Reef Safe Sunscreen in Hawaii

You might be wondering where to get your hands on these reef-safe sunscreens once you touch down in Hawaii. Well, you’re in luck! Hawaii is ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting its precious coral reefs. Many local stores and beachfront shops carry a wide range of reef-safe sunscreens. You can find brands like Kokua Sun Care, Mama Kuleana, and Little Hands, which are all made in Hawaii. International brands like Thinksport, All Good, and Babo Botanicals are also readily available. So, whether you’re shopping at a local market or a large retail store, you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Lotion Hawaiian Reef Safe Non Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen for Face & Body, Moisturizing Sun Protection Cream, Mineral Water Resistance, Cruelty Free, Natural Vegan Formula Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Lotion Hawaiian Reef Safe Non Nano Zinc Oxide Sunscreen... @ Amazon Amazon Prime

Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Lotion is a standout product that truly embodies the spirit of Hawaii. This sunscreen is not only made in Hawaii, but it also incorporates a variety of locally sourced ingredients, making it a unique and authentic choice for sun protection.

The active ingredient in Kokua Sun Care is non-nano zinc oxide, which is known for its excellent sun protection capabilities and its safety for coral reefs. This ingredient provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, helping to prevent sunburn and long-term sun damage.

But what truly sets Kokua Sun Care apart is its use of Hawaiian-grown antioxidants, including spirulina, kukui nut oil, macadamia nut oil, and more. These ingredients are rich in vitamins and nutrients that nourish the skin, helping to keep it healthy and resilient in the face of sun exposure.

In addition, Kokua Sun Care is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for beach days and water sports. It’s also free from harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, so you can feel good about using it in Hawaii’s delicate marine environments.

Key (active) ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide, Hawaiian spirulina, kukui nut oil, macadamia nut oil.

Tips for Buying Real Reef-Safe Sunscreen

When shopping for sunscreen in Hawaii, it’s crucial to know what to look for. Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, as these chemicals are known to harm coral reefs. Also, steer clear of sunscreens with high content of Titanium Dioxide, which doesn’t biodegrade and can harm sea life. Instead, opt for sunscreens labeled as “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly”. However, do your due diligence as these terms are not regulated and can sometimes be misleading. Always check the ingredients list to ensure it doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals.

Alternatives to Sunscreen: Protecting Your Skin and the Reefs

Sun Protective Clothing and Accessories

Sunscreen isn’t the only way to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Sun protective clothing and accessories are a great alternative. Look for clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating. A UPF of 50, for example, only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin. Don’t forget about hats and sunglasses too! They provide extra protection for your face and eyes.

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Seeking Shade and Planning Outdoor Activities Wisely

Another effective way to protect your skin and the reefs is to limit your sun exposure during peak hours, typically between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Plan your outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the afternoon. And when you’re at the beach, bring an umbrella or a pop-up tent for shade.

The Future of Sun Protection in Hawaii

Upcoming Regulations and Innovations

Hawaii is leading the way in reef conservation with its ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. This law, which came into effect on January 1, 2021, is a significant step towards protecting Hawaii’s coral reefs. It’s also encouraging to see popular sunscreen brands creating new, less toxic sunscreen lines in response to this law. With ongoing research and innovation, we can expect to see more advancements in sun protection that are both effective for us and safe for our environment.

The Role of Visitors in Protecting Hawaii’s Reefs

As visitors, we play a crucial role in protecting Hawaii’s coral reefs. By choosing reef-safe sunscreens and practicing responsible sun protection habits, we can enjoy Hawaii’s beautiful beaches while also preserving its vibrant marine life. Remember, every small action counts when it comes to conservation.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I Bring My Own Sunscreen to Hawaii?

Yes, you can bring your own sunscreen to Hawaii. However, it’s important to ensure that it’s reef-safe. Check the ingredients list and avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are harmful to coral reefs. If you’re unsure, consider buying your sunscreen once you arrive in Hawaii, where many stores carry a wide range of reef-safe options.

Are All “Reef Safe” Labels Trustworthy?

Not all “reef safe” labels are trustworthy. The terms “reef safe” and “reef friendly” are not regulated, so it’s important to check the ingredients list. Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate. Look for sunscreens that contain non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are considered safe for reefs.

What Sunscreen Strength is Best for Hawaii?

When it comes to sunscreen strength, a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is recommended. Broad-spectrum means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Remember, no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays, so it’s important to reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.

Are There Reef Safe Sunscreen Sprays?

Yes, there are reef-safe sunscreen sprays available. However, it’s important to note that sprays can be less effective than lotions because it’s easy to miss a spot. If you choose a spray, make sure to apply a generous and even coating and rub it in to ensure full coverage.

How Can I Be Sure a Sunscreen is Truly Reef Safe?

To be sure a sunscreen is truly reef safe, check the ingredients list. Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, and high content of Titanium Dioxide. Instead, look for sunscreens that contain non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. You can also look for certifications from reputable organizations like the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, which offers the “Protect Land + Sea” certification to products that are free from known environmental pollutants.

In conclusion, protecting your skin and the environment during your Hawaiian adventure is a balancing act. By choosing the right sunscreen and practicing responsible sun protection habits, you can enjoy the sun and surf while also preserving the beauty of Hawaii’s coral reefs. Remember, every small action counts when it comes to conservation. So, let’s do our part and make our sun-soaked holidays as eco-friendly as possible. Aloha!

Jen Roberts Glowing Gorgeous

Jen Roberts

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About our Chief Editor


Jen Roberts, is a passionate beauty specialist and blogger with a deep love for skincare and wellness. More about me here.

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