Bottle of reef safe sunscreen in Hawaii on the beach

The 5 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens for Hawaii

If you’re looking for the best reef-safe sunscreen for Hawaii, you’re in luck!

The Hawaiian Islands are beautiful and popular destinations for tourists, but the coral ecosystems that make these islands so special are in danger.

By choosing a reef-safe sunscreen, you can help protect these delicate ecosystems. We’ve compiled a list of the best reef-safe sunscreens for your next trip to Hawaii.

We’ve spent hours researching different brands and types of sunscreen to find products that work and are reef-safe per Hawaii standards.

This article will discuss the specific products we recommend in detail!

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Make sure to add at least one of these to your Hawaii packing list. We will dive a little deeper into each of these options below.

Before we get into the deep dive, let’s discuss the Hawaii sunscreen ban in detail to help you understand why we chose these specific products.

Hawaii Sunscreen Ban

In 2018, Hawai’i became the first state to ban sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate from being sold on the island. 

These chemicals have been linked to coral bleaching, as they cause damage to the DNA of coral reefs and inhibit their ability to reproduce.

Bill SB 2571, Act 104 was signed by governor David Ige in 2018 to go into effect on January 1st, 2021. The purpose of this bill is to preserve the marine environment and protect coral reefs. 

Beach-goers will need to bring their own sunscreen that meets the new safety standards or purchase the reef-safe sunscreen while on the island.

By choosing a reef-safe sunscreen, you can help limit these effects on an already stressed ecosystem.

New Hawaii Sunscreen Ban 2023

A new bill, SB132 SD2 HD1, was passed in Hawaii to ban the sale or distribution of any sunscreen containing avobenzone or octocrylene without a prescription by a licensed healthcare provider. 

This law will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

In short, any sunscreens containing the below items are banned or will be banned come January 2023.

  • Oxybenzone, octinoxate, or both, after January 1, 2021.
  •  Avobenzone, octocrylene, or both, after January 1, 2023.

Maui County Bill Prohibiting Non-Mineral Sunscreens

On November 19th, 2021 Maui County council member Kelly Takaya King introduced Bill 135 to prohibit the sale, use, or distribution of non-mineral sunscreens.

The bill, under ordinance No 5306, was later signed into law on December 6th, 2021 by Mayor Michael Victorino; it will go into effect on October 1st, 2022.

If going to Maui after October 1st, 2022 make sure to add the mineral sunscreens we recommend to your Maui packing list.

Now that we have discussed the basics, let’s talk about the best five sunscreens for Hawaii.

Top 5 Reef-Safe Sunscreens for Hawaii

Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Natural Sunscreen 

Scent: Unscented

Protection: SPF 30

Skin Type: All

Weight: 0.19 Pounds

The Raw Elements sunscreen is perfect for the entire family! This sunscreen is suitable for all ages, including your little ones.

Important Thing to Note

Make sure to apply this sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure and after 80 minutes of swimming or sweating. Reapply after every 2 hours for the best result.

Why we love this sunscreen:

✅ Organic and Natural Sunscreen

The Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Sunscreen is the best choice for anyone looking for a natural/organic alternative.

It contains vitamins, minerals, and nourishing antioxidants. It’s also soy, gluten, and nut-free.

The tin it comes in is plastic-free, recyclable, and reusable, making it the perfect choice for anyone looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

This sunscreen contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, making it safe for even the most sensitive skin.

This sunscreen protects you against UVA and UVB rays while remaining water-resistant.

✅Reef Safe Sunscreen

The Face and Body Certified Natural Sunscreen is the best alternative to traditional chemical sunscreens! Its 100% reef-safe, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and biodegradable.

✅ Lasts Longer

Raw Elements sunscreen is now made with 23% non-nano zinc oxide, so it lasts up to 80 minutes in the water.

Non-Nano means Non-Small

The best part about this product is that it is not considered nano!

Why is this important? 

Nanoparticles are much smaller than zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which means they can penetrate the skin.

This is bad because nanoparticles can be absorbed into our bloodstream and cause adverse health effects.

Raw Elements sunscreen is not considered a nanoparticle and therefore cannot do any of this!  

Cons:

Might Feel Greasy for Some People

Some customers have reported that this sunscreen is too greasy when applied, and that it feels sticky. Most of the reviews came from people with oily skin.

❌Too Difficult to Spread

Some customers mentioned that the sunscreen is too thick, and hard to apply and get off of your body.

We found it helpful to rub the sunscreen in a small area before applying it to the rest of your body, as this warms it up a little and makes it easier to apply.

Alternatively, use a washcloth to clean yourself when you are in the shower. This should fix the other issue of getting it off your body.

❌ Leaves White Residual on Skin

Some people have mentioned that this sunscreen will leave behind a white residue after applying.

This can easily be fixed by making sure you rub in the sunscreen all the way.

Raw Love, Sunscreen Mineral SPF 

Scent: Unscented

Protection: SPF 30

Skin Type: All

Weight: 0.25 Pounds

When looking for the best reef-friendly sunscreen, we found that Raw Love makes one of the safest and most natural sunscreens on the market!

Important Thing to Note

A little goes a long way with this sunscreen! Don’t apply too much, as it’s not needed. Make sure to use it at least 15 minutes before sun exposure.

Why we love this sunscreen:

It’s Eco-Friendly

The Raw Love sunscreen is environmentally friendly, plastic-free, reef-free, and offers both UVA and UVB protection.

✅Toxin-Free & Reef-Safe

This sunscreen contains only natural ingredients while being toxin-free and reef-safe!

✅Contains Non-Nano Zinc Oxide

The Raw Love sunscreen contains non-nano zinc oxide, which means that it cannot be easily absorbed into your skin.

As mentioned before, Non-nano particles are not as small as nanoparticles, and therefore they will stay on top of your skin to provide protection.

✅ Made in the United States

The Raw Love sunscreen is made in the United States, which means it meets some of the strictest guidelines.

✅ Works Great

We found that the Raw Love sunscreen works excellent and prevents sunburn when used correctly.

Cons:

❌ Needs to Be Rubbed In

Some customers have mentioned that the Raw Love sunscreen does not apply evenly and therefore needs to be vigorously rubbed in, which takes up some time.

❌Too Thick and Leaves a White Residue

Some customers have reported that the Raw Love sunscreen is too thick and leaves a white residue.

We found the best way to apply this on your skin is by applying it in small areas at a time. This will help you get it rubbed into your skin so that there are no white residues left on your body.

Also, if you have more melanin in your skin, the white residual might show more than someone with fair skin.

I have darker skin and I can confirm that you will be left with white marks all over if it’s not rubbed in well. Take the time to rub it in and you won’t have this problem.

❌Fragrant Smell

There were a few complaints about this sunscreen having a scent (coming from essential oils) that was not appealing to some people.
Make sure you smell it before using it to see whether or not it bothers you.

Badger – SPF 35 Clear Zinc Sports Sunscreen Cream

Scent: Unscented

Protection: SPF 35

Skin Type: Sensitive Skin/All Skin Types

Weight: 0.09 Kilograms

We found that Badger Clear Zinc Sport Sunscreen Cream-Unscented was one of the best reef-friendly sunscreens on the market for the most natural and safest sunscreen! It only has five ingredients: transparent zinc oxide, organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, organic jojoba oil, & sunflower vitamin E.

Important Things to Note

A little goes a long way with this sunscreen! Don’t apply too much as it’s not needed. Go easy on yourself and see how one application works for the day before using more if you need to.

Also, this product works well if you moisturize before applying sunscreen. Make sure to add moisturizer to your Hawaii packing list.

Why we love this sunscreen:

✅Suitable for Sensitive Skin and All Skin Types

As mentioned before, this sunscreen is made with five ingredients and is a good option for sensitive skin or all skin types.

✅Safe & Organic Ingredients

The Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen Cream-Unscented is reef-safe, biodegradable, and uses 98% organic ingredients!

✅Made in the USA

Badger is a very reputable family-owned, family-run brand that produces this sunscreen in the United States. They have been in business for 25 years!

Cons:

❌Very Thick and Sticky

A few customers have mentioned that this sunscreen is very sticky and takes a long time to apply.

Again, the best thing to do here is to rub it in your hands to smooth it before applying it to your body.

❌Hard to Squeeze Out from the Bottle 

There were a few complaints about this sunscreen being very hard to squeeze out of the bottle.

Most of these complaints came from people that were surfing in colder climates. I don’t think this is a big problem in hot climates like Hawaii.

❌Hard to Get Off Your Body

Another complaint about this sunscreen is that it’s hard to get off your body. Once again, we don’t think this will be a big problem if you wash yourself using a washcloth.

Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Min Water

Scent: Light Coconut Vanilla

Protection: SPF 50+

Skin Type: Sensitive Skin/All Skin Types

If you are still looking for a reef-safe sunscreen, definitely give Kokua Sun Care a try! They were named the best reef-safe sunscreen by Outside Magazine in 2018.

This sunscreen is also reef-safe, natural, and organic. They use a great combination of coconut oil & jojoba seed oil to moisturize your skin.

Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Min Water was made for water activities like surfing or swimming. It has an 80-minute water protection rating!

Important Things to Note

Make sure to use as directed to prevent sunburn. Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure and then reapply after 80 minutes of being in the water and/or sweating.

When people say they got sunburned, they are most likely not using the product correctly.

Why we love this sunscreen:

Contains 25% Non-Nano Zinc Oxide 

The Kokua Sun Care SPF 50/80 Min Water uses 25% (the highest on the market) non-nano zinc oxide. This means it protects you from both UVA & UVB rays!

Reef-Safe, Biodegradable, and Eco-Friendly

There’s no need to worry about hurting the environment when using this sunscreen! It’s reef-safe, biodegradable, and eco-friendly.

Water-Resistant up to 80 Minutes

This sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes!

Great for Sensitive Skin and All Skin Types

There were a lot of reviews saying how good this sunscreen was for sensitive skin and all skin types.

Cons:

Thick and Sticky

Like most products mentioned on this list, the Kokua sunscreen has received some reviews from customers stating that it’s thick and sticky.
Again, this product works great if rubbed in fully.

Hard to Rub In

A few customers have stated that this sunscreen is hard to rub in. in our opinion, this isn’t much of an issue. It just takes a little patience.

Hard to Get Off Body

Some customers said it’s hard to get off your body after it absorbs into the skin, but most people mention that it should wash off easily if you use a washcloth.

White Residue on Tan Skin

Some customers have mentioned that this sunscreen leaves a white residue on tanned skin.
My advice is to rub the sunscreen in between your hands before applying it to the rest of your body.

Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen

Scent: Unscented

Protection: SPF 30

Skin Type: Sensitive Skin

Weight: 3 ounces

The final sunscreen on our list is the Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen. This is another excellent option if you are looking for reef-safe sunscreen.

Important Things to Note

This sunscreen is also perfect for babies.

Why we love this sunscreen:

✅Very Good on Sensitive Skin

Just like the Kokua Sun Care sunscreen, customers have said it does a great job of protecting their sensitive skin.

✅100% Non-Nano Zinc Oxide

This sunscreen is 100% non-nano zinc oxide, which provides excellent protection from both UVA & UVB rays. It also offers 80 minutes of sun protection.

✅Eco-Friendly 

The Babo Botanicals sunscreen is eco-friendly and reef-safe. There’s no need to worry about harming the coral reefs or our environment when using this sunscreen.

Cons:

❌Very Thin; Needs to Be Reapplied Often

Some customers have mentioned that this sunscreen is very thin. Make sure to reapply after the recommended 80 minutes to avoid sunburn.

❌May Leave a White Residue on Darker Skin

Like the Kokua sunscreen, there were also some reviews mentioning how it can leave a white residue on darker skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are healthy coral reefs important?

Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and valuable ecosystems globally. They are home to more than 25% of all marine life!

They provide food, shelter, and protection to organisms that cannot survive without them. 

Not only that, but healthy coral reefs also help protect coastlines from erosion and shield coastal areas from damaging waves.

During our research, we were shocked to find out how important coral reefs are to humans.

According to Noaa.gov, approximately 500 million people worldwide depend on reefs for food and livelihood. Out of those 500 million, 30 million are almost entirely dependent on reefs.

With that being said, the damage that sunscreen chemicals can do to coral reefs is very impactful!

Why is oxybenzone and octinoxate terrible for the environment?

Both oxybenzone and octinoxate have been shown to be harmful when they come into contact with coral reefs.

Both chemicals can cause coral bleaching, which occurs when the corals expel the algae inside of them. This algae is what gives them their color, so when they expel this algae they lose their color and turn pale (or become “bleached”).

Coral reefs are already under enough stress as it is, without sunscreen harming their ability to reproduce and grow!

Can I bring my sunscreen to Hawaii?

As long as you follow the guidelines mentioned above, feel free to bring your own sunscreen. No one is going to check your sunscreen, but doing the right thing is always best!

Will they check my sunscreen?

No, unfortunately, this ban is not currently being enforced. The State of Hawaii depends on people to do the right thing.

While you can bring any type of sunscreen to Hawaii and get away with it, it would be very disrespectful and careless to bring sunscreen that is not reef-safe. If you love Hawaii so much and want to preserve its beauty, then please only use reef-safe sunscreen.

Important Things to Know About Reef-Safe Sunscreen

When we first started researching which sunscreen to bring to Hawaii, we noticed that many brands advertised their products as “reef-safe.”

Unfortunately, going by this alone will not ensure that your sunscreen is indeed reef-safe.

  • Make sure to read the ingredients list and cross out any products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
  • Also, after January 2023, avobenzone and octocrylene will be banned.
  • If going to Maui after October 1, 2022, make sure you use mineral sunscreen.

The above chemicals are harmful to coral reefs and can be fatal to organisms living in the ocean.

It’s worth mentioning that while the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban mentions four specific chemicals (oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, and octocrylene) for a product to be banned, there are other chemicals in sunscreen that can be harmful to coral reefs as well.

However, for the sake of this article, we will be focusing on the Hawaii Sunscreen Ban and steer away from products that contain these four specific chemicals.

The below graphic from National Ocean Service explains how sunscreen chemicals enter our environment and affect marine life.

Infographic showing how sunscreen chemicals enter our environment and affect marine life.
Infographic: Sunscreen Chemicals and Marine Life. Download

Tips for Buying the Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Read the Label

As mentioned before, always read the ingredients list. The list of ingredients can be found on the back of the product’s label. If buying online, there should be an ingredients list on the posting.

Scan through it before proceeding to purchase the sunscreen. If you find any of the four chemicals we mentioned, set that bottle down and continue your search for reef-safe sunscreen!

Buying in Hawaii Doesn’t Always Mean Reef-Safe

Please don’t assume that because you are buying your sunscreen in Hawaii, it must be reef-safe.

Even if you are purchasing sunscreen in Hawaii, double-check to ensure that the products are indeed reef-safe.

Use Mineral Sunscreen Instead of Chemical Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens are a great alternative to chemical sunscreen. They work by using minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which create a physical block against the sun’s rays rather than a chemical block.

These types of sunscreens do not harm coral reefs when they come into contact with them! When in doubt, always go with the mineral option over chemical!

Wear Sun-Protective Clothing Instead of Sunscreen

One of the best ways to protect our delicate ecosystems is by not wearing sunscreen altogether.

Instead, look into buying clothing with SPF protection or wear a full-body rash guard that offers you sun protection.

Wearing a snorkeling shirt will limit the amount of sunscreen you put on your body and reduce the amount of sunscreen that gets washed off into our bodies of water.

Sun-protective clothing and rash guards are great alternatives to wearing traditional sunscreen! Also, be sure to wear snorkeling shoes to help protect your feet.

Avoid Spray Sunscreens

Spray sunscreens are a big no-no. These types of sunscreens are especially bad for the environment since they can easily be dispersed by wind and ocean currents, making it even easier for sunscreen chemicals to make their way into our coral reefs.

The Wrap Up: Top Sunscreens for Hawaii

Hawaiian sun is intense, but with the right reef-safe sunscreen, you can enjoy your time in the sun and protect Hawaii’s coral reefs. These five sunscreens are the very best on the market and work great to protect you from harmful rays.

Now go out and have some fun!

Mahalo for reading our post! Until next time, Aloha and enjoy the beautiful sun in Hawaii!

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