Why Reef Safe Sunscreens Are Important To Hawaii

When traveling to Kauai, or any other Hawaiian island, be sure to pack some reef safe sunscreens in your checked luggage. In July, 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the United States to ban the sale of sunscreen containing the coral-harming chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2021, but many residents and visitors alike are already doing their best to be environmentally conscience.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are not the only ingredients deemed to be potentially harmful to aquatic life, but according to several studies, they do contribute to coral bleaching. When coral bleaches, it is not dead, but under significant stress and subject to increased mortality levels. According to the National Park Service, 14,000 tons of sunscreen enter coral reefs every year. These two chemicals are believed to be one of the contributing factors to the coral reef destruction.

So, what does this mean to visitors?

As of now, the ban affects only the sell and distribution of sunscreens with these ingredients within the state but does not ban visitors from bringing them into the state. Given the reasons behind the law, however, please consider buying some reef safe sunscreens at home to bring with you or wait until you reach the islands to purchase one of these products. Some of the major sunscreen brands are making adjustments to their ingredients list in order to meet the restrictions of the new law. In fact, I was at Walmart the other day and many of the popular sunscreen brands already have “reef safe” on the label.

Reef Safe Sunscreens

Reef Safe Sunscreen

Even Costco had reef safe sunscreen options. This one sells for $15.99.

Reef Safe Sunscreen

No one, especially dermatologists, want you to skimp on using UV filters. Hawaii lies much closer to the equator than the mainland, and therefore sun exposure (even when it is cloudy) causes unwelcome sunburns. Alternate ingredients, including zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, provide different mechanisms of sun protection while causing less harm to the reefs.

What else can visitors do to avoid damage to skin and to the reefs?

If you plan to go into the water at the beach, the best way to protect both yourself and the environment may be to cover most of your body with UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing, or even a regular T-shirt, which has been found to offer excellent protection. That way the amount of sunscreen one wears is limited to only exposed areas of the body. This reduces the amount of chemicals that go into the sea by about half.

Wear hats and sunglasses, find shade and limit the amount of time in the sun.

I found this list of reef safe sunscreens on one of our Hawaii blogs. Made in Hawaii sunscreens are marked with an *asterisk.

  • *Mama Kuleana Waterproof SPF 30 Reef-safe Sunscreen
  • *Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
  • *Little Hands Hawaii SPF 35+ All-natural and Organic Sunscreen
  • Manda Organic SPF 50 Sun Paste
  • *Raw Love SPF 35 All-natural Mineral Sunscreen
  • Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen
  • All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion
  • Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion
  • Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen
  • Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream
  • Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen
  • Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock
  • Loving Naturals Clear Body SPF 30+ All-natural Sunscreen
  • Reef Safe Oxybenzone Free Biodegradable SPF 50 Sunscreen
  • Banana Boat Simply Protect SPF 50+ Sunscreen (spray, not lotion)

Another blogger, Cate Lincoln at Hulaland, tried a few reef safe sunscreens herself and recommended these:

Coola: Coola is hands down my favorite sunscreen brand right now. It’s the perfect blend of an organic/natural sunscreen that keeps nasty chemicals to a minimum but is also convenient to apply. You know what they say…the best sunscreen is the one you’ll wear. And I LOVE Coola’s Eco-Luxe Spray (the guava mango scent is my favorite). It’s reef safe (does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate) and it’s a CONTINUOUS, CLEAR spray. This is huge to me. There are a few cheaper, organic spray sunscreens (some that are reef safe), but they spray on white and you have to rub it in. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time for that at the beach. Yes, Coola products aren’t cheap, but I’ve found them to be a home run because of the ingredients/convenience factor.

Also, their face sunscreens are one of the few that doesn’t make me break out. I have pretty sensitive skin and anything with zinc oxide is not my friend.

SunBum: SunBum has become a bit controversial lately, but they’re still a favorite of mine. They used to call themselves “reef safe,” but they’ve been called out on that since they do contain some chemicals that may be harmful to reefs (however they don’t include oxybenzone or octinoxate). This is my favorite lotion sunscreen because it goes on so smooth and smells really nice. They also make a continuous spray version which is somewhat more convenient, but it sprays on white and you still have to rub it in.

They have started making a mineral line, which is completely reef safe (it basically only contains zinc oxide) but like all mineral sunscreens it has a bright white tint which even when rubbed in tends to make skin appear a little ghostly. I’m not a fan of that however I do like to keep a small bottle of it in my beach bag to double up on areas that burn easily (shoulder tops) or patches that have already had a little too much sun.

Pacifica: Pacifica is a beauty brand that’s known for being pretty clean and organic so it’s no surprise that their sunscreen line doesn’t contain a lot of harsh chemicals. It’s a mineral line (which I said above I’m not a big fan of because of the whitish glow they create), however they make a “bronzing” version that’s tinted so it doesn’t have that problem. It kind of reminds me of those “spray on panty hose” products that make your legs look all smooth and silky ; ) This spray (still has to be rubbed in) is a good option for a mineral sunscreen, but I will warn you that it can be a little messy if you’re wearing a light colored swim suit.

*Kate may make a little money if you purchase the products through the above links.

It may be a little overwhelming trying to choose the best reef safe sunscreens for you and your family. But, in the end, you will probably feel better knowing you are making smarter choices concerning the products you put on your body and the fewer negative effects they will have on our environment.

Reef Safe Sunscreens
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