Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands: 5 Best Brands for Your Hawaii Vacation

December 29, 2022

Protect coral reefs and your skin at the same time! Reef safe sunscreens are better all-around. It's time for a glow-up.

Vacationers in sunny Hawaii know that plenty of sunscreen is essential to survive those sizzling rays. If you plan on diving into the cool water, however, this presents a big problem for vibrant coral reefs. You'll need reef safe sunscreen to keep both your skin and the underwater marvels healthy!

Whether you're snorkeling, scuba diving or just plain swimming, colorful and active aquatic life is what makes the underwater world of Hawaii so spectacular.

Unfortunately, these magnificent life forms are damaged when they come into contact with the harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are frequently found in sunscreen that isn't approved sunscreen for Hawaii.

The elimination of these chemicals is what makes sunscreen reef safe. The good news is there are mineral based sunscreens available that don't harm the environment!

Keep reading as we fill you in on everything you need to know about reef safe sunscreen so you can snorkel without a care in the world.

underwater photo of man snorkeling in blue ocean waterThe Need for Reef Friendly Sunscreen

In 2015, the Hareticus Environmental Laboratory found that an average of 412 pounds of sunscreen is deposited in the Hanauma Bay in Oahu daily. That's a lot of slippery white lotion filled with chemicals washing off into the ocean!

At a broader scope, the National Park Service found that anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 tons of sunscreen enters coral reefs around the globe each year. No wonder our coral reefs are disappearing.

Hawaii is the first U.S. state to pass a law that bans the sale of sunscreen that isn't reef safe. So, you'll need to stock up on Hawaii approved reef safe sunscreen before you get on the plane to head to your tropical vacation.

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen?

Reef safe sunscreen is sunscreen that leaves out toxic chemicals, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. Instead, reef safe sunscreen Hawaii typically uses zinc oxide to offer sun protection.

The next time you're searching for sunscreen, reef safe is the way to go. Not only is Hawaii approved sunscreen better for nature. The best sunscreen for Hawaii is better for you, too!

5 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

Throw out your stereotypical sunblock. We've rounded up plenty of alternatives to choose from on our recommended reef safe sunscreen list!

Stream2Sea

Stream2Sea is a biodegradable sport sunscreen that uses an antioxidant blend containing aloe and green tea, to name a couple of the natural ingredients. The best part is that it sits on top of skin rather than sinking into pores. The non-greasy formula is better for both you and the coral reefs!

This sunscreen lotion SPF 30 stands up in the face of both UVA and UVB rays. If you plan on getting wet, the formula is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It's safe enough to use on both your body and face, so you'll be protected from head to toe.

Be stingy with your squeezing, as a little goes a long way when it comes to this dense reef safe sun protection. If you get it in your eyes, no worries! It won't sting them. This also makes it a great pick for kids.

Fun Fact: Even the bottles themselves are designed with the environment in mind. They're made of sugarcane resin!

Hanauma Bay Oahu Hawaii

Aerial view of famous Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve with beach and coral reef in Oahu island, Hawaii, United States. Summer time leisure and water sports recreation. Nature scenic landscape.

All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen

As with all reef safe sunscreens, All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen is free of toxic chemicals. So, it definitely makes it on the list of our best reef safe sunscreen for Hawaii!

This is a great choice for sensitive skin as it contains coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter. These ingredients work together to hydrate skin. If you're wondering, "Is coconut oil reef safe?" the answer is yes!

Additionally, green tea, rose hips, and buriti oil help repair sun-damaged skin. It won't clog pores and blends in smoothly!

Once you slather it on, you'll be good to go for 80 minutes. Hike, bike, and snorkel to your heart's content for over an hour. Your skin will be safe and sound from the sun's harmful rays.

This sunscreen even comes in multiple forms. Whether you're looking for a lotion, reef safe sunscreen spray, or even a sunscreen stick, there's a version for you. These all make great reef safe alternatives to big-brand sunscreens!

Little Hands Hawaii

It's hard to beat this locally-made sunscreen. Originating from a kitchen in Hawaii, Little Hands Hawaii is made with organic ingredients to preserve your skin and the environment. The product's family company feel doesn't take away from its prestigious reputation -- it's FDA-approved!

This sunscreen reef safe Hawaii is even gentle enough for babies. It comes in plastic-free packaging that's also good for the environment.

Non-nano zinc oxide is the active ingredient that wards off both UVB and UVA rays. This causes radiation to reflect off your skin rather than absorbing it like other sunscreens.

Ingredients like organic coconut oil, raw shea butter, and vitamin E oil are added to give skin a healthy glow. Mineral sunscreens like this one are usually chock-full of natural goods like these!

Pro Tip: If you forget to purchase Hawaii reef safe sunscreen before your trip, you can find Little Hands Hawaii at select stores on Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

MANDA Organic Sun Paste

It's hard to get more natural than MANDA Organic Sun Paste. This sunblock is food-grade! Certified organic ingredients include coconut oil, cinnamon oil, and beeswax.

Pro Tip: This product solidifies when it gets colder. So, we suggest warming it up before use. Leaving it in your pocket or on your dashboard will do the trick!

This sunscreen is unique as it leaves a visible layer on top of your skin. While some may not like this, others will like the assurance that the sunscreen is still working when they look down and see it.

Packaging made from bamboo and tin is a great alternative to typical plastic bottles. Once you've used up all the sunscreen, you can keep the tin and reuse it in a variety of ways. For example, store headphones or jewelry in the tin while you're on the water!

Snorkel in KauaiKokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen

Filled with Hawaii-grown ingredients, Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen is brimming with quality. Kukui nut oil, organic noni juice, and plumeria extract are just a few of the ultra-fresh elements. Of course, you won't find any harsh chemicals, either.

This sunblock is light with a super-smooth texture. Rub it in, and it becomes completely invisible! It works to protect you from the sun by using 25% non-nano zinc oxide.

This is an excellent pick if you have sensitive skin, too. Protect your skin while rejuvenating it at the same time. Trust us; the reefs will thank you!

Which Sunscreen is Not Safe for Coral Reefs?

To determine if your selected sunscreen is safe for coral reefs, take a look at the ingredients list. Keep an eye out for zinc sunscreen. Above all, steer clear of products using the following ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Petrolatum
  • Titanium Dioxide

While these aren't all banned in Hawaii or the United States, they have been found to have devastating effects on our underwater ecosystems.

What About the Big-Name Brands?

If you're like most people, you've probably been asking some of the following questions:

  • Is Hawaiin Tropic sunscreen reef safe?
  • Is Neutrogena sunscreen reef safe?
  • Is Alba sunscreen reef safe?
  • Is Banana Boat sunscreen reef safe?
  • Is Blue Lizard sunscreen reef safe?
  • Is Coppertone Sport reef safe?

Unfortunately, big-name brands tend to offer sunscreen products with harmful chemicals. However, in recent years, some of these brands have taken steps to develop coral reef safe sunscreen products.

Many are still in the early stages. So, checking the label is key. When you pick up that bottle of Hawaiian Tropic Reef Friendly sunscreen or Hawaiian Tropic biodegradable sunscreen, for example, just make sure it doesn't contain any of the toxic ingredients we mentioned above.

Woman Snorkeling with FishQuick Tips for Buying the Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen Hawaii

Now that you know the importance of choosing a reef safe sunscreen use these tips to select the right one for your trip.

Buy in Advance

If you can, purchase your sunscreen on the mainland. The prices will be lower than at resort gift shops, the airport, or ABC stores in Hawaii.

Buy Local

However, if you do need to buy sunscreen while on the islands, try to buy brands made in Hawaii or from a locally-owned shop. We listed two Hawaiian-made reef safe sunscreens above, but others include:

Double-Check the Ingredients

Even if the label says “Reef Safe” or “Eco-Friendly,” it's still a good idea to read the reef safe sunscreen ingredients label, including both active ingredients and inactive ingredients. The term "Reef Friendly" may not mean exactly what you think it means.

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are common sunscreen ingredients. However, zinc oxide is known to be safe, while titanium dioxide can be harmful and is frequently used in toxic sunscreens.

Most mineral sunscreen lotion uses non-nano zinc oxide. The non-nano mineral sunscreen lotion tends to make skin white, at least right after application. However, this is a small price to pay to save your skin and the reefs!

Woman snorkeling with Sea TurtleBring the Best Reef Safe Sunscreen Hawaii on Your Next Hawaii Vacation

Whether you plan on leisurely lounging beachside or gearing up for a full-on snorkeling excursion, you need the right sun protection during your Hawaiian getaway.

Remember to purchase reef safe sunscreen before you go and do your part to save Hawaii’s underwater landscape!

Which Reef-Safe Sunscreen is Your Favorite?

Leave a comment below!


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Written By Michaela

Michaela is a journalist who views every story she writes as an adventure, leading her to explore new places and meet new people. She is based in the Midwest ...

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