Reef Safe Sunscreen: Which Should You Buy?

October 12, 2018

Follow our guide to learn the best reef-safe sunscreen products before you arrive in Hawaii.

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When you go snorkeling in Hawaii, you’re bound to see stunning coral reefs filled with tropical aquatic life and plants. But as you swim around and marvel the coral, you may be harming it at the same time.

Sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate harm coral reefs and contribute to coral bleaching as they wash off your skin into the ocean. In fact, the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory discovered that 412 pounds of sunscreen on average was deposited daily on the reef at Hanauma Bay in 2015.

And, 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 recently passed a bill banning these types of sunscreen and instead encouraging visitors and locals to use reef safe sunscreen. While the law doesn’t go into effect until 2021, why wait to save our coral reefs? Instead use a sunscreen that’s safe for Hawaii’s coral reef during your next trip.

underwater photo of man snorkeling in blue ocean water


5 Recommended Reef Safe Sunscreen Brands

1) Stream2Sea

Stream2Sea is a biodegradable sport sunscreen which utilizes an antioxidant blend of Tulsi, organic Green Tea, Olive Leaf, and Wakame to create a non-greasy formula. It provides UVA and UVB sun protection and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Best of all, it’s tested and proven to be safe for our coral reefs!

2) All Good Natural Sport Sunscreenclose up of two bottles of All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen

As with all reef safe sunscreens, All Good Natural Sport Sunscreen is oxybenzone free. The sunscreen is biodegradable, as well, and provides up to 80 minutes of water resistance along with UVA and UVB protection. The formula contains organic Green Tea, Rose Hips, and Buriti Oil. The company also offers a sun butter product, sunscreen stick, and kids' sunscreen, all of which are also reef safe alternatives to big brand sunscreens.

3) Little Hands Hawaii

Made in Hawaii, Little Hands Hawaii is made with organic ingredients to preserve your skin and the environment. The sunscreen is also safe for children and infants to use. As stated on their website, their reef safe sunscreen ingredients include:

  • USDA Certified Organic Coconut Oil
  • Hawaii Island Macadamia Nut Oil
  • Unrefined Big Island Beeswax
  • Organic Lavender essential oil
  • Non-Nano Zinc Oxide
  • Raw Shea Butter
  • Organic Vitamin E Oil
  • Organic Frankincense essential oil
  • Myrrh essential oil

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

4) MANDA Organic Sun Paste

MANDA Organic Sun Paste is an interesting, effective, and safe sunscreen product. Since it leaves a visible layer on top of your skin, you can put on as much or as little as you like without having to worry if it’s protecting your skin. In addition to being rid of oxybenzone and octinoxate, MANDA uses ingredients such as organic Coconut Oil, Beeswax, Cocoa Butter, Cinnamon Oil, and more.

5) Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen

Another reef safe sunscreen made in Hawaii is Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen. The non-greasy sunscreen offers a UVA/UVB spectrum of protection and rubs in clear. It also provides 80 minutes of water and sweat resistance. On top of being an eco-friendly and reef safe option, it’s also ideal for those with sensitive skin such as babies or those with allergies or autoimmune disorders affecting the skin.

Which Sunscreen is Not Safe for Coral Reefs?

To determine if your selected sunscreen is safe for our coral reefs, take a look at the ingredients list. Steer clear of products using the following ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Petrolatum
  • Titanium Dioxide
  • Zinc Oxide

While three of the listed ingredients are not banned in Hawaii or the United States, they have been found to have devastating effects on our underwater ecosystems.

Big name brands such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, Hawaiian Tropic, and more tend to be the biggest offenders of sunscreen products with harmful chemicals. However, in recent years, these brands have taken steps to develop reef safe sunscreen products, but many are still in the early stages.


Quick Tips for Buying Reef Safe Sunscreen

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 purchasing it from a resort gift shop, the airport, or at an ABC store 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. I 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 is still best to read the ingredients label. It’s always good to be careful, especially when it comes to saving the reef!

Bring Reef Safe Sunscreen on Your Next Hawaii Vacation

No matter if you plan on leisurely lounging beachside or are gearing up for a snorkeling excursion, you need the right sun protection during your Hawaiian island getaway. Remember to purchase reef safe sunscreen before you go and do your part to save Hawaii’s coral reef!

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