Hawaii reef
HomeHome > News > Hawaii reef

Hawaii reef

Aug 12, 2023

Keep the ocean and your skin protected with reef-safe sunscreen.

Heading to Hawaii this summer to enjoy the islands’ world-famous beaches? Make sure to stock your suitcase with the right sunscreen.

And "right" doesn't just mean an appropriate SPF number: Sunscreens used or purchased in the Aloha State must protect the environment and not just human skin, thanks to a law passed in 2021 banning those that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These ingredients have been found in various studies to damage coral reefs, which are in major decline around the world. When such ingredients wash off of skin and into ocean water (it can also happen at that post-swim outdoor shower at the beach), they are eventually absorbed by the reef.

In fact, ​​according to a 2015 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, oxybenzone is directly linked to coral bleaching, the top cause of coral death worldwide. Oxybenzone and octinoxate — the two ingredients named in Hawaii's statewide ban — also damage the DNA of young coral, stunting their growth.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, which use chemicals to absorb rays, then convert the rays into heat that gets released from the body.

On the other hand, physical sunscreens (which are more commonly known as mineral sunscreens), work by creating a physical barrier on the skin that shields it from the sun's rays.

In addition to the state ban on products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, certain counties, including Maui and Hawaii, took the extra step in 2022 to ban any sunscreen that isn't mineral-based (unless you have a prescription from a licensed medical professional). Only mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are allowed, which are the only two ingredients that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates sunscreens, consider "safe and effective."

Hawaii's sunscreen bans are among the strictest in the country (and come with a fine of up to $1,000 for violations). Other popular tourist destinations, including Key West, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and part of Mexico, have similar laws in place. However, even in places where there's no ban, sun-seekers should be conscientious about the products they choose. "Avoiding sunscreens with harsh chemicals protects the entire marine ecosystem, including coral, fish, mammals, aquatic plants, mussels, and sea urchins," says Joanie Steinhaus, Gulf of Mexico program director for the Turtle Island Restoration Network, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring marine environments.

First off: There's no such thing as a 100% reef-safe sunscreen (reef-safer is a more accurate label). "Unfortunately, the terms ‘reef-safe and ‘reef friendly’ are not regulated and make it difficult to trust the product," Steinhaus says. "Consumers must check the active ingredients to ensure they do not contain reef-harming chemicals."

That means looking beyond labels and heading straight to the ingredient list on the back of the bottle or tube. Most sunscreens described as reef safe do not contain the aforementioned oxybenzone and octinoxate, but there are other ingredients to stay away from. "Just because a sunscreen contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate doesn't mean that it is completely nontoxic and harmless to coral reefs and ocean health," explains Lea d’Auriol, founder and executive director of international NGO Oceanic Global. "Other ingredients such as octocrylene, homosalate, and octisalate can also be harmful to reefs. You should also avoid mist or spray sunscreens as they increase the chances of chemicals interacting with sand and natural environments."

Additional helpful resources on how to suss out whether a sunscreen is reef-safe or not include the Environmental Working Group, the Protect Land + Sea certification, and Save the Reef. Fortunately, some skincare experts notice an uptick in consumer awareness about reef-safe sunscreens. "We have observed a growing trend of consumers opting for 'reef-safe' products," notes Dusan Sajic, a dermatologist and assistant adjunct professor of clinical medicine at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. "It is heartening to see that people are becoming more environmentally conscious and are making choices that help in preserving our planet's ecosystems."

Goddess Garden Daily SPF 30

Founded by Nova Covington, an environmental activist, Boulder, Colorado-based Goddess Garden was instrumental in building support for the Hawaiian sunscreen ban (in fact, Covington was invited by the governor of Hawaii to attend the ceremonial signing of the ban into law). The Sport formula is ideal for active types, but no matter which you choose (other formulas include Daily, Kids, and Baby) you’ll get powerful, chemical-free sun protection, thanks to zinc and plant-powered ingredients. All products are certified vegan, organic, and reef safe (the plastic tube is recyclable, too).

Protectif Untinted SPF 50

Just as its name implies, this sunscreen, which was created by Dr. Dusan Sajic, is designed to protect both skin and ocean life. The product's origin story has roots in Hawaii, where Sajic has attended dermatology conferences over several years. In January 2022, Protectif was launched, inspired by Hawaii's dedication to protecting its marine life; Sajic also aimed to create a product that moisturizes and repairs sun-damaged skin. The SPF 50 sunscreen utilizes zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; additional beautifying ingredients include extracts of olive, coffee seed and green tea. Reviewers love the non-greasy feel and smooth, makeup-friendly matte finish.

FORAH Everyday Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Created by Vancouver-based pro snowboarder Caley Vanular, this newly-debuted, reef-safe product is designed specifically for outdoorsy types. FORAH's ingredient list is squeaky clean, with no chemical UV filters, preservatives, emulsifiers, nano-particles, microplastics, phthalates, or parabens. Instead, it's full of goodies like antioxidants and organic oils, as well as non-nano zinc oxide to ensure your skin stays protected (with no white cast) against UVB and UVA rays. In addition, both the aluminum tube and cap are recyclable. And for just $2 more, you can order the Everyday Kit and get the sunscreen along with an adorable (and waterproof) zipper bag made from recycled paper material.

Utu Broad Spectrum SPF 30

This just-launched, LGBTQ+ founded sunscreen is full of good stuff for your skin and the environment. Its UVA/UVB protection comes from mineral-based non-nano zinc oxide, and other ingredients include hyaluronic acid, squalane, sea buckthorn, sesame seed oil, vitamins C & E, and astaxanthin. The formula helps brighten and nourish skin, without that icky white cast. Designed specifically for outdoor enthusiasts, the sunscreen was launched by Richard Welch, an LGBTQ+ business owner and member of Founded Outdoors, an organization dedicated to breaking down barriers to access in the outdoors industry.

Mama Sol Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen

Another new product, this SPF 30 mineral sunscreen pulls triple duty: In addition to protecting skin from harmful rays, it's also a hydrating moisturizer and skin primer in one. The formula is made with no chemical screens or silicones, containing only non-comedogenic ingredients. It has some anti-aging benefits, too: It deeply hydrates skin and helps minimize the appearance of those nagging little lines and wrinkles. And you can wear it under makeup: The natural priming agent smoothes skin for easy, even application.

All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen

As an active member of sustainability groups including Safe Sunscreen Council and 1% For The Planet, this California-based, women-run brand ticks off plenty of boxes for sun and reef protection. Their lotion is tailor-made for those who love water sports: Featuring good-for-you-and-the-ocean ingredients like non-nano zinc oxide, it stays put after application, feels non-greasy on the skin, and is lightweight and hydrating. In addition to lotions, sunscreen products also include lip balms and sticks.

Naked Sundays SPF50+ Collagen Glow 100% Mineral Perfecting Priming Lotion

Describing itself as a "4-in-1 multi-tasking formula," this award-winning mineral sunscreen by popular Australian brand Naked Sundays does far more for your skin than just protecting it against sun damage. It's infused with the brand's exclusive vegan collagen, which boosts moisture and can help smooth fine lines, as well as watermelon extract for an extra bump of hydration. Beyond being reef safe, the product also is 100% vegan and fragrance- and mineral oil-free, using only non-nano zinc oxide filters. (It's recommended to use Naked Sundays’ SPF BFF Brush to apply it.)

Earth Baby Broad Spectrum 30+ Sunscreen

Created for kiddos and tested by pediatricians and dermatologists, this SPF 30+ lotion by parent-loved brand Earth Baby lives up to its name (and then some). It features a reef-friendly formulation using non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. It's also loaded with nourishing extras that are great for sensitive young skin: German chamomile, shea butter, and mango. What you won't find: unpleasant extras like sulfates, phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde, mineral oil, or artificial fragrances. No wonder fans of the product are kids of all ages (more than one reviewer suggests the company increase the product size from its current 1.7 ounces to more adult-friendly versions).

Kinfield Daily Dew SPF 35

We have to assume the clever, play-on-words product name was intentional, a nod to the importance of regularly applying sunscreen to your face (as in, it's a daily "do"), and the secondary benefits that a high-quality product can provide (as in, "dewy" skin). Either way, you’ll want to get your hands on some for your next beach trip. The brand's best-seller blends in beautifully, with no white residue, and stays put nicely, even in water. Ingredients such as aloe vera, sea kelp, glycerin, and sunflower extract nourish and hydrate skin, and there are no parabens, phthalates, or sulfates, either. Other reef-safe products by Kinfield include a tinted mineral sunscreen and Cloud Cover mineral sunscreen, SPF 35, which is inspired by Daily Dew but designed for the whole body.

SunPlus SPF 40

With product names like Laguna, an SPF 40+ sunscreen designed for everyday use, and Yosemite, SPF 45, "made for hardcore adventurers leading an ultra-active lifestyle," this brand is the embodiment of a healthy, active California lifestyle. Both versions feature ocean-friendly, biodegradable ingredients and a moisturizing formulation that won't sting eyes; the sunscreen is sweat-proof and waterproof, too. And just like any California company worth its (sea) salt, SunPlus also has planet-friendly packaging and donates 3% of all net sales to select organizations that support the ocean, natural space and those in need.

Sukin Suncare SPF 30 Sheer Touch Tinted Sunscreen

Sukin's primary sun-protecting ingredient iszinc oxide, but with several tinted formulations (there's an untinted one, too) it won't leave a white cast. It contains rosehip, which is full of vitamin A, and antioxidant-rich green tea, too. The brand also is a partner of Reef Aid, a nonprofit that aims to help restore vital coastal wetlands of the Great Barrier Reef, which in turn can help protect endangered species.

Avon Sun Protection+ Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40

This mineral sunscreen is the new kid on the (reef-safe) block for one of the best-known brands in the beauty industry. It's free of chemical filters avobenzone and oxybenzone, as well as silicone, parabens, phthalates, and artificial fragrances. There's also a SPF 25 version for the face, which is tinted.

Goddess Garden Daily SPF 30 Protectif Untinted SPF 50 FORAH Everyday Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 Utu Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mama Sol Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen All Good Mineral Sport Sunscreen Naked Sundays SPF50+ Collagen Glow 100% Mineral Perfecting Priming Lotion Earth Baby Broad Spectrum 30+ Sunscreen Kinfield Daily Dew SPF 35 SunPlus SPF 40 Sukin Suncare SPF 30 Sheer Touch Tinted Sunscreen Avon Sun Protection+ Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40