I could be wrong but my guess is that if you have a vacation planned to the tropical islands you will most likely be visiting any one of the most beautiful Hawaii beaches at your disposal.
Even if some salt water therapy isn't in the cards you will want to make sure to protect your skin.
With Hawaii being much closer to the equator than where you will be travelling from the likelihood of a sunburn increases, not to mention you should be looking after your skin no matter where you are.
There are WAY too many sunscreen options these days but the state of Hawaii might have just made your choice a little easier.
Before you go out and buy your favorite spf30 you should know what sunscreen is banned in Hawaii first - well on January 1st, 2021 that is.
The 'ban' does not take effect until Jan. 1, 2021 and just prohibits the sale of sunscreens containing certain ingredients in the state of Hawaii.
You can still bring your own sunscreen into the state that may be banned for purchased but doing so could still bring harm to the sensitive coral reefs and beautiful sea life you will no doubt be exploring during your visit to the islands.
Keep reading to find out what types you should avoid and I even included some great reef safe sunscreen options for your next Hawaiian island visit.
The Hawaii Sunscreen Ban
Did you know that in July 2018, Hawaii became the first state to pass a bill banning sunscreens (this is a direct link to its timeline with a link/pdf that fully describes the nature of the bill) that include chemicals believed to be harming the beautiful coral reefs that many locals and travelers like you come to admire?
Studies have shown that sunscreens including oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.
These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals.
Furthermore, oxybenzone and octinoxate appear to increase the probability of endocrine disruption.
Of course Hawaii wants to keep the coral safe, so they are prohibiting the sale and distribution of sunscreens that have these ingredients that are damaging to the aquatic environment unless you have a prescription from a licensed healthcare professional.
NOTE: This is NOT a ban on sunscreens in general. Sunscreens are necessary for skin health by blocking UV rays that are known to cause skin cancer with overexposure.
So what’s a responsible tourist to do?
What Sunscreens Are Banned?
Don’t just read the label. Check the ingredient list. No one is yet governing whether a product labeled “Reef Safe” is in fact Reef Safe.
What are we looking for then?
First, no aerosol. But beyond that, how do we know what to avoid?
It is said that up to 70% of the sunscreens available to consumers will be affected by the ban.
Top sellers of sunscreens with the banned chemicals include Banana Boat, Coppertone and Hawaiian Tropic. But even Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic do carry sunscreens that can be purchased with and without the chemicals.
As consumers, the burden isn’t really on us since the ban is on selling and distribution of the sunscreens in Hawaii, but as concerned global citizens we may want to make sure that we are not contributing to the loss of reefs. In order to do this, we’re going to have to pay attention to labels. Look for these chemicals:
- oxybenzone also known as benzophenone-3
- octinoxate also known as octyl methoxycinnamate
- 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
Other harmful ingredients to watch out for are parabens such as:
- the commonly used methyl paraben
- butyl paraben
- phenoxyethanol, which was originally used as a mass fish anesthetic.
And the organization that put out the study leading to the new sunscreen ban, Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, also has a comprehensive list of chemicals to look for on labels.
What Sunscreens Have Oxybenzone?
Ok, I get it. None of those scientific words mean anything to you - well unless you are a scientist that is.
So I figured I would do the research for you, and it seems that a simple search to find a list of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, which has been said to cause coral bleaching, does not actually bring up a list to avoid.
Fortunately I was able to find some information so you at least know a few brands to avoid.
Of course, after this section, I’ll let you know several Reef Safe options that have received high Hawaiian approval, but before we go into that...
Let’s take a look at some of the brands and products you will want to steer clear of:
Johnson & Johnson (owner of Neutrogena)
In a 2017 safety and care statement by Johnson & Johnson, it is clear that they do not find the study about these chemicals to have enough scientific evidence to change their products at this time.
This may change later, but a portion of their statement on oxybenzone reads:
Oxybenzone is an important ingredient for protecting against UVA and UVB rays, factors known to increase the chance of premature aging and preventable skin cancer. With nearly four decades of safe use as a UV filter, oxybenzone is approved for use in over-the-counter (OTC) products by the US FDA, Health Canada, Australia, the European Union and many other countries whose health authorities recognize it as a safe and effective ingredient for broad-spectrum UV protection.1 As an industry leader in suncare we stand behind these health authorities and the safety of oxybenzone.
Therefore, Johnson & Johnson, a parent-company to Neutrogena, products will not be sold and would be deemed harmful to the coral reefs and banned by Hawaiian legislation.
Bayer (maker of Coppertone)
All current products contain oxybenzone, but they have stated they will comply with the new regulation for Hawaii. This means that you’ll need to look at labels to make an informed decision when buying these products.
Edgewell Personal Care (the manufacturer of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic)
This company has also issued statements assuring they will comply with legislation even though they say their products contain FDA-approved amounts of oxybenzone and octinoxate that protect users from ultraviolet rays. So again, pay attention to labels when purchasing from these brands.
Most Generic Brands
Up & Up
What Sunscreen is Safe for Coral Reefs?
Just like reading food labels: the simpler the formula, the better. The safest sunscreens for reefs are mineral-based sunscreens that do not wash off your body when in the ocean.
These sunscreens use minerals that are physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun without the use of chemicals, like oxybenzone that penetrate the skin and stay in the body for an unknown amount of time.
Also, look for coated, non-nano ingredients.
Of course not all sunscreens are created equal so we’ve scoured the internet to find some of the best options out there for you to choose from...
Is Sun Bum Reef Safe?
As Sun Bum’s motto says, “Trust the Bum”. So yeah, Sun Bum is reef safe.
Sun Bum is a small company started out of a beach house in Florida on A1A. They now have a location on Oahu where, as mentioned in their company video, they came up with the idea to make a product specifically for the sensitive skin of the very young beach bodies.
Also as mentioned on their website they’ve been dedicated to making products the way they like them from the beginning, and it seems pretty safe to say that they care about the effect of harmful chemicals on human bodies, animal bodies and the world body (the environment).
So while some of their products previously contained octinoxate, after the study that lead to Hawaii’s ban came out, they have since pulled those products and are working to reformulate them without it.
Because even though there are many other factors that cause reef damage, why fight it when you can do something about it. So they did.
Sun Bum has both synthetic and mineral sunscreen without the coral harming chemicals and they list all of their reef safe products on their website.
You can get Sun Bum products directly through their website, via Amazon, or any number of retailers across the country.
Kokoa Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
I think to understand this product, we need to first understand the name and the spirit with which the name gives more meaning as a whole.
After consulting several places, I have come to find that Kokua means "help." But it is more than “to help”; it seems to have a deeper meaning to offer help with no intent of personal gain.
This represents the powerful story behind Kokoa Sun Care...
A product made in Hawaii with Hawaiian ingredients by two Hawaiian transplants who were brought together by the will of the ocean and their mutual love and respect of the sea, the island and their inhabitants.
Kokoa Sun Care is created and manufactured right in the islands including seven local superfood ingredients (Konared® Hawaiian Coffee Fruit Extract, Macadamia Nut Oil, Kukui Nut Oil, Noni Fruit Juice, Plumeria Extract, Noni Honey, Spirulina) to benefit the skin and support local agriculture to boot.
The bottle boasts a “Reef Safe” stamp which was a feature decided upon presumably even before the sunscreen ban took place. Aside from the locations around the Hawaiian Islands, the best place to purchase this product is on their website or through Amazon.
And with all 5 star ratings that seem to be kid-tested and approved, you can’t go wrong to pack this in your bag or search it out once you arrive on the island of your choice.
Mama Kuleana Sunscreen Reviews
Here’s another truly Hawaiian product with an equally Hawaiian name, kuleana, directly translated to mean ‘right’. Ultimately it’s a unique Hawaiian quality to mean ‘to take responsibility for self and community’.
Mama Kuleana takes that responsibility seriously when it comes to protecting our skin and the environment as a whole.
With ingredients like organic shea butter, organic coconut oil, beeswax, organic almond oil, zinc powder, Vitamin E oil, and essential oils, Mama Kuleana includes no preservatives, toxins, fillers or additives, and even comes in a biodegradable container.
The company has really thought about it all and users are raving about their products too:
Brian on Facebook writes...
"Mama Kuleana is great for the environment and effective! Working on the beach everyday, one container lasted me over a month! Love the biodegradable container, too! The rash guard long sleeve is awesome! Can wear it even on hot sunny days! Appreciate the great product!"
J’nett had this to say...
"I had the pleasure of vacationing in Maui for almost 2 weeks recently (June/July). I applied #MamaKuleana 2-3x a day & it lasted me the entire time. I’m so happy we are all becoming aware of how important it is to protect our ocean, the animals that inhabit the ocean, our beaches, our planet. Thank you Hawaii & Mama Kuleana for leading the way on #reefsafesunscreen. BTW:my skin is glowing!!!"
You can purchase Mama Kuleana directly from their website, and the 2 oz. packaging means you can easily bring it in your carry-on for safe travel.
Other Recommended Sunscreens for Hawaii
Since I’ve been looking into the sunscreen ban, there have been multiple products that just keep resurfacing as environmentally-friendly, reef safe, and generally supported by those concerned with allergens and a desire to have a more sustainable product.
Along with the products listed above, here are a few more that meet the criteria of Hawaii’s new guidelines...
Raw Love Sunscreen (made in Maui)
All Good Sunscreen
Wrapping It Up...
By now you have a good idea of what sunscreens to avoid during your Hawaii vacation and some great reef safe sunscreens to choose from when you go whale watching in Kauai.
Even though you will not get in trouble for using banned sunscreens you should aim to make the eco-friendly choice if for no other reason than to keep our friends like Mr. Sea Turtle alive and safe.
I hope your next Hawaii visit is a memorable one and your skin AND the reefs will thank you by making a responsible decision!
Have you used any of the sunscreens I mentioned? Let me and others know about them in the comments...