I guess 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 saltwater 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 traveling 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.
UPDATED – Hawaii Sunscreen Ban 2023
Hawaii Act 104 for reef compliant sunscreen took effect Jan. 1, 2021 and prohibits the sale of sunscreens containing certain ingredients in the state of Hawaii.
You can still bring your own sunscreen into Hawaii, but make sure it is reef-safe and opt for mineral sunscreen. Failure to do so could harm the sensitive coral reefs and beautiful sea life you will be exploring during your visit to the islands.
Maui Sunscreen Law
On October 1, 2022 in Maui County – which consists of the islands of Maui, Lanai, Molokai, and Kaho’olawe – a new ordinance goes into effect that only allows the use of mineral sunscreens unless you have a prescription. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are known as “mineral sunscreens.”
You can read more about the Maui sunscreen ban on Maui County’s website or read the full details of the ordinance (fyi that link is a pdf doc).
As we get into more in this article, the main ingredients to avoid in sunscreen are oxybenzone and octinoxate. According to Maui County Ordinance 5306, even using sunscreens with non-mineral ingredients could lead to a penalty.
So be good stewards of the ocean – and your body frankly – and do not purchase sunscreens with those ingredients.
My #1 choice for the best mineral and reef-friendly sunscreen is from Kokua Sun Care mainly because they were pushing for clean ingredients before these laws AND they also refrain from including phenoxyethanol in the inactive ingredients – which has been shown to cause skin issues! A close second is this option from Sun Bum.
Hawaii County – Big Island Sunscreen Ban
On December 1, 2022 in the County of Hawaii – which you may know as the Big Island – Bill No. 167 goes into effect that is similar to Maui County’s above. Bill No. 167 bans non-mineral sunscreen, which “means any sunscreen that uses an active ingredient other than titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.”
After reading both documents, the biggest difference we could find in the Hawaii County bill was that it did not contain any reference to the ‘use’ of, just the sale and distribution of non-mineral sunscreens.
Please realize we are not legal professional, just huge advocates of Hawaii and preserving nature as much as possible. So it is up to you to know before you go!
The main point we hope to get across in this article is to buy mineral sunscreen which will have zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the only two active ingredients.
Please keep reading to learn about the types of sunscreen you should avoid, more great Hawaii reef-safe sunscreen options, and answers to common questions people have asked about other popular brands…
Hawaii Sunscreen Rules
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 the 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 prohibit 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 known to cause skin cancer with overexposure.
So what’s a responsible tourist to do?
What Sunscreens Are Banned in Hawaii
First we are going to take a look at what sunscreen ingredients are banned in Hawaii so you can quickly look at the list on back and determine whether to buy or not.
No one is yet governing whether a product labeled “Reef-Safe” or “Reef-Friendly” is, in fact, Reef Safe.
Be on the lookout for these harmful chemicals:
– oxybenzone, also known as benzophenone-3
– octinoxate, also known as octyl methoxycinnamate
– 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor
Also, stay away from aerosol or spray sunscreens. But beyond that, how do we know what to avoid?
Possibly 70% of the sunscreens available to consumers will be affected by the ban.
Many travelers ask the question, is Hawaiian tropic sunscreen reef safe? Top sellers of sunscreens with the banned chemicals include Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic. But even Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic carry sunscreens that are with and without the chemicals.
As consumers, the burden isn’t really on us since the ban is on selling and distributing 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. To do this, we’re going to have to pay attention to labels.
Other harmful ingredients to watch out for are parabens such as:
– the commonly used methylparaben
– phenoxyethanol, used initially 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 research for you, and it seems that a simple search to find a list of sunscreens containing oxybenzone, which has been said to cause coral bleaching, does not 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, will not be sold and 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. You will 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 Can I Use in Hawaii
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 penetrates the skin and stay in the body for an unknown amount of time.
To highlight how difficult it is for us as consumers to know which sunscreens are reef-safe and Hawaii approved, lets take a look at two different options from Hawaiian Tropic – a brand we don’t recommend but realize is often sought out.
These first two images are from Hawaiian Tropics AntiOxidant+ sunscreen lotion labelled as reef-friendly on the front of the bottle. But when we look at the active ingredients on the back we notice that neither zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are present.
So yes, this a reef-friendly option of sunscreen BUT it is NOT approved for sale or use in Maui County per the new ordinance that is in effect beginning Oct. 1, 2022.
The next two images are what you should be looking for when you buy a reef-safe and Hawaii-approved sunscreen. Hawaiian Tropics Mineral Sunscreen is also labelled as reef-friendly on the front of the container. Then looking at the active ingredients on the back we see what we should be finding on all Maui County-approved, and therefore Hawaii, the use of only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Also, look for uncoated, non-nano ingredients.
Not all sunscreens are created equal, so I scoured the internet to find the best Hawaii reef safe sunscreen for you to choose…
Is Sun Bum Reef Safe
Sun Bum’s motto is, “Trust the Bum”, but we suggest you ‘Double check the Bum’ and their active ingredients first. Sun Bum is reef-safe to the extent of the Hawaii state sunscreen law. But if you plan on visiting Maui or the Big Island you will want to make sure to purchase from the Sun Bum Mineral sunscreen line of products like this SPF50 version or Baby Bum Mineral 50.
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. 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 many other factors cause reef damage, why fight it when you can do something about it. So they did.
Kokoa Sun Care Hawaiian SPF 50 Natural Zinc Sunscreen
To understand this product, we need first to know more about the name and the spirit with which it gives more meaning.
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 on the islands. It includes 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 Kokoa Sun Care is either Amazon or through their website.
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 genuinely Hawaiian product with an equally Hawaiian name, kuleana, directly translated to mean ‘right’. Ultimately it’s a unique Hawaiian quality that means ‘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 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 bring it in your carry-on for safe travel.
Other Hawaii Reef Safe Sunscreen
Since I’ve been looking into the sunscreen ban, multiple products 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:
While there are too many sunscreen options for us to keep tabs on, we have done our best to look into the most popular brands to determine if they have reef-safe options to use in Hawaii.
It is up to you to ensure you are purchasing the right mineral sunscreen that is safe for the environment and your skin. Some of the brands below do have reef-friendly sunscreens, but looking at the active ingredients, some are not mineral sunscreens that would fit the new Maui sunscreen law or County of Hawaii sunscreen ban.
I have done my best to make things easier for you and only link to mineral sunscreens that fit the guidelines. But keep in mind that these product pages can change frequently, so please double check before making any purchases.
Is Hawaiian Tropic Reef Safe
Hawaiian Tropic does have reef-safe sunscreen options, but you have to look carefully at the active ingredients. As we saw in the images above, one Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen that is labeled reef-friendly and is ok in Hawaii, but would NOT be legal in Maui County or Hawaii County. Play it safe and only purchase mineral sunscreens, like this one, that have either/or both Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as the active ingredients.
Is Banana Boat Reef Safe
Banana Boat does offer mineral reef-safe sunscreen options, like their 100% mineral sport version and the Kids 100% Mineral, but avoid the mineral enriched varieties. This is yet another example of tricky wording to watch out for. Banana Boats mineral enriched sunscreen contains active ingredients that are not approved in Maui or Hawaii County such as Homosalate and Octisalate.
Is Coppertone Reef-Safe
If you want a reef-safe sunscreen from Coppertone, opt for the Sport Mineral or Pure & Simple 100% Mineral like this one, or the kids version, and even babies, line of sunscreens. The regular Coppertone Sport 4-in-1 does not contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. So even though the front label highlights regular Coppertone Sport is free of oxbenzone and octinoxate, you would not be able to use it in Maui County or purchase in Hawaii County (Big Island).
Is Equate Sunscreen Reef Safe
Equate Sport Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Lotion has a nice reef-friendly image on the bottle but does not contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The main active ingredients are currently ok for use in Hawaii but NOT Maui County or the County of Hawaii (the Big Island). We were unable to find a mineral-only sunscreen option by the Equate brand.
Is No Ad Sunscreen Reef Safe
No-Ad has finally produced sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone or octinoxate BUT I would still not purchase it. All four of their current active ingredients – avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene – are still deemed harmful to the precious reef eco-system by the Sustainable Tourism Association of Hawaii. please avoid any No-Ad sunscreen on your trip to Hawaii.
Is Neutrogena Sunscreen Allowed in Hawaii
Neutrogena does have sunscreen that is allowed in Hawaii, but looking at reviews from their sensitive skin mineral sunscreen we would look elsewhere. Numerous users have left feedback of experiencing rashes after using the Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 60+.
Is Alba Botanica Sunscreen Reef Safe
Alba Botanica offers reef safe mineral sunscreen that is allowed in Hawaii AND Maui County along with the Big Island. Alba’s Sensitive Fragrance Free, Sport, Kids and Baby mineral sunscreens only contain Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as the active ingredients.
Is Blue Lizard Sunscreen Allowed in Hawaii
Blue Lizard sunscreens , are another yes and no brand when it comes to being allowed in Hawaii. The Blue Lizard Mineral sunscreens, like this one, are ok on all Hawaiian Islands, whereas the Blue Lizard Mineral-Based sunscreens would not be allowed in Maui County or the Big Island since they list Octisalate as one of the active ingredients.
Is Supergoop Reef Safe
Supergoop mineral sunscreens are reef safe and allowed in Hawaii but we would avoid the spray varieties. The Supergoop Play 100% Mineral Lotion SPF 30 with Green Algae, for instance, only contains zinc oxide as the active ingredient which is what we are looking for.
Is Cetaphil Sunscreen Reef-Safe
Cetaphil’s Sheer Mineral line of sunscreen are reef-safe and ok to use in Hawaii. The Sheer Mineral options contain only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients which is what you should be looking for on the back labels.
Is CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Reef-Safe
CeraVe mineral sunscreen such as the Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 Body Lotion and the Baby Sunscreen Lotion are reef-safe. Make sure you are purchasing the CeraVe MINERAL sunscreen because their Ultra-Light Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 and AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with Sunscreen do NOT contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
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.
But I’ll go ahead and remind you anyway…
Look for mineral sunscreen with no more than these two active ingredients – zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Don’t be tricked by different wording like mineral-based or mineral-enriched, and always check the back label for the active ingredients.
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 for making a responsible decision!
Check out our Google Web Story – Hawaii Safe Sunscreen
Have you used any of the sunscreens I mentioned? Let me and others know about them in the comments…