10 Best Reef-Safe Sunscreens for Hawaii and Beach Vacations

Sun protection comes first in mind when it comes to your Hawaii packing list. But hold your thought before throwing a bottle of your usual sunscreen from a grocery store.

Hawaii is the first state in the U.S. to ban the sale of sunscreens with toxic chemicals harming coral reefs, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. The new law went into full effect on January 1, 2021.

Responsible travelers like yourself should comply with the law and help preserve marine life. But remember, what’s good for the environment is also good for you. Would you want to apply chemically-loaded sunscreens all over yourself? Not on me!

Before my Hawaii vacation, I dug deeper to understand various sunscreens, what to look for and what to avoid when purchasing sunscreen, and came up with a list of reef-safe sunscreens allowed in Hawaii (and beyond).

Once you learn all this, you will never look at sunscreen the same way you did before. 

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10 Best Sunscreen for Beach Vacation that are Reef-Safe | #Sunscreen #BeachPackingList #BeachVacation #HawaiiPackingList #ecotourism

Disclosure: This article may contain affiliate links. If you purchase by clicking some of these links, I may receive a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Click here to read full disclaimer. 

What is Reef-Safe Sunscreen?

To simply put it, a reef-safe sunscreen is a sunscreen free of harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are known to damage and kill coral reefs.

I know it will get a tad bit technical. But let’s first understand how sunscreen works and what ingredients are used. I promise you will understand better how to protect you from sun damage while minimizing the pollution in the ecosystem.

But if you just want to know which sunscreen to buy for your Hawaii trip, jump to [Reef-safe Sunscreens for Hawaii].

Understanding Types of Sunscreen

There are three types of sunscreen categories by the mechanics of how it blocks the UV rays. 

Mineral Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreen creates a physical barrier on your skin to block UV rays. This UV-reflective sunscreen is sometimes called physical sunscreen or sunblock. It usually contains Zinc or Titanium Dioxide. As it doesn’t get absorbed into the skin, it is gentle and suitable for sensitive or acne-prone skin.

However, some people may not like mineral sunscreen because the physical barrier (such as zinc oxide) can give it a chalky look. It can get “clumpy,” and you may feel it is challenging to apply mineral sunscreen on your skin. But new, improved products came out to minimize white casting and brighten skin tone.

Scrawl down to the bottom [Application Tips] to learn how to use mineral sunscreen to maximize protection while minimizing white casting.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen uses chemicals to filter out UV rays. The most commonly used chemical ingredients include oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone and octisalate. These chemicals first absorb and dissolve UV radiation before it reaches your skin. So you can say it’s a UV-absorbing sunscreen.

This type of sunscreen is typically cheaper and most commonly available. Chemicals make the sunscreen get absorbed quickly with an invisible finish. For that reason, many women prefer this lightweight formula to wear daily, especially under makeup.

Note that many chemical ingredients used in sunscreens are hormone disruptors. The skin absorbs these chemicals into your bloodstream, causing cancers in some people. It can also irritate your eyes and skin.

Hybrid Sunscreen

Hybrid sunscreen uses a blend of mineral and chemical ingredients. This type uses some chemicals to improve the look and feel of mineral sunscreen. Hybrid could be an excellent alternative for those who want to stay away from mineral sunscreen due to its chalky look or pasty texture.

Another benefit of hybrid is that combining UV-reflective and UV-absorbing actives can offer a higher SPF. (Note: A higher SPF does not mean stronger protection or better quality.)

Is the higher SPF the better?

Not necessarily. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying for water-resistant, broad-spectrum protection with an SPF 30 or higher. 

The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number indicates how well it protects your skin from UV radiation. An SPF 30 provides 97% protection from UVB rays. (That means about 3% will hit your skin.) An SPF 50 offers 98% coverage, while SPF 100 shields 99%.

Here is the catch, though. The above is true in a well-controlled environment like a laboratory. In real life, you are sweating or going into the water. Therefore, don’t solely rely on high-SPF sunscreens alone for sun protection. 

Regardless of the SPF value, you are advised to follow the best practice to minimize sunburn and UV damage, including wearing sunglasses and hats, finding shades, and wearing long sleeves.

Sunscreen Ingredients to Avoid

The “HEL list” by Heretics Environmental Laboratory is a list of chemicals known to pollute marine ecosystems and wildlife (e.g., corals, fish, mammals, turtles, etc.).

When you put sunscreens with these chemicals, they can get absorbed into the body or washed into the ecosystem from showering or swimming.

Therefore, it is best to avoid any ingredients in the HEL list:





4-methylbenzylidene camphor

para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)



any form of microplastics (e.g. exfoliating beads)

Particularly in Hawaii, the law bans the use of toxic sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate. These two ingredients cause coral bleaching and can kill the reef.

Unfortunately, they are commonly used in most popular brands in the U.S., including Coppertone, Banana Boat, Hawaiian Tropic, and many more. (Disclaimer: These brands also produce Hawaii-approved versions nowadays, so do examine ingredients.) 

Safe Sunscreen Ingredients Checklist


>> Mineral-formula sunblocks are the best choices.

Non-nano Zinc Oxide is safe for coral reefs. Opt for at least 7%. Using low content of non-nano titanium dioxide is also known to be safe.

>> Check the broad-spectrum formula covering both UVA and UVB.

>> Does it explicitly label as non-nano?

Non-nano refers to the size of ingredients. Larger particles do not get absorbed into the skin and are, therefore, very safe.

Many reef-friendly sunscreens with Zinc and Titanium Dioxide did not make this list because they used nanoparticles. If you do not see “non-nano” on the ingredients list or package, it most likely uses nanoparticles.

>> Do not be fooled by marketing words such as organic, safe, natural, etc.

Some products are advertised as “reef-friendly,” even though they contain chemicals like homosalate and octocrylene. Not using oxybenzone and octinoxate does not make a product completely reef safe. You will have to watch the ingredients out against the above HEL chemicals.

I know I am stepping into technical territories here—no need for a headache. I have checked all these for you. See my recommendations below for reef-safe sunscreens!

Care for Natural Skincare? Me, too! That’s why I changed my skincare routines. Check out my favorite Korean Serums with only good ingredients. >>  

10 Best Reef-safe Sunscreens for Hawaii

10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#1. Little Hands Hawaii

Little Hands Hawaii Organic Reef Safe Mineral Sunscreen Butter is handmade in Hawaii with locally and organically sourced ingredients. The creamy sunscreen provides SPF 35+ and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection in plastic-free packaging. Many surfers in Hawaii love and use this water-resistant and marine-safe brand.

Its small package makes it easy to throw in a bag for reapplication. If you buy at a local farmer’s market, you can select many options, from various tinted shades to a recycled tin case to a stick. Although it is a local Hawaii brand, you will pay more in Hawaii. Purchase online via this link for better pricing. 

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (25%), organic cold-pressed coconut oil, organic jojoba oil, unrefined beeswax, raw shea butter, frankincense essential oil, vitamin E oil, elderberry

Scent: Coconut

Why I Love It:

  • The highest content of non-nano zinc oxide (25%)
  • Great for the entire family and sensitive skin
  • Great for travel and reapplication
  • No chemicals, no preservatives
  • Support a small business in Hawaii
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#2.Kokua Sun Care

Kokua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen is a reef-safe, water-resistant sun lotion. It provides SPF 50, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and up to 80-minute water resistance.

It is a light lotion that is great for oily or acne-prone skin. Its gentle formula promises no eye stinging even with sweating. It goes smooth on clean, dry skin; I like to use it for my body. But when I reapplied on the beach, it was much harder to put evenly, probably due to water and sand.

I recommend buying Kokua Sun Care Sunscreen online. I checked the huge price difference at a local ABC mart in Hawaii.

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (25%), 23 antioxidants (organic noni juice, plumeria extract, spirulina, noni honey, kukui nut oil, konared Hawaiian coffee fruit extract, macadamia nut oil, etc.

Scent: Light Coconut Vanilla

Why I Love It:

  • The highest content of non-nano zinc oxide (25%)
  • High SPF 50
  • Light formula great for oily skin
  • Free of beeswax in case you are allergic to bee products
  • Support a small business in Hawaii
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#3. Raw Love

Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen ticks off all boxes. Its 2-once plastic-free packaging compacts powerful SPF 35 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection.

Its formula is reef-safe, baby-safe, plant-based, cruelty-free, and water-resistant (up to 40 minutes). Did I say it smells lovely (minty), too?

I enjoyed putting this on my face and neck in Hawaii. A little goes a long way, and it glides without creating a white chalky look. But it would take up some effort to use fingers to spread all over an adult body.

Ingredients: Non-nano Zinc Oxide (22.5%), Coconut Oil, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Jojoba Oil, Sesame Oil, Beeswax, Shea Butter, Eucalyptus oil, Lavender Oil, Peppermint Oil, Vitamin E Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, Carrot Seed Extract

Scent: Lavender, Peppermint, Eucalyptus

Why I Love It:

  • High content of non-nano zinc oxide (22.5%)
  • Cute, plastic-free packaging
  • Great for travel and reapplication
  • No preservatives or synthetic fragrances
  • Support a small business in Hawaii
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#4. Manda Organic Sun Creme & Paste

Manda Organic Sun Creme provides SPF 50, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection while nourishing your skin with anti-aging properties. Its unique mineral formula consists of high non-nano zinc oxide and Thanaka.

Thanaka is a paste from ground bark containing antioxidants and rich vitamin E oil. This natural and organic paste has been used in Myanmar for sun protection and after-sun care. It is all-natural and safe for kids as well.

Natural coloring from cocoa adds a subtle tint. It blends better with skin instead of leaving the white cast. And this water-resistant sun creme applies so smoothly and easily. That said, it was my favorite sunscreen in Hawaii! 

By the way, I was initially concerned about discoloring swimwear or clothing. Rest assured, that did not happen to me.

Manda Organic Sun Paste (SPF 50) is the same formula in paste suitable for outdoor adventures, such as surfing and hiking. Bonus point for its compact packaging.

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (23%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Almond Oil, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Beeswax, Thanaka Powder, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Cacao Powder, Organic Cinnamon Oil

Why I Love It:

  • A high content of non-nano zinc oxide (23%)
  • High SPF 50
  • Natural anti-aging formula
  • Subtle tint adding a tone-up effect
  • Great for sensitive skin, safe for children
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#5. Thinksport 

ThinkSport Mineral Sunscreen is specially made for sports and outdoor use. This water-resistant sun cream (80-min in water) has SPF 50 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. You can use it on your face and body.

I mainly bought it for Big O who loves to play golf and outdoor sports. I tried it out in Hawaii for kayaking and was satisfied with how it applied smoothly and was water/sweat resistant. However, control how much you use. Using a little too much would make you look like a ghost.  

Ingredient: Non-nano Zinc Oxide (20%), purified water, caprylic/capric triglyceride, polyglycery-4 isostearate, cetyl dimethicone, hexyl laurate, glycerin, hydrogenated methyl abietate (pine wood resin), magnesium sulfate (epsom salt), caprylhydroxamic acid, glyceryl

Why I Love It:

  • High content of non-nano zinc oxide (20%)
  • High SPF 50
  • Excellent water-resistant protection (up to 80 min.)
  • Highly biodegradable, non-toxic ingredients
  • Relatively affordable price point compared to other reef-safe mineral sunscreens
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#6. Stream2Sea

Stream2Sea Mineral Sunblock is a water-resistant mineral sunscreen designed for sports and water activities. The high-performance formula provides the SPF 50 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection for up to 80-minute in water.

Unlike all other mineral sunscreens in this post, the main active ingredient of Stream2Sea is non-nano titanium dioxide. Generally speaking, high titanium dioxide content is not the best as this non-biodegrade mineral reacts in the warm sea to form hydrogen peroxide. However, no worries with Stream2Sea, which is Protect Land + Sea certified by the HEL.

Ingredients: Non-nano Titanium Dioxide, Green Tea Leaf, Tulsi Leaf, Wakame Seaweed, Olive Leaf, Aloe Leaf Juice, Coconut Oil, Stearic Acid, Acrylates Copolymer, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Sorbitan Palmitate, Tocopherol, Xanthan Gum, Alumina, Benzyl Alcohol, Salicylic Acid, Sorbic Acid. Certified Organic

Why I Love It:

  • High SPF 50
  • Excellent water-resistant protection (up to 80 min.)
  • Great for snorkeling, diving and surfing
  • Protect Land + Sea certified
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#7. Badger

Badger Sport Mineral Sunscreen Cream is the first reef-safe mineral sunscreen to receive Protect Land + Sea Certification by the HEL. This GMO-free, cruelty-free formula provides SPF 40, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection in water (up to 80 minutes).

What’s unique about this sunscreen is that it uses a specialized uncoated zinc oxide powder. As the manufacturer claims, these particles with a porous surface texture don’t reflect as much visible light as non-nano zinc oxide, hence less whitening on the skin. (I have not personally tested it, though.)

Ingredients: Uncoated Zinc Oxide (22.5%), Organic Sunflower Oil, Organic Beeswax, Sunflower Vitamin E. 98%

Why I Love It:

  • Excellent water-resistant protection (up to 80 min.)
  • Unscented, hypoallergenic
  • Protect Land + Sea certified
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#8. All Good Sport

All Good Sport Face & Body Sunscreen is an easy-to-apply mineral sunscreen with SPF 30 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. While providing robust protection for water activities up to 80-min in water, the lightweight formula is hydrating yet not greasy. You can use it for the face and body.

This is another one I recommend buying online prior to your trip. I saw it being sold for a higher price at the local store. 

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (12%), Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice*, Bentonite, Calendula Of Cialis (Calendula) Flower*, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract*, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Saf ower) Seed Oil*, Cellulose Gum, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Coco-Glucoside, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sun ower) Seed Oil*, Heptyl Undecylenate, Jojoba Esters, Mauritia Flexuosa (Buriti) Fruit Oil*, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Octyldodecyl Oleate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil*, Rosa Canina Fruit Oil*, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Fruit Extract*, Water (Aqua). *Certified Organic to USDA/NOP Standards.

Why I Love It:

  • Non-greasy, lightweight formula
  • Excellent water-resistant protection (up to 80 min.)
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#9. Mama Kuleana 

Mama Kuleana is a reef-safe mineral sunscreen with SPF 30 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. The container is made of wood-based material that is fully biodegradable and compostable.

You only see it at the bottom of my recommendation because it is not available on Amazon at the time of writing. You will have to visit one of a few local retail shops that carry this brand.

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (13%), *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, **Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Cera Alba (Beeswax), Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oil, *Daucus Carota Stavia (Carrot) Seed Oil, Rosa Rubiginosa (Rose Hip) Seed Oil, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil, *Boswellia Carterii (Frankincense) Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Aloha *Organic, **Wild-Harvested

Scent: Coconut, Raspberry

Why I Love It:

  • 100% microplastic-free, biodegradable packaging
  • Support a small business in Hawaii
10 Best Reef Safe Sunscreen for Hawaii | #Hawaii #HawaiiPackingList #Sunscreen #ecotourism

#10. Babo Botanicals

Babo Botanicals Daily Sheer Fluid Tinted Mineral Sunscreen is a non-greasy liquid lotion with an SPF 50 and broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. The golden-hued tint minimizes the white cast. It also protects against blue light indoors. I would recommend it for a daily face application under makeup. 

Note: This is more appropriate for daily wear rather than water activities. But hey, who says you can’t wear makeup to the beach?

Ingredients: Non-nano zinc oxide (20.6%), Water (Aqua), Butyloctyl Salicylate, Diheptyl Succinate, Calcium Sodium Borosilicate, Octyldodecyl Neopentanoate, Erythritol, Lauryl Laurate, Passiflora Edulis (Maracuja) Seed Oil, Propanediol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oleosomes, Bentonite, Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice*, Lupinus Albus (White Lupin) Seed Oil, Triticum Vulgare (Wheat) Germ Oil Unsaponifiables, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract*, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract*, Nasturtium Officinale (Watercress) Flower/Leaf Extract*, Spiraea Ulmaria (Meadowsweet) Flower Extract*, Rubus Idaeus (Raspberry) Seed Oil*, Bisabolol*, Tocopherol, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer, Cetearyl Alcohol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethyl Ferulate, Sucrose Polystear, Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Sucrose Stearate, Coco-Glucoside, Octyldodecyl Oleate, Iron Oxides, Glycerin, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sodium Gluconate, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Xanthan Gum.

Why I Love It:

  • High content of non-nano zinc oxide (20.6%)
  • High SPF 50
  • The ultra-light, tinted formula for daily facial application
  • Vegan & hypoallergenic: Free of fragrance, soy, dairy, peanut, almond and walnut

Application Tips

Maximize Protection While Minimizing White Casting

● Start with clean and moisturized skin. Zinc will apply more smoothly on well-hydrated skin. But water on the surface makes it difficult to spread sunscreen evenly. So wipe the water or sweat off before application.

● Be sure to apply all areas that will be exposed to sunlight, including behind the ears, neck, hands, feet, and scalp, 15 minutes before sun exposure. 

● Start with a small dab to avoid looking like a ghost. Gradually rub in for even coverage before applying more.

● Make sure you apply enough. If spreading too thin, the sunscreen will not be effective. For a general reference, recommended amount to cover an entire adult body is about 1 oz (two tablespoons).

● Reapply at least every 2 hours. If you’re at the beach or pool, reapply after being in the water for 30-80 minutes or immediately after towel drying.

● Lastly, don’t forget to wear sunglasses and hats. Wearing long-sleeve rash guards also helps to protect your skin from sun damage.

Bon Voyage!