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The Ultimate Guide to Reef Safe Sunscreen

Fish on the coral reef

You’ve booked your trip to Hawaii, scheduled your flights, booked your hotel, and even booked a Jeep to explore the island during your stay. Now what? What should you pack for your Hawaiian adventure? The usuals: shorts, your favorite Hawaiian shirt, sandals, a swimsuit, and sunglasses; but what about sunscreen?

You want to make sure you protect your skin while you are out in the sun, but you also want to be mindful of the ocean and marine life in Hawaii. So before you go booking your next scuba diving adventure, read on so you can find out how to choose the proper sunscreen to protect yourself and the creatures that live in the ocean.

The key aspect is to research and identify an SPF sunscreen with physical UVA and UVB filters, which are eco-friendly alternatives compared to chemical filters linked to coral reef damage.

To locate these types of sunscreens, simply inspect the SPF tube's label for the presence of active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients create a physical barrier, effectively shielding the skin from harmful UV rays, whereas chemical filters absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat, which is then released from the skin.

When checking the label on the bottle or tube avoid choosing a sunscreen that contains these harmful chemicals:

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octinoxate

  • Octocrylene

  • Homosalate

  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor

  • PABA

  • Parabens

  • Triclosan

  • Any nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (if it doesn’t explicitly say “micro-sized” or “non-nano” and it can rub in, it’s probably nano-sized)

  • Any form of microplastic, such as “exfoliating beads”

If you still find yourself unsure of which sunscreen to use I’ve composed a list of some of our favorites:

  • We love supporting local businesses, and Little Hands Hawaii has a wonderful reef safe sunscreen available for both the face and body.

  • Mama Kuleana is another local business that offers a reef safe sunscreen that smells heavenly.

  • Thinksport SPF 50 Sunscreen

  • All Good SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen Lotion

  • Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Clear Zinc Lotion

  • Suntegrity Natural Mineral Sunscreen

  • Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen Cream

  • Raw Elements SPF 30 Certified Natural Sunscreen

  • Stream2Sea SPF 30 Mineral Sunblock

  • Loving Naturals Clear Body SPF 30+ All-natural Sunscreen

  • Banana Boat Simply Protect SPF 50+ Sunscreen (spray, not lotion)

  • Olita Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

  • Blue Lizard Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 + (available in a kid-friendly formula as well)

Many of the options above can be purchased at any local retail store like Target or Walmart. Spread some aloha and help keep our oceans safe!

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