Poipu Beach Park snorkelers and Hawaiian Monk Seal

Reef Safe Sunscreen

We love our beautiful beaches! Caring for the oceans and all the things that live in it are a big piece of Hawaiian culture. When you visit here, we want you to live like a local. Part of that is taking steps to care for this place so that the permanent residents and future visitors can enjoy the beaches of Kauai.

Poipu Beach at Sheraton Hotel Kauai by Robin Gotfrid

Poipu Beach at Sheraton Kauai, an easy stroll from our properties

One of the most detrimental things to ocean life is harmful chemicals, which are often found in products we use every day! During your Hawaii travel, you’ll need to apply lots of sunscreen. But did you know that some sunscreens are actually harmful to the oceans you’ll be swimming in? Many sunscreens are made with materials that have been connected to coral reef deterioration. Why does this matter? Reefs are an important part of the ocean’s ecosystem. They:

  • Protect coastal areas from the sea 
  • Propel jobs in fishing and tourism areas
  • Provide a home for 25% of fish species at some point in their life cycle

Reef safe sunscreen is vital to protecting marine life and the environment as a whole.

Poipu Beach Park snorkelers and Hawaiian Monk Seal

Hawaiian Monk Seal hauled out for a rest on the warm sand at Poipu Beach Park

Hawaii Reef Safe Legislation Timeline

  • 2019: Hawaii passes a law banning Oxybenzone and Octinoxate sunscreens
  • March 2021: Avobenzone and Octocrylene are also banned

What’s so bad about these chemicals? Sunscreens using these chemical filters to block UV rays have been shown to negatively impact coral. 

  • Oxybenzone and Octinoxate:
    • Baby coral exposed to these chemicals displayed signs of distress, including coral bleaching:
      • Leaves coral open to infection 
      • Prevents coral from getting the nutrients needed for survival
      • Harms coral DNA
      • Leads to abnormalities in coral growth and skeleton
  • Octocrylene: 
    • Can disrupt human hormones
    • Can be toxic for various aquatic organisms, such as corals, fish, and marine mammals
    • Degrades into Benzophenone, which is a carcinogen, an agent with the capacity to cause cancer in humans
  • Avobenzone:
    • Disrupts endocrines
    • Decreases coral resistance to high ocean temperatures 
colorful wrasse in shallow water at Poipu Beach Park

A colorful wrasse in shallow water at Poipu Beach Park

What’s The Difference?

In short, reef safe sunscreen is vital to protecting our oceans and the creatures in them. But what’s different about reef safe sunscreen? 

Chemical ingredient sunscreens

  • Chemical filters absorb UV and turn it into heat released from your skin
  • Ingredients are harmful to marine life (and sometimes to people, too!)

Mineral ingredient sunscreens

  • Use physical UVA and UVB filters which block your skin from absorbing the sun’s rays in the first place
  • You can find these blockers on your sunscreen bottle: the active ingredients Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide
  • Must be non-nano: particle size matters, as coral reefs can absorb particles below 100 nanometers regardless of ingredients

Ingredients Matter!

reef safe sunscreen“Reef friendly” isn’t a regulated term, so products can’t always be trusted just because they’re marked that way. Always check the “active ingredients” label on your products to be sure they’re actually reef safe.

Avoid harmful substances such as: 

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Any form of microplastic (for instance, “exfoliating beads”)

Here’s a full list of the chemicals you should avoid. Additionally, avoid spray or misting sunscreens when you can. These sunscreens can be harmful, and titanium dioxide is bad for your health if inhaled. 

Reef Safe Sunscreen Recommendations

Maybe you’re hitting one of Kauai’s many family friendly beaches, or maybe you’re headed out on a hike. Maybe you’re just perusing the local shops. Wherever you are outside, the beautiful Hawaiian sun is, too! Keep yourself protected with these fantastic reef safe sunscreen options.

Badger Balm - Healthy Body Care

Badger Balm Surf’s Up Clear Zinc Sport Sunscreen

  • Cruelty-free
  • Biodegradable
  • 80 minutes water resistance

This sunscreen’s lightweight formula is made with certified organic ingredients, and a sunflower oil base provides gentle, powerful moisturizers. Free of fragrance, as well as from oxybenzone and octinoxate, this ultra-moisturizing sunscreen is safe for your skin and for ocean life!

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen

Blue Lizard Sunscreen

  • Dermatologist-trusted 
  • 80 minutes water resistance 
  • Sweat resistant (great for sports)

One of the issues for people with sensitive skin is that chemical UV-blockers can cause irritation more easily, since they absorb the sun’s rays. Mineral sunscreens sit on top of skin instead, using physical UV-shielding. Blue Lizard was first formulated for life under the harsh Australian sun. It’s the #1 pediatrician-recommended mineral sunscreen brand. 

Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen

Zero Waste Cartel Raw Elements All Natural Reef Safe Sunscreen Tin

  • All-natural, sustainably sourced ingredients
  • Plastic-free 
  • 80 minutes water resistance

Double up on your environmental care with a sunscreen that is not only reef safe, but also plastic-free, as it comes in a 100% recyclable tin. It’s gentle, moisturizing, and long-lasting. This sunscreen continues to protect your skin even after you’re done being in the sun, since it’s full of active antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. 

TropicSport reef safe sunscreen

TropicSport Sunscreen

  • Recyclable aluminum packaging
  • Up to 4 hours water resistance
  • Full of antioxidants

This is the perfect sunscreen for all your sporting activities! It passes the U.S. FDA 80-min and Australian 240-min water resistance tests! It’s moisturizing formula uses Tucuma seed butter, Baobab oil, and Macadamia nut oil. This sunscreen also utilizes antioxidants such as green tea, Burdekin plum, and Australian plum, to reduce the effects of sun exposure.

Protecting Ourselves and Our World

All of these reef safe sunscreens are wonderful options for your skin and for our beautiful oceans. Whether you’re spending the day on one of Kauai’s best beaches, or trying some of the cool things to do in Poipu, invest in a great mineral sunscreen to keep your skin, and our reefs, safe!

Photos by Robin Gotfrid.

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