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With its stunning beaches and abundant sunshine, Hawaii is a tropical paradise that draws visitors from around the world. However, protecting your skin from harmful UV rays is crucial when spending time outdoors in Hawaii.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii has banned sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can harm coral reefs. The state allows reef-safe mineral sunscreens with active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about sunscreen regulations in Hawaii, ingredients to avoid, reef-safe options to pack, and tips for staying safe under the Hawaiian sun.

Hawaii’s Sunscreen Ban

Background on the Ban

In 2018, Hawaii passed a groundbreaking law that banned the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. This made Hawaii the first state in the nation to enact such a ban over growing concerns that these ingredients were harming coral reefs.

Studies found that oxybenzone and octinoxate can induce coral bleaching at very low levels. With up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen entering coral reef areas each year, Hawaii felt action needed to be taken to protect the state’s treasured marine ecosystems.

Banned Ingredients

The two chemicals specifically banned in Hawaii are:

  • Oxybenzone: An ingredient found in over 3,500 sunscreen products that can damage coral DNA and induce bleaching.
  • Octinoxate: Found in over 800 brands of sunscreen, this UV-filter disrupts coral reproduction and development.

Any sunscreen containing one or both of these active ingredients at 0.1% concentration or more cannot be legally sold or distributed in Hawaii.

Impact on Reefs and Ocean Life

Hawaii’s reefs support over 7,000 marine species and are vital to the state’s economy through tourism and fishing. By banning oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens, Hawaii aims to curb the alarming deterioration of its coral reefs.

Research shows that oxybenzone alone can damage coral DNA, induce bleaching, act as an endocrine disruptor, and negatively impact developing coral larvae.

With around 90% of Hawaiian coral reefs facing significant bleaching events over the past several decades, reducing chemical pollution is critical for reef survival.

Since the sunscreen ban took effect on January 1, 2021, most visitors and residents have adapted by using mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Organizations like the Surfrider Foundation and state officials continue to educate that reef-safe sunscreens work just as well while protecting Hawaii’s fragile marine ecosystems.

Choosing a Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Mineral vs. Chemical Filters

When it comes to sunscreen ingredients, there are two main types – mineral and chemical filters. Mineral filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sit on top of the skin to deflect UV rays. Chemical filters, on the other hand, absorb UV rays before they can damage the skin.

However, some chemical filters have been found to harm marine environments like Hawaii’s coral reefs.

That’s why reef-safe sunscreens approved for use in Hawaii only contain mineral active ingredients. These mineral sunscreens provide broad-spectrum protection without bleaching or poisoning coral reefs.

The Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources bans sunscreens with the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which studies have shown contribute to coral reef decline.

Active Ingredients to Look For

When shopping for a sunscreen to use in Hawaii, look for products with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These mineral filters sit on top of skin, deflecting and reflecting UV rays away.

Unlike chemical absorbers, minerals don’t penetrate skin or wash off as easily into ocean waters. That makes them a reef-safe choice.

On top of mineral UV filters, some reef-safe sunscreens also contain antioxidants like vitamin C and E to provide extra skin protection. But the key is avoiding oxybenzone, octinoxate, and other chemicals that bleach and kill coral species.

Sun Protection Factors

SPF indicates how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays that cause sunburn. Hawaii’s intense sunshine means choosing a reef-safe sunscreen with a high SPF 30 or greater. Make sure your mineral sunscreen also offers UVA and UVB protection for complete coverage.

And don’t forget to apply liberally and reapply every two hours!

SPF Rating UVB Protection
15 93%
30 97%
50 98%

While no sunscreen is 100% effective, choosing a high SPF mineral product and applying correctly will help protect your skin while keeping Hawaii’s coral safe and vibrant.

Top Reef-Safe Sunscreen Picks

Stream2Sea Sunscreen

Stream2Sea’s reef-safe sunscreens provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection using non-nano titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients. Their lotions are lightweight and non-greasy, with a texture that rubs in easily without leaving a white cast.

One of their top selling products is the Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen SPF 30, which is water resistant for 80 minutes and specially formulated for active lifestyles near the ocean.

All Stream2Sea sunscreens are certified reef safe by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory, meaning they do not contain any ingredients toxic to marine environments. Their biodegradable formulas are also free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens, and other harsh chemicals.

Prices range from around $15-20 for a 3 or 4 oz tube, making Stream2Sea a mid-range sunscreen option.

Badger Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream

For a truly transparent broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen, Badger’s Clear Zinc is a great pick. It rubs in without leaving behind a white hue, allowing it to work well on all skin tones.

The active mineral ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, combined with sunflower oil, jojoba oil, and beeswax to hydrate skin while protecting it.

This reef-safe sunscreen is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it ideal for ocean activities. It is also biodegradable and fragrance free. At around $17 for a 2.9 oz tube, the price is affordable compared to similar mineral sunscreen formulations.

Badger is a certified B Corporation known for using natural, ethically-sourced ingredients.

Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Fragrance Free Sunscreen

Alba Botanica offers an inexpensive, sensitive skin-friendly mineral sunscreen that is free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, parabens, phthalates, and synthetic fragrance. It provides broad spectrum SPF 30 protection using non-nano zinc oxide as the active ingredient.

At only $9 for a generous 5 oz tube, it is very budget-friendly yet still protects skin well without irritation.

Despite the low price point, this sunscreen rubs in without a thick, chalky texture or white cast. It is enriched with botanical ingredients like sunflower oil, coconut oil, aloe vera, and vitamin E to moisturize while protecting.

According to Alba Botanica, this sunscreen is also water resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it suitable for active beach days.

Sun Safety Tips for Hawaii

Limit Midday Sun Exposure

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. To avoid sunburn, it’s best to limit exposure during these peak hours. Seek shade under trees, umbrellas, or buildings whenever possible. The UV index is a helpful guide.

Aim for early morning or late afternoon outdoor activities when the index is lower.

Wear Protective Clothing

Cover up exposed skin with lightweight, loose-fitting clothing to prevent sun damage. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and UV protection clothing can reduce your chance of sunburn by 65%. Look for clothing labeled UPF (ultraviolent protection factor) 50+.

Popular sun protective fabrics like Coolibar use dense weaves and special coatings to block 98% of UV radiation from reaching your skin.

Apply Sunscreen Properly

Sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide generally offer superior broad spectrum protection. When possible, choose reef-safe biodegradable formulas free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can harm marine life.

Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply at least every 2 hours. Also apply after swimming or sweating heavily. Use enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass for proper coverage of your whole body. Pay extra attention to vulnerable areas like your face, ears, feet, and hands.

Also read: What To Pack For Your Hawaii Vacation: The Ultimate Packing List


By being aware of Hawaii’s sunscreen regulations, packing reef-safe mineral options, limiting exposure during peak UV hours, and taking other preventative measures, you can safely enjoy Hawaii’s spectacular beaches and marine environments while protecting your skin.

Following these simple guidelines will help preserve Hawaii’s coral reefs for future generations to enjoy while keeping you safe from sun damage.

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