Reef Safe Sunscreen 101

Jun 26, 2021 | 0 comments

From Keawakepu to Ka’anapali and beyond, Maui is home to a spectacular network of coral reefs. Chances are good, if you have visited Maui in the past, you’ve spent at least some of your time exploring underneath the ocean surface. With over 16,000 acres of reef on Maui alone, there is much to be discovered. As lovely as they are, reefs provide so much more than just a pretty picture. Hawaii’s reefs have been supplying food for islanders for hundreds of years, they provide vital protection from storms and coastal flooding, and help generate over $800 million in revenue in Hawaii each year. Losing coral reefs would mean incredible hardship for the Hawaiian Islands.

Save our reefs in Maui Hawaii

In recent years, Hawaii’s reefs have faced innumerable calamities- bleaching events, pollution problems that have been ignored, and ocean acidification. Coral reefs around Hawaii have never been more in jeopardy than today. However, scientists have noted that with proper care, coral reefs around the world can make a promising comeback. Kona’s reefs have begun to recover from a major bleaching event in which 50% of corals were lost. Over on Oahu, researchers were stunned at how marine life responded to zero human activity at Hanauma Bay during the covid-19 shutdown. Both of these recoveries have a surprising common denominator- the absence of harmful sunscreens.

Some types of sunscreen can do some serious damage to young corals. To combat this, starting in January 2021, Hawaii has outlawed the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate– two chemicals known to make corals more susceptible to bleaching and even be lethal to young coral polyps. In today’s world, reef-safe sunscreen is a term every beachgoer should know. Using reef-safe products is the easiest way to help keep Hawaii’s reefs healthy.

Maui sunscreen

So, what exactly is reef-safe sunscreen? How do you know what to look for, and where can you find it here on Maui? Here are some tips to guide you in keeping Hawaii’s reefs healthy.

Look for mineral-based sunscreens:

Non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are the safest sunscreen ingredients for both your body and the reef. Non-nano means the minerals contain no heavy metals that could otherwise settle on the reef and cause damage. Mineral sunscreens work to reflect UV rays, whereas chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays. Chemicals in sunscreen are also absorbed by your skin and have been linked to an array of health problems.

Avoid these ingredients:

Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the two worst offenders and will be outlawed in Hawaii by January 2021. However, homosalate, octocrylene, octisalate, and avobenzone are all common sunscreen ingredients that are known to damage coral reefs as well. It sounds like a lot to remember, but the golden rule is to make sure that none of these chemicals are listed under “active ingredients”, and look for non-nano zinc or titanium instead.

Don’t trust the packaging, read the ingredients:

Sadly, some brands market their product as “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly”, yet still contain harmful chemicals. Taking the time to read the ingredients can make or break your effort to keep Hawaii’s reefs healthy.

When in doubt, cover-up!

If your unsure of which sunscreen to purchase, or just looking to avoid a sunburn at all costs, the best choice for your body and the reef is to cover up. If you’re spending all day at the beach, UV shirts, sun hats, and umbrellas offer better protection than any sunscreen could. Just don’t forget to use reef-safe sunscreen on any exposed areas, like your face and neck!

local sunscreen

Here on Maui, it has become easy to find reef-safe sunscreen, and some of the best brands are made right here on the island! Here is a short roundup of some Maui made brands, so you know what to look for.

Raw Love

Founded in 2015, Raw Love is made with plant-based ingredients and is completely plastic-free, another huge bonus for Maui’s natural environment. Raw Love can be found in shops around the island, including Whole Foods. Many snorkel tours also offer Raw Love to their guests onboard.


Locally made by a Maui mother of three, Solkine offers excellent sun protection and is also available in a variety of different colors, including skin tones, pink, purple, and blue. Kids will love the bright colors, and you won’t be left worrying if you missed a spot. Solkine is available for purchase online.

Mama Kuleana

As members of both the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council and the Safe Sunscreen Council, the creators of Mama Kuleana know their stuff. Their containers are 100% biodegradable, and even their labels are eco friendly. Mama Kuleana can be found in shops around Maui’s West Side.

One Love Body and Soul

One Love Body and Soul’s products have earned several official cruelty-free and reef-safe certifications, assuring buyers that their products are the best of the best. One Love Body and Soul is also a member of 1% For the Planet and all of their products are plastic-free! One Love can be found in surf shops and health food stores around Maui.

Although not made locally, other brands to keep an eye out for include Tropic Sport, AllGood, Verta, Salt and Stone, and Raw Elements.

A notable collection of reef-safe sunscreen is located at Hi-Tech Surf Sports’ flagship store in Kahului, only four minutes from Kahului Airport- an easy post-arrival stop. Hi-Tech is locally owned and operated, and has been open on Maui for over 30 years. Committed to preserving Maui’s natural environment Hi-Tech doesn’t carry any sunscreen that contains oxybenzone, and stocks a wide variety of mineral-based sunscreen. They also have a sizeable selection of UV shirts and hats. Hi-Tech also has stores in Kihei and Pa’ia.

There is no doubt that coral reefs are widely beneficial to the state of Hawaii. But beyond the statistics, one peek at Hawaii’s magical underwater world will stir your protective spirit. The key to preservation begins with education and this once-little-known-issue surrounding chemical sunscreen is finally beginning to surface. By taking the time to read this article and learn more about reef-safe sunscreen, Hawaii’s reefs, people, and marine life send you a huge MAHALO!


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