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Our 5 Top Reef Safe Sunscreens

Why choose reef safe sunscreen? 

The reefs in Hawai’i are being affected by chemical sunscreens. According to research by Ocean Conservancy coral reefs in Hawai’i alone are exposed to over 6,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year, with a total of over 14,000 tons that end up in coral reefs each year. NOAA ocean service also states that healthy coral reefs are one of the most valuable ecosystems on Earth. So our existence literally depends on coral reefs alongside all the dolphins, coral, algae, sea urchins, fish and even sharks! Being the ocean enthusiasts that we are, we also notice the impact the sunscreen has on the coral reefs. As we move into the more dense tourism areas where toxic sunscreens are being used, the reefs seem more worn down and bleached out. We also notice the filmy residues that these sunscreens leave behind and also can smell the harmful fragrances that are entering into the ocean. The other point that scientists are making is that if these ingredients are bad for the coral reefs they could also be bad for us. The scientist research from Stanford University says that, “Previous studies have suggested that oxybenzone could pose health risks to people, and some researchers have recently called for more research into its safety.”

What to look for in a reef safe sunscreen? 

Look for mineral based UV blocking ingredients such as titanium dioxide, non-nano zinc  oxide (don’t get confused with nano zinc). Be careful of misleading labels, if it says reef safe on the front it can still contain harmful ingredients like the ones listed below. Always check the back for active and inactive ingredients. 

Harmful chemicals to look for:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Butylparaben 
  • Octinoxate and 
  • 4-methylbenzylidine camphor 
  • Octocrylene
  • Benzopheone-1 
  • Benezophenone-8 
  • Nano-titanium oxide 
  • Nano-Zinc oxide 

These are harming marine life, killing and bleaching out the reefs. Plus harming your skin! 

Our saying is if you cannot eat it then do not put it on your skin but please don’t eat your sunscreen. It goes the same for the reef and fish. They eat and take in everything us humans put into their water so please be mindful. Here are our top picks of sunscreen that we trust.

a close up of a bottle

1. Kokua Sun Care – Our number one is Kokua Suncare and that’s for a good reason. A family run company by ocean enthusiasts and world travelers but home based on the island of O’ahu. Their sunscreen contains Hawai’i grown antioxidant ingredients, gentle for skin and reef safe formula, biodegradable, and has naturally derived ingredients and it nourishes the skin while it protects. Your skin feels better and glowing after using it. We have trusted Kokua Sun care for the past five years as our main sunscreen to use for surfing, adventures, hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and  everyday outdoor activities. Don’t forget to check out their new line of products they carry such as after sun care, tinted sunscreen and more! Use discount code Mahina15 for a discount if you order on their webpage.

“Professionally formulated to go on like a moisturizing lotion and light enough for everyday use, this sunscreen with its superior water resistance also stays on through sweat and swells and protects you from the harshest UV rays.” – Kokua Sun Care 





a group of people standing on a beach

2. Little Hands Hawaii – Formulated by a local Hawaiian Ohana (family) as a way to put the best ingredients possible on their children while also protecting the reef and marine life from harmful chemicals. They could not find a sunscreen with good ingredients so they made their own in 2011. Being a registered nurse, health enthusiast, growing up playing in the ocean they also created not only a sunscreen but a sunscreen to fit their lifestyle. It’s also a bonus to add that they use consumer conscious packing that is minimal, plastic free and sustainably sourced. When coming to Hawai’i it’s always important to remember to support and shop local Hawaiian companies.





a woman sitting at a table with wine glasses3. Hawaii Medicinal – This family not only creates reef safe chemical free Sun Care but lives a clean positive life and owns Sunshine Farms on the North Shore of O’ahu. They have created Sunshine Healing Block and Sunscreen Face Stick that contains Non-nano zinc, Hawaiian plant-based alternatives including Hawaiian Naupaka leaf, and organic oils. They come in a variety of SPF and also carry after sun care. 

a woman sitting at a table


a stack of flyers on a table


*Fact: Hawaiian Naupaka leaf was and berries were actually used by the native Hawaiians as a natural sunscreen, which are also used in the Hawaiian Medicinal formula. 

4. Avasol – Trusted mineral sunscreen that comes in different shades and varieties of SPF, organic and uses biodegradable and refillable packaging for their Reef Barrier face sticks. It’s not only reef safe but it’s handcrafted and sourced from ultra-premium organic, wildcrafted, nutrient rich, and highly antioxidant raw ingredients. 

On top of it all it smells great with a natural aroma and not a chemical sunscreen smell. It’s also very easy to remove the Reef Barrier face stick in the shower and while wearing it. A bonus is it also smells great! We personally love the natural fragrance it gives off from the amazing ingredients they use. 

a hand holding a water bottle

5. Raw Elements – We love Raw Elements because they care about the reef and it shows. At many Hawaiian beaches, Hawaii hotels and resorts they have provided mineral sunscreen dispensers that dispense sunscreen for anyone to use and also bring awareness to being reef safe. They are committed to education, environmental awareness and sun safety. They have a large variety of products to choose from.

a sign on a fence

Let’s act together to protect the coral reefs. Hawai’i has some of the best snorkeling in the world so let’s keep it that way by caring for our precious reefs and sea life! Mahina Hawaii Adventures takes pride in nature conservancy and doing our part to preserve the beautiful islands we live in. 




Written by Beccy Hailstones