If you’re planning on visiting Hawaii anytime soon, it’s important to know that sunscreen is a big deal here. In fact, the use of reef-safe sunscreen is becoming increasingly important as we learn more about the negative effects of traditional sunscreens on coral reefs. Coral reefs are a vital part of our ecosystem and support a wealth of marine life. By choosing reef-friendly sunscreen, you can help protect these beautiful creatures from further damage. Keep reading for more information about why reef-safe sunscreen matters in Hawaii!

What makes sunscreen harmful to the environment?

The phrase “reef-safe sunscreen” is often used to describe products that don’t contain oxybenzone, avobenzone. Homosalate, octocrylene, octinoxate, octisalate or nanoparticles. These ingredients have been shown to cause reef bleaching, which is a major problem for coral reefs worldwide. While many sunscreens claim to be reef-safe, it’s important to read the label carefully to make sure that they don’t contain these harmful ingredients.

If you’re not sure whether a sunscreen is safe for reefs, your best bet is to choose a product that is certified by an organization like the Coral Reef Foundation. By taking these simple steps, you can help protect the world’s reefs while still enjoying the sun.

How does sunscreen affect the environment?

There are multiple ways your sunscreen impacts the life around you, including:

  • Impairs the growth of green algae
  • Accumulates in coral causing bleaching, DNA damage, and kill younger coral
  • Induce defects in young mussels
  • Damages sea urchins’ reproductive and immune systems
  • Decrease fertility and harm reproduction in many species of fish
  • Accumulates in dolphin’s tissue and can be transferred to young

These are just a few examples of the impact these substances can have on the ecosystem. Do your part and use reef-friendly products when traveling to Hawaii.

Hawaii has banned these harmful chemicals

In 2018, Hawaii became the first state in the US to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two chemicals that are blamed for harming coral reefs. The state’s decision was based on scientific studies showing that these chemicals can contribute to coral bleaching, a process in which corals lose their color and eventually die.

Dozens of other countries, including Mexico and the Bahamas, have already enacted similar bans. While some companies have reformulated their sunscreens to comply with the new regulations, others have argued that the science behind the ban is inconclusive. Regardless of the debate, it is clear that Hawaii’s ban will help to protect its natural environment and reefs.

Indicators that your sunscreen is reef-friendly

Because the laws still don’t cover all of the potential harm in sunscreen, it can be tricky to find the right ones. These 3 labels will help you find the right ones.

Mineral Based:

These sunscreens have active ingredients of either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide . Avoid products that contain oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate.


This refers to the particle size of the sunscreen. A particle size greater than 100 nanometers cannot be absorbed by the coral, so it is known to be safer for the environment.


This tells you the zinc and titanium in your product are purer, and will be free of harmful heavy metals like lead and aluminum.

Tips for Reef-Safe Sun Protection

While at the end of the day you can’t beat the sun, there are a few different ways to decrease your exposure.

  • Wear clothing made for sun protection. UPF-rated clothing will block the harmful UV rays and reduces the amount of sunscreen needed.
  • Avoid sunscreens with parabens. These are typically found in skin care products and are used to preserve the product. They are shown to bleach coral and have a questionable impact on health in general.
  • Use a rub-on lotion. A rub-on lotion means less of your sunscreen going into the ocean. You can apply it directly to make sure none is wasted.

Protect Hawaii’s Waters

It’s not too late to start being a responsible consumer and help protect Hawaii’s reefs. Start by looking out for reef-safe sunscreen the next time you’re at the store. With your help, we can make sure that Hawaii’s coral reefs stay healthy and beautiful for generations to come.

We hope this article has helped you learn more about the state of Hawaii’s ocean ecosystems and informed you on how to protect them. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our experienced staff. Thank you for reading!