When it comes to sunscreen for Hawaii, one of the biggest reasons the sunscreen you choose can be important is if you’ll be doing any water-based activities in Hawaii.

And, since you’ll be in Hawaii, hopefully that means that you WILL be doing what can be one of the best FREE (or cheap) activities in Hawaii… that’s snorkeling!

While snorkeling tours can often increase your chances of swimming with turtles and colorful fish, whether you’re off to Maui, Kauai, Oahu, or the Big Island, all Hawaiian islands do have free beach snorkeling spots to test your luck too.


So going snorkeling in Hawaii for the first time means that for your Hawaii packing list, you’ll want to include some snorkeling clothes (which can mean less sunscreen you need to wear) and a specific type of sunscreen.

You don’t want to choose just any sunscreen for Hawaii.

Ideally, you’ll be thinking about the health of the ocean marine life when you do choose your sunscreen.

That means choosing reef-safe sunscreen.

Popular sunscreen brands like Sun Bum and Neutrogena have BOTH coral reef-safe sunscreen AND sunscreen that is NOT safe for coral reef.

So you’ll just want to check to make sure you get the type that’s best for Hawaii!


Best sunscreen for Hawaii for the Hawaii sunscreen ban: Coral reef-safe sunscreen for snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving that's mineral biodegradable sunscreen. Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Big Island


What IS reef-safe sunscreen?!

And why should you care?


So there is this thing that’s called “coral bleaching.”

You can probably gather from the name that this doesn’t sound good.

One of the main reasons that it’s believed this is happening, as is also said by the National Park Service, is because the coral reef are being exposed to certain chemicals.

And where are these chemicals coming from?

Largely from all the beach go-ers who enter the water wearing sunscreen containing these toxic chemicals that aren’t biodegradable.

And all of this exposure to chemicals is said to be taking a toll on the coral reef causing them to die.

If the coral reef continue to die, that means that there’s less abundance of food (reef) available to the colorful tropical fish, and all that makes snorkeling so great will be less and less too.

So by wearing reef-safe sunscreen, not only are you helping the marine life, but you’re also helping everyone’s future Hawaii vacation! 😉


Okay, so you know chemicals are bad for the ocean environment.

And maybe you’ve heard of “mineral sunscreen.”

Mineral sunscreen sounds good, right?


So then…

Is ALL mineral sunscreen reef-safe?

Instead of chemicals being the base of a sunscreen product, reef-safe sunscreen is made as a mineral-based sunscreen.


The important thing to remember is that while minerals ARE the replacement, that doesn’t mean there can’t also be toxic chemicals made with it too.

One example of this is the Sun Bum signature mineral sunscreen.

It IS made with minerals, but it ALSO includes an ingredient that is among the worst offenders as being agreed upon as harmful to coral reef.

So, if you’re looking to buy a sunscreen because you want a reef-friendly sunscreen, don’t just quickly see the label “mineral” and think it’s all good.




What sunscreen chemicals are the WORST for coral reef?!


Best sunscreen for Hawaii: What are the worst chemicals in sunscreen to get coral reef-safe sunscreen? What to pack for Hawaii. What to wear in Hawaii


There are basically 2 main chemicals that are often cited as most definitely NOT being coral reef-safe.


The ingredients you want to avoid in your sunscreen for snorkeling in Hawaii are:
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate


And how do you know that these are the worst offenders when it comes to the health of coral reef?!



The Hawaii sunscreen ban

The State of Hawaii is soon going to make it ILLEGAL to sell sunscreen that contains these 2 ingredients. (That’ll happen in 2021.)

So, since they took the step to specifically make these 2 chemicals illegal, it’s safe to say that oxybenzone and octinoxate are the top 2 ingredients to look out for on the sunscreen ingredients list.


Best sunscreen for Hawaii and what to wear when snorkeling in Hawaii. What ingredients are NOT reef-safe sunscreen. Maui, Kauai, Big Island, Oahu.



WHY the ban on these 2 sunscreen ingredients?

According to the State of Hawaii:

The legislature finds that two chemicals contained in many sunscreens, oxybenzone and octinoxate, have significant harmful impacts on Hawaii’s marine environment and residing ecosystems, including coral reefs that protect Hawaii’s shoreline.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate cause mortality in developing coral; increase coral bleaching that indicates extreme stress, even at temperatures below 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit; and cause genetic damage to coral and other marine organisms.

These chemicals have also been shown to degrade corals’ resiliency and ability to adjust to climate change factors and inhibit recruitment of new corals.



Why is there Hawaii sunscreen ban? Ingredients that are NOT reef-safe sunscreen for Hawaii - oxybenzone, octinoxate. What's the best sunscreen for Hawaii? Maui, Kauai, Big Island, Oahu Hawaii



Read more about the official word on why Hawaii feels strongly about banning the sales of sunscreen with these chemicals.

Key West has also gone through with a similar sunscreen ban to protect coral reef in the Florida Keys. 

And even if other snorkeling destinations haven’t banned the sales of any types of sunscreen (like the Maldives), it’s still a good idea to wear sunscreen that’s friendly to coral reef! 


That said…

These aren’t the only ingredients that have been deemed as not reef-safe.

But you can take it as these are the ones that matter the most.

So in your quest to search for reef-safe sunscreen, look out for these 2 ingredients.


What are the alternative ingredients that are more reef-friendly?

As per the National Park Service, these are 2 ingredients that haven’t been found to be harmful to coral reef:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium oxide (titanium dioxide)

Well, side note. You can place the emphasis on “haven’t been found” because it’s also been said that too much titanium dioxide in sunscreen is not good… so this is another grey area.



So, with all this in mind…


What reef-safe sunscreen to wear in Hawaii?!


The sunscreen brands below have products made WITHOUT oxybenzone OR octinoxate.

So they are oxybenzone-free AND octinoxate-free.

In general, you may find a sunscreen label say that it’s oxybenzone-free, but do make sure to check for octinoxate too.

Again, these are the 2 ingredients most important to Hawaii.


There are affiliate links below. You should totally check out the sunscreen reviews.



When you want to go for reef-safe sunscreen for Hawaii, check out the products below.



1. Sun Bum

Reviews: Mineral sunscreen


Best sunscreen for Hawaii: Sun Bum reef safe sunscreen - mineral spf ingredients list


See the ingredients list straight from Sun Bum.



2. Neutrogena

Reviews: Sheer zinc dry-touch sunscreen


Best sunscreen for Hawaii: Neutrogena reef safe sunscreen - sheer zinc dry touch spf ingredients list

See the ingredients list straight from Neutrogena.




Reviews: Mineral Sport Citrus Mimosa Moisturizer Sunscreen (part of skin care travel kit)


Best reef-safe coola sunscreen: Ingredients for mineral spf sunscreen.

See the ingredients list straight from COOLA.


4. Badger

Reviews: Sport sunscreen


Best reef-safe Badger sunscreen: Ingredients for organic mineral spf sunscreen.

See the ingredients list straight from Badger.



5. Stream2Sea

Reviews: Mineral-based sunscreen


Best reef-safe stream2sea sunscreen: Ingredients for mineral spf sunscreen.

See the ingredients list straight from Stream2Sea.


Best sunscreen for Hawaii: Coral reef-safe sunscreen for snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving that's mienral biodegradable sunscreen. Maui, Kauai, Oahu, Big Island



What to pack for Hawaii?!

Quick packing list for snorkeling in Hawaii:

And for hiking in Hawaii…

And don’t forget the absolute BEST guide to making the most out of your Hawaii vacation – available for every Hawaiian island




More for your Hawaii vacation

If you're headed to Hawaii soon, see some ideas for top snorkeling essentials to pack for Hawaii, including why people wear a rash guard for snorkeling.

Nervous about taking public transportation in India?! Sometimes just knowing what to expect can ease the mind! While I have traveled in India with travel partners (people I've met while traveling in India), here are some of my public transport trips in India, most of which I did as a solo female traveler:

For examples of general class train travel, see:
For examples of AC train travel, see:
For examples of local bus travel, see:
For examples of overnight bus travel, see:
See more backpacking India travel tips!