Your Ultimate Guide To Reef Safe Sunscreen | Protect Our Ocean Reefs

Guide to Reef Safe Sunscreen
Your Ultimate Guide to Reef Safe Sunscreen

Updated September 8, 2022

Hawaiʻi recently became the first of the United States to pass legislation prohibiting the sale of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, two common chemical ingredients known to harm coral reefs.

The law, if signed by Gov. David Ige, is slated to go into effect in January of 2021, giving manufacturers and retailers time to transition to reef-safer sunscreen options.

EDITED:  On July 3, 2018 Hawaii Governor David Ige signed this bill into law making history and moving toward saving our Hawaiian reefs!

Savvy Hawai’i travelers don’t need to wait to start making a difference. We recently posted a snorkel & scuba guide about the fact that worldwide, coral reefs are in danger and switching to a reef-friendly sunscreen option is one way you can help.

Studies have shown that the two banned chemicals do cause damage to coral reefs. Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. “Lots of things kill coral reefs, but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back.” It also affects sea urchins and kills algae, a source of food for sea turtles, he said.

He found as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs annually. Other ingredients often found in sunscreen, and after-sun lotions also contain mineral oil or petrolatum products. These are both also implicated in coral death and damage.

“According to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, coral reefs are crucial to marine and human life.

In addition to protecting sea creatures, the Smithsonian said, the reefs provide food, medication and tourism jobs, among other things — at a value of $30 billion to $172 billion per year.

Don’t be fooled by misleading advertising.  Many companies will claim that their product is ‘Reef Safe’ when in fact it contains one of the chemicals listed above or mineral oil, another coral reef toxin. Perfect example – Sun Bum promotes their sunscreen as ‘Reef Friendly’ yet the first four ingredients (Avobenzone 3.00%, Homosalate 5.00%, Octisalate 3.00%, Octocrylene 10.00%) are from the list of reef killing chemicals above. Granted it does not contain Oxybenzone or Octinoxate, but the ingredients list leaves me dubious.  This is where you, as a consumer must do your due diligence and read the ingredients labels.

Our friends over at EcoWatch have a wonderful post on the ‘Greenwashing’ of sunscreen products. According to their article;

Quote from Ecowatch

Unfortunately, people also pose the greatest threat to coral reefs,” according to the Smithsonian. “Over-fishing and destructive fishing, pollution, warming, changing ocean chemistry, and invasive species are all taking a huge toll. In some places, reefs have been entirely destroyed, and in many places reefs today are a pale shadow of what they once were.” ” (Washington Post)

Coral reefs occupy less than 1% of the ocean floor, yet are home to more than 25% of the ocean’s marine life.

In an effort to protect Hawaii’s reefs, Hawaiian Airlines last month began offering passengers free samples of natural sunscreens without those ingredients. The airline is also encouraging its passengers to learn more about Hawaii by showing an 11-minute documentary on each flight about the environmental challenges affecting reefs. (CNN)

Did you know Sunscreen chemicals can also be found in your urine within 20 minutes of application, which is why sewage is a leading carrier of these chemicals. So be sunscreen smart wherever you live, to do your part to protect your skin and coral reefs. (EWG)


Here’s what YOU can do when visiting Maui and the surrounding Hawai’ian Islands (and of course anywhere you travel.)

  • READ THE LABEL. Look at the ingredients list and avoid buying or using sunscreen and personal products that contain Oxybenzone and octinoxate, avobenzone, avobenzine, octinoxate, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, homosalate or oxtisalate/octocrylene.
  • Avoid sunscreens containing petrolatum, commonly known as mineral oil, which takes years to biodegrade, and are known to be harmful or fatal to aquatic life and waterfowl.
  • Avoid sunscreens with high content of Titanium Dioxide. This mineral does not biodegrade and is found to react in warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life.
  • Skip the spray on sunscreens that rely on the ingredients listed above. Their spray carries in the wind landing in the ocean nearby and on unsuspecting sunbathers.
  • Seek out mineral based sunscreen. Non-nano zinc oxide (zinc oxide is the only single active ingredient that protects against UVA and UVB rays) and low content titanium dioxide are the preferred mineral based sunscreens. (titanium dioxide mineral does not biodegrade and is found to react in warm seawater to form hydrogen peroxide which is harmful to all sea life.
  • Be a smart shopper. Many companies and retailers are beginning to make the transition and are selling ‘Reef Safe’ sunscreens, and many can be found in Maui already. If you’re concerned shop online and bring with you on your trip. Otherwise shop the natural food markets of Maui, they carry a large selection.
  • Don’t always Trust labels.  Many sunscreens claim to be reef safe yet contain toxic chemicals. Essentially the only safe sunscreen is non-nano zinc or non-nano titanium dioxide.
  • Ghostest with the mostest. Many don’t like the white that is cast on skin with the use of mineral sunscreens, not to worry, several companies make tinted reef safe sunscreen (see our resource list) that help prevent the ghost-with-the-most look. BUT, if it’s cool for our local surfers, it’s good enough for me! Or do as the Maui Nui Marine Resource Council says and wear your white as a badge of honor, knowing you’re a reef and marine life protector!!
  • Wear a rash guard and hat. These provide sun protection and you’ll use less sunscreen.
  • Beware of products claiming to be ‘Reef Safe’ yet still have one of the active ingredients listed above (I’m looking at you Alba Botanica, which lists their Coconut Clear Spray SPF 50 as ‘Reef Safe’ yet contains Avobenzone – 3.0%, Homosalate – 15.0%, Octocrylene – 8.0% and Octyl Salicylate – 5.0% plus a whole host of other unpronounceable inactive ingredients. Their mineral sunscreen is reef safe)
  • Think Eco-Friendly. Even if you live away for the ocean, keep in mind that the chemicals you wash off your body eventually find their way into the water table and ultimately into the ocean.

TIP- The FDA recommends not using aerosol sprays on children because they are more likely to inhale the product into their lungs.

If you can’t say it, don’t spray it!

TIP- Be sure to inspect the label to make sure the mineral says that it is “NON-NANO.” Although these products may rub on a bit whiter, they do not penetrate the skin, placenta or blood brain barrier. Many brands also make tinted versions!

One other very important thing to also consider is the effect these chemicals have on our bodies. According to the Environmental Working Group’s piece on The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreens, many of the chemical sunscreens adversely effect our hormone and endocrine systems. If these chemicals are killing entire ecosystems, what must they be doing to our body?

We know that oxybenzone acts like estrogen in the body, alters sperm production in animals and is associated with endometriosis in women. It’s also implicated in relatively high rates of skin allergy.

Here again, you can be your own best advocate as well as ocean hero by reading the list of ingredients. It’s not just the ‘active ingredient’ that you’ll want to be on the look out for, take a look at the Inactive ingredients as well. Many sunscreens have chemical based inactive ingredients. According to the EWG;

‘One ingredient in particular is a cause for concern: methylisothiazolinone, a preservative. This year, EWG has found methylisothiazolinone is listed on the labels of 94 sunscreens including six marketed to children. Methylisothiazolinone is used alone or in mixtures with a related chemical preservative called methylchloroisothiazolinone. Laboratory studies indicate that methylisothiazolinone is a skin sensitizer or allergen. Over the past several years, physicians have reported serious cases of serious skin allergies, most notably in children exposed to methylisothiazolinone, from baby wipes and other products meant to be left on the skin (Chang 2014).

Oxybenzone damaged reef polyp

Do we really want this on our skin or in our environment?

On a very personal note, I’ve used sunscreen religiously on my trips to Maui over the last 25 plus years. I’ve used all the name brands containing a plethora of chemical ingredients, and without fail every year I would break out in a ‘sun rash’ if I exposed my skin too long while wearing chemical sunscreens.

Finally, about 5 years ago, I switched to a zinc based natural sunscreen. I bought one made specifically for babies as they have such tender skin, my reasoning was that it had to be better and more gentle than what I could (at the time) find in Maui. I’ve since found several others that I really like.


Here’s a list of truly ‘Reef Safe’ sunscreen companies you can try with some notes about each. In no particular order.

Stream2Sea. Personal favorite, sells a tinted version that I like.

Here’s a list of truly ‘Reef Safe’ sunscreen companies you can try with some notes about each. In no particular order. But the first one listed is our personal favorite. We are not affiliated with and receive no benefit from listing any of the brands below.

Maui Surfer Honey  Our all-time favorite. TIP – lightly pre-moisten your skin with coconut oil, then apply Maui Surfer Honey. It helps it go on smoothly and leave less of that ‘ghost’ look that zinc based sunscreens tend to provide. Personally, I don’t feel that this brand leaves much of it all but a little coconut oil really helps!

Stream2Sea. Excellent choice, they also sell a tinted version that I like.

Badger Another well-known and excellent brand.

Kokua Suncare

Babo Botanicals I like their fragrance free version.

Raw Elements A favorite of Maui locals

Raw Love Sunscreen Another favorite of Maui locals

Hawaiian Sol I like their SPF 15, pleasant smell, not too white

Sea & Summit Organic

Mama KULEANA Made on Maui!

Suntegrity Skin Care produces some tinted sunscreens

All Good

Goddess Garden Organic Offers a spray version of their mineral sunscreen.

The Honest Company Offers a spray version of their mineral sunscreen.

Kabana Organic minimal ingredients.

Deter Mineral Reef safe Rated #1 By the Environmental Working Group

Additional reading resources.

Maui Coral Reefs – The Essential ‘Pono’ Guide (pono = do the right thing)

Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide

Ban Toxic Sunscreens Fact Page

Reefs At Risk Reef Safe Sunscreen Guide

Reefs At Risk The Cover Up Film

Be Reef Safe’s Sunscreen Guide

Looking for more Maui vacation ideas? Lots of things to see and do,

come on over and visit our Local Maui Guide or Maui Events Calendar!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe to our Maui Travel Guide to receive the latest travel tips, special events and to find out what's happening in our Island Paradise! * Your privacy is paramount to us. We will never share or sell your information! *

Guide to Reef Safe Sunscreen - Vacation Rental Maui

Guide to Reef Safe Sunscreen - Vacation Rental Maui

The Ultimate Maui Travel Packing Guide

Maui Travel Packing Guide

I often read posts on Facebook Hawaii & Maui travel groups where the upcoming Maui traveler asks ‘What should I pack for my Maui Trip?”  This can be a tricky question to answer since we all have unique itineraries, travel plans and adventures when we visit Maui. But I think we can all agree that we’re trying to find that perfect balance of packing enough ‘stuff’ but not over-packing and today we’ll go over this with our Maui Travel Packing Guide.

We want to pack for ease of travel (i.e. not getting held up at TSA), not over stuffing our carry-on so that we have to check it, having enough room to bring back a few items and so on.

Let’s have a look at some packing ideas to consider for your upcoming island paradise vacation. I’ll break today’s post down into Essentials, Basics, Optional & Tech/Gear and then add in a few of my favorite TIPS and ideas that I’ve gleaned over my many years of traveling to Maui.


Sunglasses & prescription glasses –  if needed, packing your spare prescription glasses is a good idea in the event that you lose yours. If you have polarized sunglasses they really help if you’re floating in the ocean to counteract the glare. A leash is always a good idea. More than once I’ve been glad to have my glasses on a leash!

Prescriptions and Medications – Don’t forget to pack enough (in their original containers) to last the duration of your visit to Maui. Especially important for international travelers.  Chain store pharmacies are located all over the island so no worries if you do run short.

Reusable Water Bottle – keep empty, once you’re on board have a flight attendant refill it from bottled water (not advisable to drink the ‘tap’ water from the plane). Take to the beach with your favorite beverage. Maui has recently enacted new recycling restrictions and the more you use your reusable bottle, the less trash is put into landfill. Remember everything you throw away on island has to go somewhere.

Swimsuit / Swim trunks – 1 to 3 pair. Having more than one means that if you come in from the beach or pool for a while, you’ll have a dry one to change into if you go back out.

Light jacket/hoodie – Evenings and sunsets can be cool – especially if the breeze has kicked up or if you’re nursing a sunburn. Great if you’re planning a sunset boat tour too!

Documents – ID, Boarding passes if you’re not using an Airline app on your smart phone, itinerary, check-in instructions, passport if you’re an international traveler, prescriptions if needed.

Proper footwear – such as sneakers, closed toe walking shoes, water shoes or Teva type sandals. Anything you would feel comfy wearing over lava rocks or hiking on a slippery trail in. Teva’s are great for this as they are amphibious and designed just for this purpose.  If you’re not much of  a hiker and plan to be mostly on the beach for your trip, some water shoes (aka Aqua Socks) are great for snorkeling in spots that have lava or rocky entrances. But please don’t walk or step on coral. It’s ‘no pono‘ to step on living coral.

TIP– Keep in mind that some activities require closed-toe shoes such as a Zipline adventure, horseback riding and so on.

Reusable/packable shopping bag – the kind that folds into it’s own pocket like Chico Bags do. This will come in very handy for shopping (though we do provide reusable shopping bags in our condo and they can be bought on island at ABC store and just about everywhere.)

Shorts – I pack between 2 and 3 pair

Tops – 3 or 4, including a few tank tops, and maybe one nice Aloha Wear top. If I’m traveling during the winter on the Mainland, I wear a long sleeve shirt on the plane. I pack it in my carry on for my departing flight so I can change into it on the plane. At times the planes are like a flying ice-box.

Underwear/Bra/socks – eh, take what you feel you need, just remember we offer a washer and dryer as well as a drying rack for delicates.

Pajamas – pack a lightweight pair.

Slippahs – aka Flip Flops or thongs. Essential on the island. You can always buy them in Maui and ‘Locals’ are a favorite brand among those living in the islands. They can be found at Longs and a few other stores. Keep in mind that it’s a custom as well as a gesture of respect on the islands to remove your shoes upon entering someone’s home. You will most likely see plaques and signs in homes reminding you ‘Mahalo for removing your shoes’.

Hat – The intense sun makes this an essential. Wide brims are best! If yours is packable, bring it! But not to worry if you can’t pack it, there are plenty for sale on the island.

Maui Trip Packing Guide
Avoid this! Pack light, save time and $$

Sarong/Beach cover-up – Great for wearing to and from the beach/pool.  Alternative is to wait until you’re on island and head to the Kalama shopping center (and outdoor market full of various vendors) or ABC stores and purchase a Sarong. I use sarongs as a skirt, a shawl, a towel, a blanket, an impromptu bag and a pillow. They’re very versatile and inexpensive and cover a multitude of needs.

Jeans/pants – One pair, wear them on the plane. You most likely won’t wear them again unless your activity requires it such as horseback riding or heading to the Haleakala summit.

Sundress/Skirts/Nice outfit –  I have a few light sundresses that I like to take, they’re made of rayon type material similar to sarongs and pack up small in my bag. I also take a miniskirt or two. One nice outfit – You’ll want to dress up a bit if you have plans to attend one of the many fabulous luaus or if you have reservations for one of Maui’s higher end restaurants – no need to go over the top – even in dressing up on the island, it’s really pretty casual. In most if not all restaurants Aloha Wear is perfectly appropriate.

Rash Guard – these are great for keeping the intense sun off, snorkeling when the water temperature feels a little cooler. Don’t worry if you don’t have one yet, they sell them all over the island and the big box stores down to the mom & pop shops are sure to have a good supply and better selection than the Mainland.

Optional & Tech

Headlamp – great to have for late night beach walks or if you do sunset on Sunday at Little Beach.

Camera gear – travel tripod, GoPro accessories for great ocean shots, memory cards, extra battery packs,

Phone charger & gadget cables – Self explanatory. We offer several USB charging stations in our condo to keep all of your electronics powered up but you’ll need your power cord.

Extra Battery Pack – and speaking of powering up. We’ve blown out our phone battery taking videos, pictures, texting beach photos to friends etc. Having one of these inexpensive back up chargers are great! They’ll run you less than $20 on Amazon or elsewhere and are great to keep your music and phone going at the beach.

Water & sand-proof Cell phone case – if you don’t already own one, they’re sold at ABC stores and it’s wise to have at the beach. I’m pretty low-tech and have been known to just slip my cell phone into a quart sized Ziplock bag. So if you’re low-tech like me pack a few baggies if you’ve got them, they’ll come in handy.

Binoculars – if it’s whale season (late November through early April) you might want a pair for whale watching from shore or even a boat cruise.

Backpack-  If you think you’ll be hiking (and there are some world class hikes on Maui) then you’ll want a decent backpack. Nothing fancy is needed but something to carry your gear. If you can, use your backpack as your personal carry-on item.

Pen – you’ll need one on the plane before you land in Maui. The state of Hawai’i Agriculture Declaration forms are passed out and need to be filled in. If you followed the tip below to not bring in any fresh fruits or vegetables then you check the box stating that you have nothing to declare. Easy peasy. If you’re declaring agricultural items you’ll need to do your homework before you leave for Hawai’i. Having a pen will streamline the process for you and most likely make you the most popular person in your row since not many others will have a pen handy.

Neck Pillow – The flight to Maui from the San Francisco bay area is about 5 hours. I do like to nap on the plane so a neck pillow is a savior! Or go double duty – I often travel with an inexpensive cashmere shawl. I picked it up at Macy’s on sale and it’s big enough to act like a blanket on the plane, or I can roll it into a neck pillow. Easy to carry as I just wrap around my neck. When I get to Maui, I just put it in my packable shopping bag and hook it on my carry-on handle.

Haleakala Summit Visit – This is the one activity on Maui that requires winter clothing. If you’re planning on catching the sunrise at the Haleakala summit (which is 10001 feet in elevation) you’ll need to pack accordingly. On my recent visit, we did the 3 a.m. trek up the crater and I cannot recommend it enough. The things I packed were;

  • Wool beanie hat
  • Packable down jacket (the kind that is thin and packs into it’s own pocket, mine actually becomes a neck pillow for the plane so double duty!!
  • Warm socks
  • Thin layer of thermal underware
  • Jeans
  • Sneakers

I layered up with a tank top under all of my warm clothes and packed a pair of shorts to change into. As we descended the summit after sunrise, I just peeled layers as the temperatures increased.  Expect it to be in the low 40’s for sunrise, or equally as cool if you do sunset trek. Keep in mind that the summit got a nice dusting of snow in February of 2018 so it can be rather cold. I am sure our Canadian guests are laughing at the notion that 40º F (4º C) is cold.

I’ve put together a sweet printable packing list that you can download and print out. Scroll down to the sign-up form to receive our newsletter and we’ll send you the link to download this Maui Packing Checklist.

Travel Tips

Here are some Tips that might save you packing space or travel time.

Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money.

TIP-  pack a lightweight pair of shorts, t-shirt and slippahs in your carry-on. About 20 minutes before you land, go change out of your travel clothes and when you land you’ll be dressed for the local weather. I generally wear my jeans on the plane and change into a lightweight mini skirt and tank top. They roll up pretty small in my carry on bag -or- here’s where that packable shopping bag comes in handy, just roll up your jeans, shoes and shirt that you just changed out of and put in the shopping bag, tie to your suitcase after you deplane.

TIP-  Don’t pack bulky clothes. It’s the tropics, lightweight, breathable fabrics are best such as cotton or linen.

TIP-  Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money. I know this is a Hawai’i travel cliché but it’s really true. Each trip I look at what I actually wore vs. what I brought. Almost always half of what I bring never got worn.

TIP-  We’re pleased to offer our guests brand new, en-suite full sized washer and dryer (and free detergent too). You won’t need to bring as many garments when you can toss a load of clothes into the washer every few days.

TIP-  If you find that you have to check luggage and you’re traveling with a partner. We have found that if one person stays and collects the checked bags while watching all the carry-on bags, the other can quickly hop on the rental car shuttle and beat the lines. Renting a car can take up to an hour if there are lines at the counter. Maui moves s..l..o..w compared to the Mainland pace and I know, I’m always itching to get to the condo so I can slip into my swim suit and hit the beach. Then just circle back through the terminal and pick everyone and all the luggage up in your rental car.

TIP-  Getting through TSA quickly and easily. Sounds like an oxymoron I know, but there are things you can do to streamline going through the security checks. First off make sure you only have TSA approved items in your carry-on. If you’re not sure if you can bring it, check the TSA ‘What Can I Bring‘ page.  The latest regulations require removing your electronics including laptop and even iPads now. We provide a starter set of hotel-sized toiletries such as bar soap, shampoo and conditioner if you want to skip bringing liquids and get your shampoo etc on island. All major big box stores can be found on Maui so no worries there.

TIP-  When leaving Maui, ALL FOOD must come out of your carry on. It would be wise to just keep it in a separate bag (you know, that reusable shopping bag I mentioned that you bring earlier in this post) and once you go through TSA you can then pack it in your carry on. This regulation of no food in carry-on luggage is something I’ve only seen in the Maui airport and only just recently. So yep, take those mac nut chocolates and bags of taro chips out of your carry-on until you’re through TSA screening. Additionally, if you’re traveling with any agricultural items check with the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture to make sure that they are allowed and that you declare them when going through the Ag inspection stations.

TIP-  Remember when packing to leave for Maui or any of the Hawai’ian islands. Fresh fruit and vegetables are NOT allowed into Hawai’i – you can make your own meal for the plane containing fruits and veggies but must consume them prior to landing or leave them on the plane. If you forget and deplane with any prohibited food, there is an Amnesty Bin on the right as you exit the waiting/arrival area just before you head down the escalator.

TIP-  Streamline your carry-on/personal item. The less you pack, the faster it will be when you have to remove and repack at the end of the screening.

TIP-  Before you depart for your vacation, take a serious look at what you’ve packed and then edit ruthlessly. You really will be surprised at what you can do without clothing wise. If you find you’re desperately missing one particular article of clothing, just head to one of the many shops and find yourself a little souvenir clothing.

Assuming that you’ve followed the other tips mentioned here, you can save yourself some money by not checking luggage. You’ll breeze right to the car rental shuttle and be on your way to the beach.

And also assuming you’ve streamlined your packing down to the bare essentials then you should have room for plenty of souvenirs for friends and family. I generally try to only pack one side of my carry-on bag, leaving the other empty for Chocolate Macadamia nuts and such goodies like that.

Things you don’t need to pack or buy because we provide them in the condo;

  • Hair dryer
  • Vanity Mirror
  • Iron (we provide both iron and ironing board)
  • Yoga Mat
  • Makeup face cloths
  • Umbrella
  • Cooler/ice packs
  • Reusable grocery shopping bags
  • Beach Towels (we provide thick, oversized beach towels)
  • Beach Bag (the sand-free kind)
  • Beach ground cloth (sand free type)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Starter pack of toiletries (soap, shampoo etc)
  • Starter Coffee packet and filters
  • Dish Soap (not that you would pack this but we do provide it!)
  • Starter paper products/trash bags

If you’d like a FREE copy of our Maui Travel Packing List, subscribe to our Newsletter and we’ll send one on over!

Maui Travel Packing List

Get your FREE Maui Travel Packing List – Sign Up Here

* indicates required

Looking for more Maui vacation ideas? Lots of things to see and do,

come on over and visit our Local Maui Guide or Maui Events Calendar!

Maui Trip Packing Guide - Vacation Rental Maui
FREE PRINTABLE Maui Trip Packing  - Vacation Rental Maui
FREE PRINTABLE Maui Trip Packing CHECKLIST - Vacation Rental Maui
Email/Contact Us