Which Hawai‘i Reef-Safe Sunscreen is the Best for your Kids?

We tested 7 locally made sunscreens and give you the scoop on our faves.


Photo: By Laura Dornbush


“It’s sticky, icky and slippery,” says my 2-year-old son, Duke.


No one likes sunscreen, right? Especially the moms and dads wrangling their keiki, kicking and screaming, to slather it on. This has been a regular occurrence in our family as we have been jumping into the pool or ocean to cool off every chance we get.


This summer, I finally took the plunge to find a sunscreen that my toddler would tolerate and is healthy for my family, our community and the environment. Duke and I tested seven mineral sunscreens at the beach, pool, farmers’ markets, zoo–you name it.


Read on for our results.


First a little background:


My fair skin doesn’t tan; it burns.


Photo: By Laura Dornbush


I have come to terms with the fact that after a day in the sun, I look like an overcooked shrimp, not a golden goddess. With the birth of my son (who shares my complexion) and my mom’s melanoma diagnosis last year, sun protection moved up in priority. We are so grateful that the melanoma was removed, and my mom is cancer-free now, but boy, was it a wake-up call.


Starting in 2021, Hawai‘i will ban the sale of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are harmful to coral reefs. There are currently studies, like this one, being done to find out if chemicals in sunscreens are also bad for our bodies.


Therefore, I knew I needed to make the switch to a more natural, kid-friendly sunscreen sooner rather than later. That’s when I started looking into mineral sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens physically block and reflect UV rays while chemical sunscreens absorb the light.


Standing in the aisle at Whole Foods, I was overwhelmed by all the sunscreen options. This HONOLULU Family article helped me with all the confusing lingo (UVA, UVB, SPF?!?) and tells you what to look for when selecting a sunscreen.


I love to support Hawai‘i companies whenever possible, so I knew I wanted to find a local product. I mean, who knows sun, sand and surf better than kama‘āina? The sunscreens I selected to test are available for purchase near me, but there are many others out there. I received a few complimentary samples to try, but all the opinions in this review are my own. As with any cosmetic, choosing a sunscreen is a matter of personal preference—texture, scent, color—so I encourage you to try a few and see what works best for your family.


Our Top Overall Pick:


Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

The squeeze bottle container and thinner sunscreen texture made it the easiest and least messy to apply. This won over both mommy and Duke. With a high SPF, FDA testing and high zinc oxide content (25%), I know that our fair skin is in good hands with this one.


Find it at Down to Earth stores or kokuaskincare.com.


Easiest to Apply:

Stick sunscreens are great for quick application to the face.


Ao Organics Hawai‘i Sunscreen Stick SPF 30+

This large-size sunscreen stick makes face application easy with just a couple swipes and comes in a cardboard biodegradable container. Duke liked helping me apply it to my face like a glue stick.


Find it at Born of Water, North Shore Surf Shop or aoorganics.com.


Little Hands Hawai‘i Mineral Sunscreen Face Stick SPF 40+

With 25% zinc oxide content and SPF 40+, I am confident we are getting quality sun protection, and it comes in an eco-friendly container. This stuff stays on!


Find it at Down to Earth stores, Kapi‘olani Farmers Market or littlehandshawaii.com


Photo: By Laura Dornbush


No White Tint:

Since mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin to physically block UV light, many leave a tell-tale white residue. If that bothers you, try these.


Hawai‘i Medicinal Body Block Sunscreen SPF 30+

Duke liked how this sunscreen rubbed on smooth and wasn’t as thick as the others; it felt like lotion. With our active play, we had to reapply this one every 40 minutes.


Find it at the FarmLovers Farmers Markets (Kailua, Kaka‘ako and Pearlridge) or hawaiimedicinal.com.


Little Hands Hawai‘i Mineral Sunscreen Tinted SPF 35+

The tinted color of this sunscreen resembles skin-tone, so there was no white residue. It stayed put through one hour of swimming and toweling!


Find it at Down to Earth stores, Kapi‘olani Farmers Market or littlehandshawaii.com.


Best Scent:

No yucky sunscreen smell here!


Mama Kuleana Reef Safe Sunscreen SPF 30

We liked the smooth, lighter texture of this one, almost like whipped cream cheese. It has a nice scent with hints of jasmine and sandalwood. Bonus points for the biodegradable cardboard container!


Find it at Growing Keiki in Hale‘iwa or mamakuleana.com.


Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 35

This product is FDA-compliant and has a subtle aroma of lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint. It stayed on for over an hour at the beach! Duke enjoyed digging his finger in the tin to help me apply it.


Find it at Whole Foods or rawlovesunscreen.com.


The Bottom Line:


Honestly, reef-safe mineral sunscreens can be thicker, harder to apply and more expensive than chemical sunscreens. However, I know I am doing the right thing for my family and my environment in making the switch.


Our Sunscreen Application Tips:


1. Trunk or Tailgate.

My favorite place to slather sunscreen on my son is in the trunk of my SUV when we first arrive at the beach or pool. This way, sand doesn’t mix into the sunscreen (ouch!), he can’t yet see the temptation of the water and it allows the sunscreen time to soak in for a few minutes. I don’t like applying sunscreen at home because it inevitably rubs off on the car seat before we even arrive at the beach.


2. Polka-Dot.

Mineral sunscreens are thicker than chemical sunscreens. The proper way to apply is to put a good amount on your fingertips, polka-dot all over, then rub-in in a circular motion.


Photo: By Laura Dornbush


3. Glue Stick Method.

Duke was apprehensive to try any of the new sunscreens, but he warmed-up to the stick sunscreen by pretending it was a glue stick. We traded turns rubbing ‘glue’ all over our faces.


4. Hold a Snack.

You know the scenario: immediately after you apply facial sunscreen, your toddler precedes to whine and wipe it all off, inevitably wiping it into his eyes. A good trick is to give him a snack or toy to hold to keep his hands busy.


5. Apply Often.

For sunscreen to be effective, you must apply every 40 to 80 minutes depending on the product and if you’ve been swimming or toweling off. Make it a routine for the kids to take a break from swimming, eat a snack and re-apply sunscreen.


6. Cover Up.

Cut down on application time and amount of sunscreen you have to use by donning a super-cute rash guard and hat. Bonus: you’ll save money on pricey sunscreen and save a little sanity too!