Safe sunscreens for Hawaii: 5 zinc oxide & reef-safe sunscreens from worst to best

I tested a number of mineral zinc oxide sunscreens in order to find out what works the best, doesn’t leave a thick white residue, is easy to apply, and most importantly is good for the environment.

I tested 5 different sunscreens and rated and reviewed these from worst to best.

My skin type

I have a Scottish/New Zealand background and as a result my skin is extremely fair. I burn easily and do not tan (at least not naturally!). I was looking for a sunscreen that was going to meet the guidelines being set by the state of Hawaii in regards to the marine environment and the coral reef, and that would also work for my skin type.

Nano and non-nano oxide explained

Nano sunscreens refer to those that contain zinc oxide and titanium oxide which have been broken down into nanoparticles. This means that you get the sun protection without the residue often found in non-nano sunscreens (the bigger particles that reflect the sun’s rays more easily). There are concerns over the safely of nanoparticles if inhaled (see research by the Environmental Working Group, EWG, and also the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens).

Does this mean that nanoparticles can be absorbed into the body? Research suggests this NOT to be the case (see research by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration).

If you are still cautious you might consider using sunscreens which are non-nano. Please note, there is no agreed upon threshold for what differentiates nano from non-nano, so some claims can be misleading.

5. Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

Kōkua Sun Care Hawaiian Natural Zinc Sunscreen is SPF 50 with up to 80 minutes water resistance. It contains no fragrance, phthalates or parabens. It contains 25% zinc, as well as 7 Hawaii-grown antioxidant ingredients. These ingredients include, kukui, macadamia, noni, spirulina and plumeria.

Contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. Also contains no avobenzone or octocrylene, the two ingredients that will be banned from January 2023.

Verdict: The lotion is a noticeably thicker than some of the other products we tested and I found it was harder to apply as a result. There was a noticeable residue on application, although it did eventually fade. There is also a faint natural scent due to the additional natural ingredients, which wasn’t overpowering but for those looking for something completely unscented they may want to reconsider using this brand. It was also difficult to rinse off my hands and left a greasy residue.

Rating: 5.5/10

Cruelty Free: Yes

Vegan: Yes

Non-nano: Yes

4. Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Face Liquid Sunscreen SPF50

Cetaphil Sheer Mineral Face sunscreen is SPF 50 (water resistant for up to 80 minutes) and contains 12% zinc oxide. It is formulated with zinc and prebiotics as well as vitamin E.

Contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. Also contains no avobenzone or octocrylene, the two ingredients that will be banned from January 2023.

Verdict: The lotion is light and application was easy. There is some white residue but it fades quickly and there is no scent or oily texture.

Rating: 7.5/10 for performance of this product BUT downgraded to 3/10 for the reasons below.

Cruelty Free: No, Cetaphil is not a cruelty-free skincare brand. Even though they claim to not test on animals, they choose to sell in a country (China) that requires imported cosmetics to be tested on animals.

Vegan: Cetaphil is not considered to be vegan because they test their products or ingredients on animals, or allow others to do so on their behalf.

Non-nano: No

3. ThinkSport SPF 50 Sunscreen

ThinkSport sunscreen SPF 50 is a non-nano mineral zinc oxide sunscreen. It contains hyaluronic acid which attracts moisture for added hydration, and also vitamin E which helps to condition the skin.

Contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. Also contains no avobenzone or octocrylene, the two ingredients that will be banned from January 2023.

Verdict: This lotion is quite thick but was easy to apply to the skin. There is definitely a white residue left behind but this does fade somewhat, though it will make you look noticeably paler. It was also difficult to wash off my hands and does seem to have a greasy base to it.

Rating: 7/10

Cruelty Free: Yes

Vegan: Yes

Non-nano: Yes

2. Raw Elements Certified Natural Sunscreen SPF30

This organic certified natural mineral sunscreen contains no synthetic chemicals. It contains sunflower oil, cocoa butter and vitamin E among other nourishing antioxidant ingredients. It contains 23% zinc oxide and offers SPF 30 protection.

Contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. Also contains no avobenzone or octocrylene, the two ingredients that will be banned from January 2023.

Verdict: This product is thicker than the others we tested but I loved the way this feels. It goes on smoothly, most likely due to the sunflower oil and cocoa butter ingredients, and does not leave a white residue. Despite it feeling thick (it’s a little tougher getting it out of the tube) it doesn’t feel thick on the skin.

Rating: 8/10

Cruelty Free: Yes

Vegan: Yes

Non-nano: Yes

1. Native Mineral Face Lotion Unscented SPF30

Native specializes in creating products that are as free of chemicals as possible. Their range of sunscreen includes the Mineral Face Lotion. This product contains 20% zinc oxide, and advertises itself as absorbing quickly, with no residue as well as being lightweight and non-greasy.

Contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate. Also contains no avobenzone or octocrylene, the two ingredients that will be banned from January 2023.

Verdict: Definitely lives up to the description. The lotion is lightweight and not all greasy. It absorbed quickly and did not leave a white residue that is common with zinc oxide-based sunscreens. We also tried the body sunscreen which was slightly thicker but just as non-greasy. The face lotion contains avocado oil which gives it a lighter consistency.

Rating: 8.5/10

Cruelty Free: Yes

Vegan: Yes

Non-nano: Yes

 

The Native Mineral Face Lotion was the clear winner. It is light and non-greasy and doesn’t leave a white residue. It’s also non-nano, cruelty-free and vegan. The Raw Elements Sunscreen was the runner-up, some might find it on the thicker side however it does go on smoothly.

(*** NOTE: the opinions expressed in this review are our own and we have not been sponsored or paid in any way to promote any of the brands mentioned above ***)

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Fresh Mango Cake

It’s mango season on the Big Island, and what better use of mangos than for making a cake! This recipe for fresh mango cake has been adapted from Ina Garten’s peach cake recipe. Fresh mangos make a great filling for a cake but if you can’t get hold of fresh mangos then fresh peaches (or canned peaches) will work just as well.

Ingredients

1 stick of unsalted butter (1/4 pound)

1 cup of sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

2 cups of fresh mango, diced

Topping

½ cup sugar

1 tsp of cinnamon

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350F (325F convection). Cream together butter and 1 cup of sugar until fluffy.

Add room temperature eggs, one at a time, mixing well between each.

Add sour cream and vanilla extract, mix until blended.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add the mixture to the creamed ingredients and mix together until just blended.

Cute kitchen moment!

On duty during the making of the mango cake, the faithful baking assistants – providing helpful and encouraging feedback via adoring looks. More Cleo and Ele

Butter a 9×9 baking dish. Pour in half of the batter and smooth out.

Add half of the diced mango, distributing evenly.

Mix second measure of sugar with cinnamon in a separate bowl.

Sprinkle half of the topping mixture onto the mango.

Add the remaining batter and cover with the remaining diced mango.

Sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon mixture on top.

Bake at 350F for approximately 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Serve warm! Goes well with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

How did your fresh mango cake turn out? Let us know in the comments below.

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