By Chris Takahashi| Staff Writer 

The main attraction for visitors to Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve — a coral reef home to many species of marine life — is at risk due to a dual threat of increasing ocean temperatures and coral bleaching. The coral bleaching seen at Hanauma Bay and other reefs across the state is likely attributable to the use of oxybenzone, a chemical commonly found in many sunscreens on the market today.  

Kapahulu resident Michael Koenigs, who worked for a snorkeling concession at Hanauma Bay years ago, remembered vividly, “even back then, I could see a film (of sunscreen) in the water.”

For Koenigs, a long-time surfer and ocean enthusiast, becoming an advocate for the protection of the oceans and coral reefs is practically in his DNA.

He and his wife, Rosalyn Ardoin, are the owners of Little Hands Hawaiʻi, a local maker of sunscreen that uses only natural and organic ingredients. Many of the ingredients are locally-sourced, such as the beeswax and macadamia nut oil, and all of the ingredients are reef and baby-safe.

Back at Hanauma Bay, the concession stand has since stopped offering sunscreen that contains oxybenzone, yet much damage has already been done at the famous snorkeling spot. Although public awareness of the issue has increased, oxybenzone is still permitted in sunscreens found on market aisles in Hawai‘i today, and an effort to ban the substance in the state was thwarted in the most recent legislative session. 

A peer-reviewed article from the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology showed that Hanauma Bay has experienced coral mortality rates as high as 9.8% in recent years. The same study found that nearly half of the coral reef at Hanauma Bay is now currently bleached or damaged. 

The idea for Little Hands Hawai‘i was sparked by Ardoin about six years ago after she had grown frustrated by the limited number of options for toxic-free sunscreen.

After reading about the many toxic chemicals present in conventional sunscreens, she recalled thinking, “what am I going to put on my kids?”

For Ardoin, who holds a nursing degree from KCC and will begin a new nursing assignment at Kaiser this month, the health risks associated with some of these chemicals were particularly alarming, especially since she and Koenigs have three daughters of their own.

Turning a keen eye toward the challenge of providing a non-toxic sunscreen, at first to their children, and eventually to family and friends, Ardoin began experimenting with homemade remedies that included essential oils and natural ingredients of which she was already familiar.  

Ardoin admitted modestly that the whole enterprise began simply as a hobby to create something better for their family. Six years later, Little Hands Hawai‘i is now a full-fledged business and their sunscreen can be found in retail shops across the state. 

Michael Koenigs (left), his wife Rosalyn Ardoin (right), and their three children enjoying the outdoors. (Photo courtesy of Michael Koenigs)

Koenigs runs many of the day-to-day business accounts, which have since expanded abroad to locations such as Japan and California. Still, the family-run business is a household affair, and even their children have involved themselves in the process, whether through educational outreach to friends, or by helping to label individual containers of sunscreen. 

“Down to Earth was our first store, and it has just sort of snowballed from there,” said Ardoin.

Koenigs also runs the Little Hands Hawai‘i vendor booth weekly at the KCC and Kailua Farmers’ Markets, and though he enjoys the chance to “talk story” with his loyal following, he acknowledges that for new customers, “education is the biggest thing.”

Many people are either unaware of the risks posed by chemicals in conventional sunscreen or believe that organic and “all natural” products are simply ineffective in comparison to the mainstream, yet chemical-laden sunscreens commercially available, according to Koenigs.

In fact, the organic ingredients in Little Hands Hawai‘i sunscreen, including the non-nano zinc oxide, combine for a FDA-tested, third-party validated 35 SPF rating.

In maintaining a commitment to educational outreach, Little Hands Hawai‘i has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club of Kailua for a sunscreen-making demonstration for over 30 middle-school aged children this month. They’ve also been active supporters and sponsors of beach clean-ups organized by groups such as Surfrider O’ahu and Sustainable Coastlines.

To learn more about the organic sunscreen offered by Little Hands Hawaii, check out their website, or visit their vendor booth at the KCC Farmers’ Market on Saturday or the Kailua Farmers’ Market on Thursday evening.