The Story Of Naupaka Papa, The Hawaiian Sunscreen Plant

Plants with sunscreen properties are kind of like unicorns. They exist, but many don’t believe in them until they see them for themselves. Kauai residents know better than most, as the rare and endangered Naupaka Papa grows abundantly on the island. Also known as the sunscreen plant, Naupaka Papa does indeed have powerful sun-blocking properties that help protect it from the harsh UV rays of the Hawaiian sun. But what makes this plant so special? Why should you care? And how can you use this information to benefit not only yourself but also the environment around you? Let’s find out! 

What Is Naupaka Pāpa? 

Naupaka is a small, shrubby tree in the eucalyptus family. It grows all around Hawai'i and is covered in small flowers when it blooms in late winter or early spring. What most people don't know about Naupaka, though, is that those flowers are actually poisonous--not for humans but for insects. When you get a closer look at one of those flowers with your naked eye or with a magnifying glass, you'll see that each petal has little bumps on it which makes the flower feel kind of rough. These little bumps act as tiny spines which secrete formic acid (nasty stuff) to dissuade any hungry ants or wasps from biting into them. 

The Story Behind It 

Naupaka papa is a Hawaiian plant found throughout the tropics. Originally discovered by Hawaiians and brought to their shores from elsewhere in the South Pacific, there is evidence of them being used for hundreds of years for their sun protection qualities. Their berries are oily and provide ample coverage against UVA and UVB rays and have a potent cooling effect when applied to the skin. Over time people stopped using this natural product for many reasons. It was as common as coconut oil, but it's now becoming an endangered species in some places. In addition to this people are being urged not to pick the flowers or fruit from this plant due to conservation efforts in some areas where they're endangered; these practices may cause this centuries-old plant to go extinct. So if you find yourself in Hawaii, please don’t pick at Naupaka!

How Is It Used? 

Naupaka is a genus of the plant family Asphodelaceae and are in the same family as Aloalo. They're used to make ointments to treat various ailments such as burns, wounds and skin sores. Some traditional medicinal practitioners use them as an emetic or purgative (a substance that empties or stimulates the bowels), while others use it to soothe coughs and sore throats. Others in Hawaii use Naupaka flowers as an alternative sunscreen with all of these medicinal benefits! In America, Naupaka fruits have been used to soothe aches and pains associated with shingles and fever blisters. 

Why Is It Endangered? 

According to ʻAiakea from the National Tropical Botanical Garden, while the plant appears plentiful at first glance there is an extremely low reproduction rate and it's hard for them to thrive in their natural environment. He explained that with so few Naupaka plants out there and people picking flowers off of them as often as they can find them. Every time you pick a flower off of this particular type of plant you remove its ability to grow, he said. It is believed that because of all the picking these plants have not been able to reach their reproductive potential, which has led to such a low number of plants remaining in the wild. 


What Are Some Other Uses For It? 

Naupaka Pāpa also has medicinal properties as an antiseptic and soothing agent. If a rash is present it can be applied to the effected area. Painful and swollen joints can also be cooled by taking a leaf and running the juice over them. Cooked in water, Naupaka Papa will act as a diuretic for kidney stones or bloating of any kind. It can also be used in several ways if someone is stung by jellyfish or other sea creatures like octopus tentacles - simply rub on the affected area with a crushed leaf to soothe any pain or remove tentacles from around their skin. 

What's Being Done To Save It? 

Naupaka is a white hibiscus that grows in Hawaii. We eat the fruit and use the flowers as sunscreen. It's being poached on Maui and ʻUlupalakua, an area that was formerly carpeted with it. In 2000, three companies were issued permits to collect up to 15 pounds per day of Naupaka flowers each for commercial purposes. In order to prevent extinction of this plant species, we need to take more care in managing its numbers and safeguarding it from extinction by farming them instead of allowing the plant to be poached which has been happening with more frequency in recent years. 

An Alternative

If you’re camping on the beach, you may stumble across Naupaka Papa, but we ask that you leave these plants alone. If you’re looking for a sunscreen-like remedy, we have an alternative for you, one that doesn’t harm the environment. 

We have an alternative solution of natural ingredients called Aloe Cream - Hydrating Body Lotion. It’s formulated with ingredients ethically and locally sourced, safe for your health and our environment. Let's take a quick look at some of the benefits of our Aloe Cream - Hydrating Body Lotion: 

  • It works to relieve sunburn and windburn skin.
  • It prevents long-term damage like premature aging, and wrinkles, and treats eczema. 
  • It is not only safe for all skin types but also contains all-natural ingredients (aloe, calendula, and Hawaiian Kukui Nut) with no added dyes or fragrances that can be harsh on sensitive skin like some chemical-based products are known to do. 

Final Words 

Naupaka Papa is a plant that can be found throughout Hawaii. Growing up with the ocean as my backyard I was lucky enough to walk by these plants every day without any clue what they were or how they could protect my skin from the sun. This plant holds the key to many cultures in Hawaii and holds powerful properties such as antimicrobial and antibacterial qualities, yet it sits idly by the sea.

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