With warm weather and sunshine making regular appearances the call to be a part of it is a strong one. Olivia and Penny regularly run outside to play and end up in their birthday suits playing with the hose pipe and paddling pool.
As a parent you want to make sure the sunscreen ingredients are safe for your family and the environment. Even better if you can find a plastic-free sunscreen.
So, whether you are getting some Vitamin D at home or at the holiday destination of your choosing, having the right sunscreen can make or break your time outdoors.
What do I need to look for in a sunscreen?
There are so many variables that finding a sustainable sunscreen that ticks all the boxes is not easy, so let’s break down what you need to know.
UVAs and UVBs (and even UVCs)
UV rays are the suns Ultra Violet rays from the sun and are measured by their wavelengths.
UVAs have the longest wavelengths and are not absorbed by the ozone layer. UVAs can also travel through clouds and windows. These are the rays that not only lead to signs of early aging like leathery skin, brown spots, and wrinkles.
UVBs have a medium wavelength and only 5% get through the atmosphere down to the ground. UVBs don’t travel through clouds, however UVB is the one most likely to cause your sunburn. UVBs are also responsible for Vitamin D production.
UVCs have a short length and luckily for us are a non-issue because the atmosphere stops them from getting to the ground.
When looking for sunscreen you will want it to protect against both UVAs and UVBs which is often labelled as Broad Spectrum.
We want to protect our skin but it shouldn’t cost the environment to do it, so we also need to look for reef safe sunscreens.
In the US, the states of Hawaii and Florida have banned the sale of over the counter sunscreens that contain oxybenzone, octinoxate. It’s worth mentioning that octocrylene (which may be found in “reef safe” sunscreens) is not safe for marine creatures. The first two chemicals cause coral bleaching and can lead to the eventual death of the coral while the third has been found at detectable levels in fish and can cause liver and brain damage in zebrafish.
Coral is important for it’s biodiversity providing food and shelter for many species below the water. For us humans they provide the first line of defence against hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and typhoons.
As global warming creates stronger storms every year, not having coral reefs can make the consequences even more devastating for the people living on the coasts. Not to mention losing the fish that live in the coral will work it’s way up to threaten our food supply.
So what can you use?
Look for zinc-oxide or titanium dioxide as the active ingredient.
Nano vs. Non Nano
Nano is short for nanoparticles and refers to the size of the particles in ingredients for the things like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreen.
The issue is that nanoparticles are small enough to be inhaled which according to EWG can have negative effects on a person’s lungs when inhaled in large quantities.
Non-Nano means that the particles are 100 nanometers or more and less likely to be inhaled and not found to affect marine creatures.
According to a UC Davis study found that small amounts of nano particles from zinc in sunscreens and copper in boat paint can both lead to (in the study) sea urchin embryos not being able to eat or develop.
Why is this important? Small sea creatures are food for larger sea creatures that are potentially our food. No more food for our food means no more food for us.
So, look for non-nano and avoid spray sunscreens to prevent inhalation issues.
There are two rating systems for sunscreens. The most well-known ratings the SPF rating, which seems to be universal, and the UVA star rating which won’t be really useful for us. (I’ll explain why in a moment).
SPF means Sun Protection Factor and the numbers refer to the amount of UVB rays being blocked.
According to Altruist’s website SPF 15 blocks 93% or UVBs, SPF 30 blocks 96.7% and SPF 50 blocks 98.3%.
SPF 30 is plenty for most.
The star rating for UVAs is a system developed by Boots’ chemists. That means only the product lines they carry or their own brands are allowed to use the rating. This means that independent, smaller brands will not have a star rating.
UVAs have a star rating based on 5 stars. 4 or 5 stars would be considered a good UVA rating. If the sunscreen you selected doesn’t have a star rating, make sure it says Broad Spectrum which would include protection against both UVAs and UVBs.
A 4 or 5 star SPF 30 would be a good sunscreen. The only time you would need higher SPF would be is you have incredibly sun sensitive skin (in which case you should be using a mineral-based sunscreen anyway) or you are at higher altitudes where the atmosphere is thinner.
What’s the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?
Sunscreens are chemicals that get absorbed into the skin for sun protection. They include the chemicals being banned from Hawaii and Florida as well as avobenzone and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA).
Sunblocks are minerals that sit on top of the skin forming a barrier from the suns rays and are commonly known as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The mineral sunscreens recommended would technically be sunblocks.
Our Considerations for Sustainable Sunscreens
In our efforts to be as environmentally friendly as possible there are other things to look out for.
Is the company part of the Fair Trade Foundation or a certified B Corporation that makes sure workers are getting fair pay, treatment, and safety measures provided?
Are the active ingredients reef-safe and Non-Nano?
Is the product using sustainable, organic materials?
Is the product cruelty free and vegetarian/vegan?
Is the packaging available plastic-free?
Is it locally made to cut down on the carbon footprint from shipping?
Is all of this even possible in one product????
Yes, or very close to it!
Quick Links to Eco-Friendly Sunscreens
Best Eco-Friendly Sunscreens for the Whole Family
5. Green People
Eco-Friendly Children’s Sunscreens
11. Green People
Eco-Friendly Sunscreen for Your Face
Bonus! SPF Lip Balms
Bonus! Zero Waste Fake Tan!
1. Green People
2. Tan Organic
Recommended Eco-Friendly Sunscreens
So, I have been scouring the internet so you don’t have to in search of environmentally friendly, skin friendly sunscreens. While some check more boxes than others, these are a good selection that will be safe for you, your family and the environment.
All Over Sunscreens
The Good: No Plastic! Locally Made in the U.K. No animal testing. No palm oil. Non-Nano. Reef Safe. Only four ingredients. Available in SPF 25 and SPF 50.
The “Bad”: Uses beeswax so not vegan friendly, but it is sustainably sourced.
The Verdict: This is a great sunscreen to grab as the benefits make this the all-around winner for contents and packaging. It is also safe for the whole family to use and safe for the oceans.
Definitely recommend this one!
The Good: No Plastic! SPF 30, UVA and UVB protection, Reef Safe, Vegan, Eco Control label, No Animal Testing
The “Bad”: Stick Application, Nano. I looked up the Eco Control certification as this was one I have not heard of and the website is very vague, claiming they have no own standards but do mention sustainable practices and recycling, but not fair trade practices.
The Verdict: If the stick application doesn’t bother you then that’s not an issue. The ease of recycling the packaging is a plus. I think an email asking for more transparency is in order ([email protected]) because other than that this company seems to be a good one. The nano is a bummer as it may be reef safe, but it’s not safe for the marine life.
The Good: SPF 30, Broad Spectrum, Reef Safe, Non-Nano, Organic, EcoCert or COSMOS certifications, No Animal Testing, and Cruelty Free, Cane Sugar Plastic that can be put into the recycling bin.
The “Bad”: Not Vegan because of the beeswax.
The Verdict: Just an all-around good company and sunscreen.
Happy to recommend this product.
The Good: SPF 30, Broad Spectrum, Soil Association Organic, No Palm Oil, Fair Trade Certified, UK Made, No Animal Testing, Reef Safe and Purchases Include Charitable Donations, Spreads easily without whitening, Effective Immediately
The “Bad”: Unclear if it is Non-Nano, Plastic Tubes
The Verdict: Everything on the inside is good stuff, and Odylique’s fair trade certs and organic ingredients make it a great company to purchase from. Use the Terracycle drop-off points to recycle the plastic tube.
The Good: SPF 30 for sensitive skin, protects against UVA and UVBs, organic, sustainable palm oil, Made in the UK, Ethical Practices, Purchases Include Charitable Donations, and Cruelty Free
The “Bad”: Nano Titanium Dioxide, Plastic Tube, Not Vegan (beeswax)
The Verdict: Because it’s a lotion the risk of inhaling the nano particles are slim, but despite being reef safe, it’s not safe for the marine life. Use the Terracycle drop-off points to recycle the plastic tube.
The Good: SPF 30, Protects against UVA and UVBs, Organic, No Animal Testing, Vegan, Sustainable Palm Oil, Non-Nano, ICEA certification (Italy’s ethical and environmental certification)
The “Bad”: The Plastic Tube
The Verdict: Everything on the inside is great for protecting your skin and the environment. Use the Terracycle drop-off points to recycle the plastic tube.
The Good: SPF 50, Non-Nano, Vegan, Sustainably Sourced Ingredients, Plastic Free Aluminium Packaging.
The “Bad”: This sunscreen uses almond oil so if you or a family member have a nut allergy, you’ll want to skip this one.
The Verdict: If you have crazy sensitive skin or are at higher altitudes where the atmosphere is thinner then this is the way to go. Beware that Amazinc has other sunscreens but they contain bees wax and lanolin (a derivative from sheep’s skin, so not vegan).
Sunscreens for Kids
The Good: SPF 50, Protects against UVA and UVB, Vegan, Cane Sugar Plastic Tube that can go in the recycle bin (without the lid), Sustainable Palm Oil, Non-Nano, No White Residue
The “Bad”: No Information about any fair trade practices or certifications.
The Verdict: High protection sunscreen that is good for the oceans. Packaging created without petroleum using residual waste from sugar cane production that can be recycled easily (Without the lid).
The Good: SPF 30, Broadspectrum, Non-Nano, Reef Safe, Vegan, No Animal Testing, Clear Application, Ecologo Certification (meets strict Canadian environmental standards from Production to disposal), partnered with the Eden Reforestation and One Tree Planted to plant trees with every product purchased.
The “Bad”: No mention of fair trade practices, Plastic Tube.
The Verdict: Safe product for the kids, the plastic will need to be recycled at a Terracycle drop off point.
The Good: SPF 30, UVA and UVB protection, Non-Nano, Reef Safe, Organic, No Palm Oil, Cruelty Free, Certified B Corporation.
The “Bad”: Made in the USA so a larger carbon footprint in transportation, Plastic Tube, Contains Beeswax so not Vegan.
The Verdict: Excellent, safe sunscreen for the kids as well as being safe for the oceans and ethical business practices. Beeswax isn’t an issue for non-vegans. The plastic will need to be recycled at a Terracycle drop off point.
The Good: SPF 30 for sensitive skin, protects against UVA and UVBs, organic, sustainable palm oil, Made in the UK, Ethical Practices, purchases include charitable donations, and Cruelty Free.
The “Bad”: Nano Titanium Dioxide, Plastic Tube
The Verdict: A lovely sensitive sunscreen for your kids. Because it’s a lotion the risk of inhaling the nano particles are slim, but it’s not good for the marine life in the oceans. The plastic will need to be recycled at a Terracycle drop off point.
Sunscreens For Your Face
The Good: SPF 30, Broad Spectrum, No White Residue, Organic, EcoCert, Anti-Aging ingredients included, Offers Factory Tours to Keep Things Transparent.
The “Bad”: Plastic Tube, Not Vegan because of the Beeswax
The Verdict: A good sunscreen for your face. The plastic will need to be recycled at a Terracycle drop off point.
The Good: SPF 15, UVA and UVB protection, Non-Nano, Organic, Vegan, No Animal Testing, Sustainable Palm Oil, ICEA certified
The “Bad”: The Plastic Tube
The Verdict: Great sunscreen for every day use. The plastic will need to be recycled at a Terracycle drop off point.
The Good: SPF 20, Broad Spectrum, Reef Safe, Non-Nano, Organic, EcoCert or COSMOS certifications, No Animal Testing, and Cruelty Free, Vegan, Non-Oily for your Face, Aluminium Tube!
The “Bad”: Hmmmm…..
The Verdict: This is a winner. Plastic-Free and a safe product for your face. What’s not to like?
Lip Balms with SPF Protection
Finding an SPF Lip Balm in sustainable packaging and even just sustainable ingredients is tough.
From what I have seen, it doesn’t exist.
You either have a really great product and company in plastic, or a handmade product in tin or paper board, but no way of knowing where the ingredients are sourced from and no certifications for the SPF. Ugh.
There are plenty of regular lip balms available without the plastic they are just also without the SPF.
The Good: Organic, Sustainable Palm Oil, Vegan, No Animal Testing, Reef Safe
The “Bad”: The Plastic, Unclear if it’s Non-Nano, SPF 10
The Verdict: The SPF being only 10 doesn’t meet the FDA minimum recommendation of 15, but some protection is better than none and the plastic is just unavoidable if you want products that are organic and sustainably sourced. That is the balancing act when reducing your waste, hence green-ish.
The Good: SPF 15, Non-Nano, Reef Safe ingredients, Organic, Cruelty Free, EcoCert, Vegan, practice Fair Trade independently as opposed to paying the Fair Trade Certification body.
The “Bad”: Made in the USA so larger carbon footprint for shipping, Plastic Tube
The Verdict: When the materials are available the company uses recycled materials for the tubes, they are continuing to look for solutions. Overall best available lip balm with sunscreen.
How to apply your sunscreen
The typical adult needs about 36 grams of sunscreen to adequately cover their body and a teaspoon for your face. Think a shot glass full of sunscreen. Have someone help with hard to reach places on your back and don’t forget your scalp and ears.
Apply 15-30 minutes before you go into the sun to give the sunscreen time to start working.
Reapply your sunscreen every 90 minutes or so and whenever you exit the water and towel dry yourself. Water resistant is not waterproof so be sure to reapply after extended periods in the water or if you have been sweating.
What should I do with leftover sunscreen?
Sunscreen generally has a shelf life of a year, so If you buy your sunscreen at the beginning of summer, you will need more next summer. (I know, obviously). But if you get to the end of summer and have sunscreen left over, don’t let it go to waste.
The sunscreens above contain oils and butters aside from the mineral protection of the sunscreen. Why not try using it as a foot moisturiser for those cracked heels in the wintertime? Pop it in your bag and use it as a hand cream.
If your sunscreen is in a metal tin, look for ways to reuse the tin before you recycle it. Keeping one handy to store jewellry in for traveling is one idea to reuse the tin. You can use it for storing the buttons that come with your clothing, paper clips or other small office supplies. They are also perfect for storing homemade deodorant.
Aluminium bottles can be easily recycled, but don’t just discard the plastic tubes either. If your sunscreen is in a squeezy plastic tube, they can be recycled through the Garnier’s Terracycle Scheme. They accept any brand of personal care products including sunscreen tubes, just click to find a drop off location near you.
After Sun Care
When you are done with the sun, take a cool shower. UVBs continue tanning your skin even after you have gone in for the day. The cool rinse will help stop the process.
Drink plenty of water to rehydrate and make sure to moisturise your skin.
If you have found that you have burned take the following steps to prevent any further damage.
According to the NHS website, if you end up with a mild sunburn (aka no blisters) you’ll want to rinse of with a cool shower so you don’t get too cold. Use an alcohol-free aloe vera gel. Drink plenty of water and take paracetamol for pain. If you have burned you will want to avoid the sun for at least a week to prevent the burn from getting worse.
Eco-Friendly Fake Tans
Believe it or not there are options for a fake tan without the chemicals!
1. Green People have a gradual tanning moisturiser to build up your tan gradually without the UV exposure.
2. Tan Organic Self-Tanning Oil gives a quick bronzed look and can be used on your face! No applicator gloves necessary.
You can always go DIY and mix some bronzing powder with some lotion or sunscreen if you need something quick for a day out or wedding. Rub it on and let it dry. It will act like makeup and can rub off on clothes, but it washes off easily enough.
Not Perfect, but Going in the Right Direction
While the perfect sunscreen combination of sustainable packaging, ethical practices and planet-friendly ingredients that provide the best protection and absorb the way we want may not quite exist (yet). But hopefully you will agree that this list represents a good set of options in the meantime. If you discover products worth mentioning based on our criteria above, please feel free to share in the comments below.