SPF is an obvious essential for protecting our skin against the very real dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer. But the products we are using also have very real environmental consequences, especially when it comes to our oceans. In fact, research suggests 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen ends up in our seas annually. It has been shown that certain chemicals present in sunblocks can lead to the bleaching of coral reefs—severely impacting entire ecosystems. These findings have led to bans on certain sunscreens in popular tourist destinations known for their coral reefs such as in Hawaii, Palau and the US Virgin Islands. The world is on the hunt for eco-friendly sunscreen alternatives!
To better understand how you can sustainably stay safe in the sun, here’s a guide that details everything you need to know about eco-friendly sunscreen. Luckily, more and more brands are coming out with sustainable sunscreen options and we’ve included some of them below.
Oxybenzone: Commonly used to absorb UV light, Oxybenzone can have a terrible effect on the natural growth cycle and reproductive cycle of corals. This eventually leads to coral bleaching.
Octinoxate: This is known to cause coral bleaching even in small concentrations. It has been shown that Octinoxate actually absorbs into our skin and doesn’t just remain a thin layer on top of it. It has been found in bloodstreams, urine, and even breastmilk.
Nanoparticles: These can cause damage to coral reefs when absorbed. Be sure to look for a sunscreen without nanoparticles as larger particles don’t have the same negative effects. This means any ‘invisible’ or ‘clear’ should be avoided as larger particles will leave that distinctive white coat on your skin.
Mineral: In general, a reef safe sunscreen will be mineral based, as they typically contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreen provides a barrier between our skin and the sun whereas Many people have allergies to chemical sunblock ingredients and there is evidence that we actually absorb these chemicals into our bodies. They also have the biggest impact on the environment, coral reefs in particular. The ingredients in mineral sunscreens are said to be less harmful than their chemical counterparts. Some research suggests zinc oxide can pose a danger to marine life, however, titanium dioxide with surface coatings has a much lower impact on coral reefs. Mineral sunscreen can also contain nanoparticles, so be sure to look out for this as well.
Lotions: It’s also best to avoid spray sunscreens, as these deposit the product into the air as much as they do onto our skin. Thus reaching the sand and entering our oceans. The switch from spray to lotion or roll on sunscreens is an easy way to help the environment.
Sustainable sunscreen to try
Emma Lewisham is a 100% natural, pregnancy safe sunscreen to keep you protected from those harmful UVA and UVB rays, as well as blue light from your devices. The brand formulated their SPF 30 sunscreen with hydrating, plumping, and brightening agents to improve visible signs of aging. Emma Lewisham also uses a circular production model and is completely transparent throughout their supply chain. Check out their Skin Shield SPF 30 Day Cream.
Laboratoires de Biarritz is an all-natural, vegan french beauty brand. They carry a fragrance free, hypoallergenic and eco-friendly sunscreen made with alga gorria (red seaweed) that contains 5x more antioxidants than Vitamin C! Instead of oxybenzone, they use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, as well as organic plant-based glycerin. What’s more, they use recyclable packaging and plant based ink. Take a look at their SPF 50 Tinted Sun Stick.
By creating water free products, Skinnies Sunscreen saves over 100,000 litres of water per year! Unlike water based sunscreens, there is no evaporation (or dry down), so the yield is higher in Skinnies’ active ingredients. Their line of products includes tinted options for multiple skin tones that’s also great for kids. Skinnies uses a closed looped process by using sugar cane packaging and they work with suppliers that use ingredients with minimal aquatic toxicity. Their SPF 30 Sungel was an Allure beauty award winner.
Every product from Supergoop is reef-safe, cruelty free, and packaged sustainably. They were also the first to create an SPF without oxybenzone. Supergoop offers a wide range of sun care products from everyday, eco-friendly sunscreen to tinted CC creams to SPF eyeshadows! The aim of the brand is to create non-gloopy products that’ll get everyone to protect their skin everyday. Supergoop also donates SPF pumps to schools across the US to promote sun safety for kids. The Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 is great under makeup or on it’s own and leaves no white cast.
5. All Good
All Good’s eco-friendly sunscreen is oxybenzone-free and made with only reef friendly ingredients. It offers protection from HEV (blue light) from video calls and screens as well as the harsh UVA and UVB rays of the sun. All Good uses biodegradable packaging and is also a climate neutral company. You can find tinted sunscreens, SPF lip balms, and kid friendly sun balms in their product line. Check out their SPF lip balms.
A brand that follows the traditional practices of Mayan culture, Tierra & Lava creates sustainable skincare products using organic and natural ingredients locally and sustainably sourced in Guatemala. Their sunscreens are reef-safe, water, and sweat resistant. They also contain 8 nurturing botanicals plus zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and provide SPF 15 broad spectrum protection. Tierra & Lava builds relationships with their farmers and financially supports them so that they can carry on the legacy of disappearing Mayan traditions. Take a look at their Tumeric & Vanilla Sunscreen balm!
7. Green People
Green People’s natural sunscreen contains nourishing ingredients that are great even for sensitive skin. Their ingredient list features aloe vera for naturally soothing and hydrating skin, green tea to protect the skin from oxidative damage and collagen breakdown, and myrrh oil to assist in healing inflamed skin. Titanium dioxide is the key SPF component, making their products reef safe and they use recyclable sugar cane packaging. Their SPF 30 Scent Free Sunscreen is an essential.
8. AO Organics
For all the tanning lovers out there, AO Organics carries sustainable, ocean-safe tanning lotion, a rare find. They use all natural ingredients, eco-friendly and reusable containers, and non-nanoparticles. Their studio in Honokaa, Hawaii locally sources all ingredients and ensures the highest possible quality. AO Organics produces their chemical free tanning oils and sunscreens in small batches to prevent overproduction. Check out their 24-karat Tanning Oil, a great naturally sourced, clean beauty option.
Australian born sun care brand People 4 Ocean (P4O) was created by ocean lovers and marine scientists to develop ocean safe sun products. Their products are 100% natural and free of any ingredient proven toxic to coral reefs and ocean life. For every sun-care product sold, P4O donates $1 to Great Barrier Reef conservation and rehabilitation projects. They also just released a new SPF 50 Zinc Stick with tinted options in biodegradable paper tubes.
10. Life Basics
Life Basics believes that sustainable, organic, and natural products should not create a dent in your wallet, so they created a line of affordable, everyday skincare. Made in Australia, their entire line is all natural and vegan-friendly. Zinc oxide is the active ingredient along with other naturally-derived ingredients such as calendula, green tea, and rosehip oil which help to nourish the skin. Life Basic’s product range comes with minimal packaging and is almost always plastic-free. A great basic, here is their SPF 30 All Natural Facial Sunscreen.
Samantha is an American studying in Singapore with a passion for sustainability and strong belief in expressive style. When she isn't doing school work, you can find her casually writing or thrifting!