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Last Updated on 08/05/2021

We all know sunscreen is essential to keeping us safe from the sun’s harmful rays. However, not all of them are created equal. Some traditional sunscreens have been found to cause so much damage to the marine environment that places like Hawaii and Palau have imposed bans. Not only that, the chemicals in these sunscreens wreak havoc on your body’s hormone and endocrine systems. 

The answer? Ocean-friendly and zero waste sunscreens that are kind to your body and the planet. 

Luckily, there are some brilliant brands out there that share the same desire to protect the environment and your wellbeing inside and out. Not only are these sunscreens sustainable and reef-safe but the majority of them are zero waste, or at the very least recyclable, so they have no reason to end up in landfills or polluting the ocean. 

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Whether you’re keen to have a plastic-free packing list or want to make more wholesome choices for your sun protection, all of these sunscreen options are perfect for any adventure. By supporting these brands, you’re also helping to make the world and your body cleaner and healthier. 

My Picks for the Best Zero Waste Sunscreens of 2021

My top recommended zero waste sunscreens

Brand:

SPF:

Best For:

Packaging:

Price:

Suntribe

30

Full-body

Biobased sugarcane  / tin

££

Raw Elements

30

Full-body / face

Tin

££

Butter Me Up Organics

45

Full-body / face

Glass

££

Shade

25

Touch up / face

Tin

£

Sol de Ibiza

30

Touch up / face

Tin

££

Dirty Hippie

About 30

Face

Paperboard

£

Amazinc

50

Full-body / face

Aluminium

££

We Love the Planet

30

Face

Paperboard

££

Sun and Earth

30

Touch up / face

Tin

££

Brush On Block

30

Touch up / over makeup

Plastic - reusable / cardboard cartridges

£££

Green People

30

Full-body

Biobased sugarcane 

££

What zero waste sunscreen really means 

zero waste sunscreen is biodegradable and comes in reusable pacakging ideally.

When a sunscreen is zero waste, it means every part of it from the formula to the packaging is biodegradable or at the very least recyclable. 

This type of sunscreen doesn’t pollute the environment in any way because it breaks down in a relatively short amount of time. This makes it safe to use in the ocean as it won’t get ingested by marine life or damage coral reef ecosystems. 

Read more: Sustainable Travel Tips That Will Save the World

So, what’s the deal with ocean-friendly sunscreen? 

Ocean-friendly sunscreen is mineral-based. Person reading at the beach.

Between 6000 and 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen is washed off swimmers, scuba divers, beachgoers and snorkelers every year and enters the marine environment. Even more sunscreen enters the waterways through wastewater systems. 

The problem is, chemicals in regular sunscreen have been found to severely damage coral reefs. Chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, butylparaben and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor kill or bleach coral at an extremely low concentration. 

To put that into perspective, a single drop can damage 6.5 swimming pools worth of coral. Now imagine what all those many thousands of tonnes could do. 

Once coral reefs are bleached, it takes up to 12 years for the effects to be reversed and that’s only if there are no other disturbances. If killed then it’s irreversible.

It’s thought that 25% of all marine life depend on coral reefs at some point in their lifecycle but it doesn’t stop there. About half a billion people worldwide rely on coral reef ecosystems for food, income and coastal protection. 

If we lost our coral reefs, the effects would be catastrophic. Sadly, it’s already starting to happen. Studies have shown that up to 50% of all coral reefs have already been destroyed and another 40% could be damaged in the next 30 years. 

Destinations like Hawaii, Palau, US Virgin Islands, Key West, Florida, Bonaire and some parts of Mexico have already banned non-biodegradable sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect the ocean. 

What to look for in the best zero waste sunscreen

Cosmetics n reusable packaging surrounded by plants

To help make it simple, I’ve broken down the key terms to help you navigate what to look for in a zero waste sunscreen. 

Mineral-based: All sustainable sunscreens are mineral-based rather than chemical-based like regular sunscreens. These minerals are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and they work by reflecting the sun’s rays away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens don’t reflect rays. Instead, they absorb UV light like a sponge. Your skin can also absorb these chemicals, making a toxic cocktail in your body. 

When choosing a mineral-based sunscreen, always make sure that the minerals are non-nano. Nanoparticles can pass through the skin barrier and cause toxic cells. They can also be ingested by marine life making them not reef-safe. Always go for non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 

Packaging: The sign of a zero waste sunscreen is the packaging it’s contained. Zero waste means that ideally, you never have to throw items away because you can reuse them again and again. If that’s not possible then composting is the best solution. Recycling is the last resort. Zero waste packaging is usually made from compostable materials, tin and glass. 

Reef-safe: As we’ve already mentioned, regular sunscreen damages coral reefs and marine life due to chemicals such as oxybenzone. It’s important to choose a non-nano mineral-based sunscreen because it’s coral reef-safe and eco-friendly. 

Ethical: The best zero waste and sustainable sunscreens are ethical and that doesn’t just mean for marine life. All ingredients should be ethically sourced both for the benefit of the environment and the people involved. The sunscreen should also be cruelty-free and not tested on animals. 

Broad-spectrum: This means that it protects against UVA and UVB rays. A good sunscreen needs to be broad-spectrum to be effective. 

Water-Resistant: If you’re planning to travel to beach destinations then you ideally want a sunscreen that’s water-resistant to keep you safe from the sun’s rays while swimming. 

11 Top Zero Waste Sunscreen That Protect Your Skin and the Planet

zero waste suscreen drawn on a woman's back in the shape of the sun

 

Suntribe 

Suntribe suscreen has a biobased sugarcane packaging

Suntribe are no strangers to rolling out natural reef-safe sunscreen and their organic mineral hypoallergenic face and body sunscreen is an absolute favourite. 

The sunscreen is a perfect allrounder for all your travel adventures. It’s hypoallergenic which makes it suitable for sensitive skin and kids. On top of non-nano zinc oxide, ingredients include coconut oil, cacao and shea butter to keep your skin nourished and moisturised when you’re out and about. The formula also has a slight tint to blend more easily with your skin tone. 

The packaging is made from a biobased sugar cane tube rather than plastic. You can also get cardboard sun sticks, tins and recycled aluminium tubes. 

Pros: Hypoallergenic | Slightly tinted to minimise white streaks | Vegan-friendly | Plastic-free and fully recyclable

Cons: Expensive

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Biobased sugar cane tube
  • Suitable for: Kids and people with sensitive skin

View on Know the Origin

 

Raw Elements Face + Body Sunscreen 

Tin of raw elements zero waste sunscreen

If you’re keen to kick plastic for good, Raw Elements Face + Body sunscreen makes an excellent choice. Available in a handy tin, the sunscreen is made from certified all-natural ingredients including green tea and cocoa butter and provides UVA – UVB true broad-spectrum protection with 23% non-nano zinc oxide. 

Use this sunscreen with confidence at the beach as it boasts a high water resistance above 80 minutes. It’s also packed with a whole host of biologically active antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and extracts so it will keep your skin nourished and protected throughout the day. 

Fans love this natural sunscreen as it doesn’t run or leave your skin with awkward white streaks. 

Pros: Plastic-free packaging | High performance | Biodegradable

Cons: A little on the small side at 85g | Pricey | Contains beeswax so not vegan

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: No 
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable tin
  • Suitable for: All ages and skin types

View on Amazon

 

Butter Me Up Organics 

Jar of Butter Me Up Organics zero waste sunscreens

Butter Me Up Organics are serious about non-toxic and zero waste skincare and their natural organic sunscreen deliver just that. A perfect accompaniment to scorching temperatures (it’s been tested in 40℃ and was a great success on a trip to Mexico), this sunscreen will look after you and your family on pool days and holidays. Just take care of the glass if you go for a jar. 

The main protection comes from organic non-nano zinc oxide. Other delicious-smelling ingredients are organic shea butter, mango butter and coconut oil. Not a paraben or chemical in sight. 

The sunscreen blends easily into your skin and feels light and non-greasy. A little also goes a long way. 

Pros: Plastic-free packaging | Certified natural and organic ingredients | Lasts | Comes in a range of sizes

Cons: Contains beeswax so not vegan | Glass packaging isn’t very travel-friendly | Expensive | Shipped from the US which isn’t great for air miles

  • SPF: 45. It’s recommended that you top it up every 3 hours. 
  • Vegan: No 
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable glass jar
  • Suitable for: All ages and skin types

View on Etsy

 

Shade

Tin of Shade sunscreen

If you want something simple and does what it says on the tin then look no further than Shade, one of the UK’s top ethical sunscreens and Gold Natural Beauty award-winner.

What I love most about this sunscreen is it contains just four ingredients, proving that sun protection doesn’t need to be fancy or high-spec. So, what are these magic ingredients? Quite literally organic shea butter, organic coconut oil, non-nano zinc oxide and sustainable beeswax. That’s it. No added fragrances, parabens or toxins. 

Shade’s simple yet highly effective blend makes it suitable for pretty much all skin types and ages. Each ingredient has been carefully chosen for their anti-inflammatory, moisturising and nourishing properties. It can also be used as an aftersun too if you accidentally forgot to top up. 

Pros: Suitable for sensitive skin | Contains just four ingredients | Award-winner | Transparent | Affordable 

Cons: Untested in water | Contains beeswax so not vegan | Lower SPF 

  • SPF: 25
  • Vegan: No
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Untested 
  • Packaging: Recyclable tin
  • Suitable for: All ages and skin types 

View on Amazon

 

Sol de Ibiza 

Tin of Sol de Ibiza, one of the best zero waste sunscreens

Sol de Ibiza is a reef-safe sunscreen that’s designed to be worn on the sun-kissed beaches of Ibiza. The brand donates 1% of all their revenue to the Ibiza Preservation Foundation which protects the land and sea in Ibiza and Formentera so if you can’t quite make it there then at least you’ve made a small positive impact. 

It’s not just the sun’s UV rays this sunscreen protects you from, but also wind and pollution (did you know pollution plays absolute havoc with our skin?) so it will see you through wherever your travels end up taking you. 

All ingredients are safety tested in the EU to make a product that’s fragrance-free and safe for sensitive skin. Fans love its lightweight and moisturising feel. 

Pros: Vegan-friendly | Donates to charity | Plastic-free | Fragrance-free

Cons: On the small side at 100ml | Expensive 

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes up to 40 minutes
  • Packaging: Recyclable tin
  • Suitable for: All ages and skin types

View on Boobalou

 

Dirty Hippie 

Dirty hippie sunscreen and natural unsect repellant

Dirty Hippie is an Australian zero waste beauty brand with a dedicated following. I’m a little bit obsessed with their labels to tell you the truth!

Their zero waste coconut sunscreen balm not only delivers protection from the sun but you can also buy it alongside their natural bug repellent. An absolute staple if you’re heading somewhere tropical and don’t enjoy the sticky, toxic bug repellent / sunscreen combo. 

The active sunscreen protection is, of course, non-nano zinc oxide. Other ingredients include organic, Fairtrade coconut, carrot seed, red raspberry seed and wheatgerm oils, making it ideal for those with sensitive skin. 

The formula is creamy, non-greasy and blends well so no embarrassing white streaks. Coupled with the bug repellent, you’ll be protected from the sun and those pesky mozzies. 

Pros: Affordable prices | Vegan-friendly | Suitable for sensitive skin | Plastic-free

Cons: Dispatched from Australia so high in air miles | High delivery cost | Untested SPF

  • SPF: Approximately 30. Not been officially tested.
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Unspecified but it’s recommended that you reapply after getting wet
  • Packaging: Recyclable paperboard
  • Suitable for: People with sensitive skin (age 10 and above)

View on Etsy

 

Amazinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

Bottle of Amazinc, oe of the best zero waste sunscreens

Amazinc offers a versatile sunscreen that keeps you protected whether you’re getting active or lounging on the beach. 

Made in the Czech Republic, the formula contains a natural blend of ingredients including non-nano zinc oxide which shields your skin from the sun and almond oil which is rich in Vitamin E and keeps your skin hydrated. Important if you’re out all day in the heat!

My favourite thing about this sunscreen (other than being vegan, natural and reef-safe of course) is the distinctive aluminium bottle. Aluminium can be recycled over and over again without losing quality so it creates a fantastic closed-loop system. 

Pros: High SPF | Versatile | Vegan-friendly | Sustainable & ethically sourced | Packaging is easily recyclable

Cons: Plastic EPE lid liner means it’s not 100% plastic-free | Unspecified water resistance | Could be heavy to travel with 

  • SPF: 50
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Unspecified
  • Packaging: Recyclable aluminium bottle
  • Suitable for: All skin types and ages but check for sensitivities 

View on Peace with the Wild

 

We Love the Planet 

product image of we love the planet sunscreen

We Love the Planet Suncare Stick certainly does what it claims with its plastic-free packaging, reef-safe and natural ingredients. 

This little carry-on friendly tube is free from toxins, parabens and skin and planet clogging chemicals. Instead, it contains natural UV filters in non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Rapeseed oil, coconut oil and cornstarch powder make this sunscreen easy to apply and leaves skin feeling soft. 

Pros: Travel-friendly at 50g | Vegan-friendly | Plastic-free

Cons: Small so best as a top-up for exposed areas 

  • SPF: 30 
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-Resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable paperboard 
  • Suitable for: All skin types and ages 

View on Bodykind

 

Sun and Earth

product image of sun and earth, one of the best zero waste sunscreens

Sun and Earth’s SPF30 natural sunscreen comes all the way from Byron Bay in Australia (there is a stockist for the UK). Perfect for touching up the face and exposed areas on the go, this little tin is made with certified organic, cold-pressed oils, locally sourced beeswax and natural zinc oxide. 

The sunscreen comes in a choice of three tints – Tan, Sandy Light and Earthy Cocoa to help it blend more easily with your skin tone. It’s biodegradable, suitable for sensitive skin and people of all ages. 

As for water resistance? Surfers have put this sunscreen to the test and it’s stayed on in the water for hours. Fans love that it gives you a healthy glow while protecting your skin. 

Pros: Carry-On friendly | Plastic-free | Tinted to suit skin tone | Highly water-resistant 

Cons: Small for the price | Made in Australia so large air miles despite a UK stockist | Not a full-body sunscreen

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: No
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable tin 
  • Suitable for: All ages and skin types

View on Rêve en Vert

 

Brush On Block 

Product image of brush on block sunscreen

Putting on a base layer of sunscreen on your face is all well and good, but if you want it to be effective then you need to top it up every few hours. So, how can you do that when you’re wearing makeup? Cue Brush On Block. This mineral-based sunscreen has been an absolute game-changer for me. 

This sunscreen essentially comes in powder form so you can easily brush it on your face without any smudging. It contains just five ingredients, including titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, chamomile flower extract, green tea extract and honeysuckle extract. 

It comes in plastic packaging. However, when it runs out you can top it up with refills so you don’t have to throw the whole thing away. In the US, you can get your refills in recyclable cartridges. They haven’t reached Europe yet as far as I know but you can order them from the US. You’ll have to consider those air miles though. 

Pros: Easy to touch up over makeup | Vegan-friendly | Reusable | Comes in a translucent and tan range to blend with skin tones | Doesn’t leave a white residue | Travel-friendly 

Cons: Plastic packaging | Cardboard cartridge refills only available in the US | More suitable for touching up 

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: Yes
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Plastic but comes with a cardboard cartridge refill 
  • Suitable for: Adults with sensitive skin

View on Brush On Block

 

Green People 

Product image of Green People sunscreen

Green People Sun Cream is probably one of my all-time favourites. My one big gripe? No, they’re not zero waste. However, their sunscreen tubes are made with fully recyclable, renewable sugarcane packaging which is completely carbon neutral. 

Green People are very conscious of the environmental impact of plastic on marine life which is why 20p is donated to the Marine Conservation Society for every sunscreen sold. To take it one step further, all packaging they use is assessed by Soil Association, Organic Food Federation and EcoCert. 

The sunscreen itself is lightweight, moisture-retaining and rich in antioxidants to protect delicate skin. Ingredients include aloe vera, green tea, myrrh oil and edelweiss. 

Pros: Carbon neutral | Lightweight and gentle on skin | Ideal for sensitive skin | Donates to charity 

Cons: Recyclable rather than compostable or reusable

  • SPF: 30
  • Vegan: No
  • Reef-safe: Yes
  • Water-resistant: Yes
  • Packaging: Recyclable plastic, Check their website here for more information. 
  • Suitable for: Adults with sensitive skin 

View on Green People

 


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