Looking for an eco friendly, plastic free sunscreen?
Great! Whether you’re looking forward to a bit of British sunshine or planning for your next holiday, we’ve got you covered here with 6 of the best plastic-free sunscreens.
Both single-use plastic bottles and microplastic-laden formulas are among the main drivers of microplastic and landfill pollution. This is why choosing the right reef-friendly sunscreen is crucial.
Keep reading to find out more about how conventional sunscreens impact the environment and take a look at our pick of the best plastic-free alternatives available in the UK!
What’s in traditional sunscreen and does it contain plastic?
One thing all sunscreens have in common is Sun Protection Factor, or SPF. This is essential for keeping your skin protected from UV rays throughout the summer and beyond. Despite this, not all sunscreen products are created equally.
This is especially true when it comes to the environmental impact of their ingredients and packaging.
First things first, let’s go over how most sunscreen products are made.
When it comes to ingredients, sunscreens are generally made by one of two formulas:
Mineral formulas rely on ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide a natural extra layer of protection that physically shields our skin from UV rays.
For this reason, mineral sunscreens are also known as physical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, work by first absorbing the UV rays into the skin and then converting them into heat. The chemical ingredients used in these include oxybenzone, homosalate and avobenzone.
But while these components are always clearly listed, the vast majority of sunscreen formulas also contain a damaging hidden ingredient – microplastics!
Microplastics in sunscreen
Microplastics are often added to chemical suncreams to help bind the ingredients together. This helps provide waterproof properties and shield you from UV exposure. However, they’re not essential for the product to work well.
As of 2020, it’s estimated that as much as 72% of all sunscreen and sun care products contain microplastics.
These tend to be hidden in plain sight under their chemical names like ‘acrylates’ and ‘carbomer’.
This percentage includes most household name sun care products, meaning that if you want to do your part in improving our microplastic pollution issue, you’ll have to specifically look for plastic-free sunscreen options!
How does suncream impact the environment?
Microplastics are the leading cause of marine pollution and health disruption in aquatic ecosystems. Just like all types of plastic, they can persist in the environment for hundreds of years.
When ingested, these tiny plastic particles affect organisms in different ways, such as delaying natural growth and reducing appetite.
Microplastics also pose a considerable risk to human health. While the long-term effects of microplastic exposure are yet to be discovered, there’s no denying that ingesting and absorbing countless plastic particles through food and lotions is bound to affect us in one way or another.
On top of this issue, the chemicals found in chemical sunscreens are also harmful to marine wildlife. Sadly, they are one of the driving causes behind coral bleaching.
Oxybenzone, in particular, is believed to be one of the most damaging ingredients. So much so that it has been banned by a growing number of countries.
Can you buy reef friendly sunscreen?
The habitat disruption caused by both chemicals and microplastics is the main reason why ‘reef-friendly’ sunscreens have become so popular in recent years.
The truth behind the marketing, however, is a little different.
Reef-friendly SPF, which doesn’t include chemicals like oxybenzone, has not been tested by third-party certifications. This is a similar situation to the use of other non-certified marketing terms such as ‘biodegradable’ and ‘eco’, which I wrote about in this compostable dog poo bag blog.
Reef-friendly SPFs also fail to consider other components that might be harmful to our oceans. These include preservatives and other less studied chemicals.
On top of that, most reef-friendly sunscreams still contain microplastics!
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also find great plastic-free sunscreen options if you know where to look!
6 Best Plastic-Free Sunscreens
There are now plenty of brands and online eco shops offering environmentally-friendly sunscreens that work just as well as microplastic-laden, chemical formulas.
Here are some of our favourites, listed in no particular order:
1. Scent Free SPF30 by Green People
Perfect for sensitive skin, this mineral formula is fully biodegradable and plastic-free. It contains 82% organic ingredients including aloe vera, green tea and beeswax.
The product comes in plastic-free packaging as well, as it’s packaged in a tube made from bioplastics (sugar cane).
2. All Natural Sunscreen by Shade
If you’re looking for a 100% natural formula free of chemicals, preservatives, parabens and microplastics, Shade has the perfect product for you!
Coming in a handy travel-size tin, this plastic-free sunscreen contains no more than four ingredients (zinc oxide, coconut oil, shea butter, and beeswax) making for an incredibly hydrating SPF25 lotion.
You can shop this all-natural formula at Ethical Superstore
3. Mineral Sunscreen by Amazinc!
This SPF50 mineral formula relies on zinc oxide to bounce off UV rays. Amazinc only contains natural, vegan-friendly ingredients with no microplastics.
This sunscreen also comes in a handy recyclable aluminium bottle, free of plastic packaging!
You can find it on Friendly Turtle
4. Sol De Ibiza Organic Natural Suncream
Sol de Ibiza have produced a silky smooth vegan mineral sunscreen that is completely plastic free. It’s also free from preservatives, fragrances and heavy metals.
This reef-friendly sunscreen is available in SPF30 and SPF50 and comes in a metal tin that can be easily recycled or reused.
Sol de Ibiza donate 1% of all revenue to the Ibiza Preservation Foundation to protect land and sea in Ibiza.
Buy yours from Friendly Turtle
5. Face and Sport SPF30 by Suntribe
This zinc-based mineral formula is perfect for getting the most UV and UVA protection when out hiking or skiing, as it’s quite thicker than most sunscreens.
Coming in a convenient tin, this formula contains minimal ingredients, all of organic origin, with no added chemicals or microplastics.
You can find it on the eco platform Big Green Smile
6. Vegan Mineral Suncream by Sintra Naturals
Sintra Naturals offers a great SPF30 that ticks all the boxes: Vegan-friendly, plastic-free, and completely harmless to marine life, this mineral formula relies on all-natural ingredients to provide UV protection and anti-aging effects.
You can shop this plastic-free sunscreen at Peace With The Wild
Protecting our body and our oceans with eco suncream
Shielding our body from UV and UVA exposure is essential for taking care of our skin on a daily basis, not just when we’re out sunbathing or skiing.
It’s for this reason that you should always take the time to research the best sunscreen for your skin and activity, as well as making sure that your go-to product is free of plastic and environmentally harmful chemicals.
If you want to dive in deeper, you can explore even more plastic-free sunscreen options by taking a look at our list of eco-friendly online shops!
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Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.