“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.” These iconic words from the famous graduation speech column turned ’90s inspirational anthem rings true even today.
Sunscreens not only shield you from harmful UV radiation but also slow down visible signs of aging. A must-have in your beauty and wellness arsenal, we found 10 zero waste sunscreens that help the environment and your skin too!
Why Choose a Waste Free Sunscreen?
As we head into the sunny months of summer, finding a non-greasy, no-white cast sunscreen with at least 30 SPF coverage might be your biggest clean beauty priority — and rightfully so! But adding a low waste and plastic-free sunscreen pre-requisite into your checklist might just go a long way in shielding the planet as well.
The beauty industry produces an estimated 120 billion units of plastic packaging on an annual basis, most of which are not widely recyclable. A large quantity of that plastic packaging usually ends up in landfills where they can take up to 500 years to decompose, and will most likely leach pollutants into the soil and water.
Sustainable alternatives include packaging made of aluminum, glass and paper are endlessly recyclable.
What About the Chemicals in Sunscreen?
Sunscreens are one of those hard-at-work products that are expected to protect you from UVA and UVB rays, and have an ultra-light texture that should also be sweat and water-resistant, among many other such required features.
So it’s only natural that your go-to sunscreen is made with formulations that meet those essential requirements. But some of the ingredients in these formulations have proven to be problematic for the environment.
In 2021, the state of Hawaii passed a law that banned the sale or distribution of any sunscreen that contains the chemicals oxybenzone or octinoxate without a prescription. The primary goal of this legislation is to preserve coral ecosystems that marine scientists claim are damaged by the aforementioned chemicals present in sunscreens.
Every year, 14,000 tons of sunscreen are thought to wash into the oceans that have caused the most damage like coral bleaching in popular reef areas in Hawaii and the Caribbean.
The environmental speculation around this has led to the launch of several reef-safe sunscreens and mineral sunscreens which contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that have been generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA.
Are Mineral Sunscreens Better Than Chemical Sunscreens?
Mineral sunscreens are primarily made up of two active ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, that work to create a physical shield on top of the skin to reflect ultraviolet rays. Also known as physical sunscreens, mineral iterations often take a while to be blended in during application and can leave a bit of a white cast. While chemical sunscreens go on easy and have a much-preferred sheer to barely-there appearance after application.
However, if you’re planning on taking a dip in the ocean, a mineral sunscreen might be your best bet, since the coral-bleaching agents are usually found in chemical versions.
That being said, experts often argue that any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen. And we’d like to extend that advice to say that the best sunscreen is the one that shields you from the sun and protects the environment from plastic waste as well.
Expert tip: A minimum SPF rating of at least 30 (SPF 50 being ideal!) is essential for daily protection. In addition to which, you should also watch out for words like ‘PA++’ (more pluses equal higher protection) or ‘broad spectrum’ on the packaging, both of which indicate that you’ll be protected from burns and aging, i.e. UVB and UVA rays.
Eager to discover efficient yet eco-friendly plastic-free sunscreens? Below, find 10 zero-waste SPF options that’ll shield your skin all summer long (and beyond).
Our Top Picks for Zero Waste Sunscreen
Note that this guide includes affiliate links. As always all brands meet strict criteria for sustainability and are brands we love — and that we think you’ll love too!
This Hawaiian brand prioritizes protecting the oceans and its reefs over all else while keeping its packaging thoughtful and plastic-free in a chic aluminum tin with compostable soy ink-printed labels.
Born out of the need to create a harmful chemical-free formula that’s safe for children, their signature mineral sunscreen is made up of mostly natural ingredients namely organic jojoba oil and kokum butter, and an active non-nano zinc oxide (measuring greater than 300 nanometers) that shields your skin and won’t get absorbed into your bloodstream due to its non-nano size.
The fact that it’s available in a non-tinted and tinted version to suit 4 types of skin shades is just the bonus!
2. Raw Love
Another sunscreen born out of the island of Maui, Hawaiʻi, Raw Love is a zero waste reef-safe sunscreen that comprises all-natural plant-based ingredients.
The brand’s founder Jenna, is a PADI divemaster who combined her education in marine biology and love of water activities to create a water-resistant, nontoxic sunscreen that happens to be packaged in pretty little aluminum tins.
Raw Love’s SPF 35 formulations feature beeswax as an ingredient that works as a waterproof agent on your skin for up to 40 min while swimming, after which reapplication is recommended.
Dirty Hippie Cosmetics is an Australian brand featuring a handmade, nontoxic, reef-safe sunscreen formula that has been developed to cater to sensitive skin types.
Their zero waste sunscreens come with an optional bug-repellent blend made from natural ingredients — perfect for those who love an early morning hike in nature.
Available in a handy push-up stick cardboard tube and aluminum tins, this sunscreen consists of a broad spectrum of non-micronized zinc oxide powder that won’t penetrate the lower layer of your skin. (i.e. it doesn’t get absorbed into your bloodstream.)
4. Raw Elements
Founded by an ocean lifeguard, Raw Elements is a natural sunscreen brand that’s committed to sun safety while keeping environmental and ocean protection in mind.
Infused with organic ingredients and an active non-nano zinc oxide that provides SPF 30, UVA + UVB true broad-spectrum protection, Raw Elements’ formulation is also waterproof up to 80 minutes post-application.
Packaged in aluminum tins, Raw Elements also sells a zero-waste tinted sunscreen version for medium tones, along with other skincare essentials.
Infused with organic ingredients, Bee You Organics creates a coral reef-safe mineral sunscreen that shields you from both UVA and UVB rays.
Packaged in a minimal aluminum tin or paperboard push-up tube, these zero-waste vegan sunscreens come in unscented and scented versions, the latter of which is blended with tea tree oil for its bug-repellent properties.
Don’t let the white and solid texture of the sunscreen fool you, the brand claims that it doesn’t leave a ghostly white cast behind on your skin post-application.
6. Herbal Chest
A botanical skincare brand, Herbal Chest creates a natural and vegan zero waste moisturizer with SPF that’s ideal for dry and sensitive skin types.
Created in an all-natural formulation that includes shea butter, red raspberry seed, and sunflower oil to name a few, this plastic free sunscreen relies on non-nano zinc oxide as its key ingredient for sun protection.
Packaged in travel-friendly aluminum tins, the sunscreen comes infused in two main flavors: matcha green tea and vegan chamomile.
This UK-based gem on Etsy creates an all-natural zero-waste face sunscreen that’s packaged in the prettiest glass jar to provide you with utmost sun protection.
Its SPF 30 mineral formulation contains water-resistant beeswax that should keep you shielded during swimming and water activities up to 2 hours.
Available in a handy 30 and 60 ml size, this sunscreen is well-suited for sensitive skin types.
Bonus tip: You need at least 1/4 teaspoon amount of sunscreen for your face, which is around the same amount as two generous finger lengths.
Australia produces some of the safest sunscreens because they regulate the active ingredients in sunscreen just like they would with medicine. And SunButter Skincare’s sunscreen is no exception.
With a regulatory stamp of approval by the TGA (Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration), SunButter’s formulation consists of non-nano zinc oxide, coconut oil, castor oil and candelilla wax. All of which combine to provide SPF 50 broad-spectrum protection with an impressive four hours worth of resistance under water.
Packaged in a plastic-free aluminum tin, their protective formula is also reef safe.
9. All Good
All Good’s zero waste sunscreen not only aims to protects you in harsh weather conditions but also from indoor blue lights that come from unexpected sources like our computer screens.
Made from reef-friendly organic ingredients, this sunscreen comes in a quaint metal tin with an impressive SPF 50 coverage that provides broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. What’s more? Expect to be protected during water activities for up to 80 minutes.
10. Tierra and Lava
A mild mineral sunscreen, Tierra and Lava’s Turmeric & Vanilla formulation is ideal for sensitive skin types that happen to be reef-safe, water and sweat resistant.
Packaged in a recyclable metal tin, this plastic free sunscreen contains coconut and macadamia oil, cocoa butter, turmeric root and a vanilla bean extract that lends it an irresistible smell.
(Note: Tierra and Lava’s sunscreen is only 15 SPF, so it’s not ideal if you’re spending an extended amount of time in the sun.)
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About The Author:
Jharna Pariani is a fashion writer and creative strategist whose work is rooted in honesty and deep observation of the world around her. When she isn’t busy penning down her thoughts, she moonlights as a video editor creating fashion and food reels on Instagram for several brands and influencers