What are the qualities of the best biodegradable sunscreens? (5 factors that discern eco-friendly sunscreens)

This article covers some of the most important questions regarding the use of sunscreens and what things are to be considered before buying one. The following questions are addressed:

  • What ingredients should be used in biodegradable sunscreens?
  • What ingredients should not be used in the best sunscreens?
  • What is meant by the biodegradability of sunscreens?
  • If sunscreen is biodegradable, does it mean it is safe?
  • What are reef-safe sunscreens?
  • How should the packaging of the best sunscreens be?
  • Can best biodegradable sunscreens be reused and recycled?
  • What separates eco-friendly sunscreens from non-eco-friendly sunscreens?

What are the best biodegradable sunscreens?

The best biodegradable sunscreens are those that are made from the maximum possible amount of natural materials and synthetic elements such as oxybenzone should be avoided. The best biodegradable sunscreens are:

Badger SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen

All Good Vegan Sport SPF 30 Sunscreen

Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

Kokua Sun Care Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50

Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Based Sunscreen

People living in coastal cities regularly visit the beaches for a sunbath which increases exposure to sunlight potentially putting them at risk of cancer. Sunscreen is a product that protects your skin from harmful UV radiation from the sun which can cause sunburn and even cancer. 

The best sunscreens should not only be biodegradable but should also be non-harmful to life and the environment. Particularly, the best sunscreens must also be reef-safe. 

As per the packaging, it is advised that the best sunscreens should come in biodegradable packaging that is made from natural materials. However, if that is too far off, then recycled material can also be opted for. 

What are the best sunscreens available in the market currently and what are their qualities?

Based on our research, here the five best eco-friendly sunscreens available in the market:

Badger SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen:

Badger SPF has come out as among the finest sunscreens products due to the fact that it has an SPF value of 30 while using only six ingredients for its production which are all natural. Its packaging is recyclable and the ingredients are all biodegradable. Uses Zinc Oxide as an active ingredient.

All Good Vegan Sport SPF 30 Sunscreen:

All good vegan sports are another excellent choice. Its ingredients are natural and biodegradable. It uses non-nano zinc oxide and its ingredients are vegan and cruelty-free. It has an SPF value of 30 which makes it an excellent choice. It is reef-safe and the packaging is also recyclable.

Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion:

Bare republic stands out as one of the best due to certain qualities such that it has broad range antibacterial capabilities, its ingredients are natural and it is water-resistant so it won’t come off when you dive in water. It is reef-safe having an SPF value of 50 which makes it better than others.

Kokua Sun Care Zinc Sunscreen SPF 50:

Kokua Sun Care is a Hawaiian product that is natural and has a very high SPF value of 50 but the main feature that makes it stand out among others is that it has antioxidant properties which caters for the needs of the skin. It is reef-safe and the packaging is recyclable as well. 

Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Based Sunscreen:

Thinksport SPF 50+ is perhaps the best one available. It is biodegradable, reef-safe, vegan, cruelty free, uses non-nano zinc, has natural ingredients, has recyclable packaging, has consistently ranked the best by consumers on multiple platforms.

What ingredients should be used in biodegradable sunscreens?

Sunscreens are mainly composed of two important components: organic chemicals and minerals. Organic chemicals work by absorbing harmful UV radiation from the sun while minerals such as zinc oxide work by deflecting UV radiation away from the body. A sunscreen with Solar protection factor (SPF) of 30 is considered a good sunscreen.

Organic chemicals and minerals are mostly used in combination to provide better protection against UV radiation. Most sunscreens contain organic chemicals such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate as active ingredients and these chemicals are non-biodegradable and are very dangerous for coral reefs. 

A biodegradable sunscreen should be reef-safe, meaning it should not contain synthetic chemicals such as those mentioned above which directly or indirectly damage the coral reefs. 

Instead, many natural ingredients such as aloe vera, coconut oil, and almond oil, should be used in place of synthetic organic chemicals in combination with minerals such as non-nano zinc oxide as active ingredients.

What ingredients should not be used in the best sunscreens?

The best sunscreens are the ones which do not contain any synthetic non-biodegradable chemicals. Synthetic organic chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate are widely used chemicals in sunscreens that absorb harmful UV radiation from the sun.

These are very harmful to the coral reefs and marine life as they damage the DNA of coral reefs and also alter the shape of their larvae indirectly affecting the marine life which is dependent on coral reefs for their survival. 

What is meant by the biodegradability of sunscreens?

Biodegradability of any substance in general terms means how much time it takes for it to be degraded in nature by decomposers. If a substance takes less than a year to degrade naturally then it is considered a biodegradable substance.

When it comes to products such as sunscreens that are made of multiple substances which may or may not be biodegradable, a general rule is applied that if a product is made with natural ingredients then it can safely be considered a biodegradable product.

If it contains any synthetic substance then it may be a non-biodegradable product considering the biodegradability of that particular substance. It is possible that a substance may be synthetic yet biodegradable at the same time.

If sunscreen is biodegradable, does it mean it is safe?

Yes, it can be considered safe as a biodegradable sunscreen would only contain natural ingredients which do not harm the coral reefs and are degraded naturally in the environment.

However, there is a lot of grey area and still, more research needs to be done to fully understand the impacts of these ingredients on the environment. Many sunscreens contain minerals such as titanium oxide instead of zinc oxide. 

Titanium oxide has been recently reported to produce hydrogen peroxide (a harmful chemical for marine life) when mixed with water. 

From a general perspective, a sunscreen which has natural ingredients and biodegradable packaging is the best sunscreen and can be considered safe but if its packaging is not biodegradable but recyclable, it is still acceptable but not preferred.

What are reef-safe sunscreens?

Reef-safe or reef-friendly sunscreens are those that do not contain any synthetic chemicals such as oxybenzone or octinoxate which are harmful to the coral reefs and are non-biodegradable. 

Reef-safe sunscreens contain natural ingredients and minerals but there has been some speculation regarding how different companies label their sunscreen products as “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly” because it comes down to the very definition of “safe” and “friendly”. 

Many companies either consciously or unconsciously mislabel their sunscreen products as reef-safe because they do not fully understand the difference between the two terms and do not know how exactly they are to be understood. 

Although the terms can and are used interchangeably, still there are some differences. Reef-safe means that a product contains no such chemical or mineral ingredients that are known to be harmful to coral reefs hence they are termed as “safe”.

While reef-friendly products are those products that contain chemicals or minerals which cause very low or negligible damage to the coral reefs hence they are considered as “friendly” but manufacturers often mislabel their products in order to hide and better market their products.

How should the packaging of the best sunscreens be?

The best type of packaging for any product is one that is biodegradable, meaning that it can be degraded into a simpler form by natural decomposers such as fungi, bacteria, nematodes etc. Similarly, the best packaging for sunscreen products should ideally be biodegradable.

It is understandable that these products might have to lie on the shelf for two or three years maybe and by that time the biodegradable packaging might not survive hence companies have to resort to non-biodegradable materials for packaging. These materials often include plastics. 

Plastics are widely used for all sorts of packaging so it comes down to whether non-biodegradable packaging is recyclable or not. Certain plastics such as bioplastics, and composite plastics are non-recyclable hence they pose a serious threat to the environment by staying on the plant for hundreds of years.

Recyclable plastics on the other hand such as polyethylene can be recycled easily and hence are preferred second-in-line after biodegradable packaging. So, an environmentally conscious person would pick a sunscreen which has biodegradable packaging or at least recyclable packaging.

Can best biodegradable sunscreens be reused and recycled?

Yes, a biodegradable sunscreen product is degraded by nature and enters the life cycle again which reduces its environmental impact and the non-biodegradable products used in packaging that are recyclable can be easily recycled to reduce the toll on the environment but there is a catch. 

Biodegradable products do not have a direct impact on the environment but may have indirect impacts which may be very severe. 

For example, if a biodegradable sunscreen uses palm oil in its ingredients then it increases its demand which requires more and more land to be grown for which many activities such as deforestation, fossil-fuel consumption, overgrazing of land etc are done to maintain the supply chain which has a very high impact on the environment so the ingredients.

What separates eco-friendly sunscreens from non-eco-friendly sunscreens? (7 factors)

There are certain points that are to be considered when separating eco-friendly sunscreens from non-eco-friendly sunscreens. Following are some of the qualities of an eco-friendly sunscreen:

  • Its ingredients should not include any synthetic material which is non-biodegradable i.e., oxybenzone.
  • It should not have any natural ingredient that has an indirect environmental impact i.e., palm oil etc.
  • It should have an SPF of at least 15 and ideally 30.
  • All of its ingredients should be biodegradable.
  • Zinc oxide should be used instead of titanium oxide as an active ingredient.
  • Its packaging should be biodegradable or at least recyclable if biodegradable packaging is not possible.
  • It should not compromise on the utilitarian aspect as well.

Conclusion

It is concluded that the best biodegradable sunscreens are those that are made from the maximum possible amount of natural materials and that synthetic elements such as oxybenzone should be avoided. 

The best sunscreens should not only be biodegradable but should also be non-harmful to life and the environment. Particularly, the best sunscreens must also be reef-safe. 

As per the packaging, it is advised that the best sunscreens should come in biodegradable packaging that is made from natural materials. However, if that is too far off, then recycled material can also be opted for. 

Frequently Asked Questions:  What are the qualities of the best biodegradable sunscreens?

Should sunscreens be reef-safe?

Yes, it is important for sunscreens to be reef-safe. Reef-safe or reef-friendly sunscreens are those that do not contain any synthetic chemicals such as oxybenzone or octinoxate which are harmful to the coral reefs and are non-biodegradable. 

What are some examples of eco-friendly sunscreens?

Here are some examples of eco-friendly sunscreens

  • Stream2Sea Sport Sunscreen
  • Badger Clear Zinc SPF 40
  • Countersun Daily Sheer Defense. 
  • REN Clean Skincare Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30
  • All Good Sport Sunscreen
  • Raw Love All Natural Mineral Sunscreen

References

  • Hernandez-Pedraza, M., Caballero-Vázquez, J. A., Peniche-Pérez, J. C., Pérez-Legaspi, I. A., Casas-Beltran, D. A., & Alvarado-Flores, J. (2020). Toxicity and hazards of biodegradable and non-biodegradable sunscreens to aquatic life of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Sustainability, 12(8), 3270.
  • Wood, Elizabeth (2018). Impacts of sunscreens on coral reefs. International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), 20
  • Chatzigianni, M., Pavlou, P., Siamidi, A., Vlachou, M., Varvaresou, A., & Papageorgiou, S. (2022). Environmental impacts due to the use of sunscreen products: a mini-review. Ecotoxicology, 1-15.
  • Bell, Carrie. (June 20, 2022). The Best Reef-Safe, Eco-Friendly Sunscreens. Retrieved from: https://www.rollingstone.com/product-recommendations/lifestyle/best-reef-safe-sunscreen-1180223/

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