Zero Waste Sunscreen

I have been asked about sunscreen a lot recently. People are looking for safer, non-toxic and preferably plastic-free sunscreens, which is great news. And truth is, the selection is kinda limited at the moment, although there are waaaaay more options out there compared to a couple of years ago when there was virtually nothing when I was searching the internet.

So what’s the issue with conventional, off-the-shelf sunscreens? Where to begin…?

Our skin is our largest organ and it can absorb what we put on it (try rubbing garlic on the base of your foot and a few minutes later you can taste it in your mouth!). I’m a big believer in putting as few ingredients on my skin as possible and that they should be as organic and safe as possible. Conventional sunscreens can contain a cocktail of toxic, synthetic chemicals that are known hormone disruptors amongst other health risks.

On a bigger scale, it turns out sunscreens are destroying coral reefs which are referred to as the “rainforests of the oceans” – they are home to a whole host of plant and animal species, they protect coastlines from erosion and they can be a store of carbon.  Oxybenzone (Benzophenone-3, BP-3), a chemical found in over 3500 conventional sunscreen, is not only toxic to coral reefs (disrupts coral reproduction, causes coral bleaching, damages coral DNA and causes baby coral to encase itself in its own skeleton and die), but also algae, sea urchins, fish and mammals, showing amongst other things to disrupt their hormones.

One expert featured in an article I read said “We have lost at least 80 percent of the coral reefs in the Caribbean”. And measurements of oxybenzone have been found to be 12 times the concentrations said to be harmful to coral in seawater sampled in reefs throughout Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And swimmers, scuba divers and snorkelers are releasing between 6000-14,000 tons of sunscreen into coral reef environments each year. Yikes!

So you get the idea, conventional sunscreen isn’t great for our health or for the ocean and the life it holds.

But there are better sunscreens out there – ones that use certified organic ingredients and non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide as the only sunscreen. Zinc oxide is a mineral that does not absorb into the skin, instead providing a physical barrier that sits on top. This can mean a slightly white film appearing on the skin, but I’m ok with that if it means my health and environment aren’t at risk.

For the past couple of years I have been using tubes of Badger Balm sunscreens*, that only contain non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide as the sunscreen and a select bunch of really natural and certified organic ingredients. I’ve been really impressed with this product but as I’m almost at the end of the tube, and with Summer fast approaching, I thought I’d look into alternatives that don’t come in plastic packaging. I would love Badger to offer a plastic free option, so I’m gonna send an email their way as I know so many people (some are fellow zero wasters) who love Badger sunscreens too.

A quick note on nano sized particles: zinc and titanium oxide NANO particles can be consumed or absorbed by marine life and disrupt the growth of coral reefs. As many of you know, I personally try to avoid titanium dioxide in all of my beauty products, preferring to stick to non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide only when needed. Titanium dioxide is most toxic in powder form (so should be ok in lotions) and has been linked to health issues. I would personally just rather avoid it all together. Each to their own.

So, with all of the above in mind, here are the plastic-free, non-nano zinc oxide only (no titanium dioxide!) sunscreens that have caught my eye. Please remember that I haven’t tried all of these yet, so it’s worth reading a few reviews and making your own judgement based on your own values first. For me, organic ingredients + non-nano zinc oxide + plastic-free packaging were my top criteria.

Also, getting sun is the only way our bodies can produce vitamin D (actually a hormone not a vitamin). I’m not in favour of taking synthetic vitamin D supplements so I try to spend a sensible amount of time in the sun without burning. This will vary for everyone, but I need about half an hour to an hour or so before using sunscreen.

(affiliate links marked with *)

I bought a tube of All Good whilst on our California Honeymoon Road-trip and really liked it. I have since found that they also sell it in a stainless steel tin. All Good sunscreens are made using certified organic ingredients and they even have their own beyond organic wild farm. They are free from GMOs, 100% Reef Friendly and 3rd party tested. They are also a registered B Corp, which basically means a for-profit company can put their environmental and social policies before profit without risk of being sued by investors. Their production facility runs on solar power too.
Finally, a UK based sunscreen brand! Just when I thought it was impossible to find a zero waste sunscreen option that wasn’t based in the US or Australia (where they seem to have way more options), I stumbled upon Shade which contains only 4 ingredients: unrefined shea butter, virgin coconut oil, non-nano zinc oxide and pure beeswax. Whilst the ingredients don’t appear to be organic, I felt happy enough to place an order and try it for myself. I’ll update this post once it has arrived.

I have read that both zero waste/plastic free bloggers The Rogue Ginger and Beth Terry from My Plastic Free Life loved their Avasol sunscreen. It’s packaged in a compostable cardboard tube and the ingredients are a mixture of organic, fair trade and natural, with only non-nano zinc oxide as the sunscreen. The name comes from the Samoan word Ava, meaning respect and Sol for sun. Operating out of California, where they hand make each product, I have requested a tube of this to sample, so I’ll let you know how I get on once it arrives. Just need some sun…. According to Beth Terry it is normally shipped in a plastic pouch but I requested to not have this, so I’ll have to wait and see what turns up!

I first spotted Butterbean Organics on Life Without Plastic* and whilst targeted for children, there’s no reason why us adults can’t get in on the spf action. Their products are made of certified organic and sustainable ingredients (free from GMOs) with non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide as the sunscreen, and they come packaged in both a biodegradable cardboard tube or a stainless steel tin.
Just Skin Food popped up on the EWG database for approved safe and non-toxic sunscreens and it looks like the packaging is brown card although it doesn’t say anywhere on the site what it is made of, so could be a gamble. Non-nano zinc oxide provides the SPF and is blended with certified organic ingredients, non-GMO vitamin e and local beeswax. It also scored a super low 1 on EWG.
Created by an outdoor enthusiast committed to the environment, and designed for those with active lifestyle, Eir uses non-nano zinc oxide as the spf.
SPF 50 stick* comes in a biodegradable cardboard tube and contains organic coconut oil, cocoa butter and cocoa powder as the only other ingredients. The SPF 30 is packaged in a metal tin* and includes tea tree oil in the ingredient list.

Raw Elements full body and tinted face sunscreens are now available in a recyclable/reusable plastic-free tins. Made from certified all-natural ingredients (the majority of which are certified organic), it provides UVA-UVB true broad spectrum protection, using non-nano, uncoated zinc oxide. It is water resistant beyond 80 minutes, biodegradable and safe for all ages.



Etsy *
Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a huge selection of non-nano zinc oxide sunscreens available on Etsy. Who knew? I guess the only thing to consider is how effective these are as some may not have been independently tested as the ones I mentioned above all have been. Best thing is read the reviews, see if they have been tested for their level of SPF and go from there. The great thing with Etsy is that is is super easy to email the seller with any burning (pun intended!) questions AND (as I have done in the past) request no plastic packaging. Most are more than willing to oblige. Here are the products that caught my eye.

ptpure *

Available in two sizes, both ptpure sunscreen sticks *  are packaged in biodegradable cardboard tubes. Made with organic eight ingredients, five of which are organic, including organic fair trade coco powder to take the edge of the whiteness from the non-nano zinc oxide.


Last Meridian *


Last Meridian’s* Surf Balm contains non-nano zinc oxide for UV protection mixed with a blend of organic ingredients including fair trade cacao powder to add a little natural tint too. It also looks like it comes in stainless steel tins.

Rare Earth Skin Care*


Firstly, I love the branding of this Rare Earth Suncream*. Looks so appealing! Made to order in the USA and packaged in a glass tub, this sunscreen uses a mixture of ingredients that are either organic, all-natural and free from GMOs (including cucumber and watermelon seed extracts).



dirty hippie cosmetics*

An Australian based brand that uses super low levels of essential oils in their sunscreen. With non-micronised zinc oxide as the sunscreen and a bunch of lovely looking ingredients, they come packaged in biodegradable card tubes or stainless steel tins which can even be returned if kept in good condition.

And finally, I feel this goes without saying, but lemme say it for my own peace of mind. I have found that simply sticking to the shade, wearing sunglasses and a hat and wearing breathable organic cotton and linen clothing to cover up to be very effective against burning too.

Now I can get out there enjoy the sun (responsibly!) with a little less plastic in my life!


EWG Approved Sunscreen List




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