One of the best things about our rotating little planet is that the sun is shining somewhere all the time. Right now, there is a sandy beach bordered by azure waters, bathed in the sun’s brilliant yellow rays, that is beckoning droves of sun worshippers.
Even now, there is a sun-drenched mountain peak, revealing miles of breathtaking vistas to awe-struck viewers. Whether at the austere mountaintop or the tranquil oceanside, there is one thing above all that is necessary to fully enjoy these settings: sunscreen. And to protect these beautiful places and your skin, you’re best to choose zero-waste sunscreen.
Whether or not the sun is presently shining where you are, or the rays of summer have arrived in your favorite places for their annual sojourn, we can be sure the glory of the sun will return to all our most beloved locations.
The confinement and restrictions forced upon us throughout most of 2020 will come to an end, and we can venture out again into the light. Let us go forth with positivity—but also with protection!
The rays of the sun can be more than a little overwhelming. For the sake of our skin, below you’ll find 10 of the best zero-waste sunscreens.
We also describe what to look for when choosing zero-waste sunscreen brands and why many traditional sunscreen products out there are not good for people, the planet, marine life, and coral reefs.
10 Best Zero Waste Sunscreens
Here are our choices of the best zero-waste sunscreen brands and product choices to protect us from the sun and the environment from us.
1. Dirty Hippie Coconut Sunscreen Balm
- All-natural products including zinc oxide, fair trade coconut, carrot seed, red raspberry, wheatgerm oil
- 30 SPF, UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection
- Toxin, preservative, and plastic-free, 100% reef safe
- Naturally insect repellant
- Various sizes and containers, zero waste eco-tubs, and tins
Right up there as the best zero waste sunscreen on our list is this coconut sunscreen balm developed to avoid sensitivity in users and thus has a very low content of pure essential oils.
The zinc powder it contains is non-micronized and, therefore, will not penetrate the lower dermis or the bloodstream, making it great for sensitive skin and everyday use. The formula is creamy but non-greasy and has a sweet, zinging lime smell.
You should apply the eco-friendly sunscreen balm generously and again after you get wet. The balm comes in an eco-friendly tin and also in a pushup tube.
You can heat it in the microwave (for no longer than 15 seconds) if the balm gets stuck. And in hotter weather, you can also cool it if it becomes too warm for easy use. The product has a shelf life of 12 months.
Purse and beach bag friendly sunscreen with zero-waste packaging
Available sizes range from 14 grams to 80 grams for travel or 90 grams for family use. Dirty Hippie packages its zero-waste sunscreen orders in recycled paper and designs its products for easy recycling.
Dirty Hippie has a recycling program designed to accept used packaging and containers, but only from customers in Australia, where the company is based.
2. Raw Elements Face and Body Certified Natural Zero Waste Sunscreen
- Certified all-natural ingredients; active ingredient is 23% non-nano zinc oxide; contains organic ingredients: sunflower oil, green tea, black tea, coffee, hemp seed oil, cocoa butter; natural mango butter, beeswax, rosemary oil extract, Vitamin E
- 30 SPF, broad-spectrum protection
- Reef safe, certified cruelty-free, non-GMO, biodegradable
- Environmental Working Group top-rated sustainable sunscreen
- 3-ounce reusable zero waste container
Raw Elements zero waste sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and is designed for sensitive skin. The product is easy to apply and should be replenished after 80 minutes in the water.
Raw Elements includes multiple organic and natural ingredients to provide biologically active antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals to offer continued skin protection beyond the time of sun exposure. Raw Elements is made without oxybenzone or octanoate, the source of coral reefs’ bleaching, ensuring a reef-safe sunscreen.
Once used, the eco-friendly packaging is recyclable, reusable, compostable, and plastic-free.
Raw Elements: created by a passion for the environment
The broad-spectrum SPF protection of this zero waste sunscreen by Raw Elements is also found in their face moisturizers, face sticks, baby and kid sunscreen stick, and tinted face moisturizers.
These products were developed by a lifelong ocean lifeguard, Brian Guadagno, who was determined to find environmentally safe compounds that protected human skin as well as the oceans and earth.
3. Apothecary Muse Sunscreen Stick
- 1oz, unscented, organic vegan
- Made from jojoba oil, aloe, and rosehip seed oil
- Palm oil-free
- Packaged in a zero-waste compostable cardboard tube
Specifically designed for the face, Apothecary Muse makes these handy purse or bag-size sunscreen sticks from all-natural organic ingredients. Non-nano zinc oxide particles mean that they’re reef safe and with a regular every 2-hour application perfect for those days out by the beach.
What’s more, these near-perfect zero waste sunscreen sticks will also help keep nasty flying insects away due to the blend of naturally repellent essential oils.
4. EiR NYC Surf Mud
- Coconut oil, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, beeswax, tea tree oil, zinc oxide
- 30 SPF, Broad Spectrum, water-resistant & sweat resistant
- 100% reef-safe formula with non-nano zinc oxide
- Anti-irritant, antioxidant that reduces free radical damage to the skin
- Comes in a variety of containers, including a 2-ounce zero waste tin
The legendary Mayan chocolate mask inspired EiR NYC’s zero waste sunscreen. Their eco-friendly tubs contain water-resistant and 100% reef-safe sunscreen.
The natural sunscreen balm is applied, beginning with a dime-sized dab, to the skin and hair 15 minutes before being in the sun and as needed. You’ll also enjoy the all-natural feel and smell. In addition to sun protection, the product hydrates the face and hair.
Beach & surf beginnings to today’s broad appeal
As it is known to its original users in the Montauk surf community, they initially produced Surf Mud as an artisanal sunscreen that embodied the priority of all EiR products: sustainability. Before it became generally available, the product was a favorite of the Long Island beachgoers, whose popularity was spread first by word of mouth.
Despite its international popularity and inclusion in the top department stores and boutiques worldwide, the priority of this sustainable sunscreen brand has not changed.
5. All Good Mineral Sunscreen Butter
- Contains only six ingredients in addition to zinc oxide: organic coconut oil, beeswax, calendula flowers infused in jojoba, vitamin E
- 50 SPF, with UVA and UVB broad-spectrum protection
- EWG top rated safest sunscreen
- 80-minute water resistant, designed for protection of delicate facial feature
- One fluid ounce reusable zero waste tin
If you have dry skin, it may help to begin with a moisturizer. This zero-waste sunscreen butter is applied white and quickly disappears when rubbed into the skin.
Once applied, reapplication is not needed for two hours unless you are in the water, which necessitates reapplication after 80 minutes. Designed for use in extreme weather conditions. With only six all organic ingredients and non-nano zinc oxide, this natural and sustainable sunscreen butter is safe for all ages and reefs.
One of the best zero-waste sunscreen options inspired by the outdoors
Unlike some of our other zero-waste sunscreens listed, this one did not originate with surfers and beachgoers but rather rock-climbing enthusiasts who needed protection from extreme elements, especially for facial features’ delicate skin.
Originally simply called “All Good Goop that smelled like a dream and worked like a charm.” The product is also intentionally intended for use by all those who immerse themselves in inland and oceanic waterways.
The company has gone out of its way to ensure they include no chemicals that might penetrate the dermis and enter the bloodstream in their products, either. Packaged in a convenient eco-friendly pocket-friendly tin, this product also makes for a top plastic-free sunscreen choice.
6. Butter Me Up Organics Organic Sunscreen
- Non-nano zinc oxide
- Organic, cruelty-free, vegan sunscreen free from nasty chemical ingredients
- Shea butter, mango butter, and organic coconut oil base
- SPF protection of around 45+
Butter Me Up zero waste sunscreens offer excellent sun protection endorsed by thousands of shop reviews across their range of sunscreen products and sizes. Packaged the zero waste way in reusable glass jars and with the active ingredient for sun protection comprising non-nano zinc oxide, this plastic-free sunscreen will fit perfectly into a beach bag.
Water-resistant after a couple of swims, the maker recommends you re-apply their natural sunscreen regularly. Further, being all organic and nasties-free, this organic sunscreen is safe for all ages.
7. Butterbean Organics Original Formula Sunscreen
- Non-nano uncoated zinc oxide 22%, fair trade unrefined shea butter, locally sourced beeswax, olive, coconut, and jojoba seed oils, sunflower vitamin E
- 30 SPF, zero waste broad-spectrum sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection
- Biodegradable, reef safe, and cruelty-free
- Top rating by the EWG
- Comes in a 7-fluid ounce tin
Butterbean Organics makes zero-waste sunscreens strictly from sustainable ingredients, naturally sourced and unrefined. Butterbean uses certified organic and fair trade oils.
They use food-grade, organic coconut oils to protect from the sun and moisturize. The sunscreen will protect your skin for up to two hours or 80 minutes if used in water and must be reapplied immediately after toweling off.
Like several other best zero-waste sunscreen options on our list, Butterbean was started by a concerned individual with a desire to protect people and the environment. In this case, the founder was Summer, the mother of five children in Florida, who became alarmed upon hearing about the chemicals in commercial sunscreens and the potential physical harm they could inflict.
A burgeoning range of eco-friendly products
While the company started with zero-waste sunscreen, Butterbean has expanded its product list to include whole-body products. These are all made of similar non-toxic, plastic-free ingredients and made with vitamins and antioxidants.
They also test to make sure they do not cause reactions in small children who use them, helping to ensure low waste sunscreen applications safe for all ages.
8. Best Friend Beauty 50 SPF Sunscreen
- UV resistant ingredients start with 30% non-nano zinc oxide and include almond, coconut, red raspberry seed, carrot seed oils, and shea butter. A vegan sunscreen suitable for sensitive skin.
- 50 SFP
- All shipments are handmade to order with a one to two-week turnaround.
- The product ships in a 4-ounce mason-type jar with a screw-on lid
One great virtue of Best Friend Beauty’s zero waste sunscreens is that purchasers will receive a handmade order and may choose from various scents, including vanilla, lemongrass, grapefruit, lavender, and scent-free.
This homemade touch belies the genuine environmental efforts of the producers, alongside protecting your skin tone from the sun’s harmful rays.
Handmade with love and care for sensitive skin and marine life friendly
This product is a coral reef-safe sunscreen, using no bleaching chemicals such as oxybenzone. Additionally, the makers have gone out of the way to make this formula baby safe, child-safe, and hypoallergenic.
And they have formulated it to leave no residue or discoloration on users. Even better, it contains natural moisturizers. These zero-waste sunscreens prove ideal for sensitive skin or skin issues that make other sunscreens prohibitive.
The variety of additional ingredients used in Best Friend Beauty Sunscreen enhance the fragrance—as with the essential oils associated with the various available scents—and create the perfect skin conditioning qualities of the product.
Because some users may be sensitive to zinc oxide, this is another one of the best zero-waste sunscreen brands on our list that take special orders to reduce each batch’s quantity to meet the customer’s requirements.
9. SurfDurt Original Sunblock
- Ingredients include non-nano 23% zinc oxide, beeswax, cocoa butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil, avocado oil, carrot seed oil, raspberry seed oil, iron oxide pigment.
- 30 SPF, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection
- Produced in San Diego, California, with sustainable organic and natural products.
- In addition to being reef safe, cruelty-free, child-safe, sweatproof, and water resistant, this sunscreen is labeled surf resistant.
- Comes in a 2-ounce reusable tin
SurfDurt’s zero waste sunscreens intentionally come in two shades to suit your skin tone: original tan and zombie white. The company says, “Sunscreen you can see is the only kind you can trust.” The manufacturers intentionally omitted any chemicals that might be harmful to small children. They’ve selected the nutrients in the sunscreen to nurture the skin.
To further mitigate their carbon footprint, the makers of SurfDurt use eco-friendly renewable energy exclusively in their manufacturing processes.
Committed to zero waste sun protection
The two women creators of SurfDurt are at least the fourth women originators in our list of the best zero waste sunscreens.
Their commitment has resulted in developing a zero-waste sunscreen product, both fully protective from the sun and environmentally friendly to the ocean reef-safe sunscreen. They were also interested in coming up with a sun protection product that did not burn their eyes or make their faces break out.
- Ingredients include non-nano zinc oxide, water, sweet almond oil, avocado oil, BTMS-50, glycerin, coconut oil, castor oil, stearyl alcohol, beeswax, optiphen, vitamin E, and other compounds
- 30 SPF, UVA/UVB protection
- Coral reef safe, with no hormone disrupters or harmful chemicals
- Gentle coconut fragrance
- Comes in a 2-pound tin and also a 6-ounce jar
The formula also comes bottled in strengths of 15, 30, and 50 SPF. All are oxybenzone-free to make them reef safe.
Natural sunscreen inspired by Island Life
Polynesian skincare products have greatly influenced the makers of these zero waste sunscreen products designed to protect you from UV light rays. Thus, they also offer exotic deep tanning oils that also contain SPF sunscreen protection of various degrees. They also offer Coconut Joe’s Organic Lip Balm, made of enriched virgin coconut oil.
2 Reef-Friendly Sunscreens in Recyclable Plastic
Whereas not strictly plastic-free or zero-waste sunscreen, our following two choices have all the right stuff inside the bottles, albeit with plastic packaging. And both plastic containers are recyclable, and they still have good eco-creds.
Sun Bum Original Sunscreen Lotion
- Ingredients include non-nano iron oxide, antioxidant-enriched vitamin E, and several non-toxic, environmentally safe compounds
- 30 SPF, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sweat-resistant protection
- Gluten-free, vegan-safe, and dermatologist tested
- Product is hypoallergenic and free of oxybenzone, octinoxate, gluten, and is also cruelty-free and paraben-free
- Comes in an 8-ounce plastic dispenser
Sun Bum has different recommendations about how much of this all-body sunscreen to use based on which SPF level you are using. If using only their 15 SPF formula, they recommend using three tablespoons to cover the body. With SPF 30 or 70, one tablespoon gives equal protection.
They suggest that you apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going into the sun and reapply every two hours. Whereas the lotion is water-resistant, more frequent application is recommended if you are in the water, toweling off, or sweating profusely.
The manufacturers of this sunscreen have two important Amazon certifications. They are Climate Pledge Friendly, meaning they are committed to using sustainable production methods and reducing their company’s carbon footprint.
They are also certified as Compact by Design, meaning they design their packaging to reduce waste and remove as much air and water as possible which has to be better than traditional sunscreen in wasteful plastic. SunBum is a bi-coastal company with corporate entities in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and Encinitas, California, that commenced its operations in 2010.
Reef Repair Reef Safe Suncream
- Zinc oxide, 20%, non-nano; also contains coconut oil, avocado oil, Cetearyl alcohol, vegetable wax, shea butter, red raspberry seed oil, glycerin, beeswax, and other natural and organic ingredients
- 30 SPF broad-spectrum protection from UVA/UVB rays
- Free of octinoxate and other chemicals; coral reef safe; also free of parabens, silicone, and titanium dioxide; it is also certified cruelty free—not tested on animals
- Safe for use on children down to 6 months old & water-resistant
- Comes in a plastic 120-millimeter tube
Reef Repair formulates their zero waste sunscreen for ease of use. It applies smoothly without an oil residue or a white overcoat. Especially intended for delicate skin and, in particular, children, the product can withstand 2 hours of direct sun or 80 minutes of water exposure before requiring reapplication to protect you from those string summer UV rays. The product is also available in a 50 SPF formula in a 120 ML plastic bottle.
Unlike many traditional sunscreens, Reef Repair Suncream has a backstory rooted in human and environmental well-being concerns. In this case, the originators were divers in Phuket, Thailand. After repeated attempts to find suitable, lasting, sweat-resistant sunscreens, the divers determined to create their own.
The 43rd attempt brought about the successful Reef Safe Suncream that is available around the world. Their formula’s success led them to develop products for lip, hair, and skin care as well.
NB, this sunscreen is not plastic-free. However, it is recyclable, and the contents are biodegradable.
What to Look for in a Zero Waste Sunscreen
There are several essential qualities that we consider absolute requirements before we can place a sunscreen product on our zero waste sunblock list. Here are our “must-haves” to look for when considering a zero-waste sunscreen:
These are the sun rays that penetrate our skin to create wrinkles and lasting damage. That coveted tan so many of us seek in the summer is actually the body’s attempt to mitigate the assault of UVA rays. It’s easy to underestimate UVA rays’ ability to penetrate until you get a sunburn on a cloudy day. Regular exposure to any degree of sunshine means exposure to UVA radiation.
UVB rays are the type of solar radiation responsible in no small measure for the explosive number of cases of skin cancer. The protection availed by a good sunscreen can cut your chances of skin cancer by 40%, and in particular, it can cut your melanoma risk by 50%. UVB rays are the main reason to stay out of direct sunshine between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
We’re all familiar with the lifeguard’s iconic image with a band of white zinc oxide across the nose while stoically observing swimmers. Over the years, sunscreen manufacturers have used several different chemicals for various intentions, from enhancing the appearance of tanning to absorbing the sun’s rays.
As we’ll discuss below as we make a case for choosing zero-waste sunscreen, many of these chemicals are harmful either to those of us who wear them or to the environment around us. As researchers and sun lovers have discovered, certified organic and natural ingredients fill the bill of protecting our skin without harming us or our natural surroundings.
Like many of the other products we use without thought daily, many chemical sunscreens have incorporated microplastics. Microplastics often go unnoticed to the wearer, helping keep the lotions that use them together and forming a thin film on the skin.
These are so potentially destructive that we have given them their particular category as environmentally unfriendly compounds. To be sure, using plastic-free sunscreen will not end the presence of microplastics in the multitude of products we regularly use.
Still, it is essential to keep microplastics out of the oceans and waterways, and we can all choose sunscreen free from plastic to aid the elimination of microplastics.
Related: When hitting the beach this summer, have a browse of our eco-friendly and sustainable flip flops picks for another beach-ready essential, and pick up a sustainable living book to read alongside your zero-waste sunscreen.
Zero Waste Packaging
Not only are there harmful, unnecessary ingredients in many commercial sunscreens, but sunscreens can also come in environmentally unsound packaging, encased in plastic containers that cannot be recycled. We’ve focused on that smaller but growing number of worthwhile zero-waste sunscreens in zero-waste containers and sold in plastic-free packaging.
Sunscreen, Toxins, Microplastics, and our Coral Reefs
Beginning January 1, 2021, the State of Hawaii made it illegal to sell sunscreen containing chemicals harmful to coral reefs. On the face of it, it seems absurd to think that a little dab of sunscreen—diluted in the ocean, after all—could harm something as grand and removed from human life as a coral reef.
However, the reality is that one drop of the toxic chemicals contained in sunscreen can poison several coral reefs equal to six Olympic-sized swimming pools. Consider that most of us go into the water with one to three tablespoons of sunscreen all over us. Consider that 90% of sunscreens contain these toxic chemicals (unlike the zero waste sunscreens above).
What are these chemicals exactly? The two biggest culprits are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Researchers have shown these chemicals are primarily responsible for the phenomenon you’ve heard about called coral bleaching.
Bleaching occurs when the coral itself consumes these chemical compounds. This happens in no small measure because these compounds are in the form of nanoparticles, microscopically small plastics, that do not break down in the environment over time. Therefore reef-safe sunscreens are a big deal when it comes to sun protection from UV rays without synthetic chemicals harming marine life.
Not only harmful to reefs
While we mourn the microplastic damage toxins are causing coral reefs worldwide, we should also consider what the same compounds are doing to us. The compounds found in chemical sunscreens and avoided in zero waste sunscreen are small enough that they actually leech into our bodies through our dermis, the thick second layer of skin just below our epidermis—outer skin.
Once in the dermis, these chemicals get into our bloodstream and have access to every part of our bodies. While we don’t know every harmful thing these compounds might do, we know that they interact with our hormonal systems, potentially harming our reproductive processes. Researchers have even detected these agents in breast milk, potentially thought to cause lower birth rates.
There is even evidence suggesting that the sun’s interaction with these compounds releases free radicals within our bodies. Many health issues result from free radicals within the body, including heart disease and cancer.
The bottom line is, if you don’t want to switch to a reef-safe sunscreen out of love for the ocean and to protect your skin, you certainly want to do it for your health and the health of those you love. Even better, look for certified organic ingredients in your reef-safe sunscreen choice for extra protection and to avoid greenwashing.
The importance of zero-waste sunscreen
When we hear about the potential danger of using the wrong sunscreen, we might find it tempting to chuck the whole idea and say we will not use sun protection at all. However, this would likewise be a grave health mistake on our part.
Incidents of skin cancer are rising dramatically. Health professionals estimate that one in five of us will develop skin cancer at some point in our lives, which is far and away more significant than any other form of cancer. The good news is that we can cut that risk in half using a good sunscreen.
Sunscreen is not merely useful for cancer and sunburn prevention. We often assume that the creases and wrinkles we accumulate as we age are simply naturally occurring and thus an inevitable result of getting older.
In actuality, it is unmitigated exposure to the sun that causes most of the weathering and wrinkling we acquire. The use of zero-waste sunscreen whenever we find ourselves exposed to sunlight—any bright sunlight, not merely direct sunlight—will go a long way to prevent the acquisition of wrinkles.
Protecting our skin and health
So how do we protect ourselves from sun damage? Limiting direct exposure to the sun is a significant factor, though many of us enjoy being in the sunshine and must be outdoors to work or participate in important activities.
Thus, we can take the most significant single step to protect our skin by using the right sunscreen and applying it following the maker’s directions. The right sunscreen is one with a minimum of 15 SPF (sun protective factor) and, preferably, a 30 or 50 SPF.
Almost universally, all our highest-rated zero waste sunscreens recommend putting sunscreen on half an hour before going out into the sun and reapplying it after two hours in the sun.
Of course, in that each of us is unique in our physical needs, you will want to give serious thought to the proper way to protect your skin. The one thing that seems certain is that you’ll find a suitable sunscreen among our ten best plastic-free sunscreens.
Beware of DIY sunscreen
While all the zero waste sunscreens included in our 10 best list are available, economical, and easily obtained, periodically, some decide they can devise their own homemade sunscreens.
We would be remiss if we didn’t point out that health experts roundly advise against this. In fact, there are several good reasons not to DIY your own sun-protective lotion. Here are several important factors to consider.
How well will it protect?
Sunscreens are evaluated and used by consumers based on their effectiveness in combating the sun’s harmful effects. This rating is called SPF. If you create your own SPF, you will have no way of testing its effectiveness. You may think you have 70 SPF when in fact, you have 5 SPF.
How long will it protect?
Another virtue of knowing the SPF of a product is that it lets you know how long it protects from sunlight. If you aren’t sure of the SPF, you can be sure how long it will protect.
What formula did you use?
Many organic substances found in zero waste sunscreens, like coconut oil, have a natural SPF effect. The effect can alter when combined with other substances. Finding a workable combination is in part trial and error, and your skin may suffer from being a guinea pig.
How long will it work?
Except for water, every chemical compound pretty much has a shelf life. Since this article recommends organic sunscreens without preservatives, the effective length of time each protects your skin is even more challenging to determine.
What are the dangers?
As mentioned above, exposure to the sun is dangerous. Also, as discussed, chemical compounds simply applied to the skin can be dangerous, particularly if you have a sensitivity to a substance or a compound you are not aware of.
There are so many excellent, very safe, very affordable zero-waste sunscreens to choose from that there is really no need to devise our own. Neither do we have any reason not to use a good, plastic-free, zero-waste sunscreen to enjoy the glories of the sun that we’ve been missing.