Волк на пляже в солнечных очках и с козырьком

Eco-Friendly Sun Cream

Suspicious”, thought Sherlock

It all began with obser­vant and con­cerned cit­i­zens around the world notic­ing a thin translu­cent film float­ing on the water at sev­er­al pop­u­lar beach­es.

As they looked clos­er and took a sniff, they real­ized that the float­ing mis­cre­ant was none oth­er than good old sun cream! Putting two and two togeth­er, those same con­cerned cit­i­zens spec­u­lat­ed that there could be a cor­re­la­tion between the destruc­tion of coral reefs near these pop­u­lar bathing spots (90% of the coral reefs in the Caribbean basin have dis­ap­peared since 1980) and the mys­te­ri­ous unin­vit­ed film.

It’s elementary, dear Watson!

With the “who­dun­nit” quick­ly solved, atten­tion soon turned to the fact that the major­i­ty of ingre­di­ents in sun creams are harm­ful to coral. Fur­ther study revealed that it’s not only coral that suf­fers from our UV pro­tec­tion habits though, but also oth­er sea crea­tures.

Caught red-handed

Sci­en­tists dis­cov­ered that the most harm­ful chem­i­cal in sun cream is oxy­ben­zone – one of the usu­al sus­pects in hor­ror sto­ries relat­ed to the dis­rup­tion of the endocrine sys­tem in human beings. Only this time the vic­tim was not only human beings, but also oth­er mam­mals, fish, and even sea urchins.

The entire affair gained such momen­tum that  coastal author­i­ties in some areas (Mex­i­co and Hawaii) even decid­ed to ban cos­met­ic prod­ucts con­tain­ing oyxben­zone from their beach­es.

The other suspects

The Haereti­cus Envi­ron­men­tal Lab­o­ra­to­ry, which cer­ti­fies cos­met­ic prod­ucts that are not harm­ful to sea crea­tures, warns that we should be con­cerned not only about oxy­ben­zone.

Below is a list of chem­i­cals and ele­ments that should not be present in sun cream or in any oth­er cos­met­ic prod­uct that could end up in sea water (includ­ing sham­poo, con­di­tion­er, hair prod­ucts, creams):

  • microplas­tic spheres or beads;
  • nanopar­ti­cles like zinc oxide, which can be found in almost all cos­met­ic prod­ucts, but most com­mon­ly in sun creams and sprays since they reflect UV rays;
  • tita­ni­um diox­ide (used in cos­me­tol­ogy and phar­ma­col­o­gy as a whiten­er);
  • octi­nox­ate (endocrine dis­rup­tor);
  • 4‑methylbenzylidene cam­phor (the Union for the Pro­tec­tion of the Envi­ron­ment and Nature in Ger­many char­ac­ter­izes this as an espe­cial­ly dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal due to its effect on hor­mones);
  • octocry­lene (can increase sen­si­tiv­i­ty to the sun and builds up in the body with reg­u­lar usage);
  • methyl paraben (inten­si­fies the effect of solar rays on the skin);
  • eth­yl paraben (builds up in the body and, it seems, may have links to breast can­cer);
  • butyl paraben (dis­rupts the endocrine sys­tem and is capa­ble of neg­a­tive­ly affect­ing sperm);
  • tri­closan (can lead to mass cell death).

From theory to practice

The simpler, the better

It’s impor­tant to keep in mind that even seem­ing­ly nat­ur­al ingre­di­ents can have a destruc­tive effect on ocean ecosys­tems. For exam­ple, euca­lyp­tus and laven­der are poten­tial­ly harm­ful to inver­te­brate organ­isms. And beeswax can indi­rect­ly lead to the break­down of ecosys­tems since it can con­tain indus­tri­al insec­ti­cides.

Cream, not spray

As opposed to sprays, sun creams are hard­er to wipe off the skin and there­fore don’t need to be reap­plied as often. That makes them not only bet­ter for your bank bal­ance, but also kinder to the envi­ron­ment.

White streaks — it’s a fashion thing!

Just take a look at surfers — white streaks can be fash­ion­able. But seri­ous­ly, they’re also prac­ti­cal because they allow you to see which spots you’ve missed. So if you’re using a sun cream that leaves white traces, as soon as you don’t see that famil­iar white paint­brush stroke on your skin you’ll won­der what hap­pened, apply some sun cream and avoid sun­burn!

Use com­mon sense

It’s not nec­es­sary to apply sun­cream from head to toe. Instead you need to make sure you’re apply­ing to those areas that will be exposed to sun­light: the neck, ears, face, hands, etc.

Cloth­ing with UV pro­tec­tion is a goody buy for the body. Try a shirt with long sleeves, cov­er­ing the back of the hand if pos­si­ble, and with a crew neck. Once again, surf brands to the res­cue: Patag­o­nia, RipCurl, Roxy etc.

Don’t go into the sun between 11:00 and 14:00

This may be the most painful­ly obvi­ous piece of advice you’ll receive, but that does­n’t make it any less effec­tive!

OK, but where can I get the goods?

Before buy­ing, you’ll need to take a quick look at what’s avail­able and at how it will be deliv­ered to you. Below are the most pop­u­lar sun­creams that are safe for both you and the envi­ron­ment (N.B. all links go to amazon.com):

  • Stream2Sea — leaves white streaks on the skin like all eco-friend­ly sun­creams, but they wash off eas­i­ly with soap
  • Raw Ele­ments — suit­able for sport in the sun, mois­tur­izes skin
  • Bad­ger — very thick (read: tricky to apply) but excep­tion­al­ly effec­tive and friend­ly to the envi­ron­ment
  • ThinkSport — pleas­ant smell and suf­fi­cient­ly soft feel, leaves behind white streaks, suit­able for sport


If you’re search­ing for options on your own, make sure to use the key­words “coral reef safe”, “cru­el­ty free”, “biodegrad­able”.