Everything You Need To Know About Biodegradable Sunscreen

Sunscreen is important to use to protect ourselves from UV rays – it’s not something we can forgo using for the rest of our lives. And it’s especially important in places that get a lot of direct sunlight, or when going swimming.

Unfortunately, many common sunscreens include chemicals that are harmful to marine ecosystems, especially coral reefs.

To avoid harming the environment and contributing to water pollution, you can swap to biodegradable sunscreen instead!

Biodegradable sunscreen uses natural ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide which don’t harm the environment while still protecting our skin.

What makes sunscreen biodegradable?

Many sunscreen and sun-protection products are toxic to the environment, like those that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. These chemicals are known to be harmful to coral reef ecosystems.

Some sunscreens also contain “UV blocking chemicals or nano-sized mineral particles that are potentially detrimental to coral health”, according to research on sunscreens banned in Hawaii.

The most effective sunscreens use chemicals that are toxic to coral reefs, with just a small amount of these chemicals causing corals to bleach, become susceptible to viral infections, or lose their algal energy source.

Sunscreens which include oxybenzone contaminate water from swimming and beach showers are toxic to coral and algae in the waters. Swimmers using oxybenzone sunscreens are the main source of oxybenzone contamination.

Mineral particles found in sunscreen can produce hydrogen peroxide which bleaches coral reefs and can be toxic to marine life. Different factors contribute to the toxicity of hydrogen peroxide in fish which makes it difficult to manage how much hydrogen peroxide is too much for any one environment.

There are also preservatives used which can be toxic to reefs as well as humans, like methylparaben and butylparaben. Some sunscreens even contain phenoxyethanol, a preservative used as an anesthetic for fish.

This is why it’s important to consider buying biodegradable sunscreens which use natural ingredients instead of synthetic chemicals.

Because biodegradable sunscreens are made with mostly natural or otherwise environmentally safe ingredients, they won’t damage the environment, pollute, or hurt living organisms.

Is biodegradable sunscreen good for our skin?

Biodegradable sunscreens that use natural ingredients are usually better for our skin than traditional sunscreens which use harsh chemicals.

Physical sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide block UV rays from the skin, and they won’t wash off easily because they’re oil soluble.

Physical sunscreens also don’t absorb into your skin, so you’re less likely to react to them if you have an allergy.

Is biodegradable and reef-safe the same?

Reef-safe sunscreens are any sunscreens that don’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate. This doesn’t guarantee that they’re made of entirely natural ingredients, but most reef-safe sunscreens are made from natural ingredients.

They’re also not certified and may not be as eco-friendly as the packaging suggests.

The best reef-safe sunscreens should also be biodegradable, such as those made with zinc oxide. Especially zinc oxide with non-nano-sized particles.

How can you tell if sunscreen is biodegradable?

The best way to know if your sunscreen is biodegradable is to check the ingredients listed. If the sunscreen includes zinc oxide or titanium oxide and claims to be natural or organic, chances are it will. Just make sure to avoid oxybenzone or octinoxate in particular.

Is zinc oxide sunscreen biodegradable?

Zinc oxide is an active ingredient in biodegradable sunscreens which aren’t harmful to coral. As a mineral ingredient, zinc oxide can be found naturally as the mineral zincite. It can also be produced synthetically, directly, and indirectly.

Melting zinc can produce zinc vapor which reacts to the oxygen in the air, producing zinc oxide as a byproduct of the melting process. It can also be harvested by melting zinc ore. In all of these processes, zinc oxide is natural.

Is mineral sunscreen biodegradable?

Mineral-based sunscreens use inorganic material to reflect, scatter, and absorb UV light. The most common mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium oxide. By sitting on top of the skin, the sunscreen blocks UV rays from entering your skin.

Some mineral sunscreens use other ingredients which make them non-biodegradable and environmentally harmful, but most genuine mineral-based sunscreens are safe for the environment.

When buying mineral sunscreens, make sure to look for non-nano particles, as nanoparticles could be absorbed into your skin and bloodstream.

You can even make your own mineral sunscreen.

Which sunscreen is biodegradable?

Despite bans in places like Hawaii, Palau, and Thailand, many sunscreens still use toxic ingredients.

Finding a biodegradable sunscreen shouldn’t be hard but the lack of certifications and regulations around the use of oxybenzone, octinoxate, and parabens makes it difficult to easily check which sunscreens are safe for use.

The main non-biodegradable ingredients used in sunscreen include:

Other ingredients that cause harm to aquatic environments to avoid according to the HEL LIST include:

  • Octocrylene
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Triclosan

Is Neutrogena biodegradable sunscreen?

Not all Neutrogena sunscreens are biodegradable or reef-safe!

While they do have a selection of mineral sunscreens, none seem to use non-nano-particles and their main sunscreen range still use oxybenzone and other less heard of toxins like octisalate and avobenzone.

If you’re going swimming, give Neutrogena products a wide berth to avoid damaging the environment!

Is Bare Republic sunscreen biodegradable?

Bare Republic has a selection of non-nano mineral sunscreens which are “reef compliant”. These include the Bare Republic mineral SPF 50 sport sunscreen stick and their mineral SPF 50 body sunscreen lotion.

The Bare Republic FUNSCREEN products also use non-nano zinc oxide, so these colorful sunscreens should be biodegradable!

Unfortunately, not all their sunscreens are biodegradable or safe for the environment.

Their clearscreen products include avobenzone and octisalate, which aren’t as harmful as oxybenzone but high concentrations can still damage marine life.

Make sure to only purchase their mineral sunscreens to reduce harm to the environment!

Is Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen biodegradable?

Hawaiian Tropic offers mineral-based and chemical-based sunscreens. Their chemical-based sunscreens include paraffinum liquidum, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, and octocrylene.

The mineral-based Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens use zinc oxide and are declared reef-friendly due to not using oxybenzone or octinoxate, but they don’t declare whether they use nanoparticles or not. They also use paraffinum liquidum in their mineral-based sunscreens, making them non-biodegradable.

It’s best to avoid Hawaiian Tropic, as they seem to be partaking in greenwashing: while their products use a seal and claim to be reef-friendly, it isn’t a real certification.

Is Sun Bum a biodegradable sunscreen?

According to Sun Bum, their sunscreens are free from oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate, parabens, phthalates, and formaldehyde. While they sell mineral sunscreens, they do not use non-nano particles.

Avoid their original sunscreen range, which uses octocrylene, octisalate, and avobenzone as their active ingredients. They claim that their original sunscreens are reef-friendly but due to these ingredients they aren’t.

Their reef-friendly and biodegradable products include:

Is Hello Bello sunscreen reef-safe?

Hello Bello is upfront about their commitment to being reef-safe, describing what reef-safe really means for them. They’re clearly aware of which ingredients have been identified as harmful and avoid using them.

Their products use non-nano zinc oxide. Hello Bello products are the best sun care options out there due to their commitment to being reef-safe and lack of chemical sunscreens.

Their best sunscreens include:

Is Australian Gold sunscreen biodegradable?

Australian Gold sunscreens are paraben and PABA-free, but their sunscreens all use octocrylene. While this is only one harmful ingredient, octocrylene in large concentrations can harm aquatic ecosystems.

The use of octocrylene makes Australian Gold sunscreens non-biodegradable. Despite advertising their sunscreens as “very water-resistant”, you should avoid going swimming if you use Australian Gold sun care products.

Is Blue Lizard sunscreen biodegradable?

Blue Lizard sunscreens are mineral-based, using zinc oxide and titanium oxide as their primary ingredients. Some of their products also use octinoxate, one of the most harmful chemicals to coral reefs.

In addition, Blue Lizard sunscreens contain isoparaffin, a petroleum-based chemical, making their products non-biodegradable. They also include phenoxyethanol.

While the sunscreens sold by Blue Lizard are all mineral-based, they have no commitment to being environmentally friendly and it’s possible that they use other petroleum-based chemicals.

Another concerning ingredient is polyacrylamide, which can potentially degrade into a toxin and potential carcinogen known as acrylamide.

Avoiding Blue Lizard sunscreens is best to protect yourself and the environment.

Other biodegradable, reef-safe sunscreens

Hello Bello might have the best sunscreen products for the environment but if you’re not able to buy them you might need more options.

The following sunscreens are reef-safe and biodegradable:

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