With our planet being ravaged by climate change, insatiable consumerism, pollution, and unsustainable business practices, now more than ever it’s important to be conscious of where and how we spend our money.
Our spending habits are one of the few things we have control over, and although buying zero waste products is not a substitute for systemic change, at least it’s something that you as a consumer can directly effect.
As a rule of thumb, I say that if it’s a product you buy frequently, such as dish soap, laundry detergent, or sunscreen, looking for a zero-waste version is the way to go. It’s certainly better than the alternative of repeatedly buying unsustainable products from irresponsible companies!
Finding a high-quality zero-waste sunscreen can be challenging, to say the least. They are often exuberantly expensive and cosmetically inelegant. To make your life a little easier, I’ve put together a list of some of the best zero waste, plastic free sunscreens, (all of which contain non-nano mineral filters only, because we care about our oceans) I hope it’ll be helpful, and will make finding your next favorite sunscreen a breeze.
1. Raw Elements Face and Body
Almost all the sunscreens on this list are from the same brand. This is because zero waste sunscreens are hard to find, and many of the available options have terrible product formulations that I refuse to recommend. It’s also because Raw Elements, the brand in question, makes awesome products that I have used and love, and all of their products are organic, reef safe, cruelty free, and contain only non-nano zinc oxide as their UV filters.
Their Face and Body Sunscreen is my go-to zero waste sunscreen balm. It’s SPF 30, non-irritating, and doesn’t break me out. (which is saying a lot for my sensitive, acne prone, and eczema prone skin) I use this balm on my body, primarily because I like a more lightweight feeling sunscreen on my face.
It lasts for a long time and doesn’t run, even when exposed to water or high humidity, and comes in a durable metal container that is easy to carry around. That’s not all – its formulation is *chef’s kiss* amazing. It includes ingredients such as organic sunflower oil, green tea extract, black tea extract, hemp seed oil, cocoa butter, mango butter, vitamin E, and tons of other goodies.
2. Raw Elements Baby and Kids
If you’re looking for a sunscreen that’s kid friendly, or you have extremely sensitive skin that needs extra occlusives and emollients, Raw Elements Baby + Kids is the sunscreen I’d recommend to you. It’s very similar to their face & body balm – same texture, same quantity, same SPF – but it comes with a few extra ingredients that make it more friendly for delicate skin. These include:
- Coconut oil
- Chamomile extract
- Calendula extract
Coconut oil is an amazing ingredient that’s chock-full of crucial fatty acids, and that does an incredible job of both providing and locking in moisture, but keep in mind that it is comedogenic and pore clogging for some individuals. If you never get clogged pores, or you’re buying a sunscreen for a kiddo, this would be a great balm to consider.
3. Raw Elements Lifestyle Pump
I love raw elements’ balms, but I much prefer their sunscreen pump for facial use. It’s a cream instead of a balm, is more cosmetically elegant, easier to spread, and more lightweight whilst still providing the same SPF coverage and stellar ingredient list. Some of its star ingredients include argan oil, rapeseed oil, and radish root ferment.
It’s not quite zero waste (it’s packaged in a 75% plastic-free recyclable container) but it’s the closest I have ever come to finding a zero-waste facial sunscreen, and it’s a great sunscreen for those trying to ease into a sustainable lifestyle.
4. Raw Elements Tinted Pump
This pigmented sunscreen is very similar to Raw Elements’ pump sunscreen, the only major difference is that this one is tinted!
Physical sunscreens are notoriously unfriendly for darker complexions, and although they’ve gotten better in recent years, it’s still difficult to find a good sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast. This is doubly true in the market of sustainable sunscreens, where the options are very limited.
This sunscreen pump is one of the very few zero waste sunscreens that don’t leave a noticeable white cast, so if you’re looking for more seamless looking protection, or what a little extra coverage, this product fits the bill.
5. Raw Elements Sunscreen Stick
This is hands down the best zero waste sunscreen for young children, tattoo collectors, and frequent travelers. It’s a gentle sunscreen stick that is specifically formulated for sensitive skin, and out of all the sunscreens on this list, it is the easiest to apply.
I’m an avid traveler, and applying sunscreen is more often than not inconvenient. My hands, as much as I try to keep them clean, seem to be perpetually filthy, and applying sunscreen with filthy hands is zero fun. This is why sunscreen sticks are my favorite way to apply sunscreen on the go – they’re way more sanitary and are a hell of a lot easier to apply.
Sunscreen sticks’ easier, faster, and more sanitary application also make them especially convenient for individuals with tattoos and young children.
Anyone with tattoos knows that the better you take care of them, the longer they stay looking fresh. Sun exposure is the number one contributor to prematurely aging tattoos, so reapplying sunscreen throughout the day is a must for me. Sunscreen sticks make this a whole lot easier.
And if you’ve ever tried applying sunscreen to a young child, you know how much of a pain it can be. Sunscreen sticks make this a less frustrating experience for the both of you.
6. Reef Safe Lip Balm
Your lips are one of the most sensitive places on your body and are very susceptible to damage from UV rays. As such, they are more prone to skin cancer. They’re also one of the least protected parts of the body because most people overlook applying lip balm with SPF protection.
Wearing a lip balm with SPF won’t just prevent skin cancer, either – it’ll prevent a very uncomfortable sunburn. I can tell you from personal experience that it happens easier than you’d think and is no fun. Think chapped lips, but worse.
Finding a zero waste lip balm, as of now, is almost impossible – believe me, I’ve tried. There’s only one that I have found and like, and I like it so much that I’m more than happy to share it with you. Reef Safe’s Lip Balm is a plastic free, 100% biodegradable chapstick that is packaged in an unbleached 100% recyclable paper tube.
It not only provides sun protection, but does a superb job of treating and preventing chapped lips as well. It is SPF 15 (containing exclusively non-nano zinc oxide), contains moisturizing ingredients such as coconut oil, beeswax, apricot kernel oil, and shea butter, and doesn’t leave any sort of white cast.
7. Women’s Sun Tops
Wearing clothing with ultraviolet protection is my favorite “sunscreen”. They are just as effective at preventing UV damage as traditional sunscreens, don’t have to be reapplied, only have to be purchased every few years or so, and will last even longer if you buy durable, high-quality products.
If you want to take it even farther, you can buy apparel with ultraviolet protection that are made of natural fiber, so they are biodegradable and eco-friendly. This is my preference, and I’ll share with you some of my favorite clothes and accessories with an ultraviolet protection factor of at least fifty. (which blocks 98% of the sun’s rays)
Each of these tops are UPF 50+, made of a cotton/bamboo-viscose/spandex blend, and are machine washable and dryable. Both feel lightweight, soft, and are super comfortable. I’ve also found them to be much better than normal shirts at temperature regulation on hot, sunny days.
The long sleeve tee is very multipurpose and goes well with pretty much any outfit or occasion. Lounging, exercising, date night, day at the beach, you name it. My favorite of the two is probably the cardigan though, just because I wear it most and love wearing cammies underneath it.
8. Men’s Sun Top
This polo is made by the same brand as the two shirts I recommended above. Its name is Coolibar, and I buy pretty much all of my UV protection apparel from them. (they’re one of the few brands that make uv protective clothing out of sustainable fibers) This shirt has an ultraviolet protection factor of 50+, is made of a cotton/bamboo-viscose/spandex blend, and is machine washable and dryable.
9. Women’s Sun Pants
These leggings are my go-to UV protection bottoms. They are great for lounging, dressing up, hiking, exercising, and wearing on a plane. (which is extremely important, the altitude at which you fly in an airplane is too high to reach the point where UV rays can be filtered out by lower atmospheric levels, so you are much more susceptible to UV damage.)
They’re made of a cotton/bamboo-viscose/spandex blend, are soft and breathable, are long enough to accommodate my tall frame, and are not see-through in any of their color options.
10. Women's Sun Dress
This is a versatile dress that I’m a big fan of. It’s casual enough to look and feel comfortable, but avoids looking too casual, as if you just crawled out of bed. It’s made of cotton/bamboo-viscose/spandex blend, has two pockets (yay!), and is lightweight and easy to pack.
11. Sun Shawl
I consider myself somewhat of a shawl collector. I always bring one with me when I’m traveling, and I love how multi-purpose they are – they can be used as anything from a cute cover up, blanket, or scarf to a makeshift grocery bag.
This one is my favorite UPF 50+ version. It’s cute, super soft, does an awesome job at regulating temperature, and is light weight while still being big enough to drape over my shoulders. It’s comprised of a cotton/bamboo-viscose/spandex blend, and 10/10 would recommend.
12. Sun Hat
Out of all the upf 50+ apparel I own, sun hats are the ones that I wear most frequently. I wear them pretty much anytime I’m leaving my house, unless I need to be somewhere with neat hair. Going for a day hike or a seven day backpacking trip? Sun hat. Grocery store? Sun hat. Watering my plants? Sun hat. Getting the mail? Sun hat.
Wearing them is an easy and effective way to prevent sun damage and premature aging, and I use them in combination with a facial sunscreen daily. They’re also a cute addition to any outfit if you find a stylish one and keep my head cool in even the sunniest weather.
This sun hat is collapsible and easily packable, making it ideal for travelers and backpackers. It’s made of eco-friendly recycled paper, is UPF 50+, and comes with a detachable chin strap, which is very important to me – I’ve actually lost hats before from strong winds, and now exclusively buy sun hats with straps.
One of the best parts of this hat, and the reason I recommended it so much, is the fact that it is adjustable. If you have a rough time finding hats that fit your head correctly, this one might just do you right.
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Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.