Sunburns are the absolute worst. Getting one is the fastest and easiest way to ruin a fun vacation and wind up laying in a bed unable to move. Not only a sunburns extremely painful, they also increase the risk of developing skin cancer. That is why it is super important that we stay safe when having fun in the sun!
There are a variety of ways to keep yourself from getting sunburned that don't involve putting sunscreen on your skin. They are great options if you are able to actually able to put them into practice (and tend to not involve buying anything)!
Wear a hat with a brim to cover your face
Sit in the shade whenever possible
Wear long, loose clothing over your arms and legs
Wear sunglasses with UV protection to protect your eyes
Keep your time in the sun to a minimum
Sometimes though I find myself in a position where sunscreen seems to be a necessity if I want to spend hours outside without becoming a lobster. In those cases, it is important to understand what exactly I am putting on my skin and whether the ingredients will harm me and the ocean. I've done quite a bit of research on "zero waste" or at least "low waste" sunscreen options and I've come up with three brands that I meet my criteria of low waste, reef safe, and human safe (which I've personally tested in the hot sun!)
This sunscreen brand is especially wonderful because you have three options for packaging! You can purchase a sunscreen stick (featured in the above photo) which is great for your face. It is made completely from paper so it is compostable after you finish the product. It works just like a push-pop!You can also get the sunscreen in a metal tin or in a metal pump bottle. The sunscreen in the metal tin is a similar texture to the cardboard tube but containers a lot more and weighs a little more too (something to consider if you are traveling). The metal pump bottle is the only one that has plastic in the container but it is also the smoothest consistency and the least greasy of the options. I have found that the cardboard tube tend to have a thicker formula that is a little harder if you need to spread it over large parts of your body. That's where the thinner formula in the metal pump bottle comes in handy. And if you're like me at all, the metal pump tube can be reused for lotions or make-up remover once you're done with it as well!
Butterbean Organics is based in Florida, USA so it's semi-local! The ingredients in their sunscreens are all certified organic as well as GMO free (not vegan however). They offer all three types of sunscreen with an SPF 30 rating.
Photo: Mason Kale Herbert Suda, @masonkale
This sunscreen brand is unique in that it offers tinted sunscreen. It comes in three different shades (with the lightest one still being pretty white for me!). If you've ever used natural sunscreen, you know it doesn't blend into your skin quite as well. That's due to the fact that natural sunscreen tends to use non-nano zinc oxide and/or titanium which makes it sit on the skin more than the nano particles will in traditional sunscreen. For a lot of people it can be a huge turn off because it makes your skin potentially very white. Avasol though has created a fix for this problem by tinting their sunscreen to be more like a foundation with sunscreen! Their sunscreen also comes in a cardboard tube and is compostable when it's finished. They also offer a metal pump version like Butterbean Organics which is a smoother consistency but contains some plastic. Avasol is also a U.S. based company in California! They offer their sunscreen in both SPF 30 and SPF 50 ratings.
Balm Baby is actually the first "zero waste" sunscreen I tried! It also comes in a compostable paper tube, but it is much larger than the sizes sold by Avasol and Butterbean Organics. Just like the previous sunscreen tubes described above, it tends to be a little bit greasy. However, I found that with its larger size (bigger tube), it was much easier to to put over large parts of my body! The small cardboard tubes sold by Avasol and Butterbean Organics are great for face application but take forever to apply to arms and legs. Balm Baby also offers a version in a glass jar with a metal lid (plastic free!). Their sunscreens are GMO-free as well as vegan and are marked as safe for children of all ages. They are U.S. based and offer SPF 30 for both the cardboard sticks and glass containers! As a bonus, Balm Baby's sunscreen doubles as a great diaper rash cream if needed for the little ones!
Other "Low Waste" Brands
There are also quite a few brands in addition to the three listed above that also offer sunscreen in cardboard tubes or metal tins. Some of them are made outside the of the U.S. so I haven't purchased them and others I just haven't had the chance to try yet! If you're looking for more options, here are some more good companies to consider that have low-waste or plastic free packaging:
It's also very possible to make your own sunscreen! My only advice it to make sure to look for recipes with very similar ingredients to the natural sunscreens I mentioned above. Although it might feel okay to use a sunscreen that still lightly burns you, the likelihood of you developing skin cancer increases immensely. I do not recommend putting only oils on your body or relying on just a specific "diet" to protect you from the sun (unless used in combination with avoiding sun exposure and long clothing). Either put on a long sleeve shirt or make sure you are using a truly protective sunscreen! Given that I have not made my own sunscreen yet, I am not going to recommend any to avoid leading your astray. Feel free to do your own research though and decide for yourself what feels best!