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Becoming the ultimate responsible diver is not an easy quest as I detailed in a post of my diving blog where I was listing the things I could do better and the ones that still represented a challenge. However, the good news is, as the interest in embracing a more sustainable lifestyle grows, new solutions appear. Finding a sunscreen brand in shops that would be environmentally friendly by being both reef-safe and zero waste in plastic-free packaging has been my main headache for years. Beyond wearing a UV protected rashguard, I kept on searching for reef-safe plastic-free sunscreen.
As a quick reminder, I cannot stress enough how important it is to protect your skin from UV rays (ultraviolet, UVA and UVB) contained in sunlight. From avoiding painful sunburn to potentially worse in the long run, skin cancer, we need to be mindful about how we practice our favourite ocean sports. The reflection of sunlight on water dramatically increases exposure. This is why scuba divers, surfers or sailors need more than anyone to use broad-spectrum solar protection. In case you didn’t know, anything below an SPF (Solar Protection Factor) of 30 is definitely not enough, and ideally, people with fair skin like me should use SPF 50 sunscreen.
Sunscreen vs Marine life: what’s the problem?
The main culprits? Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. These two chemicals can literally kill coral, there is no other way to put it. Like if global warming and farming runoff weren’t enough, the 25,000 tons of chemical sunscreens released each year in the ocean just make coral bleaching worse.
In recent years, there has been a scientific study battle, to demonstrate whether the toxicity of these ingredients was true or not. With additional research, I learned the main study saying it wasn’t dangerous for marine ecosystems was sponsored by one of the biggest cosmetic brands in the world… why I am not surprised?
But as if it wasn’t enough to learn how to read the labels to detect these chemicals, switching to mineral sunscreen can create other issues. Ever heard of nanoparticles and their effect on your body and marine life? They can also harm you and marine life, so make sure you buy a product that says something like “non-nano zinc or zinc oxide particles”.
One of the biggest problems today is that the claim “reef-safe sunscreen” doesn’t fall into any sort of control or official labelling rule. When you learn the keywords “reef safe sunscreen” have about 100,000 hits every month on Google, you understand why this situation currently leads to shameless greenwashing campaigns.
If you want to learn how to read sunscreen labels, here is the list of toxic ingredients (including their alternative names) you want to avoid in your sunscreen to protect the ocean:
- Benzophenone-1, Benzophenone-3, Benzophenone-8, Benzylidene camphor, Butylparaben, Butylcarbamate, Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane,
- Cetyl, Cinnamate, Cinoxate
- Dimethicone, Dimethyl apramide, Dioxybenzone
- Ensulizole, Ethylhexylmethoxycinnamate
- Hexyldecanol, Homosalate
- Menthyl anthranilate, Meradimate, Methylbenzylidene camphor, Methylparaben
- Octisalate, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Octylsalicylate, Octyl methoxycinnamate, Oxybenzone
- Padimate, PABA, Phenylbenzimidazole, Polyethylene, Propylparaben
- Salicylate, Sulisobenzone
So as a rule of thumb, go for mineral sunscreen (or baby sunscreen as they only use mineral ingredients for these – quite an interesting fact, by the way, don’t you think?). Just make sure they label it as non-nano particles (even if, I know, the claim is impossible to check as a consumer).
For information, as of the 1st of January 2020, chemical sunscreens are now officially banned from Palau in Micronesia. It is the first country in the world to apply such a ban. Businesses could be fined up to $1,000 for selling marine life threatening sunscreens. A few months after, it was the island of Aruba who enforced a similar ban. Soon in 2021, places like Hawaii, Bonaire and the Virgin Islands will have such a prohibition enforced too. Some more localised spots are also following the movement such as Key West in Florida or Xcaret Park in Mexico. New regulations are under discussion in French Polynesia and California, but surprisingly, Australia is still reluctant for such law despite having the largest coral reef in the world.
If you want to explore the issue in more detail, I recommend reading the following articles:
- “Palau is the first country to ban ‘reef toxic’ sun cream” – January 2020 by BBC
- “How L’Oréal is getting the science to sell coral-killing sunscreens” – February 2020 by Up magazine
- “Could banning sunscreen to help save coral do more harm than good?” – June 2019 by The Guardian
- “Hawaii bans sunscreens with chemicals that damage coral reefs, but Australia reluctant to follow” – May 2018 by ABC News
- “A guide to buying reef-safe sunscreen” – September 2018 by No Man Before
- “Does the sunscreen that protects the oceans really exist?” – August 2017 by Coral Guardian
- “Sunscreen” by Made-Safe
My review of Amazinc, a plastic-free sunscreen made in Europe
I don’t know if you noticed on my pictures, but I have quite pale skin. So much that as I grew up near the ocean, people couldn’t help making fun of me. Over the years, as the awareness of skin cancer grew, I finally rolled my eyes less and less. Anyway, protecting my skin from the sun is not something I ever took lightly. When I got my first UV protected rashguard thanks to Aqua Lung, it was a first major relief.
Over the last past years, the market of reef-safe sunscreens grew exponentially, especially in France which is famous for its extensive network of pharmacies selling premium French cosmetic brands known all over the world, so in a sense, this is a good thing. However, every single time I enter a pharmacy for the tiniest prescription, I cannot help feeling nauseous at the massive amount of single-use plastic surrounding me. And to make it worse, each summer there are now posters claiming how each brand is saving the ocean. And what about the other massive threat for the ocean? Plastics!? The hypocrisy is overwhelmingly upsetting.
Most brands will answer that their plastic can be recycled or is biodegradable. But they quickly forget how little plastic is generally recycled and the need of a specialised factory for biodegradable plastic to actually degrade.
Finding a brand of sunscreen that was both protecting the coral reefs and not contributing to the ocean plastic disaster was so hard that at some point, I just stopped buying anything. Unfortunately, you eventually need a bit of sunscreen at least for your face, especially the forehead, the nose and the cheekbones.
At least, the lockdown had some benefits, I had time to do research about brands which would offer the most eco-friendly sunscreen as possible. It also means that no brand coming from the other side of the world (including California and Australia where these products are easier to find) would fit the bill. This is how I finally found Amazinc, a company based in the Czech Republic selling plastic-free sunscreen. As I had planned a full month of hiking and diving in the French Riviera for August, with my fair skin, I thought I was an excellent guinea pig to let you know how reliable their products are.
On their website, Amazinc offers 6 types of sunscreen from SPF10 to SPF 50 all packaged in aluminium boxes/bottles or cardboard sticks. They also have after-sun lotions, a lip balm, a hand balm, body oil and soap which is made without any palm oil. Their active ingredient called “Mineral Shield” is based on zinc oxide, magnesium oxide and lanolin. All products are cruelty-free (non-tested on animals), and except for those containing beeswax (as in the sticks), all others are vegan.
For my holidays in the south of France, because of my super pale skin (especially after an extended lockdown in Paris), I took with me the highest protection plastic-free sunscreen products they had in their range:
- Mineral Shield SPF 50
- Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
- Mineral Butter SPF 30
- Mineral Stick SPF 30
I have tried mineral sunscreen once in the past, but honestly, I cannot say it was a success since it looked like I had put my face in a bowl of wet flour (no kidding!). This is one of the things I was really looking forward to trying with the Amazinc products since they claim their formula blends well with the skin.
The Mineral Shield comes in a tiny 17.5 g metal box and is handy to carry in a small pocket and in a wet environment. I understand why this is the most popular options with surfers. However, I found it was the most difficult product to take from its packaging due to the tiny size and quite hard texture. Once you manage to put it on your face, especially forehead and nose, it has the great advantage to be waterproof, so you are safe for at least half a day. Its colour doesn’t fade so much as you spread it so this is why some blue and green-tinted versions exist as a way to have fun and show you’re an ocean eco-warrior.
The Mineral Sunscreen is a bright white liquid lotion. You have to be careful when putting it in your hand as its super liquid texture can quickly escape from the bottle. As such, it’s perfect for applying it in the morning before going out thanks to its non-greasy texture but not so much on the go. However, I must say I was impressed with the level of protection. On my first day in the sun, I went for a hike to the top of the Esterel-Cap Roux Peak. While the mineral sunscreen leaves a thin white layer on your skin (in my case with fair skin, it wasn’t too much of an issue), I didn’t need to reapply any sunscreen for the 4 hours my hike took directly exposed in the sun. I got no sunburnt (except on the very top of my neck where I forgot to put some, duh!)
The Mineral Butter quickly became my favourite product. With its creamy texture and light pink colour, not too hard, not too liquid, and not leaving a visible white layer, it was perfect to be used as a moisturiser in the morning before going scuba diving.
I also found the Mineral Stick to be super convenient to apply. Its tinted colour was perfect to be safely applied without a mirror. The only issue was when using it aboard a boat, you need to be careful not to get its cardboard packaging wet. I just put it in my waterproof bag together with my camera accessories and batteries, and it was fine. It was perfect as a quick solar protection fix when coming back after diving.
Thanks to my overall positive experience with Amazinc plastic-free sunscreen products, I am more than happy to recommend their brand. The only drawback I found is that their brand is not organic certified. Still, with all their natural ingredients such as almond oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, lavender oil, raspberry seeds oil, tamanu oil, rosemary oil, shea butter or oat flour, I think this is good enough to start with.
Do you know sunscreens are not the only products that can have an impact on the marine environment? Protecting our hair from salt water damage is as essential as protecting your skin from the sun. Brands like Li Lé Blue have worked on a reef safe and plastic-free hair care solution.
What about you? Have you tried other reef-safe brands that were not coming in plastic packaging? What was your experience? Please let me know in the comments!
Here are my other blog post about ocean conservation, sustainable living and responsible travel:
- Successes & failures of an aspiring responsible diver
- My top 3 tips to go plastic-free on your next scuba diving holiday
- Plastic-free & reef-safe: finally, the sunscreen I was waiting for!
- How I became a citizen scientist with “Capturing Our Coast” in Scotland
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This article was written in partnership with Amazinc Skincare, who kindly provided samples for my review. As always, all my views and opinions are my own and reflect my experience honestly.
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