Today’s blog is in response to questions we received about our article on vegan sources of vitamin D where we said it is important to have some regular sun exposure ideally without protection. Whilst this is true we did clearly state that this is only for very short periods and you should never allow yourself to burn. When spending any length of time outside it in the sun then of course sunscreen is essential. That being the case what should we be looking for, what is the best vegan sunscreen? Let’s have a look.
Sunscreen, or suntan lotion as my mum always used to call it. By now we should all be aware how important it is use a good sunscreen to protect our skin from damage. The effects of over exposure to the sun aren’t just the short-term discomfort of sunburn and a ruined holiday but also the increased risk of skin cancer in the future.
But what is a good sunscreen? I must admit I didn’t really know. I have been vegan now for almost a decade and we had used the same “eco-friendly” sunscreen without really knowing what that meant or even considering if it was vegan. That was until we had to buy more. It was then I realised it wasn’t so simple because eco-friendly doesn’t mean vegan, and in the case of sunscreens vegan doesn’t mean eco-friendly. In fact, it turns out that working your way through ethics of sunscreens can be a surprisingly complex issue. Let’s find out why
Why isn’t my sunscreen vegan?
Like most cosmetics there are two distinct areas that stop a product being vegan. The first is if it contains animal derived ingredients and the second if it has been tested on animals. It is worth remembering that marketers are clever and want us to buy their products. Just because something is “natural organic” and comes in recycled green packaging doesn’t mean it is vegan or even environmentally friendly.
So, what do we need to look out for? Well many sunscreens contain animal-derived ingredients. Some of the most common are:
- Beeswax, often used as an emollient.
- Chitin, which comes from the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects.
- Collagen, found in animal connective tissue, usually from cows, pigs or fish.
- Elastin, found in animal artery walls, intestines, lungs and skin.
- Lanolin,the animal fat extracted from sheep’s wool.
- Stearin or stearic acid, derived from the fat of cows, sheep or pigs.
Then there is animal testing. The good news is that the EU banned the sale of cosmetic products containing any ingredient tested on animals back in 2013. The bad news is that there are still global brands that continue animal testing for items sold outside the EU. This is particularly true in China where not only are cosmetic products tested on animals but is actually compulsory for them to be able to be sold legally. So, the advice check your brand and if you want to be sure pick a vegan approved products.
And the environment, what is reef safe?
Ok so you have found a vegan sunscreen and you are happy with the ethics of the brand but what about the environment and what is reef safe? Well one of the biggest problems posed by sunscreens is the effect that they have on our reefs.
There have been a range of studies undertaken to see how sunscreen interacts with coral reefs and marine life. In 2015, a scientific study found that many sunscreens have negative effects on corals and other marine life. Not only do some of the ingredients harm the reefs themselves and limit their ability to grow, but in certain areas of the world, sunscreen has been responsible for extensive coral bleaching. The key culprit is the ingredient Oxybenzone, which is found many sunscreens.
However other ingredients including Butylparaben, Octinoxate, 4-Methylbenzylidine Camphor have also been shown to have negative effects on both reefs and marine life. So, what is the solution, well it is to avoid chemical sunscreens that have any of the above ingredients. Instead, ideally opt for a mineral version and look for sunscreens that are reef friendly.
Sun screen acronyms and marketing speak
Like many cosmetics sunscreens often carry a range of acronyms, technical terms and marketing jargon. Let’s see what they mean and find out what’s important.
- UVA and UVB: There are two types of sun’s rays UVA and UVB. UVA is the most prevalent and accounts for about 95% of the earths UV radiation. It is UVA rays that we are exposed too much more frequently and that penetrate the skin more deeply to cause aging and wrinkling. The easy way to remember this is use the A is for Aging. UVB on the other had is what causes us to burn and plays a key role in the development of skin cancer. The trick here is to remember B for burning.
- SPF: Stands for sun protection factor and measures how well your sunscreen guards against UVB rays. The number is supposed to measure how much longer your can skin can be exposed to sun without burning. So, an SPF of 15 means your skin can be exposed 15 times longer than without protection and an SPF 30 obviously 30 times longer.
- Chemical sunscreens: Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays in the same way that a sponge would. However, most chemical sunscreens contain at least one of the ingredients that are responsible for damaging corals. In fact, in 2018 Hawaii became the first US state to ban the use of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
- Mineral sunscreens: Mineral sunscreens work by simply covering the skin and reflecting UV rays away from the body. They are sometimes known as physical sunscreens because they provide a physical barrier between the skin and the sun’s rays. The minerals most often used are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Cruelty free sunscreen: Cruelty-free of course means that a product isn’t tested on animals. It does not mean it is vegan or environmentally friendly.
- Natural and healthy sunscreens: Now we come to the marketing speak. Neither of these terms are actually regulated to be sure to check both the ingredients and the brand.
- Reef safe and eco-friendly: Both of these should be ocean and reef safe, however neither term is regulated although manufacturers are required to provide justification for using the terms if challenged. So, both options should be free of oxybenzone and octinoxate, the two main chemicals responsible for damage to marine life and corals. It does not mean they are vegan and checking the ingredients is recommended.
So which one to buy?
So which is the best vegan sunscreen? Well now we have all the information it should be fairly easy, right? Well to choose a vegan option yes, but when we take in to consideration the environmental factors not quite so much. You see while most vegan sunscreens avoid the major culprits they often do still contain ingredients that may be harmful to marine life. Conversely, when we look at those that are guaranteed “reef safe” we find they often contain beeswax.
Below I have given you three options and it will be for you to decide which you think is best. The first on our list is the one that we use and was recommended by the vegan society. The only negative for us is that it is only an SPF of 15. However, we don’t take excessive amounts of sun and I always remember an advert from when I was in Australia that it is worth sharing.
It was Slip, Slap, Slop. Slip on a shirt, Slop on the sunscreen and Slap on a hat. A message we should all remember when it comes to sun exposure.
So, The Green People SPF15 Edelweiss Sun Lotion is what we went for in the end as it was recommended by the vegan society and to be honest we have no intention of changing. It smells really nice is easy to apply is of course vegan and reef safe. The majority of the ingredients are organic and it also contains an ingredient extracted from carob that is supposed to speed up natural tanning. The only negative for us is that it is only SPF15 and their SPF30 is not vegan because it contains beeswax.
The Odylique natural sunscreen was highly recommended to us by a friend but unfortunately when we wanted to try it, it was out of stock. It’s vegan, reef friendly and was the first sunscreen to be both organically certified and approved by the Fairtrade Foundation. All the packaging is recyclable and with an SPF30 it would likely have been my number one recommendation if I had been able to try it. If you are able to find it in stock I would definitely give it a go.
The Jason Family Natural sunscreen is another vegan option and this time with a higher protection of an SPF45. As well as being reef safe it is water resistant, hypoallergenic and they claim is ideal for both sensitive and children’s skin. We haven’t tried it but if you are looking for a higher protection for the family then this could be your best option.
Well I hope that’s help you understand a little more about sunscreen, some of the terms used, and why many are not vegan or environmentally friendly. If you try one of the three options be sure to let us know how you get on. Or of you have found a vegan sunscreen that you are happy with let us know so we can share it. And most of all enjoy the sun and be safe.