The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission. Why trust us?

10 best eco-friendly sunscreens that protect your skin and help the planet

From luxury to sensitive SPFs, these are the best eco-friendly sunscreen lotions and sprays

Sabine Wiesel
Friday 02 June 2023 16:54 BST
<p>Common ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been found to be harmful to aquatic life</p>

Common ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been found to be harmful to aquatic life

Our Top Picks

You know the importance of wearing sunscreen daily. Not only does it shield us from burning UV rays, but signs of ageing and skin cancer too. Yet, while it’s protecting you, are you aware that some of the ingredients in your favourite formula may be harming our planet?

Increasing research is being published that shows UV filters found in chemical sunscreens are toxic to the oceans, coral reefs and marine life. And when its estimated 14,000 tonnes of sun cream washes up into the sea each year from bathing and swimming that news is worrisome.

In response, an increasing number of tourist hot spots around the world have gone on to ban some of these chemical filters. They include Hawaii, Florida’s Key West, and parts of Thailand, Mexico and the Caribbean to name a few. Closer to home, Holland and Barrett has also stopped selling chemical sunscreens.

Typically, the main banned ingredients are the “three Os”: oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene, though there are other troubling ingredients. And if you’re lucky enough to be going to any of these places, it’s worth noting that “reef-safe and “reef-friendly” terms are not regulated, so the only way to know if your bottle contains any of the banned ingredients is to check the ingredient list.

Another sure-fire way to find an eco-friendly SPF is to stick with mineral sunscreens that use zinc oxide and titanium oxide UV filters instead. That being said, not all mineral formulations are created equally. If you want a truly eco-friendly formula you need to find non-nano or coated ingredients, as nanoparticles can also be toxic to the environment.

Confused? We get it. It’s complicated finding an eco-friendly SPF, but it doesn’t have to be. So, we’ve done the hard work for you. No matter how exotic your holiday destination is, you’ll find truly reef-friendly formulas that are safe to take away with you, as well as ones you’ll want to wear daily at home.

How we tested

A selection of the best eco-friendly sunscreens that we tested for this review

The latest eco-friendly formulas were trailed for a minimum of five days, and marked on ease-of-use, feel and finish to the skin. All are free from oxybenzone, octinoxate and octocrylene and are non-nano formulations making them eco-friendly, so you can enjoy your holiday with peace of mind knowing you’re not causing harm to the planet.

The best eco-friendly sunscreens for 2023 are:

  • Best eco-friendly sunscreen overall –UpCircle SPF25 mineral sunscreen: £24.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best hydrating eco-friendly sunscreen – Malin + Goetz SPF30 sunscreen high protection: £33, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best eco-friendly sunscreen for sensitive skin – Ultrasun mineral body SPF30: £22.50, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best eco-friendly sunscreen for families – Green People scent free sun cream SPF30: £29, Hollandandbarrett.com
  • Best value eco-friendly sunscreen – Hawaiian Tropic mineral sun milk SPF30: £11.25, Amazon.co.uk

UpCircle SPF25 mineral sunscreen

upcircle .jpg
  • Best: Eco sunscreen overall
  • SPF: 25
  • Size: 60ml
  • Features: Antioxidants, refillable

For a beauty brand with exceptional green credentials, turn to UpCircle’s collection of organic, vegan, cruelty-free formulas that use by-products from other industries and are housed in recyclable packaging. A stand-out product from the brand is this mineral face SPF that we found surprisingly lightweight, moisturising and super blend-able, leaving no white cast behind.

Infused with upcycled raspberry seed oil that’s left over by the juicing industry, the formula is also high in antioxidants to fight free radical skin damage. But what makes this even more eco-friendly than its competition is if you send the glass jar back to the brand it will refill it for just £21.99.

  1. £24 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
Back to top

Ole Henriksen banana bright mineral sunscreen SPF30

ole henreksen .jpg
  • Best: Face sunscreen with vitamin C
  • SPF: 30
  • Size: 50ml
  • Features : Niacinamide, vitamin C

The banana bright eye cream and vitamin C serum from Ole Henriksen are so well-loved that we had high expectations for this new mineral SPF, but it still managed to exceed them. Perhaps, it’s to be expected when the UV filters are paired with powerhouse clinical-grade vitamin C in the formula: backed by science to not only protect skin from sun damage but correct it too – making this is a powerful little tube.

It’s light, naturally zesty fragranced and absorbs in an instant without any ashy finish. Instead, it leaves behind a beautiful instant glow thanks to its light-reflecting mineral pigments. It’s further enhanced with skin-hydrating and soothing niacinamide and aloe leaf juice. And of course, vitamin C’s skin-brightening and rejuvenating abilities make this ideal for those concerned about dark spots or signs of ageing.

  1. £28 from Boots.com
Prices may vary
Back to top

Malin + Goetz SPF30 sunscreen high protection

malin .jpg
  • Best: Hydrating face sunscreen
  • SPF: 30
  • Size : 50ml
  • Features : Niacinamide, vitamin E

For those that like a paired-back routine, we found this mineral SPF so moisturising you could skip day cream and use it on its own in the summer months. The hydration comes courtesy of niacinamide and vitamin E, while antioxidants and non-nano zinc oxide work together to protect the skin. Super lightweight, the gel-cream formula absorbs in an instant and doesn’t leave any residue behind – making it ideal for all skin tones and types. And we found it sits well underneath make-up, making it a great everyday base as well as one to pack for the beach.

Back to top

Arbonne mineral sunscreen lotion

arbonne .jpg
  • Best: Sunscreen for a beach holiday
  • SPF: 30
  • Size: 148ml
  • Features: Water-resistant

B corp certified, Arbonne has a long list of ingredients that it doesn’t use in its products including nano ingredients, so this mineral formulation can be trusted to be eco-friendly. Suitable for the face and body, and fragrance-free you won’t find any irritation with this suit all-skin types formula. It’s also vegan and Peta-approved, opting to use a botanical wax to improve product adherence so you can even go swimming for up to 40 minutes before needing to reapply. More plus points, include how easy it is to blend the lotion which leaves a sheer finish without any chalkiness. Meanwhile the added botanical moisturisers make it feel silky soft on the skin.

  1. £32 from Arbonne.com
Prices may vary
Back to top

Green People scent free sun cream SPF30

green people .jpg
  • Best: Sunscreen for all the family
  • SPF: 30
  • Size: 200ml (travel-sized available)
  • Features: Fragrance free

Flying the flag for physical sun creams for many years, Green People has a superb mineral sunscreen offering like this SPF30 that’s also certified organic. Just as the name suggests its natural line-up is fragrance-free, a bonus for those with sensitive skin or those who suffer from inflammatory issues. It’s water-repellent too, making it a great all-rounder if you’re looking for a formula the whole family can use. Plus, we love that the brand gives 20p to the Marine Conservation Society for every bottle sold – a nice touch.

  1. £20 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
Back to top

Ultra Violette lean screen mineral mattifying skinscreen SPF50

ultra violet .jpg
  • Best: Mattifying face sunscreen
  • SPF: 50
  • Size: 50ml
  • Features : Antioxidants, matte finish

In cult-favourite Australian SPF brand, Ultra Violette’s first-rate wardrobe of sunscreens, or “skinscreens” as it calls them, is this mineral formulation designed for not only sensitive but oilier, reactive skin types in mind too. A next-generation zinc-only sunscreen that has a subtle tint and a subtle mattifying effect. It disappears quickly into the skin to leave zero chalkiness and just a comfortable shine-free finish.

Furthermore, it’s infused with Aussie favourite Kakadu plum, rich in antioxidant and skin-protecting vitamin C. Plus, there’s no denying the bright blue and neon packaging adds to its appeal (hence why the brand is often spotted on Instagram too).

  1. £34 from Spacenk.com
Prices may vary
Back to top

Drunk Elephant umbra tinte physical daily defense SPF30

drunk elephant .jpg
  • Best: Tinted face sunscreen
  • SPF: 30
  • Size: 60ml
  • Features: Antioxidants, marula oil

This brand needs no introduction to the beauty-savvy, but if it’s yet to cross your path, you should know that the brand’s philosophy is that its skincare contains no nasties and what it claims to be the suspicious six: essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones fragrances/dyes, SLS and chemical sunscreens. It’s therefore a given, then, that its SPF offering is a mineral formula and a cracking one at that – leaving skin glowing thanks to the added anti-oxidants and virgin marula oil for nourishment.

It comes in a tinted and non-tinted formula, of which our tester prefers the former, and if you’re light-medium skin-toned you will too, as it allows you to skip coverage on top. The very fair might just find it too dark, so should stick to the non-tinted – as should darker skin tones.

  1. £33 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
Back to top

Ultrasun mineral body SPF30

ultrasun .jpg
  • Best: Sunscreen for sensitive skin
  • SPF: 30 and 50
  • Size: 100ml
  • Features: Water resistant, high UVA filter

With over 30 years in the sun cream business, we’ve lost count of how many outstanding SPF formulations Ultrasun has come up with over the years – and we’re including its mineral sun cream for the body in that. Simply work it into the body and watch it disappear to leave a mattifying effect. Available in SPF30 and SPF50 to protect you from skin-burning UVA rays, this also provides a high UVA filter of 95 per cent against ageing and damaging rays. On top of that, it promises to protect against infrared-A and blue light. This one covers all bases.

  1. £22 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
Back to top

Hawaiian Tropic mineral sun milk SPF30

tropic.jpg
  • Best: Value sunscreen
  • SPF: 30
  • Size: 100ml
  • Features: Tropical scent, water-resistant

One pump of this, like all Hawaiian Tropic products, transports you to a tropical paradise – so if you’re a fan of coconut-fragranced products this one is for you. The ultra-light, and yes you guessed it, “milky” texture, disappears in an instant on the skin leaving a mineral shield of zinc oxide to protect you from the sun. We were super impressed with this accessible, affordable and effective offering from the brand, and all without any harmful ingredients to the ocean and sea life. So if you pair it with the face formulation, you have the perfect holiday-packing duo.

  1. £11 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
Back to top

Caudalie vinosun protect invisible high protection spray

caudale .jpg
  • Best: Easy-to-apply sunscreen
  • SPF: 30 and 50
  • Size: 150ml
  • Features: Spray formula

While this isn’t a mineral SPF, it’s still eco-friendly as it only contains reef-safe chemical filters. Plus, extra green points go to Caudalie as it’s are part of the 100 per cent plastic collect initiative – collecting and recycling as much plastic from the oceans as it generates as a brand.

The formula contains polyphenols, an antioxidant shield, exclusive to the brand that comes from grape-seed extracts, as well as vitamin E to offer a light, fluid spray lotion that is easy to apply on the whole family (apart from children under three) and looks invisible in an instant. This one is for those that love a rub-free formula.

Use discount code “22NC” for 22 per cent off the best eco-friendly sunscreen at Lookfantastic

Back to top

Eco-friendly suncream FAQs

Why choose an eco-friendly sunscreen?

“The biggest concern about SPFs for the planet is the pollution that it does to the oceans, thus affecting the ecosystem of these delicate environments,” explains Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics Skin Clinics.

According to The Ocean Foundation, an estimated 14,000 tons of sunscreen is believed to be deposited in oceans annually and it’s a big problem: protectants, preservatives and parabens found in chemical sunscreens, which wash off into the water, can endanger marine organisms and contribute towards coral bleaching.

What is an eco-friendly sunscreen?

So, what should we be considering when opting for an eco-friendly, or reef-friendly, sunscreen? Well, the first thing worth noting is that “reef-friendly” and “reef-safe” are not regulated terms. Generally speaking, though, eco-sunscreens are natural alternatives to traditional sunscreens: they are biodegradable and made of non-toxic ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which block the sun’s UV rays and include safe synthetic filters.

The most common mineral sun filters – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are known to leave a white cast, so this can be an issue for darker skin tones, but with formulas becoming more advanced, a good rubbing in will usually make any white, chalky residue disappear.

Dr Perry also shares this useful piece of advice: “When looking for a coral-friendly sunscreen, ideally you’re looking for ones that don’t have oxybenzone and octinoxate ingredients, as these are known to cause the most damage to coral reefs.”

You should look out for the SPF rating of at least 30 for UVB, HEV filters to protect against blue light and, ideally, a five-star rating for UVA.

What are the skincare benefits of an eco-sunscreen?

“Eco-sunscreen is particularly suitable for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions such as eczema,” says Dr Lakhani, cosmetic doctor and skin care specialist at Harley Street’s Cranley Clinic. “Also, if you’re prone to sun rash or other issues like prickly heat, then eco-sunscreen can be particularly beneficial.”

The verdict: Eco-friendly suncreams

For an eco-friendly face sunscreen suitable to wear every day you can’t go wrong with any of the featured formulas, but our best buy goes to the UpCircle SPF25 mineral sunscreen for all its green credentials including using upcycled ingredients, its fully recyclable packaging and the fact that it’s so easily refillable.

If you’re looking for a one for easy-packing, Green People have a good range for all the family to enjoy, but for value, Hawaiian Tropic can’t be beaten.

For more sustainably sourced products, read our guide to the best vegan and cruelty-free skincare brands

Voucher Codes

TUI Discount Code
Up to 7% off all online bookings at TUI
ASOS Discount Code
20% off everything with this ASOS app discount code
Travelodge Discount Code
5% off all bookings with this Travelodge discount code
The Perfume Shop Discount Code
15% of all orders with The Perfume Shop birthday discount
The Body Shop Discount Code
20% off everything with The Body Shop discount code
Domino's Voucher Code
Get 40% off mains, sides, and desserts - Domino's voucher code

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in