Is my sunscreen bad for the environment?

Is my sunscreen bad for the environment?

Is my sunscreen bad for the environment?


Sunscreen is extremely important to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Besides a slight sunburn, which does recover, it can also cause permanent damage such as pigment-related abnormalities. This causes either dark or light spots on your skin that can even grow when your skin gets more exposed. An even worse consequence of UV radiation on the skin is skin cancer. So I’m absolutely not going to tell you to stop using sunscreen. But unfortunately, most sunscreens aren’t that great for the environment, so I would like to advise you to be conscious about your choice of sunscreen.

Harmful ingredients in sunscreen

Sunscreen, like all cosmetics, is made up of different ingredients. Each cream has its own composition and there are several ingredients that can be harmful to the environment.

Microplastics in sunscreen

Microplastics are found in many cosmetics and unfortunately, sunscreens are no exception to this. The danger of microplastics is that they affect the ecosystem in the sea. In addition, marine animals can ingest the plastic pieces, causing their stomachs to slowly fill up with plastic. Because this is indigestible, it remains in the stomach until it’s so full that they can no longer eat and thus starve. Because it’s so hard to filter out of the water, it keeps floating around forever. They also end up in our drinking water and the water used for our crops. So chances are, your portion of vegetables from last night was served with a free load of microplastics. This isn’t healthy for us, either. Yet, it isn’t mandatory for cosmetic companies to disclose the fact that microplastics are in a product.

So, how do you know which products are more environmentally friendly? By paying attention to labels or by using apps that can scan and rate products. An example of such an app is Beat the microbead from Plastic soup foundation.

Sustainable labels

The labels that products without microplastics can have are:

  • The European ecolabel
  • Demeter label
  • Nordic Swan label
  • Cosmos organic
  • Natrue
  • Zero plastics inside

Doesn’t your desired product have a label? Then you could check to see if any of the ingredients listed below are in it. These are known microplastics. Are these ingredients in the sunscreen? Then you know for sure that it contains microplastics. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete guarantee that your sunscreen is plastic-free if it doesn’t contain these ingredients, but at least you know what you should definitely avoid. 

  • Dimethicone
  • Triacontanyl pvp 
  • Acrylates crosspolymer
  • Acrylates copolymer
  • VP/Hexadecene copolymer
  • Acrylates/c10-30 alkyl acrylate crosspolymer 
  • Carbomer
  • Styrene copolymer

Personally, I’ve become a fan of sustainable sunscreen sticks. They are in a cotton wrapper making them light and small enough to put in your purse. And they are fully biodegradable. 

Harmful UV filters

Unfortunately enough, the UV filters that help protect our skin, is the most harmful ingredient in sunscreens. There are all sorts of regulations that ensure that the products aren’t toxic to humans, but unfortunately, little attention is paid to the environment. And this while sunscreen so easily ends up in the oceans. How often do you run into the sea after using sunscreen? Whether that was an hour ago or longer, the cream is designed to stay on the skin for a long time and therefore ends up in the ocean either way.

Which UV filters are harmful?

There are many types of filters and numerous opinions about what is good and bad. The disadvantage in this is that the criteria are mainly focused on what is bad for people, and not so much on what is bad for the environment. To limit the harmful impact of sunscreen on people, there are regulations that limit the percentage of ingredients allowed in the product. In this, chemical filters are the worst and only 3-10% of these are allowed to be added. For zinc and titanium oxide, a higher percentage is set, namely 25%. These filters are seen as a better alternative. Unfortunately, they are still harmful to the environment. Under the influence of the sun, they partly change into hydrogen peroxide, which is toxic to many plankton and fish. This is worse with the chemical filters, but they still aren’t ideal alternatives.

Which UV filters are environmentally friendly?

As I said, there are several ways to calculate the harmful influences. The only one that fully looks at the environmental impact of UV filters in sunscreen is the Nordic Swan Ecolabel. So do you want to be sure that the UV filter is environmentally friendly? Go for products with this label.

Can’t find any products with this label? Then check out the ingredients to make sure you’re making a good choice. Below are 3 lists of green ingredients (the least harmful, some of which are also approved by the Nordic Swan Ecolabel), orange ingredients (not great, but not too terrible) and red ingredients that you should avoid.

  • Benzofenon-5 / Benzophenone-5
  • Benzylideen kamfer sulfonzuur / Benzylidene camphor sulfonic acid
  • Bis-Ethylhexyloxyphenol Methoxyphenyl Triazine
  • Diethylamino Hydroxybenzoyl Hexyl Benzoate
  • Dinatriumfenyldibenzimidazol-tetrasulfonaat / Disodium phenyl dibenzimidazole tetrasulfonate
  • Peg-25 PABA / Polyethylene glycol (25) PABA
  • Fenylbenzimidazol sulfonzuur / Phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid
  • Polysilicon-15
  • Natriumfenylbenzimidazolsulfonaat / Sodium phenylbenzimidazole sulfonate
  • Titaandioxide (nano*) / Titanium dioxide
  • Tris-Bifenyl Triazine (nano*) / Tris-biphenyl triazine
  • Benzofenon-3 en -4 / Benzophenone-3 en -4
  • Kamfer Benzalkoniummethosulfaat / Camphor benzalkonium methosulfate
  • Diethylhexyl Butamido Triazone
  • Drometrizole Trisiloxane
  • Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate
  • Ethylhexyl Salicylaat / Ethylhexyl Salicylate
  • Ethylhexyl Triazone
  • Methyleenbis-benzotriazolyltetramethylbutylfenol (nano) / Methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylphenol
  • Phenylene bis-diphenyltriazine
  • Terephthalylidene Dicamphor Sulfonic Acid
  • 4-Methylbenzylideen-kamfer / 4-methylbenzylidene camphor / 4-MBC
  • Butylmethoxydibenzoylmethaan / Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
  • Ethylhexyl Dimethyl PABA / Ethylhexyl dimethyl para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • Homosalaat / Homosalate
  • Isoamyl P-methoxycinnamaat / Isoamyl P-methoxycinnamate
  • Octocryleen / Octocrylene
  • Polyacrylamidomethyl-benzylideen-kamfer / Polyacrylamidomethyl Benzylidene Camphor

8 Sustainable travel items to bring on your next trip

8 Sustainable travel items to bring on your next trip

8 Sustainable travel items to bring on your next trip


Are you looking for travel items that are better for the environment than the ones you have now? Travelling is great, but it can be very damaging to the environment. Especially when you fly somewhere. However, there are small things you can do to make sure you minimize your impact on your holiday destination. Think about an alternative to plastic bottles or those small one-off plastic shampoo bottles in hotels. Here are 8 tips for sustainable alternatives to take with you on your travels.

1. Sustainable cosmetics

Many cosmetics contain harmful substances that can damage coral, among other things. Everything that is flushed away, whether it is down the sink, toilet or shower drain, eventually ends up in natural water. Much of it is filtered, but ingredients such as microplastics and chemicals are difficult to filter out. Do you know what is in your toothpaste, shampoo, or sunscreen that is harmful to the environment? Go for sustainable alternatives with an eco-label that cause less damage to our planet.

2. Choose environmentally friendly packaging

We now know that plastic is bad for the environment. However, we still tend to take small packaging with us when we travel to save space or because we are only taking hand luggage and are bound by the limits of the airplane. These are almost always made of plastic. Fortunately, there are many alternatives. If you go for sustainable cosmetics anyway, they often come in recycled packaging or are made of glass or biodegradable material. This is always mentioned on the packaging, so just read carefully to find the proper products. Are these containers too big? Then go for reusable travel minis made of silicone instead of the well-known plastic versions. Easy to wash and better for the environment.

3. Ditch the wrapping altogether

Do you want to go the extra mile and be sure that it is allowed on the plane? Then go for packaging-free products such as shampoo bars, soap bars and toothpaste tablets. These products have several advantages. First of all, you don’t have to worry about any bad packaging materials. In addition, these products are made of environmentally friendly ingredients. And finally, they are not liquid products, which means they are always allowed on the plane. No more hassle with 100ml per product, you could fill your whole bag with these products.

4. Reusable products

Do you normally take a pack of moisturizing wipes with you when you travel? Or a plastic bottle with toner and a load of cotton pads? Then you might want to reconsider. Most wet wipes contain plastic, and the cotton pads are sprayed with pesticides to ward off pests. Bad for the environment, but also for you. The same goes for cotton swabs. Go for reusable alternatives instead. Reusable cotton swabs are made of silicone and are easily washable. Reusable cotton pads are made of microfibres and can be cleaned during your trip by putting them in hot water and rinsing them out. At home, simply throw them in the washing machine.

5. Bamboo toothbrush

Most people replace their toothbrush every month. So, that’s billions of pieces of plastic thrown away every month. Fortunately, there is an alternative, made from bamboo. Bamboo is a fast-growing plant, some grow up to a metre a day! That is a lot faster than a tree grows. There are hundreds of different species of bamboo. Some of them are an important food source for, for example, pandas, but there are several species that are not a food source. Moreover, they grow so fast that it has a minimal impact on the environment to cut them. Also, they are 100% biodegradable. A whole lot better than a plastic toothbrush. And while you’re at it, go for plastic-free toothpaste alternatives too!

6. Bamboo cutlery and straw

Do you often find yourself using plastic cutlery or drinking a cocktail? Then you probably have a plastic straw in it. In Europe, this is now prohibited, but not in the rest of the world. All this plastic is awful for the environment, and sea creatures can suffocate from the straws. Fortunately, you can buy beautiful sets of bamboo cutlery and straws nowadays. In a nice package to keep it together and a rag to clean your straw. Just remember to ask the waiters for a cocktail without a straw.

7. Sustainable sunglasses

You are probably not even aware of this, but most sunglasses are made of plastic. Do you regularly buy new sunglasses because you lose them, or do you want to follow the latest fashion? Then you might want to reconsider. Invest a little extra in a nice pair of bamboo or metal sunglasses that will last longer and be less harmful to the environment once you get tired of them.

8. Reusable water bottle

Every year, we throw out billions of plastic bottles, which often end up in nature. In most countries, there’s no proper recycling system, so they just end up in a big pile or in the ocean. To avoid contributing to the plastic soup of other countries, it is always a good idea to bring your own reusable water bottle. But what about in countries where you can’t drink tap water? Then go for a water bottle with a water filter.

The same goes for your coffee mug, by the way. Instead of getting to-go coffee in plastic containers, you can bring your own coffee cup and ask them to serve it in it. This isn’t very common everywhere and might be difficult to explain in a language you don’t speak. But in most cases, they will understand if you show them your cup. Bringing a thermos with your own coffee from your Airbnb or hotel is also an option. Especially nice in countries where the coffee isn’t very good anyway.

.. And many more

I could make this list much longer with sustainable clothing, sustainable deodorant and bags for fruit and vegetables if you like to go to the market during your travels. The most important thing is to be aware of what products you use and what impact they can have on the planet. Wherever possible, go for organic products, as this will ensure that you are at least making a better choice than the average products. Organic products would not exist if the average products were good enough. Most cosmetic shops have organic sections, or go to a fully ecological or wrapping-free shop and just have a look around to see what alternatives they offer. You might not even be aware of the harmful products you are using.

Through the links on this website, you’ll find a whole bunch of my favourite products as well, if you prefer to order online.