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The best clean & green sunscreens for summer

May 9, 2021By Bethan Andrews

With so many sun protection products out there that are bad for both our bodies and the world around us, we discover the brands that are doing things the right way – prioritising both clean and green ingredients.

With the increase in awareness surrounding skin damage, cancer and the effects of UV rays on our skin and bodies, people are beginning to prioritise protecting their skin and health in the sun. Of course, this means that the sunscreen market is growing at a huge rate, too, with more and more people opting to spend more and purchase the right products for them. In fact, according to research by Transparency Market Research, the annual global sun care market is predicted to reach nearly $25 billion by 2024 – an increase of 68% from 2015.

While this is brilliant news for our health, it’s alarming news for our environment. As Sustainable Travel pointed out in a recent feature: ‘It is estimated that 14,000 tons of sunscreen end up in the oceans each year. And this is not only from those of us who like to swim in the sea.  The sunscreen that you rinse down the drain when you shower can eventually find its way into the ocean. In addition, the convenient aerosol sprays can spread sunscreen particles across the sand. When the tide comes in, these chemicals can get washed out to sea.’  

But how exactly does it harm the environment and our oceans in particular? After decades of research, the Ocean Foundation has found that ‘just a small amount of certain chemicals is enough to cause corals to bleach, losing their symbiotic algal energy source and become more susceptible to viral infections.’ These certain chemicals are namely the synthetic molecule, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and phenoxyethanol, which was originally used as a mass fish anaesthetic. All three ingredients are also potentially harmful and linked to potential health conditions in humans. 

According to a report underway (expected to be complete this year) by the National Ocean Service, there are specific ways in which these chemicals can harm different aspects of marine life: 

Green Algae: Can impair growth and photosynthesis.
Coral: Accumulates in tissues. Can induce bleaching, damage DNA, deform young, and even kill.
Mussels: Can induce defects in young.
Sea Urchins: Can damage immune and reproductive systems, and deform young.
Fish: Can decrease fertility and reproduction, and cause female characteristics in male fish.
Dolphins: Can accumulate in tissue and be transferred to young.

Some countries are already making waves in the fight against damaging chemicals in sunscreen, though, and Hawaii has become the first to pass a bill banning sunscreens containing octinoxate from its shores (coming into effect this year). This is a direct attempt to put a halt to the widespread coral bleaching events happening across our oceans, and other countries are now starting to follow suit. 

Of course, it’s not just about being reef-friendly and environmentally aware, though. It’s crucially important that your sunscreen protects your skin and nourishes it at the same time. Gone are the days where we plaster our bodies in oil and clog up our pores with chemicals that undo the good work of the sun barrier itself. Instead, it’s about finding a sunscreen that works for your skin, replenishes it and protects it, while also protecting and nurturing our beautiful world. Mineral sunscreens are both environmental and protect our skin, reflecting the sun’s rays away from the surface of the skin like a mirror. 

So, which brands are making waves and leading the way in organic, clean and eco-friendly sun protection? 

Green People

Perhaps one of the leading brands when it comes to environmental development and eco-friendly products, award-winning UK brand Green People’s sunscreen contains over 80% organic ingredients. It’s also free from parabens, alcohol, Lanolin, phthalates, artificial perfumes, petrochemicals, and colourants. What’s better is that the packaging and bottle itself is created using sustainable sugar cane.


Ren Skincare often comes up in conversations about the best vegan-friendly and clean, natural beauty products, so it’s no surprise that their Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 is derived from natural ingredients. The eco-friendly protection offers UVA/UVB and Blue Light protection, with added antioxidants and a vegan, naturally derived formula. UV rays get to your skin even on cloudy days, but their 22% non-nano, naturally derived Zinc Oxide provides protection from both – phew. You’ll find yourself with a perfect summer glow too, but the light won’t bounce off you, as you’ll have no shiny spots, thanks to the mattifying goodness of the product.


Compromising between skincare that is healthy for us but also healthy for the planet is not something that the founders of Caudalie, husband and wife Mathilde and Bertrand Thomas, are willing to do. Hence, Caudalie is also a member of ‘1% for the Planet’ and gives back to the earth a little of what it gives us each day. When it comes to their clean sunscreen, then, their eco-friendly formula is non-toxic and contains no traces of oxybenzone or octinoxate, so will help to protect the marine eco-system and prevent the damage of coral reefs. Rich in organic grape water, this facial SPF will soothe and hydrate skin, while a patented anti-oxidant complex that contains grape seed polyphenols, spruce and vitamin E will address wrinkles, too.


For protection of our precious corals and marine eco-systems, though, you need look no further than Aethic’s sunscreen ranges. Every single ingredient within the luxury product is tested on coral. Having tested individual ingredients and the final formula on coral, mussels and sea urchins, they used scientific evidence to be granted the world’s only eco-compatible sunscreen patent. Sometimes, prioritising one element can lead to the fall-down of another. But, rest assured that Aethic’s three sun filters cover off more ray frequencies to provide broad-spectrum, extremely photo-stable protection for your skin, too.


Known for their natural, vegan products, Tropic are proud to be the first beauty brand in the UK and Europe to be awarded the Protect Land and Sea seal of approval for their entire sun protection range, setting the standard in the industry by ensuring their formulations are safe for the planet and marine life. Their clean sunscreen incorporates a mash-up of green algae extract to protect skin from environmental damage, coconut extracts and vitamin E to nourish and soothe skin and aloe vera, and hyaluronic acid so it sinks into skin the moment you rub it in. They also encourage you, as consumers, to return your empty bottles back to them – which is definitely a winner in our eyes!


This high-factor natural sunscreen is particularly special in its eco-friendly championing, as all their ingredients are grown bio-dynamically by Weleda themselves. If this isn’t possible, they are ethically sourced from around the world. The non-nano mineral UV filters reflect harmful UV rays, and the organic virgin coconut oil and shea butter protect the moisture level in skin. You’ll also find that the fragrance-free formula is clinically tested for tolerance, even for sensitive skins – whether in babies or adults.


London-based Pai’s ethos of effective organic skincare definitely hits the spot when it comes to their SPF range. With a mineral and plant formula, you can benefit from effective sun protection without the irritation. Plus, their non-nano formula is reef-friendly too. The mild formula is also suitable for both acne and eczema-prone skin, and many of their products are specifically created with this in mind. If you have sensitive skin and fancy splashing out a little on your sunscreen, this is the brand for you. The organic face cream contains cotton extract, which helps protect skin from the damage caused by UVB, UVA, Infra-Red and Visible radiation.