Our resident beauty columnist, Ava Welsing-Kitcher, is ready to answer all your questions.
While sunscreen is hailed as the most essential and protective skincare product, up to 14,000 tonnes of it ends up washing out to coral reefs each year. It’s estimated that rising water temperatures due to global warming are causing the chemicals found in sunscreen – such as octinoxate, oxybenzone, octocrylene, butylparaben, and 4MBC – to bleach the reefs, causing irreparable damage to marine life. Luckily, many SPF brands are making an effort to remove these chemicals from their formulations, opting for physical sun-blockers over chemical. I quizzed suncare pioneer Abi Cleeve on everything about reef-friendly formulas, as her brand, Ultrasun, has always put the issue front and centre. “We’re so proud to be the first suncare brand worldwide to be awarded the BASF EcoSun Pass, which takes ‘reef-friendly’ that much further and means we tick boxes when it comes to all aspects, like bioaccumulation of ingredients, plus toxicity across wildlife and sea sediment.” It’s an issue that needs more research and certifications, and a lot of products claim to be reef-friendly, which is an unregulated term. My advice? Cut through the marketing noise straight to the brands that have a legacy of sustainability behind them, because they’ll be the front runners as everything develops.
This beloved bottle is known as the gateway into sunscreen, thanks to its ability to sink into all skin types and tones without that telltale shine and ashiness. Great for all over (but don’t miss out on the matching body mist), it is sweat-, sand- and water-resistant. The newest formulation involves holding an oil molecule inside a semi-crystallised structure that bursts and blends into the skin for the most even layer of protection and less grease – plus, 80% of it is biodegradable, except for the filters, which have been formulated to have no adverse effects on marine life.
As one of the best brands for sensitive skin, Pai knows how to make sunscreen non-reactive. This formula is packed with botanical goodness and uses the protective power of zinc oxide, which is favoured as one of the least harmful protective ingredients to marine and human life, but may not absorb so well into skin. Here’s where it gets sciencey: if a suncare ingredient is nano, it means its size is small enough to enter our bloodstream and dissolve into the ocean’s water, but if non-nano, like zinc oxide, it isn’t absorbed by our skin and simply becomes part of the ocean’s sediment. “More studies are needed on this, but there are ways to use nano ingredients, like titanium dioxide, at a size that means it doesn’t pass into the bloodstream, but is small enough not to leave residue on top of skin,” explains Abi.
When it comes to choosing physical formulas over chemical, those of us with brown skin collectively groan at the thought of ashy, chalky finishes. “Purely mineral sunscreens can sit on top of the skin, but formulas have come a long way,” Abi counters. “We use a lamellar formula of both physical and chemical UVA and UVB filters that sit just below the skin’s surface and leave no residue.” The Ultrasun range includes clear gels, tints, lightly shimmering finishes and sprays, like the latest addition, which is truly transparent with no need to rub into skin. With plant antioxidants that inhibit infrared and blue-light exposure, it’s also oily-and-sensitive-skin-safe and suitable for vegans.
REN Clean Skincare
Free from oxybenzone, this formula eliminates a top disruptor to marine life and doesn’t appear to have any of the other baddies in the ingredients list. REN’s incredible recycling initiative means it recycles a lot of ocean plastic, and this tube is made from the maximum possible amount of it and can be recycled again. As for the finish, it’s non-shiny, thanks to rice starch and antioxidant with yellow passion fruit seed extract, and it’s safe for sensitive-skin types too. As it’s so mineral-rich, it does take a while to absorb into deeper skin tones, but it’s not as ashy as other mineral formulas.
Our hands are the place where fine lines develop the quickest, and protecting them is something many of us forget but is an absolute must – especially with all the extra hand-washing we’ve been doing lately. This one’s small enough to sit alongside your sanitiser in your bag, is housed in plant-based packaging, 84% certified organic, cruelty-free and safe for even sensitised, roughed-up hands. “Chemicals that mimic the effect of oestrogen are common in sunscreens, having a dramatic effect on aquatic life and coral bleaching,” explains Green People founder Charlotte Vøhtz. Free from harmful chemicals, its mix of non-toxic filters ensure both UVA and UVB broad-range protection.
If the name wasn’t enough of a clue, this one is made for enjoying the beach safely. Sweat-resistant, water-resistant and reef-friendly, it’s been certified by Protect Land + Sea for being safe for the environment with its mix of safe chemical and mineral sun filters. It comes in SPF15, 30 and 50, depending on how long you’ll be exposed for (I usually go for SPF50, to be safe) and is brown-skin-safe when it comes to coverage. Extracts of vitamin E, green algae and coconut make it super-nourishing but never greasy. A hot-holiday must-have.
Coola’s sunscreens have earned cult status, but this one truly stands out. First, with its smooth veil-like finish, it’s one of the best under-makeup formulas. Second, its light milky texture is oily-and sensitive-skin-friendly, with zero fragrance and oil, and will work on texture, greasiness and dullness with my favourite ingredient du jour, niacinamide. And when it comes to being ocean-friendly, it’s composed of 15% non-nano zinc oxide for the ultimate mineral, safety-first protection that’s also Hawaii reef compliant. Add in some organic, vegan and cruelty-free credentials and we’ve got ourselves quite the all-rounder.
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