What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

Who Needs Biodegradable Sunscreen and Where to Buy It

Man putting sun screen on woman
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If you have booked a cruise to, say, Mexico for sand and surf fun, you have likely been given a recommended packing list by the cruise line. As you go over the list, you'll probably make a mental checklist of the items that you already have and the items that you don't. Among the items that you probably don't already have is biodegradable sunscreen, a special type of sunscreen that is now required by some tourist destinations.

What Is Biodegradable Sunscreen?

It is a common misconception that biodegradable sunscreen is regular sunscreen that's sold in a biodegradable bottle. Biodegradable sunscreen is actually a type of sunscreen that is free from a majority of the chemical ingredients that are often found in regular sunscreen. It is considered to be eco-friendly in that it will not damage plant and animal life as it washes off during swimming, surfing, stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, or scuba diving. For some sea excursions that are popular among tourists (mainly during scuba diving excursions in Mexico), biodegradable sunscreen is a requirement and non-biodegradable sunscreens are confiscated.

Ingredients in biodegradable sunscreens vary based on the manufacturer, but they are free of the following chemical ingredients that are known to harm the ecosystem when they degrade: PABA, octinoxate, oxybenzone, 4-methylbenzylidene, camphor, and butylparaben.

Is Biodegradable Sunscreen as Effective as Regular Sunscreen?

Yes, when they're used correctly, biodegradable sunscreens are just as effective as regular sunscreens. Most biodegradable sunscreen brands offer several varieties of SPF (sun protection factor, like 15, 30, or 50), just like regular sunscreen brands.

The consistency and drying time of the sunscreen may be different from what you are used to, so be sure to follow the manufacturer's directions for application and reapplication. Some people find that biodegradable sunscreen is thicker or dries faster than regular sunscreen, but this depends on the brand.

It's a fact that skin cancer is caused by exposure to the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Applying sunscreen often and correctly greatly reduces your risk, regardless of its eco-friendly status. It is well worth the effort to find biodegradable sunscreen if you are going to an area that requires it to swim. Many people think they will just go without sunscreen if they cannot find biodegradable sunscreen, but this may put them at risk for severe sunburns that require medical treatment. These tropical locations often have high UV indexes that result in painful sunburns in people who are not wearing sunscreen.

Should People With Sunscreen Allergies Consider It?

A dermatologist may recommend a biodegradable sunscreen for a person whose skin is allergic or sensitive to regular sunscreen, but this certainly isn't the only option for people who have allergies. Many people have a specific allergy to PABA, an ingredient that's found in most sunscreens, so choosing a PABA-free sunscreen may be sufficient for everyday use—even if it's not biodegradable.

Some people may find it helpful to have a skin patch test done by a dermatologist to determine what specific ingredient they are allergic to.

Where to Buy Biodegradable Sunscreen

Unfortunately, most stores don't carry biodegradable sunscreen as readily as regular sunscreen. The Internet and health food/organic specialty stores are generally your best bet when looking for biodegradable sunscreen. It may be sold at your travel destination, but remember that it may cost considerably more there than if you purchased it online or in a store near your home.

Look for labels that say "biodegradable." PABA-free sunscreen is not always the same as biodegradable sunscreen because it may contain other chemicals that are not environmentally friendly.

Popular brands of biodegradable sunscreen include:

  • Mexi-Tan
  • Caribbean Solutions
  • Nature's Gate
  • Kiss My Face
  • Hawaiian Tropical biodegradable lotions

Of course, these are not the only biodegradable sunscreen brands, but the ones listed above are widely marketed and may be easier to find.

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