Travel Essentials Series #4: Sunscreen

Sunscreen!  We should all be talking about sunscreen!  More importantly, we should all be WEARING sunscreen!  Did you put your sunscreen on today?

My husband and I have spent a lot of time thinking about choosing the best sunscreen from multiple perspectives: 

1. as healthcare providers

2. the parents of two very fair-skinned kiddos and being fair-skinned ourselves

3. a desire to protect the environment

The conclusion we've come to is that sunscreen is vitally important to our health and can also have a significant impact on the environment, hence this subject has found a prominent place on our list of Travel Essentials. 

We all should be seriously vigilant about the sun and the risks of skin cancer.  Did you know that diagnosis and treatment of non-melanoma skin cancers increased by 77% between 1994 and 2014?  What??!!!  That is a crazy statistic, especially because about 90% of those cancers are associated with UV exposure from the sun  Read more here

I am not exaggerating when I say that choosing a sunscreen is by far THE most challenging thing we have encountered while traveling and here's why: 

Our fair-skinned family has been traveling primarily in spring and summer months as we make our way westward around the globe, therefore protection from the sun is foremost on our minds on a daily basis.  Every day before we leave the house, we begin the sunscreen battle.  The girls are old enough that they want to apply their own sunscreen....sigh.  Which often means a less-than-perfect job is done.  They are also very resistant to putting it on, even though they now know and completely understand why it is necessary.  Sadly, it took a few bad burns for them to figure this out!  While we liberally apply sunscreen daily, our first and most effective defense has been rash guards, long-sleeved bathing suits or shirts and hats.  

But finding a sunscreen that works, isn't too hard to rub in, and doesn't wear off after a few minutes in water has been very difficult.  And don't even get me started on the amount of trash we have produced with all of those non-recyclable, non-reusable sunscreen tubes. 

Here are a few of the sunscreens we've tried:





The majority of these are zinc based.  Why?


1.  Zinc works better

Sunblocks (or mineral sunscreens) with zinc or titanium dioxide are able to BLOCK broad spectrum UV rays, acting like a mirror on your skin and reflecting those harmful rays away.  There are reports that zinc does a slightly better job of this than titanium, without the potential for harm

Chemical sunscreens (containing oxybenzone and many other hard-to-pronounce ingredients) rely on a chemical reaction to filter out harmful UVA and UVB rays and many of those ingredients must be combined in order to achieve that "broad spectrum" labeling you see.  Zinc or titanium dioxide alone are able to provide broad UV protection. To read more of an overview of sunscreens through the Skin Cancer Foundation, click here

For our health, there is current research demonstrating that there may be harmful effects from chemical sunscreens, particularly oxybenzone.   

Worried about nanoparticles?  This is a very informative report on the EWG website.  Essentially, the smaller the particle, the better the sunscreen rubs in, but the greater the potential for harm to your health.  My read on the research is that we should all just accept a pasty white appearance from our sunscreen as the new cool, right?  

2.  Zinc is safer for our oceans

Between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen are estimated to be released into our oceans each year, the majority of which contain oxybenzone.  Holy crap!  That is so much sunscreen!  Oxybenzone is the ingredient believed to be the most harmful (in fact, deadly) to our coral reefs.  In a 2015 article in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, the authors write "oxybenzone poses a threat to coral reef conservation and threatens the resiliency of coral reefs to climate change".  (If reading that article is a little too "science-y" for ya, here's an article from February 2018 in the New York Times.)  Last year lawmakers in Hawaii sought to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone, but were unsuccessful.  So, it's time we take this into our own hands!

What can you do? 

Use sunscreens that do not contain oxybenzone, wear hats and other protective clothing when in the sun.  Keep an eye out for oxybenzone in other products, such as cosmetics, that you use.  Switch to products with natural ingredients.  They're better for you AND the environment!  And avoid those ridiculous spray sunscreens which just spray more sunscreen into the air than onto your body!


What are we doing now for sunscreen?  

Since returning to zero waste in the course of our travels, we have looked high and low for a sunscreen that does not contain oxybenzone AND is zero waste.  What we've found is that there are face applications that come in reusable/recyclable tins, but none that are for body use.  Ugh.  

Our latest experiment are two sunscreens we found while in Australia that are both made there.  And let me tell you, that Australian sun is H-O-T, so I think I'm ready to defer to the Aussies as the sunscreen experts.  Here's what we've found:

  • Surf Yogis

    • all-natural ingredients 
    • packaged in a reusable tin
    • face only
    • zinc-based block


  • Moo Goo

    • All-natural ingredients
    • Not zero-waste packaging
    • zinc-based for body
    • Very difficult to rub in

So far these have been a great combo.  We apply the Moo Goo as a "base layer" on our bodies and faces then add the Surf Yogis as an additional layer to our faces.  You can see the Moo Goo sit on top of your skin, but it does rub in better than many of the other brands we've tried (with no mention of anything to do with nanoparticles).  I feel like it lasts longer too.  

And yes, we continue to prioritize wearing rash guards, hats, long sleeve shirts, etc.  

I hope you found this helpful.  Any sunscreen brands you've found and loved?  Any large zero waste container options for whole body?  Other tips or tricks?

*There are no affiliate links in this post....just our opinions after doing extensive research.  Until we hear otherwise, we will personally continue to avoid products with oxybenzone and choose zinc-based.