The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
September 11, 2012

Plastic-Free Sunscreen that Passes the Burning Man Test

As someone with fair skin that burns within just a few minutes, I’ve used heavy duty sunscreen in plastic tubes for years.  And even after going plastic-free, I’ve found sunscreen to be a challenge.  I blogged about sun protection a while back and got some great suggestions from you guys.  And this year, I discovered a couple of companies making all natural, non-toxic, plastic-free (or nearly plastic-free) sunscreen.   I even saw a demonstration on how to make your own!  And what better place to test out various sun protection methods than the hot, dry playa at Burning Man?

Radical States of Dress

Before I talk about sunscreen, though, I want to discuss other practical methods of sun protection.  The first: clothing.  Burning Man is known for radical costumes, as well as states of undress.  Yeah, I saw a lot of nudity.  I also saw a lot of sunburns.  So I decided to be radical in my own way (one of BM’s tenets, after all, is radical inclusion — which must include people like me who keep our clothes on!) and cover up as much as comfortably possible.  No, I didn’t wear a burka.  But I did keep my head covered during the day.

Okay, the goggles (plastic, but secondhand) and bandana are not for sun but crazy playa dust situations like this:

I wore the hat everyday except for one, and I kept my body mostly covered.  I wore a t-shirt and loose, thin cotton pants so that there wouldn’t be too much exposed skin to have to cover with sunscreen.   That was my costume, except for the one day I taught a class on plastic-free living and put together a tutu from plastic recycling I gathered from campsites and a headdress from plastic bag ropes I made from recycled grocery bags.

I should have covered my feet too, not just for the sun but because the playa dust can be very irritating and drying.  Human feet are not supposed to look like this.  I’m just happy that my natural rubber Feelgoodz flip flops withstood the punishment.

So, with my head and body mostly covered, the only areas in need of sunscreen were my arms, feet, ankles, and bits of my face, neck and upper back/chest.  This is important because good, natural sunscreens can be pricey, and it’s best not to have to use a ton in the first place.

Oh, one other item I should mention before moving on… an umbrella.  I didn’t have one, but several people did.  It’s a great way to keep the sun off, as long as you are not prone to losing things, as I am.

Shade is Our Friend

While the playa bakes in the hot sun, clever burners set up comfy shade structures to protect us from those rays.  In addition to wearing clothes, I tended to stay out of the sun during the middle of the day when the sun was directly overhead.  Fortunately, our camp neighbor had created a lovely shared space with hammocks along the walls for people to come and hang out.  There was actually a cool breeze through the structure most days.

Sunscreens!

Okay, if wearing clothes and staying in the shade aren’t enough to keep us from burning, there are some good sunscreen options that are not full of toxic chemicals and don’t come packged in plastic.

BALM! Baby sunscreen:  My new favorite sunscreen is BALM! Baby natural sunscreen from Taylor House (the same folks who make one of the natural deodorants I wrote about last month.)

It comes in a glass jar with a metal lid, and a little goes a long way.  The active ingredient is 35% 24.5% (correction in the comments below) non-nano zinc oxide.  Other ingredients: Olive oil, calendula extract, shea butter, coconut & macadamia nut oil, kukui nut oil, sesame seed oil, candelilla wax, St. John’s wort extract, chickweed extract, neem oil, vitamin e T-50, Organic Essential oils: orange, lavender, tea tree.

It smells fantastic.  And it doubles as an awesome rash cream, for babies with diapers or adults with chub rub.  The main thing is, it worked.  It’s SPF-30, and I reapplied on my arms a couple of times during the day, but that was all.  No burn.

 Avasol natural sunscreen:  Another natural sunscreen is Avasol, which comes in a compostable cardboard tube.  It’s much thicker than THE Balm, and probably more waterproof as a result.  You apply it like you would a big Chapstick.

Here are the ingredients: Natural Zinc Oxide 24.5% (USP, Non-Nano, Non-Coated, Low-Lead), Organic Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil (Virgin Unrefined), Organic Simmondsia chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Organic Helianthus annuus (High Oleic Sunflower) Seed Oil, Wildcrafted Calendilla Wax, Organic Calophyllum inophyllum (Tamanu), Organic Argania spinosa (Argan) Oil, Natural Silica, Natural Theobroma grandiflorum (Cupuacu) Seed Butter, Organic Butyrospermum parkii (Shea) Fruit Butter (Virgin Unrefined), Organic Mauritia flexuosa Fruit (Buriti) Oil , Natural Emu Oil (AEA Certified), Organic Rubus idaeus (Red Raspberry) Seed Oil, Organic Beeswax (Cera Alba), Natural Propolis, Natural Tocopherol (Non-GMO, Soy, Vitamin E) Organic Fragrance Compound Oils, Natural Mica, Plankton Extract -Proprietary Marine Plankton Microalga, Organic Antioxidant / Rosemary, Wildcrafted Leptospermum scoparium (Manuka Essential Oil), Organic Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) Extract, Natural Iron Oxides.

There is one non-plastic-free consideration. While the tube itself has no plastic, it is shipped in a reusable bag lined inside with plastic.   Chris Wilkinson explained to me that the majority of Avasol’s customers want to use the product near the water, and a cardboard tube wouldn’t last long.  So he wanted to create a bag that it could be kept in to protect it.

Chris offered to send me the product without the bag, but I asked him to go ahead and send it the way it would normally be shipped so I can check it out for myself.  I’m guessing that if you didn’t want the bag, you could simply let the company know when placing your order.  After all, one reusable bag might be useful, but you surely don’t need a new one every time you buy a new stick.

Avasol has teamed up with 5 Gyres, an organization researching plastic in the world’s oceans.  If you use the Discount code 5Gyres when ordering, you will receive 10% off and 5Gyres will receive 10% as well.

Make Your Own Sunscreen:  My friend Tracey TieF, with whom I went to Burning Man, taught a class on making your own sunscreen.

Turns out, it’s actually pretty easy.  The basic ingredients are some kind of cream or lotion (made from your choice of oils), some kind of wax (beeswax or vegetable wax), and zinc oxide.  The zinc is what blocks the sun.  The wax makes the sunscreen waterproof or water resistent, depending on how much you use.  Contact Tracey (AnarresHealth(at)gmail.com) for more information or to buy her pre-made sunscreen made with oils selected for their natural sun protecting properties.

Burn without Burning

At Burning Man, there’s a lot of burning going on.  We burned Wall Street.  We burned the Man.  And we burned a beautiful temple.  And while we should discuss the environmental impact of burning wood and other fuels at this week-long extravaganza, I think we can agree that sunburns are an unnecessary kind of burning.  This kind is why we go:

Next Year

I want to go again.  Oh yes I do.  And set up a Plastic-Free Camp.  Interested?  Let me know!

 

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39 Comments on "Plastic-Free Sunscreen that Passes the Burning Man Test"

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[…] Bring plastic-free sunscreen. Here is my review of the two sunscreens I used on the playa — Avasol and Balm! Baby. And also other methods for […]

[…] challenges! However Beth Terry (who lives plastic-free full time!) has some great advice and suggestions for plastic-free suncream. If you do end up buying plastic suncream, I would advise not using a spray bottle – I’ve […]

guest
3 years 2 months ago

BethTerryNow on the Super Salve website they list the active sunscreen ingredients as “5% zinc oxide and 5% Avobenzone”; but on the tin of it I have, it says, “Active sunscreen ingredient Zinc Oxide, Neo Heliopan (comes from cassia or cinnamon oil). So maybe they don’t use octyl methoxycinnamate after all? But are avobenzone and neo heliopan safe or not??

BethTerry
3 years 3 months ago

It’s official! I’m going to Burning Man again this year and will be working with the Earth Guardians and giving a plastic-free workshop.  They will have a giant plastic footprint sculpture.  It’s going to be awesome.  So keep those ideas coming for plastic-free camping at Burning Man.  I am still looking for a plastic-free or less plastic (and at least PVC-free) tent.

3 years 6 months ago

As someone with fair skin that burns within just a few minutes, I’ve used heavy duty sunscreen in plastic tubes for years.  And even after going plastic-free, I’ve found sunscreen to be a challenge.  I blogged about sun protection a while back and got some great suggestions from you guys.  And this year, I discovered a couple of companies making all natural, non-toxic, plastic-free (or nearly plastic-free) sunscreen.   I even saw a demonstration on how to make your own!  And what better place to test out various sun protection methods than the hot, dry playa at Burning Man.

android inside1
3 years 8 months ago

That’s so brave that you tried a new sunscreen in the desert, I will have to make some from your friend’s recipe.  I also have very fair skin and know the consequences of too much sun (including a big scar on my head from a removed benign cancer).  I like how you also discussed shade and covering up.

venomz
3 years 8 months ago

Wow, great to see plastic-free sunscreens! The Balm looks nice… but it looks home-made and the fact that it has 35% zinc oxide [when the maximum allowed in the US is 25%] is troubling. I wonder if it was actually SFP tested? Probably not, since I heard orange essential oil actually makes you more sun sensitive.http://arganoilforhairs.com/

3 years 10 months ago

Great and wonderful pictures too! :)

3 years 11 months ago

heard you on KPFA–love your work!    did you know that topical Vitamin C serves as an excellent sunscreen alternative.  i’ve been using it for 10 years and never burn.  see my writeup, complete with links to peer reviewed studies demonstrating efficacy:
http://wellnessally.net/the-safe-and-skin-nourishing-sunscreen-alternative

3 years 11 months ago

heard you on KPFA–love your work!  you may be interested to know that topical Vitamin C is a fantastic alternative to sunscreen.  check out my article on this–complete with links to peer reviewed studies demonstrating efficacy.
http://wellnessally.net/the-safe-and-skin-nourishing-sunscreen-alternative

Ina
3 years 11 months ago

PLAYA-LUJAH!  I ducked into Play)a(skool to get out of the dust storm and a women was starting a class on homemade sunscreen. Awesome! I’ve been wanting to learn. I had a great time. I left without getting her card. I thought she was lost to the ethers. Up with insomnia & looking at ocean garbage art… lol ! that led me down the web’s rabbit hole and here I am. PLAYA-LUJAH! So glad you did this post because now I found your friend Tracey and my new recipe for natural deodorant. I’m so excited! ~Ina aka The Herbal Contessa

guest
4 years 8 days ago

Super Salve from New Mexico also makes an herbal sunscreen, which is available in tins (and some, sadly, in plastic):
 
http://www.supersalve.com/salves2.html
 
Contains:
Olive oil, beeswax, active sunblock ingredients (organic comfrey leaf oil, African shea butter, jojoba oil, (5% octylmethoxycinnamate, from cinnamon or cassia oil), cocoa butter, sweet almond oil, vitamin E oil, essential oils of lemon grass and citrus.

magdakoper
4 years 8 days ago

Love the posts and that you never run out of ideas. Thank you for saving the marine life.

4 years 10 days ago

Interesting post.  After a couple of incidents this summer I’m moving away from sunscreen altogether and planning to just try to stay out of the sun.  I tried several eco-friendly “sweat-proof” sunblocks and found that they either made me sweat profusely as soon as I put them on (making me want to remove them immediately) or they didn’t last through a normal sweat.  Either way it defeated the purpose.  I might try making my own but I think I’m going to lean more toward staying covered up and using my parasol next summer!

Lisa
4 years 11 days ago

Hi Beth,
Can you use either sunscreen as chapstick?  Does the Avasol look white on your lips?  I’ve tried and tried to find an organic, paraben-free SPF 15+ lip screen (and now adding one that is plastic-free).

SarahKathrynSchumm
4 years 12 days ago

I also stayed completely covered my first couple of burns and gradually got more and more naked. But I could never waste an opportunity to wear day-glo and fake fur in the middle of the day by being totally naked.

SarahKathrynSchumm
4 years 12 days ago

I knew you would love it! I’m hoping I can go next year, but those electric cars don’t build themselves. Now you have a whole year to thrift all the essentials! When I get a chance I’ll show you my very expensive low plastic light up jewelry. 

Guest
4 years 13 days ago

How did you wash the sunscreens off or remove them?

Maeve
4 years 15 days ago

Beth, I’ve been looking in vain for plastic- and toxin-free sunscreen for ages, so thanks a bazillion for this sunscreen info!

surfie999
4 years 15 days ago

curiously we are going back to good old zinc oxide as a sun screen……was the only useful one in Australia in the 1950s and 60s – plenty of photos of kids with white or pink zinc cream covered noses.

4 years 15 days ago

Ooo!  I love that Avasol Tube!  Who makes them?

4 years 15 days ago

That’s so brave that you tried a new sunscreen in the desert, I will have to make some from your friend’s recipe.  I also have very fair skin and know the consequences of too much sun (including a big scar on my head from a removed benign cancer).  I like how you also discussed shade and covering up.

eCoMom
4 years 15 days ago

Wow, great to see plastic-free sunscreens! The Balm looks nice… but it looks home-made and the fact that it has 35% zinc oxide [when the maximum allowed in the US is 25%] is troubling. I wonder if it was actually SFP tested? Probably not, since I heard orange essential oil actually makes you more sun sensitive.
eCo Mom

4 years 15 days ago
@eCoMom Oops! 35% is a typo, as “SFP” was in this reply. It is 25% (to be exact, 24.5%). It is SPF30 approved, in fact, the FDA is passing a new labeling procedure that we take very seriously. I don’t know what is meant by “looks homemade.”. The picture is of a used container & looks creamy to me; but we run a home business, yet are professionals with 4 years experience + years of education. Is it implied that “homemade” is less effective? If so, i can assure you it is not, and in many cases is done with… Read more »
4 years 15 days ago

Beth – glad you made it home safe and sound. It sounds like it was a blast! (pun intended)
I just contacted the Balm Baby people to see where they sell it in Hawaii. I’m on my way “home” next week so I’ll check them out and pick up some of that sunscreen. It sounds divine! Thanks for this. I’m doing a lot of aromatherapy as well, so I may make my own when I get a chance. Great ideas!
 
PS – loving your book. It’s packed with good information!
Beth (the other one)

Kimberly
4 years 15 days ago

Thank you for the sunscreen reviews! Could you comment on how greasy “The balm” and Avasol feel on your skin? Thanks!

mark
4 years 16 days ago

so glad you had a faboo time
 

TraceyTief
4 years 16 days ago

Awesome post, Beth! So nice to see photos, too. I especially appreciate your message that sunscreen can be simple. I’d love it if everyone could make their own, or buy it in bulk and refill their containers locally.

Soohyen Park
4 years 16 days ago

Etsy has tons of choices also.

My Plastic-free Life
4 years 16 days ago

Includes products from Avasol, BALM Baby, Anarres Natural Health.

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