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