Zero waste sun protection

28 January 2021
Zero waste sun protection

I take sun protection very seriously, all year round. But especially during Summer.

One look at me and you'll know why I do. My skin is fair and covered in freckles. It's prone to burning more than other skin types. I have had many uncomfortable sunburns over my lifetime that can happen within 10-15 minutes.

Once upon a time I relied on sunscreen for 90% of my sun protection. At beaches or pools I would take a rash vest (sun shirt) but would usually leave it off because vanity. I'd wear singlets and tiny dresses when out of the house then forget to reapply my sunscreen. There wasn't a summer without a bad burn somewhere on my body.

It wasn't until I started going plastic free that I changed my sun protection habits. Actually it still took me a while after reducing my plastic to realise clothing can provide most of my sun protection and it was the best zero waste sun protection.

Turns out long sleeve shirts, pants, wide brimmed hats are some of most environmentally friendly and zero waste sun protection steps we can make. And the most obvious too.


Zero waste sun protection

First step - clothing, hat, sunglasses, and seeking shade


During the warmer months when the UV index is high you'll find me covered up in loose but long sleeve clothing and a hat. I find it so much easier than having to reapply sunscreen constantly, which is something I would sometimes forget or keep putting off because it required a bit of effort. These days I only need to reapply to the areas exposed like my face, neck, ears, hands, and feet. I buy all of my clothes and hats from local secondhand shops to help reduce fashion waste.  

At the beach I always wear a long sleeve rashie with matching bather bottoms in the water. When I'm back on the sand I'll slip on a pair of long linen pants (in the photo below), my hat, then sit under the shade of our canvas beach tent to dry off or lay in the sun for a little bit. My whole body is covered and I haven't been burnt in the years doing this.

My current rashie is about five years old and is starting to show signs of wear. This means it's not offering me the best sun protection anymore. Next season i'll be getting a new one. I will look for secondhand but of course be mindful to only purchase if it's in good condition. I know there are many brands selling swimwear and rash shirts made of recycled plastic but as for recycling the rash shirt at the end of its life, well it doesn't seem to be an option yet. I'll have to do a deep dive to find out more.

I discovered Australian made plastic free swimwear and swim shirts made of wool at Swimm and Merino Country as an option. A woollen rashie, another option to look into too!

My sunglasses are made of upcycled wood my husband gifted me buuuuut Op Shops have so many second hand sunnies that you could buy a pair there. Using what we already have is usually the most sustainable and zero waste option. 

Of course shade should be a priority if you are spending a long time outdoors. Find an option that works best for you and your location. Finding shade on a stretch of beach in Australia can be hard so we bring along a secondhand canvas tent. I don't know the name or brand as it was sold without any information. 

Zero waste sun protection
A photo of me post swim with my linen pants pulled over my swimming bathers and rashie shirt on top

Last step - Sunscreen


I don't use much sunscreen. Now before assumptions are made I'm advocating against sunscreen please know I am a big advocate for sunscreen use. Keeping myself covered and staying in the shade helps me reduce sunscreen. I put sunscreen as the last step in my sun protection so I prioritise clothing options first.

I typically apply sunscreen on my face, neck, ears, hands, and feet. These are usually the only exposed areas. 

I have tried the following sunscreens over the past eight years. All have been great with no issues except the zinc getting onto clothes. A bit of a scrub and it does come off.
 

Our kiddo uses one specific for kids. Like his Mum, I keep him in long sleeves and long shorts to minimise sun exposure. Kids are far more covered these days than when I was little, which is great. Although he has inherited his fathers darker Lebanese colouring we are still careful. I find Op Shops have a good selection of long sleeve button shirts for kids that are good for warmer weather to keep the sun out without overheating him. I also find kids rashies in good condition at Op Shops too. My guess is they grow too quickly before they get worn out. 

You would have noticed in my sunscreen list the packaging hasn't always been plastic free. My sunscreen has come in metal, paper and recycled plastic. I advocate for people to choose what works for them regardless of packaging. Sun protection is important. Choose a sunscreen you will use not one that will languish in the back of the cupboard.

We have prioritised reef safe sunscreen but it turns out there is only one verified sunscreen as noted in this article, "Here's what you need to know about your sunscreen and the sea." As the article says, if unsure double check with the brand directly, which is what I will be doing going forward. 

Like most stuff I share on this blog my zero waste sun protection is suited to my own experience and needs. Do your own research, find what works for you and your own beautiful body. 
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