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Is sunscreen bad for the environment?

Our goal is to make sunscreen a daily routine, without being a burden for the planet. But what sort of a burden does sunscreen create?

While everyone is talking about environmental protection and sustainability, the question arises: What role does sunscreen play for the environment and how can the ecological footprint of UV protection be kept to a minimum? From the formulation to the packaging, we pay lots of attention to reliable sun protection while taking environmental compatibility into account.

Biodegradable Ingredients

Like many other cosmetics and personal care products, sunscreens and their ingredients end up in our groundwater through washing off and in seawater through other pathways. And here is the problem: some of the ingredients found in sunscreens are difficult or impossible for the environment to break down, and can lead to reduced water quality and possibly contribute to the extinction of species in larger bodies of water. This makes it all the more important, not only for your own health, but also for environmental reasons, to avoid harmful, unnecessary ingredients in sunscreen. While some of these substances are better known than others, such as microplastics or silicones, the list of potentially damaging ingredients in sunscreens can be considerable: polymers, PEGs, acrylates, octocrylates, benzophenones, mineral oils and, not to forget, parabens. The PFAS group of substances (perfluorinated and polyfluorinated alkyl substances) is also considered particularly harmful to the environment. PFAS remain in the ecosystem for generations and are thus referred to as eternity chemicals. 

There are many substances that are harmful to the environment, and this can make the choice of cosmetic products quite difficult for consumers. But help is at hand! The Internet platform of the startup dermaplastik offers help here: The website lists over-the-counter skin care products from pharmacies that contain neither microplastics, liquid polymers, endocrine disruptors nor PFAS. Furthermore, after scanning the EAN, the apps from Codecheck, BUND and Yuka show the ingredients of the corresponding products and pointed out substances of concern.  

eco elio does not contain any of the substances mentioned above. In addition to solid microplastics, liquid polymers have also been completely eliminated. Instead, the formula consists of materials that are as natural as possible. With the exception of the UV filters, these are all fully biodegradable, and even with the filters we focus on minimizing the environmental impact.

Environmentally friendly UV filters - EcoSun Pass approved

Of course, a sunscreen must not lack sufficient UV protection. But what filters are available, and how environmentally friendly are they? In the discussion about filters, various terms and distinctions keep cropping up, some of which can be misleading: physical, mineral, chemical filters. Mineral filters are often said to be natural, whereas chemical filters sound unnatural by their very name. One thing is certain: no filter is completely biodegradable, and all filters are chemicals. A correct and scientifically sound differentiation can be made between organic chemical and inorganic chemical filters (also called mineral filters). Although the former consist of carbon and chemical raw materials, mineral filters are nevertheless not quite as natural as thought.

The formulation of eco elio contains only filters of organic chemical origin, free of endocrine disruptors, nanoparticles or other substances that are harmful to health. In addition, all filters are EcoSun Pass approved. The EcoSun Pass developed by BASF evaluates the environmental compatibility and effects of UV filter systems in sunscreens on the basis of scientific and internationally recognized criteria. A new, transparent methodology takes into account current environmental data consisting of eight different parameters: from biodegradability and aquatic toxicity to the potential for endocrine disruption. Finally, a mathematical formula is used to calculate a specific value that allows direct comparison of individual products (the higher this value, the lower the environmental impact). As one of only a handful of Eco Sun Pass approved formulations, eco elio achieves a particularly high value.

Regardless of the type of filter, the proportion in a sunscreen should be as low as possible due to the lack of biodegradability. Depending on the sun protection factor, this is between 10 and 20 %. Despite its high UV protection with SPF 50, eco elio contains only 14 % environmentally friendly filters. More information about the EcoSunpass can be found here:

Production and Packaging

Holistic thinking: "Made in Germany" means short delivery routes and combined with recyclable, easily separable packaging material - sustainability is evident across the value chain at eco elio. In addition to the classic 150 ml tube, the sunscreen is available in the form of an innovative "Daily Dose Kit". This includes a reusable, durable pump dispenser, a washable pump, and two small, reusable and equally washable "Let's Go Bottles" for on-the-go use. The dispenser (made from 70% recycled plastic) can be used for several years thanks to eco-friendly refill pouches. And both the 150 ml tube and pump dispenser and Let's Go Bottles are fully recyclable.

Compared to other sunscreens, our LCA ("Life Cycle Assessment") points to a particularly good life cycle assessment of the packaging material: a 65% reduction in plastic consumption as well as a remarkably low Global Warming Potential (GWP) value - this is 70-80% higher for similar packaging systems.

So what am I supposed to do with all this information?

1. Look for biodegradable ingredients.
A look at the list of ingredients will tell you. Words like "polymer" or "acrylate" are a pretty good indication that they are not biodegradable. You can also take the help of the apps from Yuka, Codecheck or the BUND or the internet platform; dermaplastik.de.

Look for the EcoSun Pass.
This is a trustworthy and objective assessment of the environmental impact of filter combinations in a sunscreen.

It is not impossible to balance effective sunscreen and environmental sustainability, but it requires cost, effort and time on the part of manufacturers, from formulation to final packaging.

However, educated consumers who are aware of the challenges facing our planet are the critical link in demanding the increasing use of sustainable products by brands and manufacturers.

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