Beauty Finds: Cruelty Free, Reef Friendly, Tried and Tested European Body Sunscreens Review

I spent all summer long testing out sunscreens. It was hard. Daily beach trips for about an hour, testing out their waterproofness in the sea, running outside and if that doesn’t make me a good candidate for testing them, I burn within an hour. Making me perhaps one of the best candidates 😉

There are 2 types of sunscreen. Chemical where the skin absorbs the chemicals that stop your skin burning and physical or mineral sunscreens which reflect the sun rays. Physical sunscreens are considered to be more reef friendly as they’re less likely to contain toxic ingredients that kill reefs and marine life. Reef’s are vital part in our ecosystems. They protect coastlines from damaging effects from waves, storms, floods, provide habitat and shelter for marine life, assist in carbon and nitrogen fixing, provide nitrogen and other nutrients for marine food chained amongst others. I dip in the sea almost daily during the summer, I didn’t want to be part of the reef killing sunscreens anymore. Physical sunscreens are typically made from zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. They’re generally more expensive and I like to think they’re better when showered off too, by not causing more environmental water pollution. There is just one problem I have with physical sunscreens, they dry my skin out in various degrees. I consider my skin fairly hydrated as I lotion daily, but daily moisturising couldn’t help my skin with some below. 

A-Derma, Avoine Rhealba Protect SPF 50 UVA + UVB Fragile Skin, Very High Protection, Water Resistant. 250ml

Ingredients here as I couldn’t remove the price sticker

This this is only chemical reef friendly sunscreens I’ve tried and was* my back up sunscreen. I started using it last year looking for a petroleum free, cruelty free sunscreen. After some research this year into reef friendly sunscreens, Elle Espana listed it as reef friendly. It’s easy to apply, doesn’t leave much of a white effect, I didn’t burn, it’s easy to remove, has a neutral smell, doesn’t yellow white clothes, feels nice on the skin until the end of the day when my skins screaming at me how uncomfortable it feels. Value for money, though it’s expensive as usual with chemical sunscreens you get more product than physical sunscreen the same price. One bottle usually lasted me about 2.5-3 weeks. It’s easy to cut in half for a few more days product toward the end.

The cons, are it’s expensive depending on where you purchase. I found Primor to be the cheapest. On humid days after application, any strand of hair after combing will get stuck to me skin and drive me nuts until I remove them. It’s not that waterproof. 10 minutes after dip on a 28C plus days I feel my skin burning and need to reapply. The lid comes with a pull tab: tiny plastic. The tube’s plastic, the flip lid a few tube came off completely the bottle. No further packaging. While it marked black tops and my rucksack straps, it washed out fairly easily. However I found on hand washing bras I had to scrap away the product from the straps (yes, I get changed into my bra after the beach. I’m not running errands afterwards in my bikini top!) as hand washing soaking didn’t remove the build up. TMI?! This was also the deal with my bikini and honestly with all sunscreens regardless of if they’re chemical or physical. Some days it did feel like I covered in plastic film. Out of chemical sunscreens I’ve tried over the years, it’s now my fall back sunscreen if the physical sunscreens don’t work. I also know I can easily purchase it in Spain. 

Laboratoires de Biarritz 50+ Spray Solaire, Alga Maris, Tres Haute Protection, Water Resistant. Bio*. 100ml


This was the 1st physical sunscreen I tried. Thankfully it didn’t put me off physical sunscreens once its 2nd bottle secrets were revealed. 99% natural and organic ingredients, easy to buy in Spain, formulated by surfers. The 1st bottle I had no issues. It felt good on the skin, I didn’t burn. Running I didn’t have sweat pouring off me. I noticed one day running in the rain it wasn’t washing away. Droplets of sweat and rain were on my skin like rain blobs on a window pane. This is how it’s waterproof!

However that waterproofing made it difficult to remove. I should have just stuck with the first bottle and left it at that after reading Google reviews. Some said it was difficult to remove. The first bottle was so I was well I’m okay with it ignoring that voice only to get 1 more bottle. The company replying to the reviews said it was easy to remove with soap. It wasn’t! The second bottle I had to scrub with a cactus mitt even before soap and a sponge. Even that didn’t remove all of it. I tried exfoliating, still stuck on. I noticed too when some did come off, the bottom of the shower felt slippery which it doesn’t usually. Not even a coffee scrub could remove the cream. Then my skin reacted.

Zinc oxide is also  skin healing, however too much can dry skin out. I noticed one morning my legs looked ashy and felt extremely dry. Then my face felt zapped dry of any moisture. I started using the day before their face SPF. My eyes were itchy quickly followed by the realisation my shoulders as well as my lower legs were feeling like desert. On inspection, random patches on my back  and shoulders started peeling. I knew I wasn’t sunburn as I hadn’t burnt. A little research later I blamed the sunscreen. Google reviews said some had experienced extreme dryness. After showering some patches on my back felt on fire due to how dried out my skin had become. Never had my skin felt so dry. It took a few days of intense nightly shea butter layered with my usual body lotion, as well as morning body lotion for my skin to feel almost back to normal. Almost as I was still having slight dry skin from the other physical sunscreens all summer long*. Only now it’s not beach siesta everyday my skin’s had a break from the zinc oxide. Depending on when I shower after run or homework if I going to the beach in 2 hours I apply sunscreen as body lotion. It’s usually hydrating enough. After 4 days of just applying this sunscreen instead on body lotion then sunscreen it was too much for my skin. I relegated the second bottle to running only, but even with lotion applied previous it was too much and I threw it out. The second bottle also wasn’t the easiest to apply and left white marks on my shins and shoulders if I didn’t take time to rub it in. It also leaves white marks on tops, however it does come off in the washing machine. Also its fragrance is a little sunscreeny strong that doesn’t dissipate. 

Freshly Cosmetics, Crema Solar Corporal Healthy Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 Protection Alta, UVA UVB, 99% Natural Ingredients, No Nano, Sin Filtros, Quimcos (no chemical filters), Biodegradable. 150ml

Also vegan! Ingredients here as they rubbed off the label

Looking for another physical sunscreen I remembered seeing Freshly Cosmetics had reef friendly sunscreen. Lesson learnt apply lotion before. I can with this one get away for 2 days of no lotion first before I start to experience some drying on my upper arms, shoulders and shins of all places and nowhere else. It’s the most expensive, however it’s for now my preferred physical sunscreen. It’s not perfect, it does dry my skin out in the said areas, just not to the same degree as Laboratoires de Biarritz. I still have to mix shea butter in my body lotion every now and then. Easy to apply, only leaves a white sheen if I put too much on one spot and/or don’t apply it well. If that happens it not always easy to even out. It’s easier to apply on slightly damp skin than dry. Dry skin it takes longer to absorb and can hurt sometimes (thanks to the already dry skin) although it’s more hydrating than the other 2 physically sunscreens tested. Its light pink colour reminds me of chamomile lotion my Mum used to apply when I used to burn when little. Ironic no? The colour disappears although sometimes I feel even paler with it on. So far I haven’t burned, it’s waterproof as I don’t feel I burning after a dip. Which isn’t a good thing as I should reapply even if I only sitting out for 30-40 minutes. It does mark black tops and my rucksack straps however it’s easy to wash out. It doesn’t mark white tops and I like that the packaging isn’t big and bulky. It also feels nice on the skin, even after the sea and quick beach shower rinse. The initial scent is a bit powdery but it soon dissipates. It’s easy to shower off with soap and sponge! Yay! It also still feels okay at the end of the day. I don’t feel covering in plastic and my skin isn’t screaming loudly to remove it. Perhaps now I should add it contains not only zinc oxide, it contains titanium dioxide too, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. All ingredients are biodegradable and environmentally friendly and it’s cruelty free and vegan! 

Cons. Their face SPF I think does clog my pores a little and can leave me a shade greyer in certain light, but the body one doesn’t seem too unless I’ve applied too much or not taken time to really work in into the my skin. The bottle’s aluminium, with a plastic pump and plastic label. I do try when getting cosmetics to consider the packaging when it comes to recycling. I’d prefer if it came in a tin or had a screw lid. Half way through both bottles I abandoned the pump and poured the lotion direct in my hands. The clear plastic lid split in 2 and the 2nd bottle cracked. Most of Freshly Cosmetics products are either aluminium or glass bottles, which is another appeal, though for reasons stated previous this could do without the pump (and if every time I order they didn’t send stickers. They say they use aluminium and glass bottles to help save the planet, yet send plastic stickers with every order that I don’t use! More plastic waste!). I also found product when pumping came out not just through the nozzle. Any type of sport in the sun, maybe look for another sunscreen. Running, sweat was dripping down my arms unlike the others. 

*2022 Update. Freshly Cosmetics after a while of using my skin reacted the same way as Laboratoires de Biarritz 50+ Spray Solaire. I tried body lotion underneath and still the same result, difficult to remove. It took about 2 months for my skin to recover. It also after few bottles was getting more difficulty to massage into my skin and difficult to rinse off. It’s not an easy apply and go sunscreen. I since found a good reef friendly chemical sunscreen by Mimitika as my skin doesn’t seem like mineral sunscreens. Review here. 

Sol De Ibiza, Natural Mineral Sunscreen Face and Body – Kids and Adult, Chemical and Preservatives free, with aloe vera from the magic island. 100ml

I had such high hopes for this one! Only plastic, the sticky tape on its custom made packaging and inner lid liner making it almost zero waste as well as cruelty free and reef friendly! A local brand by across the way of the Mediterranean Sea. I really like the idea of just the tin. I know All Good sunscreens come in a tin however it was always out of stock on places that ship to the EU. Just goes to show you don’t need plastic packaging and pumps. From hygiene point of view yes, however you can apply just what you need and you usually get through it in about 2 weeks so any nasty build up is negligible. Sol de Ibiza is cruelty free, vegan, contains no heavy metals, chemicals, fragrances or preservatives, water resistant for 40 minutes, natural and organic certified. It contains non nano zinc and is aimed more at an open water swimmer which also makes it great for all outdoor sports.

I didn’t burn with this one. I was concerned it’s only SPF 30 however after a little research there’s not much difference between SPF 30 and 50. Like Laboratoires de Biarritz, it’s waterproof in the same way. Which also makes it difficult to remove! It’s a lot easier to remove than Laboratoires de Biarritz but still leaves the bath feeling a little slippery showering. I still need the catcus mitt to remove it initially then soap and a sponge usually does the trick. It contains more hydrating oils, but not enough for my shoulders and lower legs long term. Out of all it was best one for running as sweat didn’t pour off making me worried the sunscreen is running off too. The product itself is workable applying being something in-between a balm and lotion but it takes a little more rubbing applying to even it out. Ideally you should warm it up in your hands. I’m too impatient for that! Again was easier to apply when my skin’s damp than dry. I think like Freshly Cosmetics’s it hurts a little as my skin was already dry from the zinc oxide. It felt nice on but it did mark black tops, again my rucksack straps and  wasn’t as easy to remove as Freshly Cosmetics. It felt nice on my skin at end of the day, didn’t leave white film however zinc oxide* applied for days my skin bitches. If it had a few more hydrating oils and was a tad more lotion-y, I’d might try it out again as it’s more or less zero waste. In addition the size of the tin didn’t take up much room in my rucksack and I could reuse the tin for something else. 

*It took my skin about 6-8 weeks to recover completely from Laboratoires de Biarritz Spray Solalire.

Did I tan over the summer under layers of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide? Of course I did! Maybe not as much as some years due to higher sun protection, vitiligo in some random places getting ‘worse’ (I don’t have the symmetrical vitiligo, I have random patches. I swear every year my shins tan less and my hands out all year round never tan as much as my arms and legs. However as I’m pale it’s only seen in certain light, degree of tan and the time of day I went to the beach. I should also add, all the zinc oxide sunscreen didn’t build up on my bra straps or underwire like the chemical one. TMI? Sometimes it the little things that make something.

If you’ve tried physical/mineral reef friendly sunscreens, did you experience any skin issues? If you use reef friendly sunscreens and have a favourite please share in the comments below! If I can get it in Europe I’d like to try it out! That said I’ve tried one of Badgers Sunscreens and really enjoyed the formula.


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