Reef Safe, Plastic Free Sunscreen: Our Review

Last year in September, I was planning to take on the 1 Million Actions 4 the Planet challenge, and go 100% plastic free, across the board. I wanted all disposable plastic out of my life - I really wanted to use the challenge as my chance to make the switch to plastic free brands for my food, my cosmetics, everything!

For me, my biggest problem switch, that I had no idea what to do about, was my sunscreen. I take sunscreening daily very seriously. I live in Australia where the UV rating is consistently over 6 in summer, and will only go below 2 in winter if we're lucky. (In case you're new to UV ratings, the ratings go from 1-12, and experts say anything over 2 means you need sun protection). I'm pale and freckly, and I've drunk the dermatologist kool-aid (an important kool-aid to drink, don't get me wrong), so I wear sunscreen on my face and hands every. Single. Day.

But ahh! What seriously good, trustworthy sunscreen comes without plastic?!?! I was flummoxed.

I was complaining about this to my colleague one day, when she told me her Mum had bought a plastic free sunscreen by a Byron Bay based brand called "People of the Earth".

Hmm, I thought, could this be the solution? Was it that beachy sort of sunscreen that makes you feel really greasy? If so, not ideal to wear on your face every day, but it could work for a month.

Well, now I've had the chance to try it, and I can tell you that it doesn't give you that gross greasy feeling. And I can tell you lots more than that - here I go!

People of the Earth Sun Butter

Well, what can I say. I love it. I give it a 9/10. Here's why.

  • The big one: I didn't get burned - I used it while I was swimming, applying once every two hours.
  • It's not just plastic free, it's also reef safe! You might have heard that chemical sunscreens (sunscreen that works by being absorbed by your skin) contain ingredients like oxybenzone which are really harmful for reefs. They've even been banned in Hawaii because of this! The reef safe alternatives are physical sunscreens (sunscreens that sit on your skin and reflect UV rays) that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which are less toxic for reefs.
  • It's full of all these really nice ingredients that you don't want to wash off as soon as you're out of the sun. I have really dry skin, and ordinary sunscreen (especially when combined with chlorine or salt water) can make it even drier. I really love that People of the Earth Sun Butter is like a moisturiser as well as a sunscreen, it makes my skin very happy - in fact probably even protects it from the dryness that comes with swimming!
  • I really liked it as a face sunscreen as well for day to day. It felt quite similar to the other moisturising sunscreens I wear each day which can make my face a little sticky and look glowy when I first apply them, and over about an hour it sinks in and the feeling goes away (I don't really time it - just look in a mirror or touch my face at some point and realise I'm no longer so glowy or sticky). I should flag that this sunscreen does contain coconut oil, which is comedogenic (which means it can block pores and cause break outs for some people) so it might not be a great every day option for you. I know a lot of people who love using coconut oil as a face moisturiser though, so it's definitely worth trying out. And if you need a water resistant sunscreen for your face at the beach, it's always going to be a great option!

Here's me after just applying Sun Butter on my face. Glowy in a good way, right?

  • The supply chain is a dream. It's supporting family owned and women owned businesses and co-operatives. Growers & producers are paid above Fair Trade wages, and the cooperatives either use profits to restore and conserve the local environment, or build skills and increase access to medical services and water for their families.

The downsides

  • It can be quite hard to spread, and f you're trying to cover your entire body it could take a while. But to get around this I found that when it had been cold in my bag, I'd scoop a bit out and rub it between my hands to soften it and make it spread a little easier. But we're all better off wearing rashies and covering up anyway which also helps solve this problem!

Worth mentioning: Merface

[Image: People of the Earth]

This is People of the Earth's take on those fluro coloured zincs you'd wear to your sport events as a kid (or as a fun adult). It's SPF40, and comes in bronze, gold and silver colours. I didn't try it out while swimming - but if I had, I must say I really would probably feel like a mermaid. However I can vouch for it as a great option for a fun sunscreen to wear as a girl gang on a big three day hike. The team feeling was strong! I'd probably wear it at outdoor beach parties as well. 10/10 glamour.


People of the Earth Sun Butter has easily become my go-to sunscreen whenever I'm going for a swim, or doing anything outdoors. I can't go past that moisturising shield that not only protects my skin from UV rays, but from all those other elements in the pool or at the beach that would otherwise dry out my skin. Plus how could I go past the fact that it's plastic free and reef safe?

I also often use it on the backs of my hands daily. I'll admit I have gone back to my regular face sunscreen outside of the plastic free challenge, but during the challenge, I was very happy I had it.

Read this next: Your Bank Might Be Undoing All Your Good Work For The Planet, But It's Easy To Fix

Grace Liley Head of Partnerships and Campaigns Suggest an article Send us an email