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You might be wondering why on Earth we are posting a blog about hair and skin care at a marine site. Yes, it is true that for some people repeatedly getting in the water can dry their hair out, and that skin care is really important when you are in the hot sun all day, but I’m not here to give you tips and tricks on how to deal with all that. I’m actually here to talk to you about the importance of only washing with biodegradable, plastic-free hair and skin products, and using reef-safe sun cream while at a marine site.


There is plastic in my products?!

When I say ‘plastic-free’ products it may surprise some of you to know that I’m not just talking about face washes that contain microbeads or that most products still come in plastic bottles. I’m actually talking about the fact that many of the mainstream hair and skin care options are actually made with (at least some) plastic or non-biodegradable ingredients.

Lots of the available shampoos and conditioners claim to leave you with shiny, luxurious, hydrated hair but, to achieve this they add in a bunch of chemicals such as resins, waxes, silicones and plastics that come from petroleum by-products. These chemicals stick to the surface of your hair to give it that hydrated and shiny appearance but over time the build-up of these ingredients is actually the reason your hair starts to dry out and frizz. So, from a hair care point of view, these aren’t the best products to choose anyway!


What is reef-safe sun cream?

There are two types of sun cream commercially available; those that use physical UVA and UVB filters, and those that use chemical ones. Physical filters are mineral based and use active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients form a physical shield on the skin to stop the absorption of any rays. Chemical filters, on the other hand, absorb the UV rays and turn it into heat that’s released from the skin. The chemical filters used in these sun creams have been linked to the deterioration of coral reefs as the chemicals are thought to contribute to coral bleaching. The physical filter sun creams, however, are considered dermatologically and reef safe, so there is no reason to be using the coral harming sun creams anyway.


Why does it matter?

You might be wondering why any of this matters seeing as you are not applying and using these products when you’re in the sea. Well, these products and their nasty chemicals are designed to stick to your hair or skin when you apply them. But, when you get wet again, these products start to wash away. For example, you might have noticed that if you get briefly stuck in torrential rain and get soaked that you skin feels slightly slimy or that your hair smells really strongly of your shampoo/conditioner again. That is because the products are being dissolved by the water and are starting to wash away. And that’s just when you are stuck in the rain. When you get into a body of water and swim around for a while, all of those products have more than enough time to completely wash off your body.

So, when you are at a marine site, every time you get in the water, your hair, skin and sun care products will be washing off you. And when you are using products full of plastic and harmful chemicals, they will be polluting the habitat you are there trying to save, which, when you think about it is really silly! Our research gives us access to marine protected areas, extremely biodiverse coral reefs, and culturally significant locations, all of which need to be protected from harmful chemicals and even more human inflicted damage.

Furthermore, while some of these chemicals stick to you during application, most go down the plug hole. Even in countries where there are excellent water treatment facilities many of these chemicals cannot be removed and still enter the waterways, polluting rivers, lakes and oceans. Many of our sites (marine and terrestrial), however, are not in countries or areas that have adequate water treatment facilities and most of the wastewater just gets pumped straight back into their waterways. For this reason, these regions are usually already polluted and adding to that problem is not ok. Hence, why you need to bring reef-safe, biodegradable, plastic-free products on expedition.


What should I look out for?

In terms of plastic-free skin and hair care products, unfortunately some brands can be really sneaky. Some claim to be organic and all natural but then actually contain a load of chemicals. Looking at the ingredients list on these products can be really daunting, but if you can, have a read and look for these chemicals – they are the ones you should avoid:

  • Dimethacon
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Acrylates
  • Copolymers
  • Methylchloroisothiazolinone
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Paraffin Waxes

Luckily, there are brands out there that make use of the really good, natural alternatives. These natural alternatives are:

  • Plant extracts e.g., eucalyptus, shea and aloe
  • Honey and beeswax
  • Seed oils e.g., baobab, tamanu and avocado

Please always make sure that these extracts are ethically sourced and sustainable too. And, if you can, choose products that come in non-plastic packaging, e.g., opt for soap, shampoo and conditioner bars over bottled products.


When it comes to reef-safe sun cream, there are two main coral-harming chemicals that you need to look out for, and they are:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Oxtinoxate

There are some other chemicals you should look out for and avoid as well if you can:

  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • 4-methylbenzylidene camphor
  • PABA
  • Parabens
  • Triclosan

Thanks to the Reef Safe Act of 2021, many non-reef-safe sun creams have been banned, and multiple brands which used to use the harmful chemicals have changed their ingredients to safer alternatives. Plus, many of the mainstream sun care brands are also making biodegradable products, meaning things are looking really positive from the sun cream side of things. That being said, some brands have been stating that their products are reef safe yet still contain the dangerous, coral-harming chemicals, so always check the ingredients list if you can!


Product recommendations

While it is sad that a lot of the main brands for hair and skin care contain plastics, there are a lot of excellent alternatives on the market. I highly recommending doing a little bit of research and trying out a few products to find the ones you like, but here are a couple of the brands available that I would recommend.

Faith in Nature are an awesome UK based company. They make shampoos, conditioners, body washes, soaps etc., and they are doing all they can to have the smallest impact on the Earth possible. Their products are all natural (i.e. no plastic) and have very few ingredients which are sustainably sourced and organic where possible. They are open about their products containing palm and are working to find a good alternative. Faith in Nature have zero-plastic options (shampoo bars, soap bars, etc.) and when their products are offered in plastic bottles/packaging it is all recycled and recyclable, they ask for their packaging back so they can reuse it, and they offer bulk refills to limit the amount of plastic needed. There is definitely more they are doing for the environment and you should check them out here.

Ethique make plastic-free, palm oil-free, cruelty-free, vegan and sustainable products which come in biodegradable, compostable and/or recyclable packaging. They offer a large range of products including shampoo and conditioner bars, lipsticks and lipbalms, moisturisers and deodorants. Ethique are a New Zealand based company but their products can be bought all over the world. Many of their products also boast other benefits, some being organic, some aluminium-free, etc., and there is a lot that the company is doing for the planet so and you can find out about it all here.

In terms of suncreams it is becoming a lot easier to source them. For example, Nivea, which at least in the UK is one of the leading suncream brands, now only offer reef safe suncreams (i.e. without Oxybenzone and Oxtinoxate). They also offer a range of biodegradable, reef-safe suncream which is even better, but this is NOT true for all their suncreams – look out for the biodegradable stickers on their products and/or website. Another readily available brand which offers reef-safe, all natural, mainly organic suncream in biodegradable packaging is Green People (who also offer a wide range of organic skin care products too!). Sun Bum make great vegan, reef-safe suncreams (that smell amazing). They offer both physical filter suncreams (their mineral suncream range) and chemical ones (their original suncream range). Both are reef-safe, but the creams using physical filters are definitely better for our oceans so I would recommend those over the original suncream range. Sun Bum also offer a load of vegan hair and skin care products too! But, like I said there are a lot of reef-safe brands out there, so I suggest shopping around and finding which one suits you and your skin best (while also making sure it’s friendly to the planet!).


So, now you know why we want you to only use reef-safe, biodegradable, plastic-free products when on expedition with us, particularly when at our marine sites. Hopefully you’ll prefer the change as it would be amazing if these products became your go to when you are at home as well, because even in areas with excellent treatment facilities, the harmful chemicals are still making their way into our planet’s waterways and wreaking havoc on our wildlife.

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