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It is estimated that there are over 100,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year in the UK, but most people are now aware of the necessity of using sun lotion. With a wide range of brands available, and with experts reminding us that the most expensive and well-known products are not necessarily any better than the smaller names, there is no reason not to consider some of the lesser known and more ethical companies when protecting your skin.

Keyword-ResearchLook out for our new sector-specific Ethical Accreditation certification marks which now cover over 15 different consumer product sectors. These are additional to our original Ethical Company mark that features on the packaging of over 100 million consumer products every year.

Screens and blocks

The British Department of Health and the US Food and Drug Administration claim that, although sunscreen prevents sunburn, there is no proof that it actually prevents cancer. They also warn that the main danger of sunscreen is that people increase their risk of skin cancer by increasing the length of time they spend in the sun. They warn against the use of expensive and very high sun protection factor (SPF) lotions as ‘the benefits are minimal’. A study by the Consumers’ Association in 2001 found that cheap sunscreens can provide as much sun protection as those at the more pricey end of the market.

Sunscreen only works when it’s slapped on thick at least half an hour before going outside, as it doesn’t start working immediately. The Department of Health recommends using a sunscreen with a minimum rating of SPF 15. Unfortunately, many alternative cosmetics companies only produce low factor sunscreens. For example, Weleda uses a filter based on the vegetable extract camphor to produce SPF 8 in its highest-rated product. Green People, a brand approved by The Good Shopping Guide, has products with SPF 15-25.

Studies suggest that sunscreens with SPF 15 to 20 are generally acceptable, but that some of those above this level increase their ratings by increasing concentrations of key chemical components, which can cause irritation. Meanwhile, the EU is abolishing the term ‘sunblock’ because it is potentially misleading to customers.

What chemicals?

Sunscreens may contain one or more of a number of different active compounds to block out the sun’s rays, such as OMC (octyl methoxycinnamate), benzophenone, benzophenone 3 (oxybenzone), titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and talc, all of which should be listed on the packaging. Despite the potential risks of some of these ingredients (studies carried out on mice have raised concerns about the safety of OMC), it isn’t possible to find a sunscreen with a high SPF that doesn’t use at least one of them.

Animal testing

Since 2013, personal care products tested on animals can no longer be sold in Europe – even if the testing was done outside Europe. However, that doesn’t mean that companies selling their products in Europe do not continue to test products (or ingredients) on animals outside Europe and continue to sell them in other markets. This means that companies can still profit from cruelty to animals, just not in Europe.

Vegetarians and vegans will be pleased to know that sunscreens by Honesty contain no animal derived ingredients, but they will have to watch out for beeswax, chitin, collagen, elastin, lanolin and stearin, which may be found in other companies’ products. Green People, who have gained Ethical Accreditation also sell organic, ethical sun protection creams.


The majority of sun lotions come in plastic bottles (usually polyethylene, PE, or high-density polyethylene, HDPE) and can only be recycled where such facilities exist. However, Weleda’s sun cream is packaged in an aluminium tube to enable it to be easily recycled.

Ethical Comparison – Sun Protection Rankings Detailed Table

N.B companies that do not conduct or commission animal testing receive a middle rating (only companies with CFI’s Leaping Bunny certification receive a top rating)

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Green People, Oy!, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Honesty, Lavera, Hawaiian Tropic, Jason, Riemann P20, Ultrasun, Soltan, Clarins, Estee Lauder, Simple, Nivea Sun, Malibu, Delph, Calypso, Banana Boat, The Body Shop, Ambre Solaire, Piz Buin, Coppertone, Eucerin.

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