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When it comes to sunscreen, the term “biodegradable” means the formula will break down in nature. But there’s a catch. 

What does “biodegradable sunscreen” mean? 

The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) has established parameters for testing and established levels for “passing grades” for biodegradability. In order to claim “biodegradable,” the product must biodegrade by at least 60% during the testing period of 28 days. While a product that passes this threshold can be labeled as biodegradable, the percentage of the formula that does not break down is never fully conveyed to the consumer. That amount could be as much as 40%!

As a company that prides itself on being transparent with our consumers, we find this to be confusing and misleading. People often assume a product labeled as biodegradable breaks down completely; this is not the case. We choose not to use this term to describe our products.

How does Babo Botanicals test for biodegradability?

We work with a lab to perform the OECD-regulated test of our sunscreens in freshwater (OECD 301B) and in sea water (OECD 306). We’ve tested our sunscreens–and will continue to test them! – against these standards, because we believe that meeting this threshold is important and it’s the best industry standard that exists right now. However, we don’t believe “passing” this test paints the full, accurate picture when it comes to biodegradability, and we want you to understand the truth. 

When it comes to biodegradable sunscreen, how does Babo Botanicals stack up against the competition? 

We know our competitors often claim that their sunscreens are biodegradable, which made us curious: How do our sunscreens compare to our competitors, and do their numbers paint a picture that allows them to fully claim their products are biodegradable? 

To obtain some answers to these questions, we tested a leading competitor’s physical (mineral) sunscreen for biodegradability to understand why they felt comfortable making this claim on the front of their package. In the fresh water test, they received a score of 64.7% after 28 days. In the sea water test, they received a score of 60.5% after 28 days. (For reference, a comparable Babo Botanicals sunscreen received scores of 83.1% in fresh water and 65.5% in sea water in the 28 day tests).

While these numbers certainly shed light on the fact that their sunscreen is partially biodegradable, we believe labeling their product as biodegradable without further details is misleading.

So while our competitor may continue to claim that their sunscreen is biodegradable, the truth is more nuanced than that. Because nuance can–and does– cause confusion, claims around biodegradability, sustainability, and environmental friendliness may soon be more regulated, making it easier for consumers to discern what’s fact from fiction. In the EU, for instance, a “Green Claims Directive” seeks to establish an EU-wide methodology for making such claims and backing them up, with penalties up to at least 4% of a company’s annual revenue for “greenwashing.” Here in the U.S., California has passed SB 343 that “prohibits use of the chasing arrows or any other indicator of recyclability on products and packaging unless certain criteria are met.” California has also passed AB 1201, which “extends the state’s existing restrictions of several environmental marketing claims for plastic products—including ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable’ claims—so that they now arguably cover all consumer products sold in the state.” The tide on claims of biodegradability is turning, with consumers demanding accountability for what a product promises vs. what it does

Our commitment to transparency

At Babo Botanicals, we formulate our plant-based physical sunscreens with minerals. Our mineral actives are made from naturally sourced ingredients which will not break down any further (newsflash: chemical sunscreens don’t break down completely either!). We don’t want to mislead consumers into thinking our product biodegrades 100%, so we choose not to claim biodegradable on our products. 

We’re happy to report that we are seeing a shift in the beauty and packaging industry to move away from the use of this term due to the risk of greenwashing and misinformation. We hope to see an increase in transparent messaging and a decrease in the use of this claim in the industry in years to come.