The Nivea Sun Protect & Dry SPF 30 Sunscreen is advertised as a light, non-greasy and fast absorbing product that uses highly effective and reliable UVA/ UVB protection with immediate effect. While I have used this product before and it does protect the skin quite well, it only scored 1.5 out of 3 planets overall. Personally, it feels like Nivea is jumping on a bandwagon by excluding ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, as they still use other ingredients that are harmful to the environment. The company is also not completely consistent with the ingredients that they regard as harmful. For example, in some products they exclude octocrylene and point this out deliberately, whilst in others they discreetly include it in the ingredients list. How can this be considered sustainable? The only reason why it scored higher than 1 planet is because the company is aiming for some promising sustainability goals. However, there’s still a lot that Nivea has to do in order for this product to be considered sustainable and hopefully they will be able to do so with their future targets.
Unlike many other sunscreens, the Nivea Sun Protect & Dry doesn’t contain UV filters such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are known to have harmful impacts on marine environments. Instead, this ingredient list follows Nivea’s so-called ‘Ocean Respect formula’ which the website claims is 80% biodegradable. It also doesn’t include any nano-titanium dioxide or nano-zinc oxide particles like other Nivea products (e.g. Nivea Kids Swim & Play Sunlotion). Even though this sounds very promising and almost had me convinced that the sunscreen is reef-friendly, it just took a few minutes of researching to find out that the product does not ‘respect the ocean’. This is because it contains ingredients such as octocrylene and ethylhexyl salicylate (ES) which are considered dangerous to aquatic biodiversity. Studies have found that octocrylene can be linked to aquatic toxicity, causing damage to coral reef’s health, and a recent research paper discovered that ES can be more toxic than oxybenzone to certain species. A solid case of greenwashing if you ask me. However, another reason why this all seems like greenwashing is the fact that Nivea excludes octocrylene in some products while using it in others. With this lack of consistency, it can be assumed that the company is aware of the chemical’s harmful effects, but decides to pick and choose when to be sustainable. Overall it seems as if Nivea is rejecting UV filters such as oxybenzone and octinoxate because it’s becoming popular to do so rather than out of their own desire for sustainability.
Although the webpage has a detailed glossary of all the ingredients that the product contains, there is little to no information about where these ingredients are sourced from. More clarification would definitely be needed if Nivea wants to adhere to their honesty and transparency Code of Conduct. Not stating what countries these ingredients are from makes it hard to decide whether their supply chain is sustainable or not. Also, by stating that ‘as a global brand Nivea works with local suppliers around the world,’ the company embellishes the fact that not all of their ingredients can actually be sourced locally. However, showing what ingredients are obtained synthetically rather than from their natural sources is a good step in becoming more open about their manufacturing process. When it comes to sourcing ingredients synthetically rather than from natural resources it’s often portrayed as a more environmentally friendly option. Many companies ignore that these highly processed ingredients can cause just as much if not more harm to the environment. Fragrances, for example, can have long-term effects past the drain and have been proven to cause harm to marine life. Clearly these are ingredients that should not be included in products such as sunscreens! Nevertheless, this doesn’t apply to every synthetically produced ingredient so researching which ones are harmful before buying something is a must.
In regards to the packaging, the sunscreen’s bottle is made of 95% recycled plastic, and as part of Beiersdorf’s (Nivea’s parent company) target, Nivea aims to have 100% recyclable, refillable or reusable packaging by 2025. Even though not every product in Nivea is made from recycled plastic it is good to see that more and more unsustainable forms of packaging are rejected. The company also has a zero waste to landfill policy meaning that none of the established production centres send waste to landfills instead using it to create heat and electricity. It’s important to point out that recycled packaging does not automatically make a product eco-friendly. For example in the US less than 10% of plastic was recycled in 2018, exposing the hard truth about many recycling systems’ inefficiency. Yet, to Nivea’s credit they managed to switch all of their facilities to renewable energy apart from the plants in Mexico and Nigeria, and are aiming to have only climate-neutral factories by 2030 to further reduce their carbon footprint; this would involve things like changing the transport of their products. In my opinion, switching so many of their production centres (especially the large ones in Germany and Spain) to renewable energy is a good achievement and makes me hopeful for their commitment to their climate-neutral goals. Overall Nivea is setting fairly achievable sustainability targets for their manufacturing process, which is partially shown in this product.
Since both Nivea and Beiersdorf are German companies, they are EU-compliant which usually has strict policies in terms of what ingredients are allowed to be used in products that are made or sold within the EU. Germany especially has quite strict rules, which is why I was surprised when the harmful ingredients included in this sunscreen are permitted. Although Nivea is only following EU guidelines I think the company could take matters into their own hand and create a formula with ingredients that are proven to cause less harm to marine life. As Nivea is owned by Beiersdorf it not only follows their own sustainability commitments but also those of their parent company. These include making Nivea 100% free of micro-plastics by the end of 2021, using deforestation-free sourcing of main raw materials by 2025 and reaching climate-neutral operations by 2030. It’s good to see some clear and fairly manageable goals, but only time can tell whether these companies will actively pursue them. Until now Nivea has made some good strives for reaching their goals. Furthermore, Nivea’s Code of Conduct follows the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention of the International Labor Organisation and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises; they state their devotion to protecting human rights and showing no tolerance to any forms of forced or child labor. Their partner-companies, suppliers and subcontractors are also expected to follow these standards to ensure equal values across their supply chain. In terms of inclusivity, Nivea released an advertisement in 2017 that states ‘White is Purity,’ which received large amounts of backlash for being racist. The company also faced accusations for homophobia in 2019. These scandals are important to take into consideration when buying Nivea products since it speaks for the company’s stance on inclusivity; social justice is more than labour practices and includes how a company presents itself on a daily basis in regards to their values.
Even though Nivea is trying to set some good sustainability goals, it’s hard to ignore their greenwashing of ingredients and glorification of recycled plastics. If the company would have been more honest about their sourcing and use of ingredients for this sunscreen it definitely could have scored higher, but for now I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a sustainable product.