As someone who has eliminated many of the toxic chemicals I use in my daily life, one of my passions is to help others do the same. One of the most common questions from members in my Educational Facebook Community is what safe sunscreens I recommend. For those of us that value safety in our products (products free from harmful or irritating ingredients), it’s hard to see through marketing tactics to find what’s good for us that actually works. And believe me, there are safe products out there that don’t actually protect you from the sun. On the other hand, there are many products marketed as safe that offer effective sun protection, but still contain sneaky ingredients that can be harmful to your health. This is called greenwashing and is what we need to watch out for.
So what do I recommend? Before I answer that, let me tell you a little bit about HOW different types of sunscreens work so you understand what to look for.
Types of Sunscreen
Chemical Sunscreens work by absorbing into the skin and causing a chemical reaction that changes harmful rays into harmless heat. These contain active ingredients that take 15-20 minutes to start working. Basically, any sunscreen that doesn’t use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will fall into this category.
The downside to this type of protection is many of the active ingredients in these sunscreens can irritate the skin or cause acne. Some are actually harmful to our health by mimicking our hormones and wreaking havoc on our endocrine system. If this is a concern, specific ingredients in chemical sunscreens to avoid include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate. Those first two ingredients have also been found to damage coral reefs and have since been banned in Hawaii, so if you’re planning to swim in the ocean, this is another reason to avoid those ingredients.
Physical Sunscreens (or mineral sunscreens) act as a physical barrier to scatter and deflect the rays off the skin. The mineral ingredients (zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) actually sit on top of the skin instead of absorbing into the skin. The plus side to physical sunscreen is that they do not contain the harmful ingredients and skin irritants, the downside is many can leave your skin looking white.
So now that you have an understanding of how sunscreens work, here are my recommendations for what to look for on the label of a sunscreen.
What to Look for on the Label
- A broad-spectrum sunscreen will block both UVA and UVB rays. You’ll want protection from both. UVB rays are the ones that cause burns. UVA rays cause premature aging (wrinkles and dark spots). These rays can pass through windows and glass and can actually be stronger on a lightly overcast day due to the way the rays are scattered. Because of this, I recommend wearing sunscreen on your face every day to prevent sun damage and premature aging.
- Non-nano to ensure the ingredients will not penetrate the skin and cause health issues or premature aging. Nanoparticles have found their way into many products marketed as “safe” in an effort to eliminate the undesirable whiteness caused by the mineral ingredients. While that may be appealing for the look, more and more studies are discovering the harmful effects of nanoparticles, so it’s best to avoid them.
- SPF 30 is all you really need. There’s a common misconception that the higher the SPF, the more protection, but this is actually only marginally true and can give people a false sense of security. Dermatologists recommend SPF 30 which blocks 97% of UVB rays. If you want longer protection, SPF 50 is really the highest you need for effective protection. There is no sunscreen that can block all of the suns UVB rays.
- Read the ingredient label!! It’s so important to be careful about the chemicals you put on your skin, as many ingredients are not regulated. Don’t be fooled by anything on the front of the bottle. Marketers know that people are more aware of harmful ingredients and are changing tactics (especially because of the FDA’s proposed regulations) so they will use language to mislead you.
Here is a list of chemicals to avoid
- As you have probably guessed, I recommend choosing physical sunscreen, so look at the back label for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Yes, these are the ones that typically leave your skin looking white, but I have good news, there are great options out there that won’t do this. Which brings me to my specific recommendations.
*All of these are safe for you, safe for your kids, and safe for coral reefs*
For Your Face
This newly released facial moisturizer with SPF is the only facial sunscreen I’ve ever used that doesn’t leave my skin white, sticky, or smelling like the beach. It applies smooth, absorbs like a dream and is the perfect daily moisturizer to wear under makeup. I wear this every day, rain or shine to always keep my skin protected from the sun’s harmful rays.
ThinkSport Every Day Face Sunscreen. Before the release of Sunlight, this is what I used. It’s a tinted sunscreen with a “beachy” scent that is perfect for a day at the pool or on the beach when makeup is not necessary.
For Your Body
Though this is a spray, it still needs to be rubbed in. I use this for both myself and my kids.
This is a great option for kids and sometimes I use it too. It takes some effort to rub in and to wash off, but it’s worth it for the safe sun protection.
Though I’ve never used this one, I trust this brand and have heard great reviews!
If you’d like other great options check out this list from EWG.
If you want to read more about sunscreen safety, here are some helpful resources:
- Sunscreen Chemicals and Coral Reef Safety Guide from Mamavation
- Sunscreen FAQS from AAD
- Guide to Sun Safety from CNN
- Read about the new regulations the FDA has proposed for chemical sunscreens here