“If I get sunburned today, I’m really going to have a hard time putting trust in the natural sunscreen,” my husband said during our six hours in the sun, each slathered half and half with two different natural zinc oxide sunscreens.
My husband has used the same sunscreen for years: Coppertone Sport, as high an SPF as they make. He has very light skin and burns before he tans. Especially after SPF 50 became available, he referred to his sunscreen as “black tarp”, because he figured about as much sunlight got through as if he had hidden under a black tarp. His skepticism about changing comes honestly, as he knows the real pain of being sunburned to a crisp.
Note: If you really want reviews of the sunscreens only without any additional information on safety and how sunblock works, click HERE to skip down the page. My top recommendations are listed first, and I’ve updated some of the evaluations and demoted/promoted a few brands, based on the second year of use in 2011. AND I went back through and moved more around and added a dozen in 2012 and one more update in 2013! Yes, that’s a total of 43 sunscreens on one family. Phew!
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Sunblocks vs. Sunscreens
The major difference between sunblocks and sunscreens is that sunblocks are mineral based (always) and sit on the surface of the skin. The active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sunscreens are generally chemical based and must be absorbed into the skin to be effective via a chemical reaction with the UV rays. Ingredients vary widely, as does their safety. (See my Food for Thought article on sunscreen safety and cancer.)
For the purposes of readability, in this review I’ll just use the term “sunscreen” when referring to both sunscreens and sunblocks. The FDA has said “sunblocks” is too misleading of a term anyway. In fact, as of 2013, companies can no longer use the term sunblocks. Sunscreens, which are classified as a drug by the FDA, are divided into either “chemical” or “physical barrier” categories. Mineral screens are physical barrier products, and that’s what you want to look for. See the 2013 sunscreen update, including a compelling explanation of what happens when well-meaning parents put chemical sunscreen on their kids at 8 a.m. for noon recess…
On Zinc Oxide
Zinc Oxide is sometimes referred to as the only safe sun protection available in a tube. It protects from the full spectrum of UVA and UVB rays, incredibly effectively, all by itself, making it truly the best natural sunscreen ingredient available. It is a sunblock, and sits on the surface of your skin forming a barrier between you and the rays of the sun.
In that vein, zinc oxide sunblocks are notoriously difficult to rub in. Your skin ends up looking a little ghostly white from the sunblock. It’s a different look and can be a tricky transition if you’ve been used to spray sunscreen or lotion that’s super easy to rub in until it disappears. However, I’d rather take slightly pasty looking kids than tempt fate and skin cancer in the name of vanity.
I like being able to see the sunscreen sometimes. That way I know it’s still there and I feel like it’s working.
A deficit of zinc oxide sunblocks is the stained clothing factor. I was disappointed last summer by some zinc-based sunblock that made white marks on my nice, dark bathing suits. Testing so many of them, it was really difficult to pinpoint if any in particular stained the clothes, since we were switching so often. Some definitely did make marks on the new sun protective clothing we reviewed, so that hazard is real. Just realize that zinc-based mineral sunscreens have a high potential for staining dark clothing and take care accordingly.
Some people are also sensitive or allergic to zinc oxide. My 2-year-old daughter had an initial reaction of red, bumpy arms (but not bothersome or itchy that I could tell) with the very first sunblock we tested, but then it never happened again. I would believe that it might have even been a reaction to too much sun all at once, early in the season. When I was reading Musings of a Housewife’s natural sunscreen search, a commenter mentioned red bumpy skin as a reaction to zinc oxide, too. There are a few safe sunscreens listed below that do not contain zinc, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for them if you have a skin reaction.
How to Apply Sunscreen
You’re really supposed to use a lot of sunscreen in order for the SPF to be accurate. A grown man would need an entire ounce (shot glass full) of the stuff to reach full protection. One company who partnered with me for the sun protective clothing review: “To reach the advertised SPF on a bottle of sunscreen a child needs to have applied: face and neck ½ tsp, one arm and hand ½ tsp.” Wow! An adult needs 2 teaspoons for just the back and shoulders (and that’s another reason I choose sun protective clothing most of the time!).
If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, you do need to (1) rub it into your skin so that it absorbs and (2) give it 20-30 minutes to fully absorb before you go into the direct sun, and (3) make SURE you reapply every hour or two at least, because once the sunscreen absorbs far enough into your skin, it not only stops working but actually interacts with the sunshine (ironic, right) to cause free radicals and oxidation in your skin, which cause cancer. Mineral sunblocks begin to work right away and do not need to be rubbed in quite so vehemently, nor do they cause problems if you forget to reapply (and who doesn’t most of the time?).
An Important Lesson You Need to Know
When you’re checking out EWG’s Skin Deep Database and 2010 Sunscreen Safety Guide, you really need to write down exactly the name of those sunscreens that are rated safe. I ended up inadvertently accepting review samples of two sunscreens that were rated 6 (moderate hazard) at EWG, and I didn’t realize it until I was scanning the ingredients on the bottle: “Octisalate, Homosalate…”
“Hmmm. Those sound an awful lot like the same old chemicals in my Coppertone. I wonder how they got such a safe rating…”
Once I checked the database, I figured out my error. You can’t just remember the brand and head off to the store. Both Jason Naturals and Alba have chemical and mineral-based sunscreens, and it’s really easy to get them mixed up. It’s probably a smart idea for the company, since zinc oxide sunblocks don’t really achieve an SPF higher than 30. By making both, the brand can pull in all the natural mommas and please those super-safe moms who just want the higher SPF. (More on how SPF protection works and why higher isn’t always better.)
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that pretty much everything on the sunscreen bottle or tube is meaningless, especially the word “natural.” When the same brand of sunscreen can have versions that are mineral based and others that are chemical sunscreens, each with radically different ingredients, and blatantly label both “natural,” you can’t be too careful.
In my search for the best natural sunscreen, sunscreens called themselves sunblocks and vice versa. Many claims are made on sun cream tubes, from “water resistant” “eco-friendly” “photostable” “non-greasy” “biodegradable” “broad spectrum” and “UVA/UVB protection” to all the following terms as “_____ free!”
- Gluten (& other allergens)
Why is it all so confusing? Mostly because the FDA has yet to issue strict sunscreen standards, so everyone is just poking along trying to figure out what to do. The FDA is working on something, and you can read this article about the work in progress. It’s possible that very high SPFs will be illegal since they don’t offer a vast amount more protection even though “SPF 100″ sounds impressive. UPDATE: the FDA has spoken – see the new sunscreen regulations as of 2011.
For now, you need to ignore the word “natural” and learn to read the ingredients: How to Understand Sunscreen Active Ingredients
Among Chemical Sunscreens…
It was still helpful to have the “wrong” sunscreens, because I could compare those chemical sunscreens that pitch themselves as “natural” with some really conventional sunscreens that were lying around my grandparents’ house at the lake. Some time ago I memorized a list of chemicals to be avoided (even more than other chemicals) from Greg Horn’s Living Green: A Practical Guide to Simple Sustainability. I couldn’t help but notice many of them in the conventional sunscreen ingredients, including parabens just piling up, yet none of note in the Alba and Jason chemical sunscreens. At least you can get the lesser of the chemical evils if a zinc oxide based sunblock doesn’t work for your family for whatever reason.
How Often do I Choose Sunscreen, Anyway?
At the Kimball house, we’re seeking a balance of getting some unprotected exposure to the sun, seeking shade between 10 and 3 or so, and using the safest sunblock we can find for those times when we’re bound to be outside. Nobody wants to burn, and my family would be scarlet if the rays are too intense. In general, though, I avoid sunscreen as much as possible, even the safer ones. Bring on the Vitamin D! See yesterday’s research post for Vitamin D benefits and why we need it, and here’s another succinct article on balancing sun exposure and why too much time indoors increases your risk of skin cancer. Fascinating!
How to Review Natural Sunscreens
The Environmental Working Group recommends fewer than 40 safe sunscreens at its 2010 Sunscreen Safety Guide. I started there and ended up with 28 sunscreens, 25 of which are rated 0-3 at EWG’s Skin Deep Database.
Ten new natural sunblocks were added to the review this year! I’ve also combed through the old reviews and added new thoughts based on more long-term usage AND new evidence about the importance of antioxidants and avoiding nano particles or micronized zinc oxide, plus price updates. A few creams were booted from the “recommends” section, some new ones joined that section, but no one was resurrected from the “does not recommend.” There are a total of 43 bottles of sunscreen reviewed on this page…!!!
UPDATE 2012: Wow, by 2011 the EWG was able to list 158 top rated sunscreens! Looks like many companies are adding mineral formulas to their line; impressive!
How we tested: I always put two kinds of sunscreen on, one of each half of our families’ bodies.
Even when in the sun all day, unless we made a mistake and didn’t reapply properly, we hardly had any sunburns. Once I did forget to apply sunscreen to my own face, and it got slightly, slightly pink while my shoulders did not. I was encouraged to know that the zinc oxide based mineral sunscreens clearly do something effective.
Here are the criteria I attempted to analyze with each product:
- Did anyone get a sunburn? Since I used two kinds almost every time, I was always looking to see if there was a difference in the tan/burn on either side. Sometimes (on myself only) I would leave one side without any treatment just to try to really test the product to see if I could burn. (And I did, ahem…)
- EWG Safety Rating? The Environmental Working Group rates tens of thousands of personal products based on each ingredient’s safety: cancer-causing, hormone disruptors, etc. A rating of 0-2 is generally deemed “safe,” and 3 is close enough for me! Note: To make the best decision on a product, look not only at the overall rating but each individual ingredient. You may want to choose a lotion rated “2″ over one that’s rated “1″ overall but has a “5″ or “6″ ingredient snuck in there.
- Stays on in water? Repels water? I was very surprised to see water actually beading up on our skin with most of the zinc-based mineral sunblocks. I liked it! I felt like I was visibly able to see that the sunblock would remain on while in the water. Some of them still repelled water after 3+ hours.
- Stings eyes? How often have you comforted a screaming child whose eyes were stung by a chemical sunscreen? I’ve seen it happen, and stinging eyes is one of the reasons my husband has liked his “sport” sunscreen so well. I don’t want to purchase a sunscreen that will make my kids afraid to put it on because it hurts. You won’t see me mention this much in the individual reviews, because no one ever screamed, cried, or complained about stinging of any kind.
- Greasy or creamy? For many people, consistency can be a deal breaker when everything else is similar. I don’t really care as long as it works, but I will tell you what I can about how the product feels on the skin.
- Rubs in well? Mineral sunblocks, by nature, just don’t rub in well. They’re sitting on top of the skin to block the sun. That said, some rub in better than others.
- Separates? Some of the products separate in the tube. This one doesn’t really matter to me, but I thought I’d share in case it does to you.
- Forms visible barrier? Although this is pretty much the opposite of “rubs in well” and might be a negative to some people, it makes me happy if I can see the sunblock at work. Then I know if it’s come off in the water.
- In the individual reviews below, I’ll classify the four categories above as “Ease of application” and rate it overall with a (+) as a high score, a (+/-) for the middle ground and a (-) for a negative rating.
Many mineral sunblocks are much thicker than your standard chemical sunscreen; this is Miessence Outdoor Balm.
- Pleasant scent? My aromatic addict 5-year-old kept me straight on this one, giving his immediate and honest opinion on how each sunscreen smelled upon application.
- Skin reaction? I’ll tell you if anyone got a rash from any of the products. That’s a pretty important indicator of quality!
- Inclusion of antioxidants? With all the free radicals caused by the sun, it doesn’t hurt and almost certainly helps protect your skin if your sunscreen includes antioxidants like Vitamin E or green tea.
- Nano vs. micronized minerals? Whether this matters or not, I think it’s important to know what’s in the sunblock choices so you can make an informed decision. I explained nano particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (those are the small ones) at yesterday’s research post. Be sure to see the comments as well for even more perspectives. Micronization is just the basic process of making the minerals smaller and is deemed safe as only nano particle absorb into the skin.
- UPDATE 2011: I’ve gone through all the products again and increased the emphasis on NON-nano particles of both minerals because of information such as this from the EWG: “Studies suggest that nanomaterials are toxic in the environment to fish and other aquatic life and can damage organs when they enter the bloodstream after being absorbed through the skin, lungs or gut. ” Better safe (and more pasty white) than sorry, in my opinion. Here’s the 2011 natural sunscreen review update.
How do I Evaluate a Sunscreen Not Included Here?
Although it sure felt like I had a sample of every natural sun protection cream in the entire world, I didn’t even come close. If you’re wondering about a brand that I didn’t get to test, here’s how I would go about figuring out a sunblock’s worth/safety:
- Go straight to the ingredients.
- ONLY the two minerals (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) should be “active” ingredients.
- To be really safe, many say zinc is better than titanium.
- If you can find out about nano particles, do so. Non-nano is better.
- There should be some sort of antioxidant included (Vitamin E, aka Tocopheryl acetate, green tea, etc.)
- No retinyl palmitate (synthetic Vitamin A).
- No parabens, synthetic or unlabeled “fragrances” – that’s a general rule for all body products.
- If you can pronounce all the other ingredients, all the better!
If you’re a frugal do-it-yourself type of person, you can find a recipe for homemade sunblock in the Summer Edition of My Buttered Life from Renee Harris of MadeOn Hard Lotion. 5 recipes with 5 ingredients for $5. If you’re not sure where to get the ingredients, you can grab a DIY kit HERE.
- How to Make Your Own Homemade Sunscreen Lotion :: Keeper of the Home
- Two sunscreen recipes (and one sun relief spray) in DIY Organic Beauty Recipes
- How to Make Non-Toxic Homemade Sunscreen :: Mommypotamus
New FDA Regulations
The FDA finally updated their sunscreen rules for summer 2011 (after decades of radio silence), including restrictions on the phrase “waterproof,” extremely high SPFs, and UVA/broad spectrum protection. Read a synopsis here.
Kitchen Stewardship Recommends…
The following natural sunscreens and sunblocks are in my general order of preference within each section.
Recommendations are based on overall impression, safety, and price. The best sunblocks in this first section are those I could actually see myself purchasing for my family. UPDATED 2013
Price: $16.49-19.79 (4 oz.) ~$4-5/ounce
EWG rating: 1
SPF: 31-35 (updated 2013)
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (25%), non nano
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E
Where to purchase: Kabana online, Amazon, or Whole Foods
Ease of application: +/- Average for zinc-based sunblocks
Water resistant? Probably? Doesn’t repel water like some others do, but doesn’t allow burns even after swimming.
My experience: Although my husband, who is notorious for not applying sunscreen evenly, burned a bit at a baseball game between noon and 3:00, our brother-in-law and neighbors did not burn at all, even after swimming. The brother-in-law had some other products on as well and did burn, so I feel pretty confident in the effectiveness of Kabana Green Screen. My neighbor didn’t like the consistency and would not use it again. As natural sunblocks go, that’s pretty standard issue, so I guess I’m used to it. The tinted version helps alleviate the Casper the Friendly Ghost look, but it’s too “tan” for very fair skin and looks odd.
What really puts Kabana at the top is the ingredients – when I was asked by a cousin to choose one for her son, just barely 6 months, I felt I could only grab one that had zinc oxide as an active ingredient, since that is rated safe for babies’ bottoms from day one. Kabana was the one I told her to take home with her…
Star Feature: Kabana was founded by a Stanford grad with a chemistry background who has a real passion for safe skin care. The website is packed with information that I eagerly perused. The boss man, Erik, teaches you to read labels and assures you of the quality of each of his ingredients, many of them organic. For the quality of the product, the price is very reasonable. Kabana is also an eco-friendly company.
UPDATE: Kabana has come out with an even simpler version this summer (2012), using beeswax instead of “vegetable emulsifier” and with only 6 ingredients!
My review: (Updated 2012 and 2013) Kabana’s new Vitamin D sunblock feels so safe to me, and it’s one of the only ones I’ll put on John (less than a year old). However, you should know that it doesn’t “rub in” at all, and it’s not meant to. My kids look a little ghostly, but it’s “safety first” for me with them, not beauty. My husband won’t use it at all – beauty first for him, apparently!
Just kidding. For the adults, we’ve been using Kabana’s new tinted blend. They really do work as far as not looking white, but hubs was very worried he’d look like he was wearing makeup. He was relieved that he didn’t.
You should know about this one, though, that it stains clothing really, really badly. That’s why, even though it looks great on the kids, even John’s white baby skin (nude for kids; bronze is great like a foundation for adults), we won’t use it on them anymore. They’re too wiggly and we’ve wrecked a few shirts already and aren’t willing to risk more.
In addition, this product would be a good after-burn way to get antioxidants onto the skin and soothe the harmful effects of the sunburn.
Price: $89.00 (64 oz. – with free shipping) $17.95 (8 oz.) just over $2/ounce or under $1.50 if bought in bulk
EWG rating: 2 (SPF 50 rates a 1)
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (6%), titanium dioxide (6%), no nano particles
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea
Where to purchase: Mexitan, Amazon, other online retailers (***new label says “Tropical Sands” by Mexitan***)
Ease of application: + Almost watery, spreads incredibly easily
Scent: nearly neutral, lightly of green tea perhaps?
Water resistant? Yes, somewhat
My experience: Mexitan absolutely stopped one of my daughter’s arms from burning and my shoulder when applied only on one side. Three hours in the sun, 1-4:00 p.m. It’s really thin, though, and goes on like there’s too much water in it – but that also means it rubs in better than many. My husband wore it on his freshly buzzed hair, and against all odds, he did not burn after 6 hours in the sun. This is the only sunscreen I tested that is so thin and easy to spread. If you have wiggly little ones or hair that needs sunscreen applied in it, Mexitan is the perfect choice. My son did burn a little on the Mexitan side and not the Melansol side, so the “reapply after swimming” reminder is an important one here. My bottle, which must be older, does contain Vitamin A, but the new versions do not.
Star Feature: Made in the U.S., highly rated for “reef friendliness” and environmental safety. Super spreadability! Gets high marks for being my husband’s very favorite and his new standby.
Price: $13.99 (1.8 oz. face) OR $12.95-17.49 (3.5 oz. baby) OR $19.69 (5.3 oz. body) ~$6/ounce for face, ~$3-5/ounce for baby, ~$3/ounce for body
EWG rating: 1 for all formulas (listed under “eco skin care” not “eco logical”)
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (22%) non-nano
Antioxidants added: green tea extract and grape seed oil
Where to purchase: Vitacost, ECO logical’s store locator, Amazon (body) or face or baby.
Ease of application: + Our whole family really likes this product and how well it goes on. It’s very thick, which is actually kind of nice, but it rubs in quite nicely.
Scent: fairly neutral, although son doesn’t love it, probably because it has no added fragrances.
Water resistant? Yes! Water beads up visibly so nicely, and it definitely stays on a long time in the water.
My experience: When I emailed ECO logical to ask for a sample for summer 2011, they replied “hold the presses!” They assured me I would love the product. Skeptical of such claims, of course, I was still happy to have a company work with me so readily. Well. ECO logical is by far my favorite brand of this summer’s field. The baby version seems expensive in comparison, so I’d go with the “body” for everyone myself. I highly recommend ECO. UPDATE 2012: I learned why the baby version is more expensive – there are 3 pricey ingredients added: avocado and carrot oils for the delicate infant skin, and frankincense, a natural skin antiseptic. Some moms even use the baby Eco on diaper rashes.
Star Feature: the company is very committed to education, community, sustainability – ECO stands for “Environmentally Conscious Origins.” Plus, their product is great! UPDATE 2012: “ECO was named the exclusive sunscreen of The Surfrider Foundation (surfrider.org) a globally recognized advocate for marine and beach ecology (over 50,000 members worldwide!). We believe so strongly in their mission that we’ve pledged to donate up to 3% of our net revenues to support them.” Wow, I’m liking this company more and more!
Price: $17.99 (4 oz.) OR $13.59 (2.9 oz. sport) ~$4.50/ounce or ~$5/ounce for sport, varies
EWG rating: 1 for all formulas
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (10-22.5%, varies) non-nano uncoated
Antioxidants added: varies, EVOO, shea butter, sunflower oil and Vitamin E from sunflower oil, various essential oils, seabuckthorn and vanilla extracts. (As an aside, Badger has just about the best ingredients explanations I’ve ever seen…)
Where to purchase: Vitacost, Badger online, various stores including H-E-B, Wegman’s, and Whole Foods, and on Amazon
Ease of application: + Our whole family really likes this product and how well it goes on. It can be thin, so we’ve learned not to open the tube when it’s upside down, but for non-nano especially, it runs in remarkably well. The previous Badger formula was described as a bit “greasy,” but this new one is totally different. Improvement!
Scent: varies – some unscented, some delightfully like oranges (kids really like that one, me too)
Water resistant? The “cream” sunscreens definitely repel water; the “lotion” versions aren’t intended to, and they don’t. Read your labels carefully to know what you’re getting!
My experience: Badger reformulated all their varieties in spring 2013, and they emailed me explaining that the changes they had made should really take care of all my previous complaints about the product (separation, purplish-white hue on skin). I was actually pretty excited to try the new products, and Badger is the only sunscreen I tested in 2013.
The first surprise was how many different “flavors” of sunscreen there are, from “kids” and “baby” to “sport” and “daily.” Some are water resistant to 40 or 80 minutes (they typically contain beeswax for staying power and have been rigorously tested; FDA regulations prohibit the use of the term “waterproof” anymore, so this is as good as you’ll get), others are intended as a moisturizer with SPF in a way, and they’re all broad spectrum (UVA, UVB, even UVC) and use only zinc oxide (non-nano particles) as the active ingredient.
The next surprise was honestly the vast difference in ingredients. The sport formula cream, for example, has only 5 ingredients, all very recognizable. The baby formula lotion shocked me with its 18 ingredients, some of which I didn’t recognize and a number of which used soy. As I dig into the website and literature that arrived with my samples, I think I understand why now.
Badger has divided its line into “creams” and “lotions.” The lotions are intended for daily use, are not water resistant, and have many extra ingredients for the purposes of emulsification so it doesn’t separate, getting it to rub in clear (and it does, 100% clear), and some antioxidants to fight the free radicals from sunshine exposure and a few natural preservatives. The ingredients are all sourced naturally, but for a sunscreen personally, I’d rather have one tube that I can put on my kids whether they’re going to be swinging at the park or running through the sprinkler.
I prefer the creams, then, which have very simple ingredients, don’t run in quite as well (but pretty darn effectively for a zinc oxide sunscreen!), and repel water like nobody’s business. The “baby” version of the cream differs from the “sport” only slightly: baby doesn’t have jojoba oil and adds two essential oils for scent and antioxidants plus seabuckthorn and vanilla for the same reasons. Many brands add additional antioxidants to their baby formulas; if you don’t want scented, the sport is JUST as safe and gentle for baby’s skin (and the whole family), although it does have a higher concentration of zinc oxide by a few percent.
Badger still sells their two originals that I tested, a lavender scented SPF 18 and 30, both labeled “cream” in a 2.9 oz. tube. I wish I had the old ingredients list to see if they’re exactly the same or not, but they’re labeled “original formula.” It’s possible they rub in better and aren’t greasy simply because of the way Badger is working with non-nano uncoated zinc oxide, but I didn’t get to test those so I can’t say for sure.
For our family, I’d choose the sport and/or kids sunscreen cream, and maybe the face stick because my daughter thinks it’s really cool. Also, the face stick uses olive oil instead of sunflower oil, which I really prefer, and it has a higher SPF than the baby and kids formula.
Star Feature: Since we had a mediocre/negative experience with the old formula, Badger ended up with a special “Reader’s Choice” designation: “Many, many readers won’t let me say anything bad about Badger. People love it and have had different experiences than our family, so do take that into account when purchasing.”
I’m very pleased to now have it in the “KS Recommends” section, because the company really is taking care to do things right. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the depth and candid nature of their information, especially their coverage of nano particles and the extensive and honest FAQs. Reef safe and biodegradable just make the deal sweeter.
One bummer: Be sure to watch for soy and corn in some of the lotion formulas (not sport or baby/kids cream) if you’re sensitive to either one.
Other Good Alternatives…
This section includes sunblock options that either have a few more questionable ingredients, are more pricey than I’d like, or have some feature that disagreed with me. For example, I really want to put California Baby on the “recommends” list because we loved it and it’s easy to find at Target…but it is awfully pricey and doesn’t include any zinc.
Price: $28.30 (3.5 oz.) ~$8/ounce
EWG rating: 2
SPF: 15, but independently rated at 29.5
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (29.5%), micronized but “not nano” (some particles <100nm)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E
Where to purchase: My Miessence Store
Ease of application: +/- This product is very thick and pasty (see photo up in description of review), but does it ever stay on when wet!
Scent: smells like clay, not so nice
Water resistant? Very!
My experience: Although the product is difficult to rub in, you get rewards in water resistance. All my husband’s friends were impressed with how it held up as they sweated playing volleyball (see photo below). We had some incidences of light sunburns with the product, but usually only after towel drying and forgetting to reapply (lesson learned!). It also made clear white streaks around the burn on my sister-in-law when she applied it unevenly, so that’s a pretty clear indication that it works to protect from the sun. I’m a fan of the product overall, and if organic and sustainable ingredients are important to you, Miessence is a great option.
Star Feature: Super certified ingredients, carbon neutral and other community-minded goals.
Price: $13.99 (3.5 oz.), $19.99 (8 oz. spray) ~$2.50-4/ounce
EWG rating: 1 (baby), 2 (kids) 3 (kid’s spray) The spray sunscreen (NOT continuous spray) has a few ingredients rated 4-6 at EWG, but I think it might be unfairly labeled with a higher number simply because it’s a spray, but it’s not aerosolized. EWG’s rating system ranks the same ingredient as more dangerous when it’s a spray, but the site still says the particles of minerals are >100 NM, which is good.
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (6-7%), zinc oxide (6%) in kids, zinc oxide (20%) in baby, non nano particles all around
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea and more
Where to purchase: Vitacost, Goddess Garden online, Amazon
Ease of application: +/- depends on style, see below
Scent: kids = very light lavender; baby = unscented
Water resistant? The baby version could still be seen after a full hour of swimming; the others state “water resistant” on them, but I couldn’t be as sure as they blend in better.
My experience: We’ve been around and around on this one as to whether we’d recommend it or not.
UPDATE: demoted to this section from “recommends” July 2013. Too many questions about the size of the particles, although I think this is still a good product. There are just plenty of good ones that I’m more sure about.
The kids versions are both fairly creamy (the website says they use a “sheer zinc oxide” but assures us it’s non-nano), and I admit that when it got warm this spring (2012) I grabbed the Goddess Garden spray first because of ease of use. There’s no easy way to pack the bottle for long travel (see photo above), but oh my – one hand grab and squirt is great! You do still have to rub the lotion IN with your hand, unlike some of the spray style chemical sunscreens.
The baby version, unfortunately, was extremely hard to rub in. Not just that it stays white, but it got very clumpy and cakey, really quite yucky on the skin.
All of the bottles/tubes have stayed emulsified and nice over the winter, so I think I’d still recommend the spray particularly, just for its convenience. Realize that as with ALL zinc-based creams, you’re still going to have a harder time making it actually disappear than a chemical screen. Note 2013: I have NOT reviewed the new “continuous spray” sunscreen. I would be hesitant about that one.
Star Feature: Great list: reef safe, vegan, gluten-free, non-nano particles, organic ingredients, run by moms who care! The baby sunscreen has good intentions with the ingredients: only zinc oxide, no nut oils, unscented – but it just doesn’t rub in well.
Price: $17.49 (3.5 oz.) ~$5/ounce
UPDATE 4/2012: demoted for too many ingredients, including phenoxyethanol (see comments for more information). UPDATE 2013: The ingredients have been considerably cleaned up! I’d love to test the new TruKid; I have a feeling it would pop up into the “recommended” list with its new ingredients.
EWG rating: 1
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (20%), non nano (200 micron sized)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea
Where to purchase: Amazon, TruKid online
Ease of application: + creamy, rubs in well, does not separate in the tube
Scent: One of my son’s favorites, smells like oranges
Water resistant? Not sure – it doesn’t claim to be and doesn’t bead up like some others. UPDATE: TruKid does sell a sport version that is “very water resistant.”
My experience: TruKid kind of flew under the radar as one that was unremarkable other than its pleasant scent. It was so easy to put on and never drew our attention by looking odd or allowing a burn, so I guess it’s a winner by default! UPDATE: My only trouble with the product is the plethora of ingredients, many of them sounding chemical-ish although still a “1″ at EWG, and the owner explains every single ingredient, where it comes from and what it’s for right here. 2012: The tube is still easy to use and remains a favorite scent!
Star Feature: Started by a mom concerned for her kids, TruKid stays up on safe ingredients and even took Vitamin A right out of their product when its safety was questioned. Gluten-free product, which can be a big deal! They also have fun shampoo, conditioner and body wash that my kids love and offer a good compromise option between conventional SLS-based shampoos and castile soap. Customer service is prompt, too!
UPDATE: Melansol demoted 2011 because of the nano-particles.
Price: $23.95 (6 oz.) ~$4/ounce
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): micronized uncoated zinc (10%); UPDATE: the website describes it as nano particles (30-60 nano)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea, Bio-Melanin
Where to purchase: Amazon, other online retailers
Ease of application: - The product is so thick, it doesn’t even come through its own bottle cap and it separates a bit (see photo below). However, once on the skin, it doesn’t look so white, and it definitely spreads well!
Scent: pleasant, a light lemony scent UPDATE: My aunt had a coughing fit after I applied this on my kids; she’s allergic to eucalyptus. Something to be aware of…
Water resistant? Yes – we could still see it on the skin after 6 hours!
My experience: In a head to head test vs. Mexitan, swimming 6 hours and playing on the beach with one reapplication, Melansol was the winner. My son burned slightly on the Mexitan side. Although it is very thick, doesn’t feel pasty once on the skin. UPDATE 2011: Once the product is more than an inch below the top of the bottle, however, it’s awfully hard to get out. The company needs to package the product in a tub for scooping. They were demoted from a top recommendation partly because of this hassle.
Star Feature: Melansol can be used as a daily facial moisturizer, is very water resistant, and the ingredients are carefully balanced to provide as much antioxidant protection as possible, plus it’s biodegradable.
Price: $15.97-17.97 (8 oz.) ~$2.25/ounce
EWG rating: not listed (Mercola explains every ingredient here if you’re interested)
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (6%), zinc oxide (6%), non nano particles
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea and sunflower oil
Where to purchase: Mercola online, Amazon
Ease of application: +
Scent: quite pleasant and sunscreen-y, be careful if you’re sensitive to eucalyptus
Water resistant? Certainly isn’t visible on the skin at all, does not make water bead up, and in fact, it seemed to float right away when immersed in water. ???
My experience: I do love that this sunscreen comes in such big bottles and doesn’t cost very much. In fact, it’s really great except that I worry how long it will last in the water. I don’t have any proof one way or the other on this brand, but it sure looks like it comes right off.
The flip side of the “waterproof” issue is “how well does it rub in,” which is truly excellent. For running around the neighborhood (and slathering on visiting neighbors), this is one of my picks for sure.
Star Feature: Low cost, reef safe, rubs in great.
UPDATE: Demoted for going up in price and taking more note of the nano-particles.
Price: $13.45 (6 oz.) $3.36/ounce
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): micronized zinc oxide (3.5%), titanium dioxide (9%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, wild pansy, hibiscus and green coffee
Where to purchase: Amazon
Ease of application: + rubs in quite well because of the very small zinc (18-30 nanometers).
Scent: Fresh and citrusy
Water resistant? It was still in my daughter’s ear after 6 hours of swimming and beach play!
My experience: Everyone reapplied with Sol Kid while we spent 6 hours at the beach, and it seemed to do a great job. It really is easy to put on, and there is something to be said about having a nice, big bottle that didn’t cost you an arm and a leg. At least for us, we’re more likely to put on an appropriate amount and not skimp and make it too thin. The Caribbean Solutions website claims that they do not use nano technology and that the minerals are simply micronized, but it is mostly accepted that a nano particle is anything less than 100 nm. Nanotechnology is still a fairly new field and tough to decipher.
Star Feature: Especially formulated for children and balanced with skin healthy plant compounds and lots of antioxidants. It goes on fairly clear.
Price: $20.15 (2.9 oz.) ~$6.95/ounce
EWG rating: 2 (old formulation) – the “no fragrance” SPF 30 is only a 1
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (18%), highly micronized (non-nano)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, Japanese Green Tea
Where to purchase: Target, Amazon
Ease of application: + white and creamy, rubs in average
Scent: very pleasant, if you like citronella!
Water resistant? Very!
My experience: We tested the citronella version, which of course had a very specific scent, so I can’t attest to the smell of the rest of their line, but I really like citronella, so this one was a winner. The sunblock itself is very white, thick and creamy. I had already tested other zinc oxide sunblocks and noticed the water beading up, but this one really seems to keep the water away. Check out the demo from my son in the photo below. I didn’t even realize this one has titanium dioxide only until typing this up. I am impressed at its effectiveness and would recommend it especially to people who are allergic to zinc oxide. No one ever burned with California Baby, and we used it often.
Star Feature: California Baby uses only quality essential oils that are sustainably grown. It’s always a bonus to apply one product for both sun and bugs! Gluten and soy free.
One bummer: Titanium dioxide will prevent burns (UVB rays), but it’s not as effective as Zinc oxide to block the UVA rays. They really should be used in combination.
Price: $8.9 (2 oz. stick) OR $19.99 (9.5 oz. cream) ~$4/ounce for stick, $2/ounce for cream
EWG rating: both 1
Active ingredient(s): micronized zinc oxide (20%)
Antioxidants added: ?
Where to purchase: Purple Prairie
Ease of application: +/- a stick is so handy for faces and we love that, but it doesn’t rub in superbly; the cream does a nice job rubbing in
Scent: not so great; my son doesn’t like it on his face
Water resistant? Yes! With the stick, water beads up on the face and you can visibly scratch some off even after swimming. I’m pretty sure it’s the beeswax that is the secret ingredient for that. The jury is out on the water resistance of the sun stuff….but even the bottle doesn’t claim to be water resistant.
My experience: I personally appreciate the stick as awesome for faces, but a bit tedious for entire bodies. If you’ve got guys who don’t want to touch each other’s skin, however, a stick would be a great option! No one burned using the Purple Prairie products.
Other products:Purple Prairie also makes a lip balm with SPF, but it was so white that I couldn’t even bear it!
Star Feature: The ingredients are mainly organic and meet the rigid standards for safety in the coral reefs of Mexico.
Price: $3.92 (1 oz.), $15.99 (4 oz.) ~$4/ounce
EWG rating: 3
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (6%), non-nano, titanium dioxide (5%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E and C, green tea leaf extract, alpha lipoic acid, grape seed extract
Where to purchase: Beauty Intuition, Amazon, online retailers
Ease of application: - Sticky and thick, almost like toothpaste (see photo below), extremely hard to rub in
Water resistant? Maybe?
My experience: This one turns my arm hair white! I’m surprised that the percentage of zinc is less than some of the others because it is so thick and white. You definitely feel protected with this one. It doesn’t release any oils into the water, but it also doesn’t bead up as much as some of the others, so I’m not sure if it feels “water resistant”. One company spokesperson said it passed their “kitty litter test” and doesn’t clump up and make sand stick to your skin.
Note: Beyond Coastal also sells active sunscreens with chemical ingredients, but they are some of the safest chemical sunscreens available as well.
Star Feature: Green initiatives, U.S. made, family-friendly company.
Price: $24.95 (3.5 ounces? I can’t read it!) ~7/ounce
EWG rating: not rated
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (23.5%), no information about nano particles
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, carrot oil, & more
Where to purchase: 3rd Rock Sunblock online (free shipping)
Ease of application: +/- goes on pretty white but rubs in eventually, bit of a greasy shimmer
Scent: very light citrus with some sort of earthy undertone (there is an unscented version)
Water resistant? I expected the beeswax in the ingredients to make 3rd Rock obviously water resistant, but that was not the case.
My experience: I saw this one on a Yahoo article of some sort in spring 2011, listed as one of the top natural sunscreens available. I checked out the ingredients and really liked their story, so I asked for a sample.
There are some ingredients I’ve never seen in a sunscreen, like corn starch, and I’d love to see the website break down each ingredient with an explanation. (The fact that the “infant” and regular formulas seem to have exactly the same ingredients is just “off” to me.) The company also really needs to get listed at EWG; anyone can do it, and even my well-loved small business hand lotion MadeOn is there (and they’re a ZERO, thank you).
On one test on my husband, he did burn, but no lotion out of four held up that day as he and my son played in the water far, far too long. Hubs says it smells “too girly” for him (he would want the unscented). Overall, since I can’t tell about nano particles and it’s rather expensive, this product is in the “maybe someday” list.
Star Feature: I have to give props to this company for being research-driven – the science geek in me appreciates all the information on the site. They’re a small start-up, and I hope they improve their website navigability and bring the price point down so that they can grow, because I do believe 3rd Rock deserves its time in the sun…
Vanicream Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Price: $17.95 (4 oz.), ~$4.50/ounce
EWG rating: 3
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (7.5%), zinc oxide (7.5%) , nano particles (<100 nm according to EWG)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E
Where to purchase: Derm Store
Ease of application: + very creamy
Scent: smells like sunscreen
Water resistant? Not sure
My experience: Whenever I read ingredients and can’t pronounce or recognize at least half, I sort of glaze over. I just think, “Why bother with this one when there are so many truly natural brands available?”
However, somehow this is the ONLY mineral sunblock I’ve seen that lists a rating of SPF over 30, so I can say I’m very happy that at least the active ingredients are not chemicals. It was listed as the very favorite of a friend who tested a handful of creams, who said it was “so creamy” and rubbed in the best of those she tried.
Star Feature: I suppose if you’ve got someone who just won’t wear anything that’s labeled below a 50, this is a great safer option.
Price: $10.89 (.27 oz. stick) OR $14 (1.6 oz. tube) ~$8.75/ounce for tube
EWG rating: 1 for stick, 3 for tube
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (10%) and Octinoxate (7.5%) in stick; Homosalate, Octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene (tube)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E in the stick; Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A) – a major no-no!!! in the tube;
Where to purchase: Amazon
Ease of application: +/- a stick is so handy for faces and we love that, but it doesn’t rub in superbly
Water resistant? Yes! Water beads up on the face and you can visibly scratch some off even after swimming.
My experience: I cannot recommend the tube because of all the chemical sunscreen ingredients (even though they’re the “safer” ones, but especially the Vitamin A. Other companies are taking that out. If you’re dying for a stick for your face, Supergoop isn’t a bad option, but Purple Prairie, also reviewed here, is better.
UPDATE 2012: I do not see Vitamin A on the ingredients any more at EWG; also Supergoop is in the top 10 ranked “non-mineral” sunscreens at EWG from 2011. I’ll bump it up under “recommends” but only IF you really need a chemical sunscreen because the minerals don’t work for you or cause problems.
Star Feature: Easy to apply, no parabens.
Price: $10.75 (2.7 oz.) $14.89 (5 oz.) $3-4/ounce
EWG rating: 1
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (24.8%), no nano particles
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green tea
Where to purchase: Mom4Life, Amazon, online retailers and some small stores
Ease of application: +/- rather thin and goes on white, separates in tube
Scent: smells like clay, not so pleasant
Water resistant? Not sure
My experience: UPDATE 2012: Although I love the ingredients and origins of Loving Naturals, my husband said I have to demote it. Once we got the larger bottle to test in late summer 2011, we realized that it goes on extremely pasty. He was appalled as how white his face became and actually had to use soap to get it off before he would leave the bathroom. Now, months later, the sunscreen is so thick that I can’t really shake it up, but it has separated into a bit of liquid that needs to be incorporated back in. I no longer recommend!
Original review: This was a small sample, so it had limited testing. It is a bit tinted, thus it doesn’t make people look quite so ghostly, but it’s still a bit tricky to rub in.
Star Feature: Very low EWG rating and reasonably priced, founded by parents and a responsibly-run company that discloses EVERY ingredient and source. UPDATE 2011: Gluten-free! This is a big deal, as gluten-free sunscreens and sunblocks can be hard to find. I also have an appreciation for the emphasis on organic and non-GMO ingredients.
Price: $13.99 (1.4 oz.), $20.99 (2.8 oz.), $32 (5.3 oz.) $6-7.50/ounce
EWG rating: 1 (old formulation; not rated for anything newer)
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (22.3%)
Antioxidants added: green tea extract, Vitamin E
Where to purchase: Acacia Organics, Amazon, online retailers
Ease of application: + Creamy like a conventional sunscreen, rubbed in fairly well
Water resistant? very
My experience: My husband had a little burning on the side opposite Soleo with another SPF 30 sunblock, so we’re very pleased with its effectiveness. My son wore it in and out of the water, through toweling off and eating dinner, and then 3 full hours after the first application we could still see the water beading up on his arms when he jumped back in the lake. Impressive! If sustainably sourced, organic ingredients are very important to you, the price premium may be worth it.
UPDATE: Strange, but after a year, the tube smells a little rancid. It also separated in the tube after a year in storage so much so that I couldn’t possibly knead it enough or shake it to get the product to be usable. Pure liquid oil kept coming out the dispenser opening. Since the product doesn’t seem to be able to last more than one season, I rescind my previous good recommendation.
Star Feature: Packaging and container made from 100% recyclable material. Ingredients 100% natural, organic, environmentally safe. Water resistant up to 3 hours. Plus, the rating is a ONE. That’s awesome.
The Jury is Out…
I either didn’t have time to conduct a proper test or ran into a problem (like a sunburn) that hasn’t been replicated, but makes me nervous about recommending the products here. Some on this list are the “okay” products that I neither recommend nor suggest to avoid.
Price: $5.94 (4 oz.) ~$1.50/ounce
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (12%), non nano, titanium dioxide (1%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, grapeseed oil
Where to purchase: Lucky Vitamin, Amazon
Ease of application: +/- Fairly standard for mineral sunblocks, separates slightly in the tube
Scent: Yum! (Aloe Vanilla scent)
Water resistant? Not sure, but it claims to be
My experience: The box arrived while I was finishing up this post! Alba Minerals is slightly tinted, so the pale-skinned look is reduced a bit. It went on well and the kids were excited (still!) to try a new sunscreen. “Just put it on half, Mom,” my son said when I opened the box. [I do have to say that Lucky Vitamins uses too much packaging for one little tube of sunscreen! Why such a big box?] In spite of the no. 2 rating, there is one ingredient rated at a 6. I’m not sure how to feel about this one! The price, on the other hand, is quite nice.
Star Feature: UPDATE: We enjoyed the Alba the rest of the summer, and it’s one of my son’s ultimate favorites because it smells so good. However, I let it freeze in the van during the winter, killing any further testing. Sorry about that! For a sunscreen you might be able to find in a regular store, this is an excellent frugal option. No parabens.
Price: $19 (2.7 oz.) $7/ounce
EWG rating: 1
Active ingredient(s): non-nano zinc oxide (20%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, green and white tea and more
Where to purchase: Marie Veronique online, Amazon
Ease of application: +/- rubs in with some difficulty
Scent: an odd cross between makeup-y and woodsy, maybe floral. Light scent.
Water resistant? At first I thought it didn’t seem water resistant at all, perhaps because the bottle doesn’t claim to be. It does bead up water a little bit, however. I wouldn’t expect it to stay on very long, though.
My experience: Although the ingredients are nice, I have too many reservations about the container with this one. It’s metal and a squirt top, but you still have to rub in the lotion, and it it ever gets clogged, there’s no way to squeeze out the remaining product.
Star Feature: For some, a squirt top is a great enough feature!
Additional product note: I received a few samples of MV’s facial line, a tinted moisturizing cream with SPF. I admit I’ve used it as foundation a number of times, and I’m pretty happy with it. It becomes nicely matte and rubs in well. So if you’re looking for makeup…keep Marie on the short list! (The “light” is very, very light, not for suntanned faces.)
Price: $18.95 (4 oz.) ~$4/ounce
EWG rating: *not rated*
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (10%),
Antioxidants added: White and green tea extract
Where to purchase: Amazon
Ease of application: + goes on smoothly
Water resistant? Tough to say. There’s no beading up with this product, nor does it scratch off the skin after a few minutes in the water. However, my husband didn’t burn after swimming.
My experience: We like this sunscreen and are happy it doesn’t have chemical sunscreens in it, but the list of ingredients still has so many unpronounceable items on it that with all the other choices, it doesn’t seem worth our time. At least it doesn’t have parabens or fragrances to worry about.
Star Feature: If a clear finish is important to you, this product will give you what you want. The SPF is only 20, though, and it does act differently from other SPF 30s.
Elemental Protection Lotion $13/175ml
Shea Intensive Healing Lotion $13/175ml
Cocoa Light Lotion $13/175ml
EWG rating: all at 2
Active ingredient(s): Cocoa butter, avocado butter and coconut oil are naturally SPF 15
Where to purchase: only from Anarres Natural Health
Ease of application: + creamy lotions that sink right in
Scent: neutral to nice, depending on the lotion
Water resistant? Not meant to be
My experience: These lotions are just lovely. Creamy, not greasy, very easy to apply, and they really feel like they get into the skin and moisturize without seeming too thick.
Star Feature: The totally natural, balanced and certified safe and sustainable ingredients are second to none. This is the only product I reviewed that comes in metal or glass containers! A very green option!
(and Sun ‘n’ Fun Organic Baby)
Price: $48 (3.5 oz.) $22 (3.5 oz. – baby) $6-14/ounce
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (6.5%), titanium dioxide (2.5%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E and more
Where to purchase: Amazon, Beauty Intuition, online retailers
Ease of application: Very simple, creamy and brown (baby)
Scent: Mmmm, smells like chocolate! (baby); smells flowery and almost powdery, definitely a female scent (sunsi’belle)
Water resistant? Not sure
My experience: I just had a little sample of these two options, so I admit I didn’t test it as thoroughly as some of the others. The scents are fabulous and they’re very creamy and easy to apply. They rub in well and form a visible barrier, and no one who used it got burned. My sister-in-law liked it a lot! For our family, the high cost would be a bit prohibitive, however.
Star Feature: Sun*Si’Belle helps prevent skin breakouts on face, and who can argue with a product that smells like chocolate?
EWG rating: ?
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (10%), large particles, not even micronized
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, grapefruit seed extract (certificate of purity, not from China)
Where to purchase: only from Anarres Natural Health
Ease of application: - The cream separated into thin liquid and a pile of sediment and was difficult to apply (see photo below)
Water resistant? Not at all
My experience: I tested the sun protection cream on one half of my body with no sunblock of any kind on the other half. This wasn’t a smart idea, because I was about to be in the sun for 6 hours on the beach. It seemed like the sun cream might have been coming off in the water, but then after I air-dried, I could still see a white film and water droplets would bead up on my arm, so I hoped I was still protected. The strange result of this bad experiment was that I burned on the side with the lotion and not much on the side with nothing. To Anarres’ credit, the creamed side was turned toward the sun and the unprotected side was covered a bit while my daughter slept, but only with a very thin sarong, and I tried to even it out by covering the sun-creamed side as well and then facing the opposite way while in the water. I have no idea what went wrong! I wish I had more time to test the product before the review, but I will continue to check it out and update this review if necessary.
Star Feature: Comes in a glass container, certified safe and fair trade ingredients.
Price: $26.95 100mL, $28.99 (3.4 oz.) ~$8/ounce
EWG rating: 1
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (18%), uncoated nano particles
Antioxidants added: ?
Where to purchase: Keys website and independent seller Angela Regali, Amazon
Ease of application: +/- creamy, but rubs in about average for a zinc based block; I like the applicator pump
Scent: great – smells like oranges!
Water resistant? Not at all, and it doesn’t claim to be
My experience: Keys Soap was the first zinc block we tested, and my 2-year-old daughter ended up with red bumps on her arms afterwards. It may have simply been as a result of her first exposure to the sun for an extended period this year, or an initial reaction to the zinc, but it never happened again with this or any zinc product. I’m not crazy about any sunscreen that isn’t water resistant, because we’re either going to be sweating or swimming if we’re in need of a sunscreen. It visibly ran down my friend’s skin as he sweated playing volleyball.
Star Feature: “Our nano-zinc oxide (ZnO) is uncoated to provide healing therapies associated with zinc oxide. The uncoated zinc has also proven to be anti-bacterial and antimicrobial and can reduce redness, rosacea, age spots and melasma.”
Other products: I got to test all sorts of little samples from Keys Soap, and I do love them all! They have great healing lotion for eczema and after sun, a bug itch spray that helped my son sleep when the mosquito bites were keeping him awake, and even shampoo and conditioner with zero chemicals. I use about 4 drops of the shampoo on my kids’ heads, and it all smells yummy like oranges.
I can’t love everything. These sunscreens either are too pricey for my budget (and likely that of my readers), have too many ingredients I don’t like, or I just wasn’t impressed. A girl’s entitled to an opinion!
Price: $16.95 (5 oz.) or $26.99 (9 oz.) ~$3/ounce
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (5%), zinc oxide (6-10%), nanotechnology
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E
Where to purchase: Amazon, DermStore, online retailers
Ease of application: +/- white, quite thick, average spreadability for a physical sunblock
Water resistant? Yes
My experience: Blue Lizard was nearly the only sunblock that allowed a burn more than once. To its credit, we were outside literally all day and on the water. Each kid had a re-application, but they wore only Blue Lizard because I just had a little sample that I couldn’t close and wanted to use it all in one day. The second time, my husband had Soleo on one half and got slightly burnt on the Blue Lizard half only. I’m unimpressed with the ingredients as a whole–even their baby formula has parabens and some other questionable ingredients, in spite of the “2” EWG status–and would not recommend Blue Lizard.
Note: Blue Lizard also makes sport sunscreens using chemical UV absorbers. Star Feature: Bottle turns colors in UV light so you know when you need to apply. Tested according to strict Australian standards.
Price: $39.99 (1.7 oz.) too close to $20/ounce for my liking
EWG rating: 1
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (20%), no nano particles
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, algae, sunflower and grapefruit oils
Where to purchase: Beauty Intuition, online retailers
Ease of application: +/- Average spreadability, very white and thick (see photo below)
Scent: pleasant, a bit like a conventional sunscreen, lightweight
Water resistant? Does form visible barrier
My experience: I’d say this is about standard for the zinc-based creams. The price makes it tough for me to figure out why it stands above some of the others that have similar ingredients and perform as well.
Star Feature: Started by someone who lost her mom to skin cancer; uses lots of antioxidants.
Price: $32.00 (1 oz.) $3
EWG rating: 2
Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (9%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E and C, grapeseed oil
Where to purchase: Beauty Intuition, online retailers
Ease of application: +/- Very thick, white, doesn’t rub in very well
Scent: Quite pleasant and fresh
Water resistant? Not sure
My experience: This is another for which I only had a small sample, and I would place it squarely in the realm of “average.” The high cost is prohibitive for me, but if you’re someone who purchases expensive daily facial moisturizers or battles wrinkles, it might be worth it for you.
Star Feature: Can be applied as a daily moisturizer and doesn’t clog pores.
Price: $5.42 (4 oz.) less than $1.50/ounce
EWG rating: 3
Active ingredient(s): Padimate O (PABA ester) (8%), titanium dioxide (10%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E and C, green tea
Where to purchase: Amazon, Lucky Vitamin, online retailers
Ease of application: - Very thick and goopy, a bit greasy but spreads well( see photo below)
Scent: excellent; my son LOVES this one
Water resistant? Yes, visible barrier against water
My experience: The texture is a bit like clay and very thick, and the cream does separate in the tube, which makes it harder to apply. Although my son would choose it every time based solely on scent, I’m not so sure about the ingredients and would choose one of the other sunblocks first every time. The price, however, is nice.
Katie’s thoughts: Rated at 3, although Padimate O (PABA ester) is listed as one of EWG’s three FDA-approved sunscreen ingredients that have “highest concern for human exposure and toxicity.” The ingredient independently is rated a “5” in safety. I don’t understand why I’d want to use this option when others are available, unless I was allergic to zinc oxide.
Price: $7.17 (4 oz.) $6.69 (4 oz.) less than $2/ounce
EWG rating: 5
Active ingredient(s): Homosalate (10%), Octocrylene (10%), Ethylhexyl Methooxycinnamate (7.5%), Ethylhexyl Salicylate (5%), Titanium Dioxide (2%)
*To understand how each of these chemicals may affect your family, do a quick search for them at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E?
Where to purchase: Amazon, many online retailers
Ease of application: + creamy and simple
Scent: smells like conventional sunscreen, bananas
Water resistant? Seemed to do okay
My experience: It was interesting to test the chemical sunscreens vs. the mineral based ones, so I’m glad I made the mistake and got Jason Sunbrellas. I have since learned that any sunscreen over SPF 30 is not a mineral based one and can’t be rated quite as safe! It was funny to see some of my testers say with visible relief, “I’ll take this one,” after I explained the difference between mineral and chemical. However, my brother-in-law still got burned on his shoulders with this SPF 45. It can trick you into not reapplying and having a false sense of security!
Katie’s thoughts: Last year I remember memorizing the name “Jason Sunbrellas” as a safe sunblock that I was going to purchase if I could find it in a retail store. I’m glad I didn’t, because there are only a few Jason products (mineral based!) that are included in EWG’s 0-3 ratings. However, if you do want a chemical based sunscreen, this is a safer choice because it doesn’t have oxybenzone or parabens. I would like to see it have a bit more titanium dioxide or added zinc oxide, however, for the UVA protection.
I was supposed to get Jason Sunbrellas Mineral Based Physical Sunblock, SPF 30, but I didn’t know better than to ask for anything more specific than “Jason Sunbrellas.” You really have to watch closely!
Price: $5.62 and $4.39 (4 oz.)
EWG rating: 6
Active ingredient(s): homosalate (10%), Octocrylene (10%), Octinoxate (7.5%), Octisalate (5%), Titanium Dioxide (2%)
Antioxidants added: Vitamin E
Where to purchase: Vitacost, Amazon, use store locator
Ease of application: + Rubs in easily and forms no visible barrier, creamy, slightly greasy
Scent: both very pleasant, “smells like candy” says a friend (Kids)
Water resistant? Claims to be, but it didn’t seem like it.
My experience: It was interesting to be able to pit these safer chemical sunscreens (they don’t contain oxybenzone) again the mineral based ones. There wasn’t one time when someone burned on the mineral side and didn’t with this one, and in fact, my husband’s friends thought that the Badger SPF 30 worked better than this one.
Katie’s thoughts: If you have to have a chemical sunscreen, Alba has some decent options, but EWG score-wise, there are others that are better (see the end of the post for some examples).
I was supposed to get Alba Botanica Very Emollient Mineral Protection Sunblock, with zinc oxide, but here again I didn’t know better about asking for super specific items. It JUST arrived as I was formatting this post. Better late than never!
What Else to Look For
I certainly didn’t test every safe, natural product out there. There were a few others on my list that I wasn’t able to acquire, and I notice that some are sold in normal retail stores that are pretty safe, including one I picked up a few years ago thinking it might sound “safer” without even knowing what I was doing! You can always check the Cosmetic Safety Database at EWG to get the lowdown on any ingredients in just about every personal product in the world. Here are a few examples of big brand, retail store sunscreens that are still rated under 4 for safety:
Coppertone Kids Pure and Simple Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50 (rated 3): A great example of a zinc based sunscreen with added chemical UV absorbers that are the safest available.
Ocean Potion Suncare Natural Mineral Protective Lotion, Faces SPF 45 Uses only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients; a couple other bad ingredients get it up to a 4 rating at EWG. Kids’ version is only a 3.
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For more sun protection, see my sun protective clothing review and part two. I’ll be updating this post and sharing a new post as a full update in early summer 2011, so be sure to sign up for a free email subscription or grab my reader feed. You can also follow me on Twitter, get KS for Kindle, or see my Facebook Fan Page to keep updated on all the sunny goings-on here at Kitchen Stewardship.
Thank You to the Natural Sunscreen Review Sponsors
I’m very appreciative of all the companies and individuals who partnered with me on this project, without whom I never would have been able to review 28 natural sunscreens, including:
- Kabana, a research-based skin care company grounded in green goals.
- Nubius Organics, who will also be working with me on a back-to-school giveaway in August!
- Vitacost.com, who worked so hard to get me natural sunblock samples they even ordered from another company.
- Michelle Brumgard, a KS reader and sponsor, who shared her Miessence product and fab customer service with me.
- TruKid, who made sure I was aware of the EWG database – love that!
- Acacia Organics, a small store where they make sure everything passes the highest organic standards.
- Angie Regali, a Keys Soap reseller who was the inspiration behind the entire project when she offered my family a sample of her broad spectrum sunblock.
- Tracey TieF at Anarres Natural Health, whose lotion ingredients are so natural they make me hungry.
- Solartex Sun Gear, a mom-run company who you’ll see more of later in the week with sun protective clothing.
- DermStore.com, where natural sunscreens and more have free shipping every day.
- Lucky Vitamins.com, selling natural sunscreen and other nutrition and wellness items.
- Caribbean Sol.com, selling natural body products and even natural dog shampoos.
- Beauty Intuition, featuring quite a number of safe sunscreens ranked 0-3 at EWG.
- Dr. Mercola’s online store
- Nova at Goddess Garden
- 3rd Rock Sunblock
- Purple Prairie and Lullaby Organics
- Dr T’s Supergoop
- Glacier Creme
- Mom4Life for the second Loving Naturals sample
- Eco Logical Skin Care
- Marie Veronique Organics
Disclosure: Every product I reviewed was received from one of the companies listed above without charge. However, they cannot and did not expect a positive review, just an honest one (which is, of course, what I’m here to provide). Some companies provided products for giveaways as well, along with an advertising fee. They still didn’t get special treatment in the review, which is just for you, my readers. J There are affiliate links in this post, including Amazon, MadeOn, DIY Organic Beauty Recipes, Mexitan, Vitacost, and Kabana, from which I will receive a commission, so thank you very, very much for starting your shopping here if you can’t find a product locally.