The average per-ounce price of my top 7 recommended sunscreens from the massive safe, natural sunscreen review is (gulp) over $5.30. That means that for a fairly standard 3-ounce tube, which is really quite small, you’re paying over $15 (and could be up toward $25).
Technically, an adult should use that tube up in just 3 applications on their full body. Ouch.
What’s a large family on a budget to do?
Spreading the lotion more thinly so that you use less reduces its SPF – in fact, it’s thought that most people attempting to apply an SPF 15 actually spread it on at about a “5” effectiveness.
Never fear! The mission of Kitchen Stewardship has always been to help you balance your health, environment, time AND budget, and we CAN find sunscreens that will do it all!
- Your health. I do recommend that you use sunscreen to protect your skin from the damaging rays of the sun – but not all sunscreens actually improve your health. You can read more of my safe sunscreen research in the review and also in the science geek post about skin cancer, Vitamin D and more. Bottom line? Ditch the chemical sunscreens and choose one that won’t potentially cause cancer or be hormone-disrupting. Mineral sunscreens are the way to go.
- The environment. Oxybenzone, an active ingredient found in over 70% of common sunscreens, also hurts coral reefs, and many of the ingredients in conventional sunscreens wash into the waterways and cause problems. Luckily, same answer: most mineral sunscreens are reef-safe.
- Your time. Bad news here. More coming in a new post soon, but spray sunscreens are NOT the way to save time, even though they’re so darn convenient. The best way to save time applying sunscreen? Apply less. I’ll tell you how to do it safely below.
- Your budget. There are three ways to save budget on natural sunscreens – so let’s get started breaking them down!
Use Less Sunscreen by Staying in the Shade
Many professionals recommend keeping out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10a-2p anyway, so if you can, seek shade. You should only have to apply sunscreen for the hours you are IN the sun, and with zinc oxide-based creams, you only have to reapply if it gets wiped or washed off.
If our family is out somewhere for more than a few hours, we often do reapply on our faces, because it’s likely that we’re wiping them with our hands even if we’re not swimming. Kids wipe their sweat off, itch their noses, etc. (Adults too!). Personally, I don’t always reapply on arms and legs unless we’re out for a very long time in the direct, midday heat – like a soccer tournament.
Whenever we can, we do seek shade in the very heat of the day, like bringing a cabana for the kids to hide in at a soccer tournament and umbrellas for the adults. It’s impossible (and not very fun) however to be shaded all the time, so I’m so grateful to have safe options for sun protection that I know will really work!
There are a LOT of beach cabanas available now; I can’t even find the one we own, but here are a few with good reviews that look nice to me:
- pop up instant cabana
- beach cabana with carry bag
- beach tent popup (looks like it will shade slightly on all sides)
- quick cabana sun shelter (open just on one side) this looks very similar to the one we have
- lightweight beach shelter with carry bag
Use Less Sunscreen by Wearing More Clothing
Seriously, busy moms – this tip is GOLDEN.
I can only imagine how many 100s of minutes I’ve saved because my family all wear rash guards every time we swim. Particularly for my husband and 3 boys, that’s a lot of skin that we DON’T have to put sunscreen on back and front!
Plus this is the perfect way to save money by investing wisely. You can find very inexpensive rash guards in just about any swimsuit section nowadays, for maybe $10-15 apiece. If you have a child who will grow out of it in a year or two and don’t need to plan ahead for hand-me-downs, go for it!
Just like bathing suits though, rash guards have a huge risk of getting stretched out, snagged, faded, etc. The less expensive ones that we’ve accrued over the years probably aren’t going to make it down to Gabe, boy number 3 in our family. Our only girl usually wears hers right out until they droop to her knees!
On the other hand, my husband has had the same Coolibar rash guard since 2010 when we started this whole sun protection journey, and it’s still in quite incredible shape. You can just tell the fabric is better than other shirts we’ve tried over the years, even for adults.
When he bought one randomly a few years back to make sure he had two shirts, that one not only didn’t hang as nicely when wet but also died within a few years and we got rid of it!
Longevity/quality wise, we’ve also had very good luck with Lands End swimwear, and they have a lifetime guarantee (I believe) on all their products. They almost always have some sort of coupon going too, so don’t buy without one!
My site editor, Robyn’s family swears by SwimZip suits. “The zipper in the front makes them easy to get on and off little ones and they are high quality so they last. They also have a line of sun safe clothing for the whole family, Shedo Lane, that is the softest material I’ve ever owned. I can’t get my toddler to wear anything but her Shedo Lane dress now!” – Robyn
Whether you buy a more expensive rash guard because you’re planning to keep it a long time or a $10 one-year thing, you’ll still save at least that much in sunscreen if you’re an active, outdoor family.
- Coolibar rash guards on Amazon
- Lands End rash guards
- SwimZip rash guards and suits
- Shedo Lane
- All rash guards on Amazon
Be sure to divide the price of the shirt by the total number of years you hope to have it. It can feel CRAZY and not frugal at all to buy a $50 shirt, but if you can use it for ten years like my husband will be able to, that’s only $5/year or equivalent to about one-third of a tube of sunscreen. It’s a good deal when you’re logical about it and not just looking for “cheap.”
We also have had some sun hats from Coolibar for 8 years now, and they’re both in excellent, top-notch shape. We love this bucket hat and this baseball cap style with drape, and you can get the bucket hat without the chin strap for older kids. There are many other brands of sun hats for kids available on Amazon too, and I’m actually excited to see more and more people “getting the message” about this important habit!!
I just can’t speak to the longevity of the other brands – we had one from Target long ago and it wasn’t as nice of a material, but worse, it wasn’t as deep and didn’t stay on as well. The Velcro tab on the Coolibar hat is AMAZING for keeping it on all sizes of heads! It seriously will even stay on 95% of the time when on a fast-moving speedboat in all that wind.
Coolibar does have sun hats, for swim and otherwise, for all ages (link goes to Amazon). Some are very stylish!
Buy More Economical Safe Sunscreen – that still works!
When a reader with a large family lamented the fact that one of my less expensive “other good brands” had gone out of business, I was inspired to dig deeper into the numbers and find a frugal option for families. I found it!
Mexitan (aka Tropical Sands) is a brand that was initially in my top recommended list, then got “demoted” for micronized zinc oxide while I was still learning about the safety of that size of particle.
The research is showing that micronized particles should not be a safety hazard, only “nano” sized (less than 100 nanometers). Mexitan is non-nano and I feel completely comfortable moving the brand back up to the recommended section! I’m also ordering some more to test out this summer since they have added an SPF 50 with more active ingredients and I want to see how it feels.
The best part? You can get an 8-ounce bottle, twice as big as most other brands offer, for just over $2/ounce – less than half what most superb brands will run you.
And the better than best part? If you really do have a big family, go with this:
That’s a full gallon of sunscreen with a pump to refill your smaller bottles! Keep in mind when planning ahead that you should use it up in 2-3 years or so. The zinc oxide never degrades or loses effectiveness, but the oils in the sunscreen can turn rancid over time. The brand recommends that you keep the pump off and the regular cap on when not in daily use, so just pump into your little bottles and store capped.
Grabbing a full gallon means you’re only paying $1.39/ounce. Now we’re talking frugal! Watch for the popup on the site too, which is currently offering 10% off, and this big jug would definitely qualify for free shipping.
You can get Tropical Sands in an 8-ounce bottle at Amazon, although sometimes it runs a dollar or two more, but I don’t see the gallon size there currently.
Other brands that are under $4/ounce:
- **Kabana in the 8-ounce size
- Dr. Mercola (large 8-ounce bottle)
- Babo Botanicals
- Goddess Garden (depending on the type you buy) I’m super excited to have just received new samples of Goddess Garden products as they have re-formulated. I have high hopes that they’ll be moving up to the “top recommended” list soon!)
- Sol Kid Care (under $2/ounce, but uses nano particles of zinc last time I was able to find information on it)
- Purple Prairie (I think this is the least expensive STICK I’ve seen if you want a stick for faces)
- Alba Botanica Very Emollient Mineral (but be careful to get only “mineral” – Alba has chemical sunscreen as well)
- **Butterbean, especially if you buy in the 7-ounce size
**Some of my top recommended get under $4 when you purchase it right!
You don’t have to compromise on your health and the environment when you swim and play outside in the sun.
Plus, one more awesome thing about avoiding chemical sunscreens? You may spend less $$ replacing ruined clothing.
My mom just called lamenting that a bunch of clothing she wore in Florida got rust stains all over from the washing machine there…but then she realized that my dad’s clothing was fine. A little research revealed that Avobenzone, the only chemical sunscreen active ingredient that truly screens for UVA rays (the cancer-causing ones!!) must be washed off your skin with soap or it will invisibly get on your clothing when you change.
Then when you run it through the washer, you get rusty-looking spots all over. Disaster!
Here’s my theory on why this is going to be happening a lot more and will surprise people who have long used the same brand of sunscreen:
The FDA finally wised up a few years ago and released some new regulations for sunscreens. One is that the term “broad spectrum” can only be on formulas that protect sufficiently and in a balanced manner from both UVA and UVB rays.
Many sunscreens protected effectively from UVB rays, the burning ones, because that’s what consumers could experience and understand, but they weren’t all doing their job against the cancer-causing rays. Now they’re scrambling to catch up and mostly having to balance their formulas with Avobenzone. (*cue ominous music*)
Guess what sunscreen ingredient is already broad spectrum all by itself, no balancing needed?
That’s right. Our friend zinc oxide.
Slather up, folks – buy the gallon.
Want to evaluate your sunscreen? Get a printable guide to choosing sunscreens based on safe ingredients while you shop: