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Natural Sunscreens That Just Don’t Work (and they’re giving the others a bad name, grrrr!)

When you test over 100 sunscreens, some make the top recommended “best natural mineral sunscreen” tier which is highly coveted and quite a small group, some get on the “also recommended” list, and others get asked about a lot but just aren’t all that awesome.

We all want reef-safe sunscreens to protect the environment, especially after the sunscreen ban in Hawaii. And we want mineral sunscreens that are safe for our own bodies. But some brands just miss the mark. 

And then there are the hot messes…

Natural Mineral Sunscreens That Just Don't Work

…the ones that go on like whiteout,

…those that apply like paint drying too fast,

…those that separate or dry out within 6-12 months (only good if you love wasting time and money),

…and those that caused more burns than any other!

Curious yet? Read on for the zinc oxide sunscreens I’ve tested that I just can’t let you buy:

Mineral Sunscreens We’ve Reviewed and DON’T Recommend

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 were an epic #fail. A girl’s entitled to an opinion! Sometimes this category is simply referred to as “Awful.”

Kiss My Face Kids Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
Overall
1.8
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant
  • Effectiveness

Details:

Kiss My Face Kids Natural Mineral Sunscreen Review Note: There is a Kiss My Face version that made a much higher list!! The “organics” is far better!

Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 3

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide 6%, zinc oxide 6%

Other ingredients: Aqua, aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, acrylates copolymer, lecithin, glycerin, xanthan gum, glycine soja (soybean oil), cocamidopropyl betaine, cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, butyrospermum parkii (shea) butter, camellia sinensis leaf (green tea) extract, daucus carota sativa (carrot) root extract, agaricus bisponus (mushroom) betaglucan, tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E), olea europaea (olive) oil, retinyl palmitate (vitamin A), phenoxyethanol, …

Antioxidants added: sunflower seeds oil, green tea leaf extract, Vitamin E

Where to purchase: Amazon

Ease of application: – major problems rubbing into even slightly moist skin

Scent: neutral, neighbor girl didn’t like it, kind of smells like cooking oil

Water resistant? Unlikely. It immediately made white streaks when wet (like it was running off the skin) and the reviews on Amazon say “not resistant.”

My experience: I thought this one was lovely on the first attempt, one of our first semi-warm days at noontime. It rubbed right in really well. But the second time we used it, it was a little bit warmer. We learned that if the skin is even slightly moist from sweat, Kiss my Face turns into little balls, flakes, and solid pieces of yuck, especially on the face, ironically! Once that happens, it’s hard to even get the chunks back off the skin.

The ingredients include soybean oil, which is definitely not my favorite particularly considering allergies, and phenoxyethanol, which I researched a few years back on another sunscreen on this list. I found that it’s sort of natural, sort of not, probably not toxic, but so much less “natural” than real ingredients not made in a lab, of course. It’s a 3 or 4 at EWG, which is okay but not the best. Kiss my Face also includes cocamidopropyl betaine, rated 4 at EWG, and lecithin, ringing in at a 3.

PLUS no sunscreen should ever include synthetic Vitamin A. Many studies (cited above in this post) link it to major health problems in the sun…which is where we wear sunscreen. Ouch. (2020 UPDATE: Most current version does not contain Vitamin A.)

After all those negatives…why bother? This one is off my list.

Pros

  • Hmmm …

Cons

  • contains synthetic vitamin A, among other sketchy ingredients
  • impossible to put on skin that is even slightly moist
  • contains soy
  • not water resistant

Supergoop: Sunstick and SPF 30 Everyday
Overall
3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Supergoop! Mineral Sunstick Review Price Range: $$$$ (tube) $$$$ (stick)

EWG rating: 1 for stick, 3 for tube

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (10%) and Octinoxate (7.5%) in stick; Homosalate, Octisalate, avobenzone, octocrylene (tube)

Other ingredients: Water (Aqua), Isododecane, Isodecyl Neopentanoate, Diisopropyl Sebacate , Lauryl Lactate, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol, Isostearyl Isostearate, Potassium Cetyl, Phosphate, Cetyl Behenate, Behenic Acid, Beta Glucan, 1,2 Hexanediol, Caprylyl Glycol, Thermus Thermophilus Ferment, Acrylates Copolymer, Glyceryl Stearate, Behenyl Alcohol, Palmitic Alcohol, Stearic Acid, Lecithin, Lauryl Alcohol, Myristyl Alcohol, Nylon-12, Xanthan Gum, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer, Caprylyl Glycol, Maltodextrin, Cassia Alata Leaf Extract, Panthenol, Disodium EDTA, Allantoin, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Leaf Oil, Citrus Limon (Lemon) Peel Oil, Geraniol, Geranium Maculatum Oil, Pogostemon Cablin Oil, Aniba Rosaeodora (Rosewood) Wood Oil, Ocimum Basilicum (Basil) Oil, Glucose, Lactoperoxidase, Glucose Oxidase

Antioxidants added: Vitamin E in the stick; Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A) – a major no-no!!! in the tube  UPDATE: Most current version does not look to have Vitamin A.

Where to purchase: Amazon, Supergoop! site

Ease of application: +/- a stick is so handy for faces and we love that, but it doesn’t rub in superbly

Scent: neutral

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 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.

Pros

  • Sunscreen stick is easy for face application
  • Water resistant

Cons

  • Tube contains vitamin A and chemical sunscreen ingredients
  • Expensive

Blue Lizard Australian Suncream (Sensitive & Baby)
Overall
3.7
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Blue Lizard Australian Suncream Review Price Range: $$$$$$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 30+

Active ingredient(s): titanium dioxide (5%), zinc oxide (6-10%), micronized zinc

Antioxidants added: Vitamin E

Other ingredients: Beeswax, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Caprylyl Glycol, Cetyl Dimethicone and/or Cetyl Dimethicone Copolyol, Chlorphenesin, Disodium EDTA, Ethyhexyl Palmitate, Ethyhexyl Stearate, Hexyl Laurate, Hydrogenerated Castor Oil, Methyl Glucose Dioleate, Octododecyl Neopentanoate, PEG-7 Hydrogenated Castor Oil, phenoxyethanol, Polyglyceryl-4 Isostearate, Propanediol, Purified Water, Sorbitan Oleate, Stearic Acid, Tocopheryl Acteate, Trimethylated Silica/Dimethicone, VP Hexadecene Copolymer

Where to purchase: Amazon, Walgreens (sensitive, baby), Blue Lizard site

Ease of application: +/- white, quite thick, average spreadability for a physical sunblock

Scent: neutral

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.

UPDATE 2017: EWG rating is now a 1 (down from 2) and the parabens have been removed, hooray! I have not tested the new formulation.

Note: Blue Lizard also makes sport sunscreens using chemical UV absorbents.

Star Feature: Bottle turns colors in UV light so you know when you need to apply. Tested according to strict Australian standards.

Pros

  • EWG rating of 1 in updated formula
  • Tested to high Australian standards

Cons

  • Thick with average spreadability

Suntegrity All Natural Moisturizing Face Protection
Overall
3.7
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Suntegrity Natural Moisturizing Face Protection Review Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (20%), no nano particles

Other ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis (Organic Aloe Vera) Leaf Juice, Capric Caprylic Triglycerides (Coconut Oil Extract), Water (Aqua), Sorbitan Stearate (Plant Derived), Glyceryl Stearate (Plant Derived), Polyglyceryl-4 Isostearate (Plant Derived), Hexyl Laurate (Plant Derived), Simmondsia Chinensis (Organic Jojoba) Seed Oil, Cetyl Dimethicone (Mineral Derived), Magnesium Sulfate (Epsom Salt), Helianthus Annuus (Organic Sunflower) Seed Oil, Cucumis Sativus (Organic Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Astaxanthin (Algae Source), Hyaluronic Acid (Plant Derived), Chlorella Emersonii (Red Algae) Extract, Camellia Sinensis (Organic Green Tea) Extract, Punica Granatum (Organic Pomegranate) Seed Oil, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Essential Oil, Citrus Sinensis (Sweet Orange) Essential Oil, Citrus Reticulata Blanco (Tangerine) Essential Oil, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide*, Ethylhexylglycerin* *paraben-free anti-microbial agent.

Antioxidants added: Vitamin E, algae, sunflower and grapefruit oils

Where to purchase: Suntegrity site

Ease of application: +/- Average spreadability, very white and thick (see photo below)

Scent: pleasant, a bit like a conventional sunscreen, light

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.

Natural Sunscreen Review: Best All Natural, Safe Zinc Oxide Sun Protection

Pros

  • Lots of antioxidants
  • Small, woman-founded company
  • Works as a makeup primer as well

Cons

  • High price
  • Only meant for faces

SanRe Organic Skinfood Supple Sunshine
Overall
3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

SanRe Organic Skinfood Supple Sunshine Review Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (9%), Titanium Dioxide

Other ingredients: Organic Safflower (Carthamus Tinctorius) Oil, Organic Grape Seed (Vitis Vinifera) Oil, Purified Water (Aqua), Organic Aloe Vera (Syn A. Barbadensis) Gel, Organic Beeswax (Cera Alba), Organic Coconut (Cocos Nucifera) Oil, Organic Citrus (Citrus Aurantium) Extract, Essential Oils

Antioxidants added: Vitamin E and C, grapeseed oil

Where to purchase: Online retailers, Amazon, SanRe site

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.

Pros

  • Not pore-clogging and can be a daily moisturizer
  • Pleasant scent

Cons

  • Very high price
  • Doesn’t rub in well

Jason Sunbrellas Family Natural Sunblock SPF 45
Overall
3.3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Jason Sunbrellas Family Natural Sunblock SPF 45 Review Price Range$$$$

EWG rating: 3

SPF: 45

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.

Other ingredients: Aqua (Water), Cetearyl Alcohol, Glycerin , Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, VP/Hexadecene Copolymer , Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Stearate SE, Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice (1), Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract (1), Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract (1), Cetearyl Olivate , Polysorbate 60, Silica, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Sorbitan Olivate, Tocopheryl Acetate , Xanthan Gum, Alcohol (1), Benzyl Alcohol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Fragrance (Parfum)

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!

Pros

  • SPF 45
  • No oxybenzone or parabens

Cons

  • No zinc and contains chemical ingredients
  • EWG rating of 5

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Green Tea Natural Sunblock and Alba Botanica Very Emollient Sunblock – Kids
Overall
2.3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Alba Botanica Green Tea Hawaiian Sunscreen Review Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 3

SPF: 45

Active ingredient(s): homosalate (10%), Octocrylene (10%), Octinoxate (7.5%), Octisalate (5%), Titanium Dioxide (2%)

Other ingredients: Aqua (water), aloe barbadensis leaf juice, caprylic/capric triglyceride, dimethicone, ethylhexyl palmitate, sorbitan sesquioleate, glycerin, butyrospermum parkii (shea butter), helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, polyglyceryl-3 ricinoleate, vitis vinifera (grape) seed oil, calendula officinalis flower extract, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, magnesium sulfate, silica, sodium chloride, tocopheryl acetate, benzyl alcohol, …

Antioxidants added: Vitamin E

Where to purchase: Amazon, Well.ca for Canada, HerbsPro

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).

Pros

  • No oxybenzone
  • Smells like candy

Cons

  • Chemical sunscreen
  • Allowed some burns

Elemental Herbs All Good Kid's Sunscreen
Overall
2.8
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant
  • Effectiveness

Details:

All Good Kids SunscreenPrice Range: varies, $$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 33

Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (22.5%), non nano Zinc Oxide 16% (Non-nanoparticle)

Other ingredients: Organic Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Juice, Water (Aqua), Organic Camelia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract, Glycerin, Caprylic Capric Triglyceride, Organic Chamomilla Recutita Matricaria (Chamomile) Flower Extract, Organic Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Extract, Organic Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Organic Rosa Canina (Rose Hip) Fruit Oil, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Glyceryl Stearate, Methylcellulose, Stearic Acid, Organic Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil, Organic Butyrospermun Parkii (Shea Butter), Xanthan Gum, Caprylyl Glycol, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Ethyhexyl Glycerin

Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe) Leaf Juice*, Bentonite, Calendula Of cinalis (Calendula) Flower*, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Car- thamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil*, Cellulose Gum, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Chamomilla Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract*, Coco-Glucoside, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Heptyl Undecylenate, Jojoba Esters, Mauritia Flexuosa (Buriti) Fruit Oil*, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Octyldodecyl Oleate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil*, Water (Aqua).

*Certified Organic to USDA/NOP Standards.

UPDATE: This brand reformulated in 2020 and I haven’t gotten to test it yet. I hope to, but at first glance that’s a very low percentage of zinc oxide, so I wouldn’t trust your kids to it just yet!

Antioxidants added: green tea extract, rose hip fruit oil, others

Where to purchase: Amazon, All Good site

Ease of application: +/- gets a little of that “paint drying” effect if you’re not super quick to rub it in. Meh.

Scent: neutral, very “unscented” if you know what I mean

Water resistant? Doesn’t even claim to be. My friend said, “Not water resistant? Oh, that’s not good…” which is kind of how most parents probably think. Why not add some beeswax to up your game? Now claims up to 80 minutes water resistance.

My experience: This sunscreen feels like a plain old normal tube of sunscreen, which may be why I secretly gravitated toward it.

However, even though it’s very nicely creamy, it has the “whiteout” action that makes it streaky if you don’t rub it in within 2 seconds. The ingredients also include a few synthetic preservatives, and my daughter got incredibly sunburned on her school’s field day while wearing it. The one time I didn’t use two kinds, arg! (We were in a hurry!)

After the winter in storage (inside in normal temperatures) it still went on ok, although the white-out action is still there. You want to rub it in as fast as possible and you’re still not usually fast enough!

Pros

  • Creamy, looks like “normal” sunscreen

Cons

  • not water resistant
  • dries fast and streaky
  • “white-out” effect
  • allowed sunburns

Babyganics: Various Versions
Overall
2.3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Babyganics Mineral Based Sunscreens Review Price Range $$$$

EWG rating: 1-7, depending on product

SPF: 15-50

Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, octinoxate, octisalate

Other ingredients: Water, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Neopentyl Glycol Diethylhexanoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Stearyl/Octyldodecyl Citrate Crosspolymer, Polyglyceryl-2 Stearate, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Hydrogenated Dimer Dilinoleyl/Dimethylcarbonate Copolymer, Glyceryl Stearate, Cetyl Alcohol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil*, Glycerin*, Solanum Lycopersicum (Tomato) Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Seed Oil, Nigella Sativa (Black Cumin) Seed Oil*, Rubus Idaeus (Red Raspberry) Seed Oil, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter*, Jojoba Esters, Stearyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Glucoside, Behenyl Alcohol, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Silica, Alumina, Ethylhexylglycerin, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Phenoxyethanol *certified organic ingredient

Antioxidants added: sunflower seed oil, cranberry seed oil, black cumin seed oil, red raspberry seed oil, and more

Where to purchase: Amazon, Walgreens

Ease of application: The one I tried goes on like paint drying – meaning that if you don’t rub it in within a second or two, you get white smears that are impossible to do anything with.

Scent: neutral

Water resistant? not sure

My experience: I’m so disappointed in this brand! It came recommended by readers, but when I received 5 different versions (pure mineral sunscreen SPF 30, moisturizing daily lotion with SPF 15 sunscreen, pure mineral sunscreen stick SPF 50, mineral-based sunscreen SPF 50+, and mineral-based sunscreen spray SPF 50+), I was shocked at the BAD chemical ingredients in the spray and SPF 50+ “mineral-based sunscreen” versions, so honestly, why bother with the line? If they’re going to use chemicals sometimes it gets too confusing. I’d rather be able to recommend a brand for being upright and non-toxic all the time and not have to say, “Babyganics is ok but not this version or this version…”

Even in the mineral-based ‘screens of this brand, they use titanium dioxide which is not my preference at all. And it includes phenoxyethanol, which is pretty safe, but wouldn’t you rather have totally non-toxic and the best available?

Pros

  • Easy to find at big retail stores

Cons

  • Too many versions with varying degrees of safe ingredients
  • Not easy to rub in

Keeki Pure and Simple SPF 30
Overall
2
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Keeki SunscreenPrice Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): zinc oxide (7.1%), OM Cinnamate (5.9%)

Other ingredients: Deionized Water, *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut Oil), C14-22 Alcohols, C12-20 Alkyl Glucoside, *Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower Seed Oil), Stearic Acid, *Theobroma Cacao Seed (Cocoa Butter), *Vitellaria Paradoxa (Shea Butter),Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Xanthan Gum, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf (Aloe Vera), Ethylhexylglycerin, and *Banana Flavor Oil *Organic Ingredients

Antioxidants added: coconut oil, Vitamin E

Where to purchase: Keeki, Amazon

Ease of application: not that great, a little sticky too

Scent: strong banana

Water resistant? rated to 40 minutes

My experience: Rejected! The ingredient OM Cinnamate is not a mineral ingredient. It’s a conventional chemical sunscreen rated 6 (moderate hazard) at EWG, has hormone-mimicking effects in lab animals and has been found to be persistent in breastmilk. #greenwashing at its finest!

Also, before I noticed this fatal flaw, it didn’t rub in all that well anyway and had the “paint drying” effect.

Pros

  • None

Cons

  • OM Cinnamate is a chemical sunscreen ingredient with EWG rating of 6
  • Streaky, “paint drying” effect

Pure Haven, the new Ava Anderson
Overall
2
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Price Range: $$$$$$$$

EWG rating: 2

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): Titanium Dioxide (6.00%), non-nano Zinc Oxide (6.00%)

Other ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera Gel) Juice, Aqua (Deionized Water), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Glucoside, Cetearyl Olivate, Cucurbita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Oil, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Oil, Leuconostoc/Radish Root Ferment Filtrate, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Almond) Oil, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil, Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropy, Sorbitan Olivate, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Xanthan Gum

Antioxidants added: Green Tea, Pumpkin Seed Oil, Sunflower Oil, Cocoa Butter

Where to purchase: Pure Haven

Ease of application: +/- I had high hopes for this brand that replaced Ava Anderson, which we love, but it did not hold up to testing.

Pure Haven rubs in only okay, a little streaky, but not as bad as some of the white out brands. It took a long time and a lot of work to rub it in. Unfortunately, on the face, it really did have too much of a white sheen to be appropriate for adults. Definitely not up to par with my top recommended options.

It is effective to prevent from sunburn, as this was one where a bit of skin showed under a shirt that was not protected and my son got a little sunburn, and the protected portion of skin did not burn.

Pros

  • Effectively prevented sunburn

Cons

  • White sheen and streaky
  • Low percent of zinc oxide and includes titanium dioxide

Waxhead Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Stick
Overall
3.3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Waxhead Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Stick Review Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 1

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (Non-nano)

Other ingredients: Virgin coconut oil, beeswax, vanilla extract

Antioxidants added: Vanilla

Where to purchase: Amazon, Waxhead

Ease of application: – When this company contacted me to offer samples of their sun sticks I was very excited. The ingredients were perfect, exactly what I always look for including the highest allowable percentage of zinc oxide and only three other ingredients. So, so safe!

But what a disappointment when we tried applying it. The only word I could think of after attempting to rub this in on my kids skin was “Alabaster.” They kind of looked like statues.

So if you want the lifeguard nose, Waxhead is definitely for you. It smells heavenly, scented with vanilla, and it is safe enough to eat… But you need a high tolerance for thick, white sunscreen in order to use it. It doesn’t rub in at all, sadly.

There is a tinted version to try to alleviate the white look, but my husband said this about it: “They won’t let me in the pool because they will think I’ve been playing in the dirt!” Oops.

Scent: Vanilla

See for yourself in this video on Facebook demonstrating 8 of the sticks in this review!

Pros

  • Vanilla scent
  • Four ingredients, safe enough to eat!

Cons

  • Super thick, white look
  • Gives you “lifeguard nose”

Brush On Block Broad Spectrum SPF30 Mineral Powder
Overall
3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Brush On Block Mineral Sunscreen Review Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: not rated

SPF: 30

Active ingredient(s): Titanium Dioxide (15%) and Zinc Oxide (12%)

Other ingredients: Alumina, Boron Nitride, Chamomile Flower Extract, Green Tea Extract, Honeysuckle Flower Extract, Iron Oxides, Mica, Rice Lipids, Rice Starch, Safflower Oil, Silica, Stearic Acid, Triethoxycaprylsilane

Antioxidants added: Green Tea Extract

Water Resistance: rated up to 80 minutes

Where to purchase: Brush on Block, Amazon

Ease of application: –

I discovered a whole variety of natural sunscreens that I have never even heard of before! There are multiple brands that are simply a powder that you brush on your face, I assume — I’m not even sure if these are meant for your whole body.

I have to admit that although my frugal sensibilities fought against this, I spent very good money on Brush on Block and only tested it once in my own bathroom.

The mechanism for delivery is quite fascinating, as the brush itself is filled with the powder and you shake a little bit down from inside the handle to the brush, then apply it to your skin.

Cute, innovative, fascinating… But very concerning and very messy. It got everywhere in my sink, and I wrote down that there was no way to hold my breath long enough to not inhale some of the billowing dust cloud that ensued from trying to apply it to my face. Zinc oxide is not meant to be inhaled, so I’d never use this to keep myself safe from hazards! It seems counterproductive.

While I am on this note, I have noticed since then that most of my powder foundation from natural companies happens to have zinc oxide in it as well. Oh dear. I do try to hold my breath for sure. It’s something to look out for if you can find a brand that doesn’t have zinc oxide… Although if you must have it, at least you have some protection from the sun in your normal makeup routine.

Pros

  • Innovative brush and concept

Cons

  • Zinc oxide should not be inhaled
  • Messy
  • Only for face

Earthley Sun Shield
Overall
3.5
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant
  • Effectiveness

Details:

Earthley Sun Shield Review Price Range: $$$$$$$$

EWG rating: not rated

SPF: N/A

Ingredients: Organic olive oil, avocado oil, virgin raspberry seed oil, grapeseed oil, organic mango butter, organic comfrey leaf, organic dandelion leaf, organic calendula flowers, and organic beeswax.

Antioxidants added: Practically all the ingredients are antioxidants!

Where to purchase: Earthley

Ease of application: + 

My experience: 

The ingredients in this sun shield surprise me a lot because there is neither zinc oxide nor titanium dioxide included. The formulation relies purely on oils and some healing herbs to protect the skin from the sun.

Is this positive or negative? It all depends on whether you burn for starters, but there are other considerations.

Even if these oils can protect from the UVB rays of the sun, which cause visible effects, I don’t think there is any research to show whether they protect from the UVA or UVC Rays. This gives me pause. If I was of the opinion that the sun is plain and simple good for us and can’t really cause harm other than a sunburn, I might trust my family to this product. As it is, I usually only tested it on myself because I did not have that trust.

The really really positive thing, of course, about a sun protection cream with no zinc oxide is that it’s incredibly clear. This goes on like a slick lotion, and the only bad thing about it is that it is shiny and greasy with all those oils. A little goes a long way! Had this been the 80s where everyone greased up to increase their tan, this product would have been amazing. I really only feel comfortable recommending it for short times in the sun when vitamin D (use the coupon KS10 for 10% off!) is more important than skin protection.

In side-by-side tests, this brand definitely burned worse than thinkbaby SPF 50. We also tested it at a soccer game in September versus nothing on the other side and we did have a worse burn on the side with nothing, but just barely noticeable in comparison. I’m wondering how much additional protection was on the side with this lotion… I would think not a very high SPF, just guessing.

For a non-white, darker complexion, I would say that Earthley definitely rubs in the most clear due to not having zinc. Might be one to try, since as one reader pointed out, zinc oxide can be a particular challenge for darker skin! But…there’s no guarantee it’s protecting you from anything, so that’s not very helpful. 🙁

UPDATE 6/24/20: In 2019, I chose to wear Earthley on my shoulders and one arm at a beach in Florida all day long. This was a really bad idea, and a smart friend with me explained why. Because there isn’t zinc oxide, a mineral that sits on top of my skin, all the oils in this Earthley formula sink right in. So even though they may be rated for SPF, they’re just not sticking around. I absolutely burned to a crisp and hurt for days.

Pros

  • Clear
  • Protects from UVB rays

Cons

  • No zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
  • May not protect against UVA and UVC rays
  • Allowed sunburn in tests

Badger Balm Tangerine Vanilla Kids Clear Face Stick SPF 35
Overall
3.5
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Ease of Application
  • Water Resistant
  • Effectiveness

Details:

Price Range: $$$$

Where to Purchase: Grove.co, various brick and mortar stores

SPF: 35

EWG rating: 1

Active ingredient: Non-Nano Uncoated Zinc Oxide 22.5%

Other ingredients: Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Organic Beeswax, Organic Cocoa Butter, Organic Shea Butter, Organic Orange Oil, Organic Tangerine Oil, Sunflower Vitamin E & Organic Vanilla Extract.

Antioxidants added: Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E)

Ease of application: + This stick smells lovely, a blend of orange and vanilla, and it has very very clean ingredients. It applies very easily, rubs in well, and would be a great option to send with a child to apply to their own face. One reason I love sticks is lack of gloppy mess that you find sometimes with cream, as well as the fact that you can really see where you initially apply it, and then ask a child to rub it in themselves. That’s one way to split the work, but my older kids can definitely do it 100% independently, and my younger ones certainly think they can. The stick has the highest water resistance rating possible.

Super important note: Safety with essential oils is becoming more understood, and I couldn’t be more grateful. Orange oil is one of those that is phototoxic, meaning it can intensify the sun and cause burns more readily when used topically. So is this a terrible choice for a sunscreen? First, it’s unclear whether the sweet orange oil in the Badger stick is essential oil or something less potent. But either way, sweet orange is not phototoxic, and neither is tangerine. It’s bitter orange that is a photosensitizer. (Phew!) source

Scent: Delightfully like oranges

Water Resistant: Rated for up to 80 minutes

Review (updated for 2021): Originally I had this Kids Clear Face Stick in the highest tier with the other Badger cream sunscreens. After a 2021 trip to Sedona, however, I have certainly changed my mind.

Kris and I used this stick by rubbing stripes on our skin and then rubbing it around to spread. The crazy thing was, we got burns around the original stripes – like it didn’t spread at all. So it might work exactly where you use the stick, but if it can’t deal with a little human usage, it gets a fail from me. It allowed a lot of burns.

Pros

  • uses olive oil instead of sunflower oil
  • higher SPF than other Badger products

Cons

  • doesn’t spread like it seems to
  • allowed burns

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen
Overall
2.3
  • Ease of Application
  • Clean Ingredients
  • Water Resistant

Details:

Price Range: $$$$

EWG rating: 2 or 5 depending on SPF

SPF: Available in 30 or 50

Active ingredient(s): Zinc oxide 21.6%

Other ingredients: Water, C12-15 alkyl benzoate, styrene/acrylates copolymer, octyldodecyl citrate crosspolymer, phenyl trimethicone, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, dimethicone, polyhydroxystearic acid, glycerin, ethyl methicone, cetyl dimethicone, silica, chrysanthemum parthenium (feverfew) flower/leaf/stem juice, glyceryl behenate, phenethyl alcohol, caprylyl glycol, cetyl dimethicone/bis-vinyldimethicone crosspolymer, acrylates/dimethicone copolymer, sodium chloride, phenoxyethanol, chlorphenesin

Antioxidants added: Chrysanthemum juice

Where to purchase: Amazon and various brick-and-mortar retailers

Water Resistance: Rated for up to 80 minutes

My review: This is pretty much a comedy show sunscreen from start to finish. Kudos to Neutrogena for a trying to create a safe sunscreen using only zinc oxide, but they have some work to do. It’s so thick and white that even we who are used to natural mineral sunscreens dropped our jaws in surprise and dismay! We only tested it one day because I borrowed a tube from a family member who shops more traditionally. What I am most disappointed about is that people looking for a natural option will probably be more likely to buy this than a really good brand simply because it is available in normal, in-person stores. But it’s such a poor example of what mineral protection can be that I worry it will turn people off and send them back to the conventional formula. What a shame!

Note: the brand also has a baby version with only minerals that a reader says she likes, but I haven’t tried it yet.

Pros

  • Easy to find

Cons

  • Very thick and white
  • Contains phenoxyethanol

Brands I Am Not Bothering to Try


After all these years testing sunscreens, I guess you could say my tolerance is low and standards are very, very high. When I look at a sunscreen’s ingredients, if they aren’t at least as good as my top recommendations, I figure, “Why bother?” This section explains some popular brands that haven’t been reviewed physically because they don’t pass the ingredient test.

Honest Company

Details:

The Honest Company has updated their formula a few times since 2014, resulting at first in problems galore. Even the active ingredients have changed a lot – currently in 2017, I’m seeing only zinc oxide, which makes me happy, but the other ingredients aren’t quite as good as my top recs. I’m guessing Honest would be in my third tier “Other Good Alternatives” – if it rubs in well. They also have a continuous spray which quite simply makes me skeptical – I’m not sure how zinc oxide works in a spray. Perhaps I’ll get some for next year’s update.


Aveeno Baby

Details:

No way Jose! A lot of people ask me about this one because Aveeno has done a wonderful job of greenwashing their products. All the active ingredients are petrochemical in nature (no zinc or titanium dioxide in sight) and it even includes a few kinds of parabens, awful hormone disruptors that have no place on a child’s skin (or adult’s!).


Green Beaver - Only Available in Canada

Details:

Green Beaver Mineral Kids Sunscreen Price Range: ~$22-$30CDN (90 mL.) ~$.22-$.30/mL CDN EWG rating: 1-3 depending on which formula SPF: 40 Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide Other ingredients: Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Karanja Seed Oil, Alumina, Hydrolyzed Jojoba Esters, Anthemis Nobilis Flower Water, Isostearic Acid, Squalene, Polyglyceryl-3 Polyricinoleate, Lecithin, Sunflower Seed Oil*, Beeswax* (*Ingredients from Organic Farming, 100% of the total ingredients are from natural origin, 57.34% of the total ingredients are from organic farming) Antioxidants added: Sunflower Seed Oil Where to purchase: Green Beaver, Amazon.ca (Canada only) For my Canadian friends, Green Beaver is a brand you can only get there. I was supposed to get a sample, but because sunscreens have a Drug Facts box, it can’t be shipped across the border. We’ve tried some other products from them, with mixed reviews. If you are in Canada and other brands are cost-prohibitive, Green Beaver definitely has a commitment to quality ingredients, and it would be worth a try to see if you like the consistency.


Another Canadian brand that has really pure, excellent ingredients that I haven’t gotten a chance to try is Back to Earth.

EltaMD

Details:

EltaMD is very expensive, uses phenoxyethanol, low percentage zinc and titanium dioxide. It’s probably a great, clear sunscreen and great for faces, and dermatologists tend to recommend it. I just haven’t reviewed it because it has titanium dioxide and is in such a high price range.


Hint Sunscreen

Details:

Hint sunscreen is billed as a natural option, no bad preservatives or parabens, etc., but it’s still 100% chemical ingredients and no mineral actives. Don’t be fooled!


Tropic Skincare Sun Balm

Details:

Tropic Skincare is one people often ask about out of the UK. The ingredients are pretty good, titanium dioxide in the SPF 30 and above, and they don’t have to list percentage of active ingredients I guess, so it’s hard to compare from afar. But if you live in the UK and have trouble sourcing others, this one would be good to try in my opinion. If you do, let me know how it goes on!


Sun Bum and Baby Bum

Details:

I’ve looked into Sun Bum previously and found that although zinc oxide is included, there are other chemical ingredients as well, including oxtinoxate (implicated as reef-unfriendly along with oxybenzone in the spring of 2018). 2022: SunBum did remove the oxtinoxate from their signature SunBum. I also see not-so-awesome preservatives like Methylisothiazolinone and phenoxyethanol. I see they DO now have a mineral-only line, which is awesome to hear. I don’t see any huge red flags on the mineral formula or the Baby Bum, but I prefer to recommend brands with only mineral sunscreen because it can be confusing to people to have to pick and choose. Baby Bum Mineral Face stick: Zinc Oxide (19.2%), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil, Limnanthes Alba (Meadowfoam) Seed Oil, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice Bran) Wax, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Ozokerite, Copernicia Cerifera (Carnauba) Wax, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Oryzanol, Euphorbia Cerifera (Candelilla) Wax, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Jojoba Esters, Tocopherol, Bisabolol Baby Bum SPF 50 mineral lotion: Zinc Oxide (20%), Water, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Diheptyl Succinate, Methyl Dihydroabietate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea Butter), Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Sodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter, Sodium Hyaluronate, Bisabolol, Tocopherol, Coco-Glucoside, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Cellulose Gum, Cetyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Alcohol, Behenyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Glucoside, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sodium Gluconate, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Citric Acid Sun Bum Signature SPF 50 sunscreen: Octinoxate 7.50%, Octisalate 5.00%, Octocrylene 7.00%, Zinc Oxide 10.00%, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Arachidyl Alcohol, Arachidyl Glucoside, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Beeswax, Behenyl Alcohol, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Disodium EDTA, Ethylhexylglycerin,Glycerin, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Lecithin, Methylisothiazolinone,Oleic Acid, Panthenol, Phenoxyethanol, Polyester-8, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sorbitan Oleate, Sorbitol, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Trimethylpentanediol/Adipic Acid Copolymer, Water, Xanthan Gum


COOLA Suncare Baby Mineral Sunscreen Unscented Moisturizer, SPF 50

Details:

Readers have also asked about this one. Here are the ingredients in the “baby” version:

  • Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (Sunscreen) 7.3%, Zinc Oxide (Sunscreen) 4.3%
  • Inactive Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Beeswax (ORGANIC), Bisabolol, Butyrospermum Parkii (ORGANIC Shea) Butter, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Oleosomes, Cocos Nucifera (ORGANIC Coconut) Oil, Copernicia Cerifera (ORGANIC Carnauba) Wax, Jojoba Esters, Oryzanol, Persea Gratissima (ORGANIC Avocado) Oil, Sesamum Indicum (ORGANIC Sesame) Seed Oil, Silica, Theobroma Cacao (ORGANIC Cocoa) Seed Butter, Tocopherol, Water

My thoughts:

  • Very low percentages! Titanium dioxide is not preferred. I’m shocked that this is 50 SPF. Another mineral “face screen” by Coola has only 1.8% and 3.2% respectively of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. I just never see it that low.
  • Coola also has a whole conventional line, so I am always nervous recommending a brand when then people still have to be very careful that they choose the “right” one. I’d rather keep it simple. It’s also $11-$13/ounce (2017 price estimate)!

In contrast to this list of mineral sunscreens NOT to buy, be sure to read about my absolute favorite natural mineral sunscreens that I love and recommend whole-heartedly.

Have you tried any of these awful sunscreens for yourself? Have you had any different experiences?
Natural Sunscreens That Just Don't Work (and they're giving the others a bad name, grrrr!)

I’m well known for honest, thorough product reviews…

reviewed and recommended
 

…and you can always tell a real family has run these products through the gauntlet.

When I review a type of item, I try to review a LOT of different brands! From over a dozen reusable sandwich bags to over 120 natural mineral sunscreens, I’m your girl for straight-up info about natural, real foodie items you’re considering buying.

Click here to see more product reviews and you’ll also love my resources page, with REAL products that have passed my rigorous testing enough to be “regulars” in the Kimball household, plus some other comprehensive reviews. Updated at least once a year to boot the losers and add new gems!

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

4 thoughts on “Natural Sunscreens That Just Don’t Work (and they’re giving the others a bad name, grrrr!)”

  1. I am in Canada and recently purchased Green Beaver kids spray. It is a little oily but goes on really nicely. I have used it on my 9 month old and it is protecting his sensitive skin from sunburn. My kids have worn it in the pool and it seems to still protect them. We will try it at the beach later this summer.

  2. Bit of a cliff hanger — so what does work!! would love to hear what sunscreens check the boxes. Thankyou for your reviews!

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Hi Nancy, Katie’s list of favorite mineral sunscreens is here: https://www.kitchenstewardship.com/natural-mineral-sunscreen-reviews/

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