Now that we know how chemical sunscreens are actually dangerous (eeks!), let's talk about which products are safe enough to slather on as sun protection.
What Makes a Safe Sunscreen?
First, a little bit on my criteria for choosing the best sunscreens.
The safe mineral sun-blocking ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and they work by reflecting the sun's rays instead of being absorbed into our bloodstreams (as chemical sunscreens are). While both zinc and titanium are photo-stable, the Environmental Working Group prefers zinc because it provides slightly more protection from UVA rays (the scarier, aging kind that we beauty obsessives really stress about). Another reason to prefer zinc is because the absorption of trace amounts of titanium can cause serious internal stress and inflammation. This is a concern with the prevalence of titanium nanoparticles, which allow many mineral sunscreen formulas to go on clear instead of white.
For these reasons, I suggest using sunscreens that contain either zinc alone or a zinc-titanium combo. While the possibility of absorbing some titanium isn't ideal, it's still a safer choice than a chemical sunblock—and realistically, if your skin tone is anything other than Casper white, the chalky look is NOT cool.
Because polyunsaturated oils (PUFAs) are a major factor in skin aging and accelerate the damaging effects of the sun, I also look for sunscreens that contain as few of them as possible—or at least have these oils pretty far down on the ingredients list. (For this reason, my top picks differ from EWG's 2014 Guide to Sunscreens. Hopefully they'll read up on the dangers of PUFAs for 2015!)
Okay, ready for my top 10 list? Here we go:
1. CyberDerm Simply Zinc Sun Whip SPF 30
Why wear it: First of all, it's Canadian—woo hoo! And CyberDerm is a small, family-owned business that I'm thrilled to be able to support. Their elegant formula features certified-organic zinc in a hydrating olive oil base that absorbs quickly and leaves an invisible, non-greasy finish. Bonus: they added tetrapeptides in here for extra anti-aging benefits. It ranked #70 on the EWG list. Simply love it!
Ingredients: 22% Zinc Oxide, Aqua, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Isostearate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Cetearyl Olivate, Sorbitan Olivate, Trimethylene Glycol, Methylcellulose, Tetrapeptide-21, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Xanthan Gum.
Where to buy: CyberDerm
2. Juice Beauty SPF 30 Oil-Free Moisturizer
Why wear it: Juice Beauty products smell absolutely incredible, and then there's the little bonus of delivering all kinds of antioxidants and vitamins to your skin (seriously, look at this ingredients list!). They use non-nano zinc, so you may need to give it a few seconds to fuse with your skin; I also suggest a powder on top to mattify if you're wearing it in the city. It ranked #94 on the EWG list.
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 20%, Organic juices of aloe barbadensis (organic aloe juice)*, pyrus malus (organic apple juice)*, vitis vinifera (organic white grape juice)*, capric caprylic triglycerides, sorbitan stearate, polyglycerol-10 laurate, magnesium sulfate, tocopherol (vitamin E), magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (vitamin C), hyaluronic acid(vegetable derived), punica granatum (pomegranate fruit juice), algae extract, cucumis sativus fruit extract (cucumber), panthenol (vitamin B5), citrus limonum (lemon bark), iron oxides, phenethyl alcohol, ethylhexylglycerin, Blend of citrus reticulata (mandarin orange); citrus aurantium (petitgrain). * = Certified organic ingredient
3. Belly Buttons & Babies Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
Why wear it: Who cares if it's supposedly for babies? This ranked #1 on the EWG list, which is an incredible feat (especially for a homegrown Canadian brand!). This non-nano, zinc-based SPF has a fantastically pure ingredients list and dries down completely grease-less and fragrance-free, suitable for face and/or body.
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 25%, Purified Water, Candelilla Wax (Euphorbia Cerifera Wax), Jojoba Oil (Simmondsia Chinensis), Shea Butter (Butyrospermum Parkii), Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract.
Where to buy:BellyButtonsandBabies.com
4. Celtic Complexion Chemical Free Organic Sunscreen SPF 32
Why wear it: For those of us with the "Celtic curse" (as my friend J. describes our ruddy, rosacea-prone skin), the product name and packaging are good for some LOLs! But I'm even more impressed with the nine-ingredient formula (86 percent of which are certified organic) with one of the highest percentages of non-nano zinc oxide to boot. Because Celtic folks tend to be pale, this one may be more whitening. It ranked #64 on the EWG list.
Ingredients: 25% zinc oxide, Eldorado Springs Artesian Water, certified organic extra virgin olive oil, certified organic jojoba oil, vegetable glycerin, certified organic shea butter, vegetable emulsifying wax, vegetable vitamin e.
Where to buy:CelticComplexion.com
5. MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted creme Broad Spectrum SPF 30 UVA-UVB Sunscreen
Why wear it: If you're looking for a tinted formula to help tone down redness and imperfections while providing safe protection, this could be your answer. The ingredients aren't perfect—it does have silicone—but it still ranked a very good #113 on the EWG list. So far, reviews have been really positive for this non-greasy universal tint.
Ingredients: 2% Titanium Dioxide, 17% Zinc Oxide, Dimethicone, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Isostearate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Silica, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Polysilicone-15, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Iron Oxides, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Camellia Sinensis (GreenTea) Extract, Vaccinium Macrocarpon (Cranberry) Fruit Extract, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract.
6. Badger Sport Sunscreen Stick SPF 35
Why wear it: Unlike the rest of their offerings (which have PUFAs), this sporty little zinc stick from Badger has a super-clean ingredients list and scored a #34 on the EWG list. This is a great travel-sized product to keep on hand in your purse for sun-protection emergencies!
Ingredients: Non-Nano Uncoated Zinc Oxide 22.5%, *Olea Europaea (Organic Extra Virgin Olive) Oil, *Cera Alba (Organic Beeswax), *Theobroma Cacao (Organic Cocoa) Butter, *Butyrospermum Parkii (Organic Shea) Butter, and Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E). * = Certified Organic
7. DeVita Natural Skin Care Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30
Why it's great: Ranked #73 on the EWG list, I like this lightweight sunscreen because it features zinc in a soothing aloe vera, glycerin and coconut oil base. There have been a few reports of pilling (a common issue with natural sunscreens), so this is probably best for people who don't need to wear much (or any) makeup over top.
Ingredients: Zinc oxide 19%, Aloe barbadensis (certified organic aloe vera gel), Purified Water (aqua), Capric/caprylic triglycerides (derived from coconut oil), Glycerin (vegetable), Hyaluronic acid (vegan source), Glyceryl stearate SE (derived from vegetable oil), Stearic acid, Lecithin phospholipid, Tocopherol (vitamin E), Allantoin, Vitis vinifera (grape) seed extract.
8. Suntegrity “5 in 1” Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30
Why it's great: Okay, so it does contain some sunflower and pomegranate seed oils... but since they're pretty far down the list, and this sunscreen is otherwise close to perfect, I'm willing to make a trade-off! It comes in five tints, from Fair to Deep Bronze, and is kinda like the BB cream of sunscreens, giving a hint of coverage and acting as a primer for additional makeup (if you even need it). I love the high percentage of healing zinc, and that it ranked #142 on the EWG list.
Ingredients: Zinc-Oxide 20%, 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, Polyaminopropyl Biguanide*, Ethylhexylglycerin*, Iron Oxide. *paraben-free preservative
9. Lavanila The Healthy Sun Screen SPF 40 Face Cream
Why wear it: For some reason, this wasn't on EWG's list at all—but it's been a staple of mine for a few years, so I wanted to mention (and since it's also pretty tough finding natural options at Sephora!). With shea butter and coconut, palm and jojoba oils, it's definitely on the more hydrating side, so would be ideal for drier skin. For me, it's a strictly beachside wear, and is super-effective at blocking out the sun's rays.
Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (5%), Titanium Dioxide (7.5%), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice* (Aloe, Water), Capric Caprylic Triglycerides (Coconut Oil), Butyrospermum Parkii* (Shea Butter), Glyceryl Stearate, Glycerin, Cetyl Alcohol (Coconut Oil), Jojoba Oil*, Ethyl Hexyl Palmitate (Palm Oil), Morinda Citrifolia (Noni Juice), Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Extract*, Panthenol (Provitamin B5), Polyglyceryl-3 Stearate (Vegetable Glycerin/Palm Oil), Alpha Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Allantoin (Vegetable), Sodium PCA (Amino Acid), Hyaluronic Acid, Phenethyl Alcohol & Ethyl Hexyl Glycerin (Plant-Based Preservatives), Vanilla Planifolia (Vanilla) Extract*, Green Tea Extract. *Certified Organic.
10. Banana Boat Natural Reflect Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Why wear it: This is the least natural of the options on this list, but it's also the best of the mainstream offerings you'll find at the drugstore and rated an impressive #260 on EWG's list. I think it's a decent choice for the body (since you have to so much surface area to cover, the others can get expensive); plus, sometimes, you just gotta grab something from what's available, right? This comes in adult, Kids and Baby versions, but the ingredients are all the same.
Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (3.6%), Zinc Oxide (4%), Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Octyldodecyl Citrate Crosspolymer, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Lauryl PEG-8 Dimethicone, Ozokerite, Ethylhexyl Methoxycrylene, C30-38 Olefin/Isopropyl Maleate/MA Copolymer, Sodium Chloride, Dimethicone, Capryl Glycol, PEG-8, Alumina, Glycerin, Sodium Citrate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Phenoxythanol.
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Have you switched to mineral sunscreen yet?
Tried any of these ones?
Found any other formulas that are great? Please share!