With the recent emphasis placed on switching to beauty products that use cleaner, more natural ingredients, it makes sense that the growing trend would make its way to sun care. Adding further urgency to the need for finding the best natural sunscreens is the news that many common ingredients found in sunscreen are destroying the ocean's coral reefs.
Why are chemical sunscreens bad for the environment?
According to the Ocean Conservancy, studies show that chemical-based sunscreens are particularly damaging to coral reef ecosystems (and by extension, marine life). While there are other contributors to coral reef degradation, such as pollution and climate change, certain chemicals found in sunscreen products are major offenders that are easy to avoid.
Two of the worst ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which were recently banned in Hawaii. These ingredients have been shown to be damaging if you apply your SPF and then go into the ocean. They also impact coral reefs even if you avoid swimming since the sunscreen gets washed down the drain into sewage systems when you shower.
Are natural sunscreens safer for sensitive skin?
Since the list of chemicals to avoid is admittedly long, it's easier to highlight the safer option — mineral (also known as physical) sunscreens. Though no sunscreen is really "natural," per se, the two ingredients found in mineral sunscreens that have been approved for safe use are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Another common benefit of switching to a mineral sunscreen is that they're recommended for people with sensitive skin (you'll notice titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in baby-safe SPF products). The reason mineral sunscreen is more suitable for sensitive skin types is because it sits on top of the skin, acting like a shield to deflect harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, block UV rays by being absorbed into the skin, which can cause reactions. Plus, many of the chemical ingredients have been shown to have potential health risks, like hormone disruption, too.
To help get you started on your quest for practicing safer sun protection, here are six of the best natural sunscreens to try out.
1. Best Natural Sunscreen For Babies (That The Whole Family Can Use)
Formulated to be safe enough for babies, Thinkbaby's Sunscreen SPF 50+ provides UVA and UVB protection with the mineral ingredient zinc oxide. In addition to landing a spot on numerous "best of" roundups, the sunscreen lists several impressive accreditations on its site, including a top rating by EWG, meeting the Whole Foods Premium Care Requirements, and being a member of the Safe Cosmetics Campaign Compact. Thinkbaby doesn't test on animals (they're a Leaping Bunny member), and the formula is free of parabens, phthalates, and fragrance. The brand is so dedicated to being as natural as possible that even the packaging, which is made without BPA, vinyl, or phthalates, is environmentally friendly.
2. Best Natural Sunscreen & Bug Repellent
Finding a more natural product that offers sun and bug protection is no small feat. But Badger's Anti-Bug Sunscreen SPF 34 meets both criteria using zinc oxide as its active sunscreen ingredient, plus a DEET-free blend of oils that naturally repels bugs. Ingredients like castor seed oil, citronella oil, and lemongrass leaf oil help ward off mosquitos for over four hours, according to a laboratory test. These oils are also much safer than the synthetic chemical known as DEET, which is commonly found in bug repellent and poses potential health and environmental risks.
The sunscreen provides both UVA and UVB protection, and it's hypoallergenic, cruelty-free, and made with 94 percent organic ingredients certified by the NSF. Badger's formula is even water- and sweat-resistant for up to 40 minutes, and it's formulated with certified organic olive oil and beeswax to keep skin moisturized.
3. Best Natural Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin
Another formula that uses zinc oxide to protect your skin from the sun, the CōTZ Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 40 promises not to irritate skin and eyes. The non-greasy sunscreen offers UVA and UVB protection, plus, it's water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. CōTZ also notes that in addition to being free of chemical sunscreen ingredients, it also doesn't contain any other sneaky irritants like oils, fragrances, preservatives, PABA, gluten, and phthalates.
4. Best Natural Sunscreen For Face
While many of the sunscreens on this list are gentle enough to be used on your face and body, if you're looking for something specifically formulated for your face, try Blue Lizard's Australian Sunscreen Sensitive Face Sheer Lotion SPF 30+. Designed with dermatologists, Blue Lizard uses mineral sunscreens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to provide UVA and UVB protection sans any chemicals that can be irritating to your skin and harmful to coral reefs. Like most of the other sunscreens on this list, the paraben- and fragrance-free formula is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes. The bottle will even remind you when it's time to apply, thanks to Blue Lizard's Smart Cap technology, which causes the bottle's clear cap to turn blue when exposed to sunlight.
5. Best Natural Tinted Sunscreen For Face
If you prefer a tinted option for your face to serve as both your foundation and SPF, mineral sunscreens can be challenging to find. Suntegrity's Impeccable Skin Moisturizing Face Sunscreen SPF 30 gets high marks across the board, though the one downside is its extremely limited shade range. Zinc oxide and melanin from non-GMO corn provide broad spectrum sun protection as well as protection from blue/violet light. Suntegrity also protects skin from pollutants, and it includes nourishing ingredients like vitamins C and E, hyaluronic acid, and peptides. The formula is also free of silicones, oils, parabens, synthetic dyes, and fragrances.
6. Best Natural Sunscreen Stick
For a mess-free formula you can use on-the-go, Baby Bum's Mineral Sunscreen Face Stick SPF 50 is a great mineral option that still provides a high level of sun protection. The stick formula was designed to be gentle enough for babies, but it's also great for applying on smaller, often overlooked areas on your body, like your ears, lips, and the part line of your hair. Baby Bum is hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested, and the zinc oxide sunscreen protects skin from UVA and UVB ray damage. The formula also includes coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter, which makes it easy to glide over skin.
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