Choosing a safe and effective sunscreen for you and your family can be mind boggling but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s a simple guide to help you find the right non-toxic sunscreen for everyone in your family!
When I was growing up in sunny Southern California in the early ’80’s and 90’s, sunscreen was not something we cared much about.
As a teenager steeped in the Malibu Barbie culture, I was much more concerned about getting the right sun tan versus getting the right sun screen; Most of us were clueless at the time about why sun protection was even necessary let alone think that too much sun can be way too much of a good thing.
Fast forward 30 years later and much too many sun spots and freckles then I’d like, and I’ve become much more protective about sun exposure and more conscious about getting the right sun protection for me and my family.
But, having become more sun conscious doesn’t mean that finding the right sunscreen has been easy.
With so many sunscreen to choose from, finding one that worked for me took some time to research, not to mention, lots of trial and error.
In case you’re finding yourself in the same sunscreen conundrum, here’s a guide to help you simplify this process!
For your convenience, this post contains affiliate links which means that if you make a purchase through any of my links, I may receive a small commission.
Three Factors For Finding the Best Sunscreen
When it comes to finding the best sunscreen for you and your family, there are basically three factors you’ll need to consider. These are the:
- Ingredients: Mineral or Chemical
- SPF number
- Convenience Factor
Once you review these three factors, finding, using and buying the right sunscreen for you and your family will get much easier.
Mineral or Chemical?
All sun protection products on the market basically fall into two categories: Mineral or chemical.
Each type has their own pros and cons so you should consider them both before making your decision to go with one or the other.
Mineral Sunscreens: How They Work
Mineral sunscreens work as shields by blocking the harmful UV rays from penetrating into the skin and causing sun damage.
The two main active ingredients found in mineral based sunscreens are zinc and/or titanium dioxide and both are effective at deflecting the harmful UV (ultraviolet) rays that can cause sun damage.
Pros of Mineral Sunscreen
One major pro for choosing this type of sunscreen is that zinc and titanium, have been around for ages and so far haven’t raised any red flags about their safety. (See EWG).
Cons of Mineral Sunscreen
One major negative to this type of sunscreen though is that zinc and titanium often leave a white cast on your skin and doesn’t apply very evenly.
The older mineral sunscreens made my kids’ look so white that they often looked like Casper the friendly White Ghost rather than healthy kids enjoying some fun in the sun.
Suffice it to say that their ghost like appearance didn’t make for great family vacation photos either.
Luckily, the latest mineral ones (especially the ones I recommend below) are much easier to apply but still takes some rubbing in to distribute evenly -especially if you have darker skin like I do.
The other negative is that mineral based sunscreens can cost a bit more than the synthetic ones because minerals like zinc are mined and not chemically processed.
But if you don’t mind paying a bit more for the peace of mind you’ll get with zinc oxide and titanium since they’ve been around as long as sunscreens have been in existence, the mineral based sunscreens may be worth the minor hassle and additional cost.
Chemical Sunscreens: How They Work
The chemical based sunscreens, on the other hand, work by absorbing away from and NOT deflecting off harmful UV rays from your skin.
The upside to this is that these type of sunscreens are much easier to apply and won’t make your kids or you look pale and/or ghostlike.
The downside, of course, is that we don’t have enough data yet about some of these chemical ingredients to know how safe they’ll be in the long run or how much absorption is way too much.
Cons of Chemical Sunscreens
One such chemical, oxybenzone, for instance, has been known to bioaccumulate—meaning that however the small amount that’s considered not harmful initially can get harmful if given time to accumulate inside your body.
Luckily, many of the newer chemical sunscreens have replaced oxybenzone with avobenzone..
Although, avobenzone can still absorb into your skin depending on how often and how much you apply, it’s not one that’s known to bioaccumulate.
So far, according to the FDA, both oxybenzone and avobenzone are considered safe to use.
However, EWG has given oxybenzone a 7 rating-which to me is enough of a warning to stay clear away from sunscreens containing this chemical.
Pros of Chemical Sunscreens
The good news is, there are lots of safer and non-oxbenzone chemical sunscreen options on the market.
According to EWG , avobenzone by itself garners a 1-2 rating. Just make sure that all the other ingredients that come alongside this is just as safe.
Just stay clear of ingredients like Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate in your chemical sunscreens. There’s enough data on these to know that they do more harm than good.
Besides looking at mineral or chemical based sunscreens, you should also think about which SPF number you’ll need.
What’s An SPF?
SPF stands for, Sun Protection Factor, or how much protection you’ll get from the harmful UVA and UVB rays by using this particular type of sunscreen.
SPF of 30 for instance, tells you how much longer, in this case 30 times longer, to burn than if you applied nothing.
Although it may seem like a good idea to get the highest SPF possible, and SPF of 30 is more than adequate according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Getting a higher SPF, like +100 may also give you a false sense of security; You may feel like you’re protected from the sun when there’s really no guarantee.
The more important thing is to look for an SPF that will provide broad-spectrum protection or the type of coverage that will protect you against both harmful UVA and UVB rays.
III. Convenience Factor
I don’t know about you, but besides cost, the ease of getting and using a product makes a huge difference for me.
There’s no point in getting the safest rated product on the market, for instance, only to find that it’s a pain to use—like the mineral sunscreens that used to make my kids look like they’re wearing a Halloween costume in July.
How easily I can get the product and cost are other key factors in this selection process.
The sunscreens that I list below score well on all three of these factors and they’re ones that I recommend with confidence.
I also only list the ones that are considered safe to use or have a score of 3 or below on the EWG site.
Best Non-Toxic Mineral Sunscreens
Here are a few mineral type sunscreens that my family and I’ve used and liked.
For all over protection:
Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($44 for triple pack on Amazon):
This formulation is not as heavy handed with the zinc oxide as some of the other counterparts I’ve tried at this price point but it still does take some time to distribute evenly.
It’s also waterproof and reef safe meaning that your kiddos will not be harming any sea life as they’re romping around in the ocean for hours.
Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30 ($36 from BeautyCounter):
Although I’m pretty wary of anything that comes in an aerosol can because it can enter into your lungs, this mist is actually “air-powered” so it applies evenly and easily enough on my squirmy 11 year old.
Also, fine spray allows the sunscreen to blend in easily and it will dry quickly without leaving any heavy residue on my skin.
As such, I like this much better than the Thinksport brand. But if price is a factor, Thinksport may be a better way to go.
For the Face:
Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+ ( $21 on Amazon):
I’ve used this as an every day tinted moisturizer to even out my skin tone before I discovered Beautycounter’s . This is a much cheaper alternative and does do what it promises-which is to provide sun protection without leaving a white cast like other zincoxide sunscreens do.
If you’re okay with lighter UV protection but still want something light enough to use everyday, this may be the perfect moisturizer/sun protection for you. Although the price tag is a bit hefty, one tube will last me a good three months-especially during the summer when I don’t need as much to keep my skin moisturized.
Best Non-Toxic Chemical Sunscreens
Although I mostly stick with mineral based sunscreens for my children, since their toxic load threshold is much lower than mine, I’ve used some EWG rated chemical ones without much problem.
I definitely steer clear from those containing oxybenzone and other well known toxic ingredients like parabens and phthalates.
The following are a few that you might want to check out if mineral sunscreens takes too much work or too cost prohibitive.
Nutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-touch Sunscreen, SPF 55+ ($8.00 on Amazon):
This one is available in most drugstores and is relatively inexpensive. The avobenzone, along with some other ingredients in this product, qualifies on EWG with a 3 rating. This is NOT THE safest but one of the cheapest and will provide the least hassle in terms of application.
It goes on sheer and doesn’t feel greasy on like some others I’ve tried. I also like how it doesn’t have a strong fragrance like some of the other chemical ones I’ve tried.
Supergoop! City Sunscreen Serum Lotion, SPF 30 ($42 on Amazon):
This is by far the most expensive sunscreen I’ve ever purchased on Amazon but one of the best I’ve tried as far as application and feel goes.
EWG gives this one a 2 rating, even though there’s some concern about one of the ingredients, homosalate. The data shows that this ingredient may cause some sensitivity and allergies issues if not some endocrine disruption.
But I have sensitive skin and can’t bear to have anything that feels heavy on my face during the summer months and this lightweight sunscreen feels like I have nothing on.
One Last Note About Sunscreen
Although getting the right sunscreen is essential for protecting you and your family from harmful UV rays, don’t forget that you need sun exposure to get Vitamin D.
As I’ve mentioned before, most of us are deficient in Vitamin D—especially if you’re not eating a healthy diet and if you’ve been spending a lot of time indoors lately (i.e. shelter-in-place).
Sunlight is the best source for getting vitamin D, so don’t go overboard with the sun protection.
As for me, if I’m going to be out for 15-20 minutes walking my dog, I’ll wear a hat instead of slathering on sunscreen; This helps me soak in some vitamin D all the while resetting my circadian rhythm so I can fall asleep at night.
For more tips on why vitamin D is so essential for your health, immunity and hormone balance, check out this fascinating podcast with Dr. Stasha Gominak and my husband, Dr. Steven Park.
This is why I wouldn’t over do it with any sunscreen regardless of how good, safe and effective it is.
Be cautious but also enjoy the benefits of getting enough sunlight while protecting you and your family in a way that you feel best!