Sunscreen. It’s kind of a confusing issue in the natural world. The conventional options are bad for you. And lot of the “green” ones aren’t much better. So do we make our own, buy a natural one, or skip it all together? What is the best natural sunscreen?
Let’s dive in in this post and video!
What Is the Best Natural Sunscreen IMHO?
I’ll go with a good better best approach here.
Good Option: Kiss My Face
This is the sunscreen for folks that hate the white pasty look and aren’t as concerned about ingredients. Cleaner than conventional brands, Kiss My Face sunscreens have a range of options with various EWG ratings. Their kid sunscreen seems to have the best and cleanest ingredients and can be found here. Ironically, their baby’s first sunscreen had the worst rating on EWG (a 6)! We’ve used this brand before and it works well. No burns in the Florida sun!
➜ Click here to find Kiss My Face sunscreens.
Better Option: ThinkSport
This brand has super clean ingredients and is loved by many. It ranks a 1 on the EWG database. While it is a “whiter” and more pasty feel, it goes on better than many natural sunscreens out there.
➜ Click here to find ThinkSport sunscreens.
Favorite Option: Raw Elements
This eco-friendly brand uses less plastic in packaging (?) and was developed by a lifeguard. This brand has larger particles than most…. over 200 nanometer and exclusively uses Zinc Oxide, which I prefer. Another bonus: It doesn’t come on quite as pasty as the other natural brands. They have a nice tinted facial stick too! Perfect!
➜ Click here to find Raw Elements sunscreens.
Best Option: Sun Clothing
For the best natural sunscreen, I’m going back to the protective sun clothing. Nothing nasty on your skin, no white paste, no fuss.
Best Sunscreen for Babies: Kabana
Since zinc oxide is the only active sunscreen ingredients rated safe for babies under 6 months, I would definitely start with zinc-only active ingredient. Babies don’t need to worry about looking amazing and not white, so prioritize safety of ingredients over “clear zinc,” for example.
In my book, Kabana is so safe you can eat it, so that’s what I would put on little bodies. (As a bonus, Kabana is also reef-safe and 100% eco-friendly.)
What makes a good baby-safe sunscreen? If you’re wondering whether a tube of sunscreen in your home would be safe for tiny babes, here are some recommendations to assess:
- The only active ingredient should be zinc oxide.
- The “other ingredients” should be things you recognize, not strange, long chemical names — and especially not parabens.
- There should be some antioxidants, the more the better: carrot oil, Vitamin E, green tea, sunflower oil, shea butter, and more.
- Essential oils can be tricky for infants safety-wise, so I’d actually recommend none of those, just to be on the safe side.
- The zinc oxide needs to be non-nano and non-coated (but don’t worry: we’ll cover this later in this article.)
Check Your Sunscreen Out at the EWG Skin Deep Database
You can check the safety of your particular sunscreen brand at EWG’s Skin Deep Database, where they rank the best natural sunscreen, beauty, and body products. Look for products with a safety rating of 3 or below. The closer to zero the better!
Importance of Natural Sunlight
Vitamin D deficiencies are quite common today, especially if you live north of the Mason-Dixion line. In fact, 1 billion people worldwide are deficient in this important vitamin. It’s critical for boosting immunity, developing strong bones and metabolic regulation.
The best way for us to get vitamin D is from the sun. a hormone manufactured by the skin in the presence of sunlight.
So, in the summer mornings, I try to get the kids out so their skin can get some safe sun… and boost their vitamin D levels. You can even let them run around naked in the summer and enjoy 10-15 minutes of sunbathing without any sunscreen. This should be outside of the peak sun window of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
I also generally don’t put sunscreen on my kids if we’re headed to a shady park or out and about for the day and not getting direct doses of midday sun. BUT, this can vary depending on how sensitive your child’s skin is to sun. Keep in mind that a few blistering sunburns in childhood can double a person’s lifetime chances of developing serious forms of skin cancer.
When we move to Florida, or if we go to the pool or beach for the day, you better believe I protect my kid’s skin from the sun.
Sunshirts: The Best Natural Sunscreen?
I found one solution that really helps when we went to Costa Rica. I was a little nervous of my kid’s delicate white winter skin facing a climate that was in the mid- nineties and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I’m super happy to report that over the course of 3 weeks, neither of them got a sunburn! YAY! A huge reason why is we had our kids wear sun shirts. I highly recommend these shirts as they are such a nice alternative to constantly having to apply sunscreen! Let’s face it, it can be a bear putting it on little ones constantly.
By having Griffin and Paloma wear these, about half of their body was already protected from the sun. I just needed to apply some sunscreen to their face/neck, although hats can also help, and legs and feet.
So, what do I like to use for sunscreen? Well, I avoid conventional sunscreen because it contains harmful ingredients.
Conventional Sunscreen Ingredients
This stuff absorbs into the skin and circulates in the body. It acts like an estrogen and, in studies, it alters sperm production. The Environmental Working Group rates it a 8 for safety with the most toxic products being a 10.
Also absorbs into the skin stimulates hormone-like activity; There are reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral changes after exposure in animal studies.
Homosalate, Octisalate, and Octocrylene…
These are all absorbed into skin and have some potentially harmful effects.
So those are just the UV filters found in conventional sunscreen. Most will have parabens to preserve the product and chemical fragrances. Both of these can have carcinogenic effects over the long haul.
So we want to avoid these chemicals and look for a more natural solution…
Physical Sunscreens versus Chemical Sunscreens
Not all sunscreens work the same way. Chemical sunscreen is made of smaller particles that absorb into skin and isn’t noticeable, but it affects the body in undesirable ways over the long haul. Chemical sunscreens rely on chemicals (like oxybenzone) to “screen” out UV rays — keeping most rays out, but letting some in. Whereas, physical sunblock is usually comprised of minerals that physically block and redirect the sunrays so they don’t penetrate the skin.
As a result, physical sunscreen is a thicker, usually white substance that is harder to rub in. You can spot a natural mama by streaks of white all over her children.
It’s part of the consequence of going natural…
One tip, is to let your natural sunblock get a little warm. Let it sit in the sun for 5 minutes. This will melt the lotion more and make it easier to apply.
OK, so let’s unpack the two minerals commonly used to block UVs:
More Sunscreen Ingredients
This is relatively safe but it isn’t a broad spectrum in blocking both UVA and UVB rays. Titanium Dioxide also potentially creates more free radicals that can cause oxidative damage to your body and skin cells. Titanium Dioxide contains titanium, which is just another toxic heavy metal in our bodies; Zinc is a critical mineral nutrient. You won’t find Titanium in your vitamins, but you certainly will find Zinc.
This is the best of the two minerals because it covers the full spectrum of UV protection and doesn’t contribute as much to free radical development. It’s also the only sunblock recommended by the FDA for babies under 6 months.
Avobenzone is one of the most popular UV filters, and it’s included in most conventional sunscreens to block out UVA light. Unfortunately, this ingredient is far from safe. According to research published in the journal Chemosphere, avobenzone breaks down into toxic chemicals when it’s exposed to water and sunlight — two key elements required for a fun day at the pool. The study mentions that pool water is even worse than lake or ocean water. Why? The copper salts used in chlorinated pools can react with the avobenzone on your skin and trigger the formation of bromoform, a substance that “could provoke dysfunction of the liver and kidneys, along with nervous system disorders.” No good!
Mexoryl SX is another chemical that appears safer than most used but it doesn’t have FDA approval yet.
What’s the Deal about Non-Nano, Nanoparticle, Micronized Zinc Oxide?
Surprise surprise, there’s even some controversy around sunscreen! Want to go down the rabbit hole with me?
There’s this whole debate about “nanoparticles” and non-nano particles.
OK, because zinc oxide is so thick and pasty, many manufacturers grind down zinc oxide to nanoparticles, as these formulations rub in better and don’t leave as much of the white pasty look.
Keep in mind, while particle sizes vary among manufacturers, nearly all would be considered nanomaterials under a broad definition of the term so non-nano is kinda misleading.
The US FDA has declined to weigh in on this controversial issue and does not currently define ‘nano’ or ‘non-nano.’ As a general rule, if advertised as micronized zinc oxide, you’re probably going to have a smaller particle product.
By definition, a nanoparticle has a diameter of less than 100 nanometers. To put this in perspective, a sheet of paper is about 100,000 nanometers thick. So any sunscreens that have particles smaller than 100 nanaometers would be considered a nanoparticle.
Keep in mind that most scientists believe that a 30-50 nanometer particle size does not penetrate healthy skin.
Some studies indicate that nanoparticles can harm living cells and organs, but the large number of research studies have produced no evidence that zinc oxide nanoparticles can cross the skin barrier. A real-world study tested penetration of zinc oxide particles of 19 and 110 nanometers on human volunteers who applied sunscreens twice daily for five days. Researchers found that less than 0.01 percent of the zinc from either particle size entered the bloodstream.
You also want to find a sunscreen that uses uncoated zinc oxide. Some manufacturers will use a chemically coated zinc oxide, because it’s easier to blend and work with. As more naturally-minded people, we want to find sunscreens that use uncoated zinc oxide.
In researching sunscreen brands, I liked the ones who spelled out their process and even measured their particle size. While some scientists say that smaller particles are OK, why take the risk. There are several brands out there who have measured their sunscreens and testify to larger particles, which is a bonus.
What about DIY Sunscreens?
If you are a DIY-er and love to do things like this, go for it. Keep in mind though that you definitely don’t want to use nanoparticle zinc oxide. This can be very dangerous to inhale. You also even need to be careful with non-nanoparticle zinc oxide. This is perhaps why I don’t mess with it. I’d rather have these products be made in a factory with industrialized machinery and plenty of safety measures intact.
I hate to be sounding the alarm on yet another thing to get freaked out about in terms of natural living. But sunscreen can be a pretty nasty thing.
Especially the spray on or aerosol type of sunscreen! Avoid that stuff like the plague. First of all, you end up inhaling lots of it when you apply it. Secondly, a lot of those types are just plain toxic.
And, let me step back for a minute. Even toxic sunscreen is better than a sunburn! So if I was in a pinch, I’d go for the bad stuff.
But, when it’s up to me, you better believe I’m going for the best natural sunscreen as outlined above or for that protective clothing instead.
How about you?
What’s the best natural sunscreen that you use? Have you ever looked products up at EWG’s Skin Deep Database? Share with us in the comments below!