The growing cultural movement toward natural products and foods may seem a bit like a fad from the outside – the modern day ‘hippie movement’ to some.
Really, though, it’s a sign of the times. It is consumers becoming aware that not everything we can buy in a store is beneficial to our health. That doesn’t sit right with some of us, so we decide to take charge, and not give our hard-earned money to companies that try to placate us with chemical-filled products.
And so, slowly, folks like you and I have begun to change our diets and routines, buying products that reflect our desire for a healthier lifestyle.
However, when it comes to specialty products – like sunscreen – it can be difficult to decide which products are better or worse to use. Not because there aren’t good, healthy options out there, but simply because we don’t know a whole heck of a lot about this special type of product.
That’s where this guide comes in. I’m going to go over some basic considerations for choosing a good chemical-free sunscreen as well as a product pool to get you started.
I hope that this inspires you to make the switch to chemical-free if you haven’t already, or helps in your transition if you feel a little bit short on resources when it comes to choosing healthier products.
After thorough research into requirements for sunscreen to be effective when free of chemicals, SimplySunSafe recommends Badger All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best chemical-free sunscreen. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 chemical-free sunscreens.
To ensure your chemical-free sunscreen will provide all of the necessary protection without any nasty ingredients, make sure you look for the following key features:
Broad spectrum protection
You may be familiar with the term ‘broad spectrum’, even if you are new to the whole idea of focusing on chemical-free formulas.
Most sunscreens will have a label that reads either ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB Protection’ somewhere on the packaging. Not all sunscreens are broad spectrum, however, so choosing a product with this type of label is a must.
The term refers to what sort of ultraviolet radiation a particular product can protect you from. Ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, are the part of sunlight that causes us harm.
They aren’t visible in the way sunlight is, but they are a natural part of the sun’s rays and are unavoidable unless you have a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection.
The two types of UV rays we count on broad spectrum sunscreens to protect us from are, as you may have already guessed, UVA and UVB rays.
UVB rays are less harmful in the long run, but also easier to protect from. This type of radiation causes visible skin damage – think sunburns, tans, and even blisters in particularly severe cases.
All sunscreens protect from UVB rays, and they are also the basis for SPF ratings which we will discuss later.
UVA rays typically do not cause visible skin damage until the harm is too great to reverse. This type of radiation attacks the DNA of your skin cells directly, causing oxidative damage.
This results in the dark, thickened, leathery or wrinkled skin you’ll see on lifelong sunbathers. The damage to skin cell’s DNA can also causes genetic mutations over time, which is what causes cancerous cells to develop.
Neither type is particularly fun, but UVA rays are responsible for skin cancer and accelerated aging, so be sure to look for broad spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from it.
Best SPF for Chemical-Free Sunscreens
It’s safe to say that everyone has heard of SPF ratings.
Interestingly enough, though, not everybody can explain to you exactly how they work or even what the acronym stands for. This is just the way sunscreen manufacturers like it, as many of them leverage this rating to generate sales without properly educating their customers.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It refers to the amount of protection a sunscreen offers against UVB rays as a function of how much longer you can stay in the sun before burning compared to not wearing protection at all.
For most folks, that seems to imply that you just want the highest SPF you can find. That commonsense response is only partly accurate, and doesn’t fully address the issue of sun protection.
Take a look at this table for a clearer picture of what those SPF ratings really mean:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
Because of the way the rating system works, a doubling of the SPF rating (15 to 30, or 50 to 100) does not equal double the protection.
This is important to remember, as many SPF 50+ sunscreens cost a lot more than their SPF 30 counterparts that are almost identical in coverage.
This article from the Skin Cancer Foundation explains why dermatologists typically recommends SPF 30 as sufficient protection for most wearers.
SimplySunSafe agrees with the experts and recommends using sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Physical is better than chemical
If you’re reading this guide it goes without saying that you are beginning to understand the importance of physical sunscreens over chemical options.
The question is: just why are these physical sunscreens so much better, and how are they different from what you’re used to?
When you consider sunscreens solely by their active ingredients, you can classify them into two distinct categories: physical and chemical.
Physical sunscreens work like, well, a physical barrier. They sit on top of your skin as a protective layer that keeps UV radiation from attacking your skin. In general, physical sunscreens stop more light across a broader spectrum. Put simply, they are better sunscreens.
Physical sunscreens are also effective as soon as you put them on, and use mineral ingredients that are generally hypo-allergenic and calming to the skin. Some particularly sensitive people have trouble with titanium dioxide, but just about everyone tolerates zinc oxide very well.
Chemical sunscreens are a bit different. They are designed to soak into your skin, where they absorb the UV radiation before it can damage your skin cells. You typically need to wait 15-20 minutes after application for these products to soak into your skin and become effective.
The ingredients used to provide chemical protection can cause skin allergies with continued use, and some can enter the bloodstream where they mimic hormones and disrupt normal endocrine function. This is particularly true of oxybenzone, an ingredient being investigated by the FDA.
In general it’s smart to go with physical over chemical. On the very rare occasion that you find chemical sunscreens recommended here, rest assured that SimplySunSafe never recommends products containing oxybenzone.
This last consideration really depends on your personal motivation to go chemical-free and how far you want to take that ideal.
For some folks, chemical free just means avoiding chemical active ingredients in their sunscreens. For others it means paring down to the simplest formulas possible and striving for all-natural products.
You’ll find some of both in the product reviews below, helping you to decide which direction you want to go if you aren’t sure.
Avoiding chemical active ingredients is an excellent step to take. However, if you are making the switch to chemical free as part of a plan to help treat overly sensitive skin or another skin condition such as eczema, then choosing a more simply-formulated sunscreen with recognizable ingredients can go a long way toward calming down your skin and relieving your symptoms.
Remember, if you’ve had trouble with sunscreens bothering your skin in the past, the answer is not to abandon sunscreen altogether. With a little bit of research and some help to tell you what to look for in these sunscreens you can find something that will work for you.
To this end, a portion of the reviews for these particular product will go over any inactive ingredients that aren’t clearly recognizable as a natural product, to help you begin to better understand what’s in your skincare products.
Best Chemical-Free Sunscreen Comparison
|Badger All Natural||Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc||Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral||Goddess Garden Everyday||COOLA Baby Mineral|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (18.75%)||Zinc Oxide (18.4%)||Zinc Oxide (14.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (2.0%)||Zinc Oxide (6.0%) & Titanium Dioxide (6.4%)||Zinc Oxide (4.3%) & Titanium Dioxide (7.3%)|
5 Best Chemical-Free Sunscreens
After through research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, and participating in skincare forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best non-chemical sunscreens.
All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain chemical active ingredients (especially oxybenzone!), and have a simple formula.
Badger’s All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 lotion is 100% natural and 94% organic!
It provides broad spectrum protection, is water resistant for up to 40 minutes, doesn’t have any added fragrance ingredients, and uses non-nano ingredients. This impressive resume is what lands this product squarely at the top of this list as the best sunscreen without chemicals.
The SPF rating of 30 is achieved with just one physical active ingredient: zinc oxide (18.75%).
The inactive ingredients includes just five items: olive oil, beeswax, jojoba oil, cocoa butter, and shea butter. Talk about a simple formula!
Badger is known for its eco-friendly, customer-centered products and this sunscreen just reinforces that.
If you aren’t used to physical sunscreens, be prepared for the white cast this will leave on your skin. If you use enough to achieve proper coverage, the high concentration of active ingredient will leave a white cast on all but the very fairest of user.
However, that is a small price to pay for premium protection!
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Simple formula
- Great value
- White cast
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30 provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 using 18.4% zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
Clear Zinc’ is a bit of a misnomer, as non-nano zinc (which this product uses) can never really be clear. However, it does rub in much better and leave less of a white cast when mixed with grape juice as it is in this formula.
It’s an interesting trick that helps provide premium protection without leaving you looking like a ghost.
The formula is still fairly simple, but it isn’t as totally natural as Badger’s which is why it is listed second.
Here are some of the complicated-sounding ingredients on the label, and a description of what they do:
- Caprylyl Glycol, Capric triglyceride, stearic acid: skin conditioner
- Xanthan Gum, Methyl Cellulose: Binding agent
A lot of times, these ingredients names cover up very simple ingredients that you don’t need to be worried about. For instance, Capric Triglyceride is derived from coconut oil. None of these ingredients are flagged as allergens or harmful to skin.
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Moderately priced
- Can feel greasy
Alba Botanica is a great company if you’re looking for inexpensive products that aren’t going to hurt your skin. Their formulas aren’t always as completely natural or simple as more expensive brands, but they don’t contain any ingredients that you ought to worry about.
This sunscreen provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 with a mix of two physical ingredients: zinc oxide (14.5%) and titanium dioxide (2%).
The nice thing about Alba’s Sensitive Mineral line of products is that you get a high concentration of active ingredients in a product that is still very smooth and easy to rub in.
Here are a few ingredients from this product’s label that you may be unfamiliar with:
- Dimethicone: skin conditioner
- Ethylhexyl Palmitate: lubricant
- Sorbitan Sesquioleate: emulsifier
The dimethicone helps moisturize your skin, and the other two are used to help give the formula a luxurious, smooth texture.
Again, according to the EWG and other skincare organizations that collect research on these ingredients, none of these are considered harmful in the slightest.
- Smooth texture
- Good concentration of active ingredients
- Longer list of inactive ingredients
Goddess Garden’s Everyday Sunscreen is another wonderful moderately-priced sunscreen option that provides a mostly-natural formula while still avoiding nasty chemicals.
This sunscreen provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 with a mix of zinc oxide (6.0%) and titanium dioxide (6.4%).
The SPF 30 rating is considered sufficient protection, but with this lower concentration of active ingredients you want to be extra sure that you’re applying the proper amount of sunscreen to avoid skin damage.
The only possibly negative thing about their formula is that it contains soybean oil.
Individuals may have a reaction to products contain soy oil if they have sensitivity issues. This is true even if you are able to ingest soy in foods as topical applications are more likely to cause a reaction.
If you aren’t sure whether you can tolerate products containing soy, do a ‘patch test’ with this sunscreen on a small area before you use it liberally in order to see how you will react.
- Moderately priced
- Everyday use
- Low concentration of active ingredients
- Contains soy
Similar to Badger, COOLA has provided us with a really nice organic, all-natural sunscreen solution with this unscented sunscreen.
This product provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 50. The tradeoff for that higher SPF and organic ingredients is that this sunscreen is significantly more expensive than the other recommendations on this list.
The cost might mean for some folks that it’s best to use as a face and neck sunscreen rather than whole body, but it doesn’t leave an extreme white cast so you needn’t worry about impersonating Casper at the beach.
Aside from the higher cost, the only other concern with this product (and the main reason it’s #5 on the list today) is the relatively low concentration of active ingredients.
The formula makes use of both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but only in concentrations of 4.3% and 7.3%, respectively.
It rubs in fairly easily though, which is always nice since physical sunscreen can be quite thick at times.
- All natural formula
- High SPF
- Low concentration of active ingredients
Has this guide been helpful for you? I hope so, but if you have any questions about this that I haven’t answered please let me know in the comments so I can work on making these guides better and more informative for my readers.
Although SimplySunSafe recommends Badger All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best chemical-free sunscreen, these are all good choices.
Remember, everybody’s body chemistry and preferences are different and you may have to work your way through a few of these great options before you find the sunscreen that’s perfect for you!