One of the great things about modern advances in science and technology is our increased ability to know the ways in which we affect our environment, and vice versa.
Many people are turning to more natural sunscreens, for example, because it has been shown that ingredients in traditional sunscreens pollute our ocean and actually contribute to the destruction of coral reefs.
The fact that we grew up using traditional sunscreens with harsh chemicals doesn’t mean we hate the ocean, aiming to destroy entire ecosystems while splashing in the surf. Rather it’s simply a lack of knowledge.
As we continue to know more about the world around us, and about the chemicals used in our everyday products, we are more able to determine whether that’s something we feel comfortable exposing ourselves, our families, and our environments to.
Indeed it isn’t just the ocean that’s affected when we use chemical-heavy sunscreens with potentially toxic ingredients. These products can have detrimental effects on the user as well.
This can happen to anybody, though concern is particularly high for youngsters as their skin is only 1/3 the thickness of an adult which leaves them more vulnerable to the toxic ingredients in sunscreens and other products.
Young or not, nobody wants to slather toxic cream on their skin just to avoid a sunburn – that’s where this guide comes in!
After thorough research into requirements for non-toxic sunscreen to be effective, SimplySunSafe recommends thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+ as the best non-toxic sunscreen. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 non-toxic sunscreens.
In order to be sure that your non-toxic sunscreen offer sufficient protection, look for the following must-have features:
Broad spectrum protection
When evaluating sunscreens, you always want to ensure that you choose a product offering broad spectrum protection.
Most products want to make sure consumers know they provide this, so you’ll see a label mentioning ‘Broad Spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB Protection’ placed somewhere on the packaging. If not, check the list of active ingredients – anything with zinc or titanium will provide broad spectrum protection.
The term broad spectrum refers to what portion of the sun’s harmful rays a given product is able to shield you from. This is important because unlike sunlight, the ultraviolet (UV) rays that cause skin damage as a result of sun exposure are not visible to the naked eye.
These are usually using acronyms – we call them UVA rays and UVB rays.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, causing damage that is usually not visible until it is too extensive to fully repair.
Affecting the DNA of our skin cells, UVA rays cause oxidative damage to the cells and effect miniscule genetic mutations. This is a normal occurrence as we age – it’s what gives us wrinkles, skin spots, etc.
However, UVA rays exposure greatly speeds this process, and introduces the possibility that these damaged cells may replicate and in turn become skin cancer.
Their acceleration of the visible signs of aging means that at 45 you may have skin that is thickened, sagging, and wrinkles as if you were in your 90’s.
UVB rays primarily affect the surface of our skin. Continued exposure causes the skin to become red and tender to the touch, eventually blistering if left untreated.
This effect is what we typically refer to as a sunburn. Repeated sunburns over time can cause sun spots, and a bad burn in childhood greatly increases your risk of skin cancer later in life.
Clearly, we want to avoid both types of UV radiation in order to stay healthy and remain safe from sun damage when exposed to the sun.
Without broad spectrum protection, a sunscreen may leave you vulnerable to UVA rays so be sure to choose a product that keeps you as completely protected as possible.
Best SPF for non-toxic sunscreen
If broad spectrum status tells you about the quality of protection offered by a sunscreen, SPF ratings can be thought of as a way to tell you how much of that protection you’re actually receiving.
Many consumers know that SPF ratings have something to do with how strong a sunscreen products is.
The trouble is that these rating can be a little bit misleading if not fully understood, and you may think you’re buying something you aren’t if you just automatically grab the highest SPF rated sunscreen you can find and call it a day.
Before we look at what an SPF can do for us, let’s look at what it can’t.
The biggest misconception with SPF ratings is that they are a general indicator of how protected from UV rays you’ll be if you wear the sunscreen.
In fact, SPF (which stands for Sun Protection Factor) only refers to protection against UVB rays. It’s meant to be a measurement of how much longer you can stay in the sun without burning if you use this product compared to no product at all.
While it’s nice to avoid a sunburn, this doesn’t give you the whole story in terms of sun protection because most sunscreens ingredients don’t protect from UVA rays nearly as well UVB.
The table below shows a more useful way to look at SPF rating. Take a look for a breakdown of what specific SPF ratings offer in terms of percentage of UVB protection.
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
As you can see, beyond about SPF 30, there really isn’t very much difference at all in terms of the percentage of UVB protection you receive.
This is a big part of the reason that most dermatologists agree with SPF 30 as generally sufficient for most consumers.
Typically you will only really want a higher SPF than that if you know you are at a higher risk for developing skin cancer, or if you are particularly photosensitive and need it to avoid burning.
Don’t forget, though, that even in these cases you are only getting an extra smidge of protection. It is still important to apply generously, reapply regularly, and don’t pay twice the price when you aren’t getting twice the protection!
Physical is better than chemical
While it is generally advisable to choose physical sunscreens over their chemical counterparts, it’s an especially crucial part of ensuring you get a high quality nontoxic sunscreen.
Referring to a given sunscreen as physical or chemical has to do with the type of active ingredients the formula uses. Based on these ingredients we can broadly classify sunscreens into these two categories.
Physical sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Both of these ingredients provide broad spectrum protection and may be used on their own, however they are sometimes also used in conjunction with one another.
Zinc oxide does a slightly better job of protection from UVA rays compared to titanium dioxide, so products primarily featuring zinc are preferred.
These sunscreens work by providing a tough barrier that protects you from sun’s harmful rays. The product sits atop your skin, and works almost like a mirror – UV rays cannot pass through it and so bounce harmlessly away.
This type of sunscreen is effective immediately upon application, is non-toxic, and is considered by many to be calming to sensitive skin.
It is typically thicker than chemical formulas, and requires more rubbing to apply evenly.
It can also sometimes leave a white cast on the skin, depending on skin tone and the concentration of zinc in a particular product.
Chemical sunscreens almost never use a single active ingredient.
This is because chemical sunscreen active ingredients only provide one individual aspect of the required sun protection, and chemical sunscreen manufacturers like to blend them together to get a precisely balanced amount of sun protection.
These mixed ingredients will include: avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
Of these, oxybenzone is the most concerning because it has been proven to pass into the bloodstream after application, where it may mimic hormones in the blood and disrupt the endocrine system.
Regardless, all chemical sunscreen ingredients can cause allergy with repeated use and are irritating to those with skin conditions such a melasma, rosacea, eczema, etc.
This group of sunscreens also works differently than the physical. Upon application, the user must wait about 20 minutes for the sunscreen to become effective, as it must sink down into your skin in order to work.
Once absorbed, its job is to absorb UV rays before they have a chance to affect your skin.
While these chemical sunscreens may be easier to apply and have a less noticeable finish, physical sunscreens are clearly the better option if your priority is high quality, non-toxic protection that won’t irritate your skin.
Choosing physical over chemical ensures that you don’t end up exposing yourself to undesirable side effects from your sunscreens in addition to worrying about the effects of the sun’s powerful rays.
Suited to intended use
If you want your new non-toxic sunscreen to be optimally effective, it’s important to ensure that it aligns with your intended use.
Even beyond things like SPF rating, broad spectrum protection, and active ingredients, sunscreens are certainly not created equal.
Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself to ensure you choose the best sunscreen possible:
- Will I be very active (running, cycling, hiking)?
- Will I be in the water? For how long?
- Is this for face, body, or both?
- Do I need this product to blend well with cosmetics?
- What’s the occasion?
These sorts of questions can start to help you define your priorities in terms of your perfect sunscreen product.
If you know you’re going swimming or will be engaging in an activity that will make you sweat quite a bit, it’s important to choose a sunscreen that offers water resistance. Otherwise, the sunscreen will simply wash off, and then you’re literally throwing your money away.
Water resistant sunscreens are rated for either 40 or 80 minutes of water resistance. Which strength you choose will depend on how long you expect to be in the water or sweating.
Keep in mind, though, that there is a trade off – water resistant sunscreens tend to use a lot of waxes and oils. This means they can have a very noticeable finish that has a lot of shine, white cast or both. They are functional, but usually don’t blend well with cosmetics.
If you are going to blend the sunscreen on your face with makeup, or simply need it to be as unnoticeable as possible (think, going to a company picnic), it may be worth it to choose a facial sunscreen in addition to a body sunscreen.
The skin on our faces is different than the skin on the rest of our body, and so a sunscreen that may be unnoticeable on our arms can have too much shine for the face.
Some sunscreens also have a bit of tint to help offset the white cast caused by many physical sunscreens. Even if you don’t wear makeup, the subtle tints of some products can help to keep you from looking like a mime without ‘looking like makeup’.
What specific features you want out of a sunscreen will depend heavily on what you’re going to use it for. This also means that they can change over time.
As long as you keep this in mind and consider how well a product will work for you in real life situations, you’ll be good to go.
Best Non-Toxic Sunscreen Comparison
|thinksport Sunscreen||Juice Beauty Stem Cellular||Badger Kids Sunscreen||Babo Botanicals Sport Stick||Vanicream Sunscreen|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (18.75%)||Zinc Oxide (15%)||Zinc Oxide (7%) & Titanium Dioxide (5%)|
|Best use||Sport & Outdoors||Facial & Under Cosmetics||Everyday & Outdoors||Sport & Outdoors||Everyday & Outdoors|
5 Best Non-Toxic 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-toxic sunscreens.
All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, and are non-toxic, suited to daily use.
Thinksport provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 50+ using zinc oxide (20%) as the only active ingredient. It’s also rated as water resistant for 80 minutes.
This sunscreen is ideal for a period of high activity. Adventure-driven vacations, beach days, and hiking trips where you’ll need a high-performance sunscreen that can work just as hard as you do.
The best part is that thinksport is always dedicated to producing quality products for their clients. In addition to their great EWG ratings on their entire line, their products were also some of the first to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care requirements.
Upon application, the lotion is thick like you would expect from such a tough formula physical sunscreen. On most folks, however, it doesn’t leave too much of a white cast.
This is definitely a nice bonus, and part of why thinksport steals the number one spot for best sunscreen in the non-toxic category.
- Minimal white cast
- High SPF
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Thick formula
If you are looking for a sunscreen to protect the delicate skin of your face while working together with your makeup to produce a flawlessly put-together look, this is the sunscreen for you.
Juice Beauty’s Stem Cellular CC Cream has a moderate tint that is available in 5 colors (see table below) to give you a close match to your own skintone and to your foundation cosmetic products.
It also provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 via a 20% concentration of zinc oxide. Given the high concentration of zinc oxide, the degree of tinted coverage this product offers is especially impressive.
The price tag, however, is also pretty impressive. This product is rather expensive which is part of why it did not get the number one spot on this list.
In addition to its sunscreen properties, this product is also packed with lots of anti-aging ingredients to keep you looking flawless even after you wash it off.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Not water resistant
Even though it’s labelled for kids, this sunscreen is great to use for the whole family or even to keep for yourself!
Badger’s Kids sunscreen provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 using zinc oxide (18.75%) as the only active ingredient.
It’s rated for 40 minutes of water resistance, which is enough for a bit of a splash here and there even if you don’t plan to spend the entire day in the water.
The best part is, Badger products are always very reasonably priced so you get dependable protection without a big price tag.
Lightly scented using tangerine and vanilla, you don’t need to worry about the scent coming from enigmatically labelled ‘fragrances’ in the ingredients list. This product only has a handful of ingredients and they are all easily identifiable.
The only possible downside to this short and sweet list of ingredients? The product is thick, requiring extra rubbing to apply, and leaves a noticeable white cast.
This is a good product if you want something non-irritating and effective but don’t care as much about a transparent finish.
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Naturally scented
- Moderately priced
- White cast
- Very thick formula
Need a quick fix for on the go? Sport stick sunscreens are always a great options for situations like this, whether you’re running a distance race or just taking Junior to the zoo and need easy re-application.
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 using zinc oxide (15%) as the only active ingredient.
While the overall price is reasonable, some folks are disappointed upon seeing the small 0.6 ounce stick. It’s important to remember that with this product you are paying for the convenience of ultra portable, mess-free application.
This product is rated water resistant for 80 minutes – definitely a good choice for athletes on the go.
The pleasant ‘summer scent’ comes from natural ingredients, with no unidentified fragrance additive on the label. You can even use it on your lips!
It doesn’t leave too much of a white cast, but the formula also contains a lot of shea butter which gives the finish too much shine to work well with cosmetics products.
- Easy application
- High concentration active ingredients
- Water resistant for 80 minutes
- Tiny tube
- Shiny finish
Vanicream’s Sunscreen lotion provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 50+ using a mixture of zinc oxide (7%) and titanium dioxide (5%).
This product has a high SPF rating, but a relatively low concentration of active ingredients. This makes it ever-important to remember to reapply regularly.
It is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, so can still be a good choice if you plan to spend a lot of time perspiring or in the water, depending on what your day looks like.
This sunscreen is also pretty inexpensive, making it a budget-friendly option for folks who might need that extra SPF boost.
The formula is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores) which means you can use it on face or body indiscriminately.
The finish is non-greasy and the product doesn’t leave a noticeable white cast.
- High SPF
- Low concentration of active ingredients
I hope that you’ve found this guide informative and helpful to you on your search for great sunscreen.
While SimplySunSafe does recommend thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+ as the best nontoxic sunscreen, all five of these products are great choices.
Every person’s skin has different needs, just like you need different things out of a product depending on what you use it for. Keeping this in mind, you may find yourself trying out some of the other options in this list to find a sunscreen that’s perfectly suited to your skin and needs.
I work hard to provide quality information and product recommendations – that being said, if there is a non toxic sunscreen you don’t see here that you feel should’ve made the list, please let me know!
I love learning about new products, and working to share the great ones with all of my readers. Have fun, and stay safe in the sun!