There's more choice than ever for anyone wishing to avoid chemical-based sunscreens and opt for safer, natural products to protect their skin from the sun. A growing number of chemically conscious companies are choosing to shun ingredients like oxybenzone and homosalate (known hormone disruptors) and octocrylene and avobenzone (both associated with high rates of skin allergies),1 favoring the natural mineral filters zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide instead, which reflect or absorb light and don't penetrate the skin.
According to the consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG), which produces a comprehensive guide to sunscreens, zinc oxide seems to be the best choice because it's stable in sunlight and provides better broad-spectrum protection than titanium dioxide.2 So we've tracked down five fantastic zinc oxide-based sunscreens, all made with only naturally derived ingredients and without parabens, phthalates, artificial fragrances or anything else that could potentially cause you harm.
But don't forget that applying sunscreen isn't a license to bake for hours and hours in the sun. In fact, recent research suggests that sunscreen alone can't be relied upon to protect against malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.3 Avoid prolonged exposure, especially between 11 am and 3 pm, when the sun's rays are at their strongest, and use a combination of natural sunscreen, protective clothing and shade to keep you and your skin safe.
Best for: body
Dr. Mercola, Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
SPF 15, $17.97 (8 fl oz)
shop.mercola.com; tel: 877-985-2695
In addition to 9.5 percent zinc oxide, this hypoallergenic and water-resistant sunscreen contains an impressive list of antioxidants—like green tea extract, pomegranate extract, astaxanthin and vitamin E—included for their ability to fight free radicals and protect against premature skin aging. It's crammed with vitamin-rich natural moisturizers, too, and is one of the best sunscreens you can buy, according to consumer watchdog EWG. SPF 30 and SPF 50 versions are also available.
Best for: sensitive skin
Odylique Natural Sun Screen
SPF 30, $48 (3.4 fl oz)
www.odylique.com; tel: 617-500-8271
This rich sunscreen—ideal for babies and children as well as people with sensitive skin—is a blend of zinc oxide and nine organic botanicals, including free radical-fighting karanja oil, hydrating shea butter and calming chamomile extract. The formula is non-whitening, non-pore-clogging, and it's claimed to be the first ever sunscreen that is both approved by the Fairtrade Foundation and organically certified.
Best for: kids
Badger Sunscreen for Kids
SPF 30, $15.99 (2.9 fl oz)
www.badgerbalm.com; tel: 800-603-6100
Kids will love the sweet smell of this certified organic sunscreen, made with 18.75 percent zinc oxide and naturally scented with vanilla extract and oils of tangerine and orange. The only other ingredients are sunflower seed oil, an excellent moisturizer, beeswax, which has water-resisting properties, and antioxidant-rich sea buckthorn extract and vitamin E. A top pick by EWG, it's hypoallergenic, reef-friendly and water resistant for 40 minutes.
Best for: lips
Hurraw! Sun Protection Balm
SPF 15, $4.29 (0.15 oz)
www.hurrawbalm.com; tel: 406-730-2571
Burnt lips are never a good look. Luckily, this creamy lip balm contains 10 percent zinc oxide to block both UVA and UVB rays, plus a blend of cold-pressed plant oils—including sweet almond, olive, pomegranate seed and sea buckthorn oils—to moisturize, protect and heal. Unlike some zinc-based lip protectors that leave your lips with a white tint, this one goes on virtually clear.
Best for: face
SPF 30 Fragrance-Free Clear Zinc Sport Stick, $12.95 (0.6 oz)
www.babobotanicals.com; tel: 877-537-2226
Another product with EWG's seal of approval, this handy sunscreen stick is made with 15 percent zinc oxide and a combination of soothing beeswax and antioxidant-packed plant oils and butters. Ideal for protecting the face, lips, nose and ears, the fragrance-free formula goes on clear and is water and sweat resistant for 80 minutes. It's also reef-friendly, cruelty-free and certified organic.
What about vitamin D?
While it's vital to protect your skin from the sun, it's also important to expose your skin to the sun for a few minutes a day without sunscreen to keep your vitamin D levels topped up.
About 15 minutes a day should do the job, but this depends on your skin type and the UV index. Make sure you know both to avoid getting burned.