According to consumer health watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG), the number of mineral-only sunscreens on the market—those using zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide rather than chemical filters to protect the skin from the sun—has more than doubled over the last decade.1 Good news if you want to avoid potentially harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and homosalate (known hormone disruptors) or octocrylene and avobenzone (both associated with high rates of skin allergies)—the usual ingredients employed by skincare brands to defend against the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.2
While chemical filters are absorbed into the skin and work via a chemical reaction that converts UV radiation into heat, mineral filters sit on top of the skin and block or scatter UV radiation before it can penetrate the skin. Zinc oxide seems to be the best choice, as it's stable in sunlight and provides better broad-spectrum protection than titanium dioxide.3
So if you're trying to find a safe and effective sunscreen for summer, check out these five zinc oxide-based offerings with the WDDTY Healthy Shopping stamp of approval. Not only are they free of chemical sunscreen ingredients, they're also all made with exclusively naturally derived ingredients, carefully selected for their beneficial effects on the skin. Plus, they're all under 3.4 oz (100 mL), so they're flight-friendly too.
But remember not to rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin from the sun. Use it in combination with protective clothing and shade, and avoid prolonged exposure, especially between 11 am and 3 pm, when the sun's rays are at their strongest.
Best for: sensitive skin
Broad Spectrum Clear Zinc Sunscreen SPF 30, $16.99 (2.9 fl oz/87 mL)
www.badgerbalm.com; tel: 603-357-2958
Badger has a fantastic range of zinc-based organic sunscreens for the whole family, including this unscented, hypoallergenic one made of just five ingredients: 18.75 percent zinc oxide plus moisturizing sunflower seed oil and beeswax, and antioxidant vitamin E and seabuckthorn fruit extract. It's one of Badger's 'clear zinc' formulas, which starts out white on the skin but then rubs in clear. It's also water-resistant for at least 40 minutes, cruelty-free and 98 percent organic.
Best for: kids and sports
Mineral Sunscreen Lotion for Baby and Adults SPF 50, $30.76 (3.38 fl oz/100 mL)
This 72 percent certified organic sunscreen is great for the whole family, but the high SPF and simple, fragrance-free blend of ingredients—sunflower seed oil, shea butter, coconut oil, beeswax, cocoa seed butter, vitamin E and the all-important zinc oxide (25 percent)—makes it ideal for little ones, including babies. It's a good option for sports too, as it's water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes. The thick, nourishing formula is deeply hydrating, rich in antioxidants to protect the skin and also available in SPF 35.
Remember: high-SPF sunscreens still need to be reapplied regularly
Best for: face
Pot of Shade: Heliotropic, $75 (0.9 fl oz/27 mL)
It's expensive, but this 'Pot of Shade' is more than just a sunscreen; it's also a skin primer and plumper and is packed with hardworking botanicals to protect and rejuvenate the skin. As well as 20 percent zinc oxide, the non-whitening, non-greasy cream contains an antioxidant-rich blend of plant oils and extracts including glow-giving kukui, pumpkin and tamanu seed oils and anti-aging pomegranate and sweet iris leaf cell extracts. It works well as a base for makeup or alone for naturally radiant skin.
Best for: vegan ingredients
Caribbean Blue Naturals
Natural Sunscreen SPF 15, $25 (3.38 fl oz/100 mL)
www.caribbeanbluenaturals.com; tel: 758-452-8176
Finding a natural sunscreen that's also vegan-friendly can be tricky (many add beeswax for its natural water resistance), but Caribbean Blue Naturals' formula—developed by naturopathic doctors and available in SPF 15 or SPF 25—ticks both boxes. It's a moisturizing, vitamin-rich blend of zinc oxide (13 or 22 percent), vegetable-derived wax, sesame seed oil, mango seed oil and antioxidant extracts of echinacea and horse chestnut. It rubs in easily and is subtly scented with lavender essential oil.
Best for: lips
Organic Sunscreen Lip Balm, Rose SPF 15, $5.95 (0.16 fl oz/5 g)
www.alteyaorganics.com; tel: 877-425-8392
Don't forget your lips when it comes to sun protection—and with Alteya's SPF 15 lip balm, you won't need to worry about inadvertently ingesting harmful chemicals when you lick your lips or eat. The 96 percent organic formula is a hydrating combination of plant oils, butters, waxes and extracts, including nutrient-loaded avocado oil, skin-soothing shea butter and the beautiful smelling Damask rose extract. There's zinc oxide too, of course, but don't worry, it won't leave your lips looking white. Also check out Alteya's Whole Body and Kids & Baby sunscreens, which are SPF 30.
What about vitamin D?
It's vital to protect your skin from the sun, but 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.
Other sunscreen stars
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 15, $17.97 (8 fl oz/236 mL)
shop.mercola.com; tel: 877-985-2695
Natural Sun Screen SPF 30, $48 (3.4 fl oz/100 mL)
www.odylique.com; tel: 617-500-8271
SPF 30 Fragrance Free Clear Zinc Sport Stick, $12.95 (0.6 oz/17 g)
Ultra Light Organic Facial Moisturizer SPF 30, $35.92
(4 oz/120 mL)
Sun Protection Lip Balm SPF 15, $5 (0.15 oz/4.3 g)