The 15 Safest Sunscreens You Can Buy
Confused about which chemicals to avoid in your sunscreen? The Environmental Working Group, a consumer safety watchdog organization, just released its comprehensive buying guide. We’ve sorted through the findings to bring you the best sun-smart options that are free of harmful chemicals.
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Sunscreen’s hidden dangers: What you need to know
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Confused about what’s safe and what’s not when it comes to sunscreen? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a consumer-safety watchdog organization, provides some clear answers in its annual online buying guide. The bottom line: Opt for mineral-based sunscreens that feature titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide as their main ingredients. These natural protectants sit on top of the skin, acting as a physical barrier to the sun and reflecting away its harmful UV rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, are absorbed into the body, and chemicals like oxybenzone may cause hormone disruptions and biochemical or cellular-level changes, as well as skin allergies. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are also toxic to coral reefs, and in 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that contain them.
The FDA recently responded to these concerns and recommended an overhaul of the current safety regulations. Right now, only sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium have the FDA’s seal of approval, while others will need to provide more data on the common chemical ingredients in their products before a decision is made. Still, as the EWG notes, any changes won’t be reflected for a while, and lobbying agencies may dilute the proposed recommendations. That’s where this list comes in. Here’s the best of the best from the EWG’s list—for every skin type, lifestyle, and beauty concern.
The safest sunscreen for the beach
Consistently a top EWG pick for best sunscreen, thinksport’s SPF 50+ sunscreen is waterproof for up to 80 minutes, doesn’t feel oily, and—most important—provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection thanks to a 20 percent dose of non-nano zinc oxide. That sun protection can help slow down the age-related effects of the sun and, of course, help to prevent skin cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. An important note: When you’re applying sunscreen, make sure to cover any and all exposed skin. A study published in PLOS ONE in 2019 found that people often miss their eyelids and the surrounding eye area when applying sunscreen or moisturizers with SPF, leaving them more vulnerable to developing cancer in these delicate spots. Don’t miss these other sunscreen mistakes you may not know you’re making.
The safest sunscreen for everyday use
When you’re using something every single day, you definitely want it to be safe—and, let’s be honest, also easy to use. That’s why Badger Active Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30 is so appealing. It provides broad-spectrum coverage and is water resistant for up to 40 minutes, but unlike many other mineral sunscreens, this one adjusts to your skin tone without leaving a white film. It’s also lightweight and fragrance-free. An important addendum: You should be using SPF every day, all year long. A study published in the journal Dermatologic Surgery in 2016 found that using sunscreen not only prevents future sun damage but can also reverse existing damage, including wrinkles and hyperpigmentation. Scientists theorize this may be because blocking sun exposure with daily SPF allows the skin to rest and regenerate properly instead of incurring more damage and hindering the healing process. Find out the sunscreens dermatologists use on themselves.
The safest sunscreen for kids
Non-nano zinc is the main mineral block in TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30, which is also eczema-safe and free of phthalates, parabens, and vitamin A. Chemical sunscreens are particularly worrisome when it comes to children because oxybenzone may disrupt estrogen and testosterone levels. While some researchers caution that more testing is needed to make a full ruling on this, why take the chance when there are fantastic alternatives like this available? TruKid is also a great choice because it’s easy to apply and doesn’t leave much of a white residue on the skin.
The safest sunscreen for babies
There’s nothing more lovely and delicate than baby skin—and nothing more terrifying to a parent than seeing it exposed to the blazing summer sun. The active ingredient in California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen, SPF 30+ is titanium dioxide, which, like zinc, scatters and reflects the sun’s cancer-causing rays. Made for sensitive skin, it is fragrance-free; contains natural and organic ingredients; and is soy-free, oat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and almost completely nut-free (it does contain coconut). Just keep in mind that when it comes to infants under six months old, your first line of defense should be keeping baby in the shade as much as possible and protecting her skin with hats and sun-protective clothing, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. But a small amount of mineral sunscreen can—and should—be used on exposed skin.
The safest sunscreen for sensitive skin
Babies aren’t the only ones with sensitive skin. For adults who want to stay safe but often get irritated or break out from lotions and potions, this fragrance- and paraben-free formulation is a good bet. Blue Lizard Australian Mineral Sunscreen, Sensitive, SPF 30+ is a favorite of dermatologists and pediatricians, and its broad-spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen contains both zinc and titanium. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also pay special attention to sunscreen safety, and not just because pregnant skin is more sensitive and prone to burns: As the EWG notes, studies have suggested that oxybenzone exposure during pregnancy can affect birth weight for babies of both sexes and is linked to earlier labor with males; scientists at the University of Zurich also found high amounts of the chemical in breast milk. Don’t miss these 12 signs that you just bought the wrong sunscreen.
The safest sports sunscreen
Geared toward runners, cyclists, swimmers, and other outdoor athletes, Rocket Pure Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 is designed to stay put when challenged by sweat and water. With a whopping 25 percent zinc, it has the highest concentration of mineral-based protection of any of the sunscreens listed here. Just remember that to be safe, you need to reapply at least every two hours and make sure you’re using an ample amount to cover your entire body. You may want to memorize these 30 sunscreen dos and don’ts.
The safest tinted sunscreen
It’s the ultimate fake-out: Show off a sun-kissed glow while you’re at the beach…and, at the same time, protect your skin from sun exposure. This Badger Tinted Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 30 also solves two more sunscreen challenges: Its mineral-based tint circumvents the annoying problem of zinc turning you white, plus you can avoid that icky feeling of layering heavy makeup over sunscreen on hot, humid days. Honorable mention for the face: Suntegrity Skincare 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen, SPF 30, with its 20 percent non-nano zinc. At $45, it’s quite a bit pricier than the $23 Badger, but since you’re getting a moisturizer, sunscreen, and foundation in one and it’s formulated for the delicate skin of your face, you can think of it more as an investment than an indulgence…or so we tell ourselves.
The safest moisturizer with SPF
For those days when you’re inside more than outside, moisturizer with added sun protection is a good option. Block Island Organics Natural Face Moisturizer, SPF 30, a sunscreen/moisturizer combo that contains 22 percent invisible zinc, protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays without leaving a ghostly residue and goes on well under makeup. It also contains hydrating aloe and shea butter, as well as vitamin E. Don’t miss these 12 things that could increase your risk of sun damage.
The safest lip balm with SPF
Pucker up! Your lips need just as much protection as the rest of your face—and you don’t want to be inadvertently eating chemicals. Raw Elements USA Lip Rescue Sunscreen, SPF 30 contains a hefty dose of non-nano zinc oxide and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It’s also super hydrating, with sunflower oil, mango and cocoa butter, rosemary oil extract, and vitamin E on the ingredient list. While this is a particularly good choice for summer months, as it has the minimum SPF recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology, an unassuming tube of Burt’s Bees All Weather Moisturizing Lip Balm, SPF 15 also earns high marks from the EWG. Lips are just one of the critical spots that dermatologists wish you’d remember to apply sunscreen.
The safest tinted lip balm with SPF
You don’t have to give up your favorite lip color to be sun-smart. Suntegrity LIP CPR SPF 30 Lipstick gets a thumbs-up from the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database (a companion resource to its flagship sunscreen guide) and is available in a cornucopia of colors, including Moonlight Merlot, Solar Rose, Sunny Blush, and Sunrise Peach. These lipsticks provide a broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection with 18 percent zinc oxide; hydrate your lips with organic jojoba oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter; and mitigate the appearance of fine lines with “lip repair lipids” and “konjac root wrinkle-filling spheres.”
The safest SPF stick
Once the domain of white-nosed lifeguards, the sunscreen stick has come a long way. Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick Sunscreen, SPF 30 is an extra-sensitive formula designed for the face, lips, nose, and ears. It contains 15 percent zinc that goes on sheer or slightly white but then disappears quickly as you rub it into your skin. Water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes, it’s also kind to skin, thanks to jojoba, avocado, shea butter, and beeswax. Stick sunscreens are particularly helpful when applying sunscreen on squirmy toddlers—and much safer than the popular spray-ons that might not coat the skin fully, especially on windy days, and also can cause your little one to inhale the airborne chemicals. You won’t believe these eight ways your body changes after just one sunburn.
The safest sunscreen for post-procedure skin
Dermatologists love Tizo’s sunscreens—and for good reason. Not only do they provide broad-spectrum SPF protection, but they’re also great for super sensitive skin. How sensitive? This non-tinted Tizo Age Defying Fusion Sheer Foam SPF 30 Sunscreen is even recommended for post-procedure skin. (Caveat: Don’t use it on broken or damaged skin.) Like the other mineral sunscreens, its main components are zinc (10 percent) and titanium (3 percent), but unlike any of the others listed here, it’s formulated as a light foam and blends into your skin effortlessly.
The safest sunscreen for acne- or rosacea-prone skin
The last thing you want to do is trade one problem for another: MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Sunscreen, SPF 50 ensures that you won’t break out while protecting your skin from the sun. This lightweight, oil-free formulation, with 17 percent zinc and 2 percent titanium, provides a matte finish that won’t clog pores or irritate skin, making it ideal for people who are prone to acne or have rosacea. Bonus: The cream—which also boasts a bevy of antioxidants, including vitamin C, green tea, and cranberry and pomegranate extracts—also blurs fine lines and wrinkles, so your skin will look better instantly. Don’t miss these 10 sunscreen myths that make dermatologists cringe.
The safest sunscreen for dry skin
To quench your skin’s thirst, say oui, oui to C’est Moi Gentle Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30. With a combination of organic aloe and shea butter, it offers serious moisture for dry skin, while its strawberry, kiwi, and apple extracts further soothe skin and protect it from free-radical damage. Plus, its 19 percent zinc oxide provides ample sun protection. You can also feel good about this entire product since it’s vegan and not tested on animals, and even its packaging is recyclable.
The safest non-mineral sunscreen
Yep, you read that right: Alba Botanica Hawaiian Sunscreen, Green Tea, SPF 45 is a non-mineral sunscreen, meaning that it contains some of the chemicals that the EWG isn’t crazy about. But the EWG does have a category for the safest non-mineral sunscreens, recognizing that some people may want to choose this option despite the cited risks. That said, this Alba Botanica version doesn’t contain oxybenzone, the biggest chemical offender; instead, it has 3 percent of avobenzone, which presents a low to moderate risk of toxicity, according to the EWG. This product doesn’t contain parabens or synthetic fragrances, is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation. In addition to applying sunscreen religiously, here are 18 things that dermatologists do every summer.
• Environmental Working Group: “EWG’s Sunscreen Guide: EWG’s 13th Annual Guide to Sunscreens”
• Governor.hawaii.gov: “OFFICE OF THE GOVERNOR — NEWS RELEASE — GOVERNOR DAVID IGE SIGNS BILL MAKING HAWAII FIRST IN THE WORLD TO BAN CERTAIN SUNSCREENS”
• FDA: “FDA advances new proposed regulation to make sure that sunscreens are safe and effective”
• American Cancer Society: “Cancer Facts & Figures 2019”
• PLOS ONE: “Application of SPF moisturisers is inferior to sunscreens in coverage of facial and eyelid regions”
• Dermatologic Surgery: “Daily Use of a Facial Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Over One-Year Significantly Improves Clinical Evaluation of Photoaging”
• EWG.org: “The Trouble with Ingredients in Sunscreens”
• American Academy of Pediatrics: “Sun Safety and Protection Tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics”
• American Pregnancy Association: “Pregnancy and Tanning”
• American Academy of Dermatology: “How to select a sunscreen”