We all have been told that you need to wear sunscreen in order to prevent skin cancer and sun damage. But did you know that most conventional sunscreens actually contain really harmful ingredients that are linked to cancer? How ironic! But don’t worry, I’ve got you covered (like that pun?) when it comes to SPF, ingredients to avoid, and safe sunscreens to use! ☀
First of all, ALWAYS read the ingredient labels. The front of the sunscreen might say “natural” or “gentle” but definitely make sure you read the actual ingredients. Greenwashing is suuuuuper common with these products.
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This post covers:
- Chemical vs. Mineral vs. Hybrid Sunscreens
- SPF Inactive Ingredients to Avoid
- Best Mineral Body Sunscreens
- Best Mineral Face Sunscreens
Chemical vs. Mineral vs. Hybrid Sunscreens
Let’s start by explaining the difference between chemical and mineral-based sunscreens. Essentially, these are both FDA-approved for sunblock, but function in different ways.
Chemical Sunscreens (Avoid These!):
Chemical sunscreen ingredients basically absorb damaging UV rays and convert them to non-damaging heat. They sink into skin and rub in easier. With these, you need to apply them at least 15 minutes before going out into the sun to take effect. Not all of them are broad-spectrum (some only block one type of UV light) so it’s common to see a blend of multiple in a sunscreen formula. Examples of these ingredients are:
- Octinoxate/Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate
- Oxybenzone (this is the most worrisome one and has been found in ~97% of Americans!) ⚠️
- Padimate O
- Para-aminobenzoic Acid (PABA)
I personally avoid these chemical UV filters due to their toxicity concerns and because they:
- Are able to penetrate your skin and leach into your bloodstream and tissues. Not good!
- Disrupt your hormones and can mimic estrogen
- Affect your reproductive and thyroid systems
- Can cause skin allergies or irritation if inhaled
- Have been linked to the depletion of coral reefs in the ocean, strip coral of its nutrients, and cause DNA damage. Hawaii was actually the first state to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect its waters! (read more about what “reef safe” means here)
Check out Environmental Working Group’s sunscreen guide here for more info and data.
Mineral sunscreens function by reflecting UV rays off skin before the rays can penetrate cells. The two FDA-approved mineral ingredients for sunblock are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. A perk of mineral blockers is that you don’t need to wait 15 minutes after applying them; they take effect immediately! They are broad-spectrum and protect against UVA/UVB rays. This includes blue light from screens!
It’s important to look for non-nano zinc oxide which means that the particles are not small enough to be absorbed into your skin or bloodstream. Zinc oxide also is available micronized which means it will blend in like conventional sunscreens, but still will not enter your bloodstream because of the nature of zinc oxide. However, when micronized zinc oxide is inhaled, it can be dangerous, so avoid aerosol (spray) sunscreens with it!
A downside of mineral blockers is that they sit on top of skin rather than soaking in. Zinc oxide, in particular, is quite white so it can take more effort to blend in compared to the chemical sunscreens. They can leave a white cast on skin and look pasty, especially on darker skin tones. Thankfully, formulators have gotten really smart with how these mineral blockers are integrated so sunscreens have become WAY more blendable than they were in the past! (I’ll share some good ones in a bit, keep reading!)
Mineral sunscreens are also reef safe 🌊 and don’t pose the same health concerns that the chemical filters do. This is why I personally ONLY use mineral sunscreens!
Zinc Oxide Skincare Benefits
As an added bonus, zinc oxide has been found to have skincare benefits such as:
- Helping lower inflammation such as rashes and irritation
- Treating pigmentation such as melasma
- Slowing signs of aging
- Calming acne and breakouts
- Improving collagen synthesis
- Locking in moisture on dry skin
This is a newer trend and it’s good to be aware of it! Formulators have begun to incorporate both mineral AND chemical filters in their sunscreens so you kind of get the best of both worlds. Something that blends in nicely but can also use the term “mineral” on the label. In my opinion, this is still greenwashing and I would still avoid hybrids. Again, it’s always smart to keep an eye out! Just because it says “mineral” does not mean it’s fully clean or safe.
SPF Inactive Ingredients to Avoid
Sunscreen has both active and inactive ingredients. The active ingredients would be either the chemical or mineral blockers that we talked about earlier. The following are inactive ingredients that are common in conventional sunscreens. I would suggest avoiding these because of their connections with hormone disruption, toxicity, and carcinogenic properties:
- Butane or propane
- Parabens (butylparaben, ethylparaben, isobutylparaben, etc.)
- PEGs (polyethylene glycol)
- Retinyl Palmitate (can speed up the development of skin tumors and lesions)
- Styrene Acrylates Copolymer
And if you see some questionable ingredients that aren’t on this list, you can always look up the product on the Think Dirty app to learn more about them! Also, a recent study tested 294 sunscreens and found that 78 of them contained benzene, an industrial chemical that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health defines as carcinogenic. Yikes!
Related podcast episode: Natural Sunscreens & Safe Sun Exposure [EP14]
Best Mineral Body Sunscreens 🧴
Okay, now for the fun part! I’ve tried lots of natural SPF brands over the years and there are some standouts for sure (amongst some duds too). But first, I wanted to remind you that the sun isn’t our enemy. Our bodies NEED that beneficial Vitamin D. But if you’re going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time, especially during midday when the sun is the strongest, put on that natural sunscreen, wear a hat, or find some relief in the shade! 😎 (if you do get a little burnt, this organic aloe vera gel is amazing!)
I was so intrigued by these because it’s a spray but not aerosolized. I’d actually consider it more of a spritz, though. I mostly spray it into my hands first then rub onto my body because it can splatter (needs to be shaken first). But I do like how well it blends in; the formula is silky and lightweight which is unique because a lot of SPFs are on the thick side. It basically applies clear on me!
You can also get this one in different scents: Unscented, Vanilla Coconut (my fave, it smells AMAZING), Peppermint Geranium, and Vanilla Mint.
Beauty by Earth does also have a SPF25 Body Sunscreen which is a similar version but it’s a creamier, thicker lotion instead of a spritz. I like that one too but it does take more effort to blend compared to this spray!
You can use code BECCA15 for a discount on Beauty by Earth products.
Also available here on Amazon. Discounts not applicable.
A great budget-friendly option and I love that it’s a higher coverage. This is one I use for a beach day, hiking, or a long day in the sun (it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes). Thinksun also makes baby/kids formulas and tinted facial sunscreens. This one comes out as a thicker white lotion and does blend in pretty easily despite it being SPF50+. It smells really pleasant too, like currant and berry!
Solara makes higher-end luxe sunscreens that are infused with skin-loving ingredients! I like to think of them as body lotions that also happen to have sun protection! There are two, in particular, that I enjoy: Clean Freak and Glow Getter. Both are SPF30, water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, and have semi-watery formulas that need a good shake before applying. They apply quite sheer.
Clean Freak is unscented, and Glow Getter is lightly scented with hints of coconut and almond. Glow Getter also has responsibly sourced mica in it for a little shimmer ✨ (what can I say, I’m a 90s girl at heart and still not over the body glitter apparently)
I tend to avoid aerosol sunscreens because of the flammable ingredients, inhalation risks, and ecotoxicology (bad for the environment!). But if you still prefer using a spray, this one by MyChelle is a solid option. It still needs to be rubbed in, but the mist is fine and even. Water-resistant too!
Best Mineral Face Sunscreens
Some of the products mentioned above for the body are also able to be used on your face. But I personally prefer to use separate ones that are made specifically for facial use. Mostly because I have struggled with acne in the past and some of the body ones can be too heavy or greasy for facial use. We all have different skin though so they might work totally fine for you!
Simple and straightforward! A white lotion that rubs in clear and has a dewy finish. It’s fragrance-free, essential oil-free, and moisturizing. Just a heads up that Cocokind also makes a Silk SPF which I do NOT suggest because it’s a hybrid that contains homosalate. At $25, this is a bit more affordable than others on the market! Plus you can use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on your first purchase.
Also available here on Amazon. Discounts not applicable.
This is more of a splurge, but it’s a sunscreen, moisturizer, and firming serum all in one. Plus it has matrixyl 3000 which is a fancy peptide that improves sun damage, builds collagen, and addresses fine lines. So you’re getting skincare and sun protection! It’s also fragrance and essential oil-free, making it ideal for even the most sensitive skin types.
I do find that it blends in even better than the Cocokind one too. And I can layer it without it getting pasty or patchy. There is not much of a smell but maybe a hint of cucumber. Good stuff! 🥒
You can use code ORGANICALLYBECCA for a discount on your first order.
This is a spray that was made to be applied on top of makeup as a mid-day touch-up! Or you can use it on bare skin too. It’s fast-absorbing and kind of doubles as a makeup setting spray too which is cool. Make sure to spray it about 9 inches away from the face; if you spray too closely then the droplets can be visible and large. I get the Unscented one!
My only caveat with it is that you have to watch out for it getting all over your hair and clothes. If it’s a beach day or I already plan on getting sweaty or something, then I don’t really care, but for day-to-day use, I prefer not to get my hair all dirty since I try to only wash it weekly. Just my personal preference though!
I also find that I can just spray this into my hand and then apply it like a regular sunscreen on my face!
All of the facial sunscreens I just mentioned are white and untinted. But check out this blog post for my top recommendations for TINTED moisturizers and foundations with SPF:
Thanks for reading! Hopefully this post inspires you to enjoy that sunshine and warm weather, but safely and by using natural mineral sunscreens instead of the conventional ones. You can drop any questions below in the comments!