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Choosing the Best Natural Sunscreen

Knowing the difference between chemical and natural sunscreens is important but not all natural sunscreens are created equal either. Here is everything you need to know about choosing the best sunscreen.
Jun 3, 2024 | Joy McCarthy

After I posted a reel on IG discussing that not all “natural” and “mineral-based” sunscreens are as clean as you think, it got a lot of people asking me what I recommend for a clean sunscreen. This is a great question for today’s post, which is why I’m sharing suncare products worth looking into.

Before we get to my recommendations, here are some facts and tips on suncare so you have all the info regarding sun protection.

Understanding UVA and UVB Rays

Types of UV Rays

UVA Rays: These are long-wave ultraviolet rays that penetrate deep into the skin. They are present all year round and can pass through clouds and glass. In fact, clouds block only about 10-20% UV rays. UVA rays are primarily responsible for skin aging, causing wrinkles and age spots.

UVB Rays: These are short-wave ultraviolet rays that affect the surface of the skin. UVB rays are more intense in the summer and at high altitudes. They are the main cause of sunburn and play a significant role in developing skin cancer (however, UVA rays can also play a role).

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

SPF measures how well a sunscreen can protect the skin from UVB rays. For instance, SPF 30 means it would take 30 times longer for the skin to burn compared to no protection.

Yes, SPF 15 is less effective than SPF 50, but the difference in protection might not be as large as you think. Here's a friendly breakdown to help you understand:

SPF and UVB Protection

  • SPF 15: This level of protection filters about 93% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 30: This filters about 97% of UVB rays.
  • SPF 50: This filters about 98% of UVB rays.

While SPF 50 offers slightly more protection than SPF 15, it's important to note that no sunscreen can block 100% of UVB rays.

Should you fear the sun? Heck no! Make sure you scroll all the way to the bottom to see why.

The Difference Between Chemical and Natural Sunscreen

What is a Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens contain carbon-based compounds that work by absorbing UV radiation once the sunscreen has fully absorbed into the skin (this is why you must wait 15 minutes for it to provide the protection). Once these compounds absorb UV rays, they undergo a chemical reaction that converts the harmful UV radiation into heat. This heat is then released from the skin, preventing the UV rays from penetrating deeper and causing damage.

Common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens that are quite controversial include:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate

Ingredients in chemical sunscreens are implicated with health concerns as you can see in this summary and I do not recommend them.

Especially for children as their smaller size makes them more susceptible to harmful ingredients. This chart is from EWG.

Mineral based sunscreens are the best choice, but even still, read your labels.

What is a Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral based sunscreen aka “natural” sunscreen works by acting as a physical block to the sun’s rays and contains active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

These minerals sit on the surface of the skin and act as a physical barrier, reflecting and scattering both UVA and UVB rays away from the skin. These ingredients should not be inhaled so it’s best to only use these as cream based sunscreen.

Nano vs non-nano zinc or titanium. Nano technology refers to the size of the zinc or titamin molecule. Nano particles are controversial and there doesn't seem to be a straight answer on whether or not this size molecule can enter the cell. You will see many mineral sunscreen brands market that state they only use non-nano size zinc or titanium. The only study I could find that states they can enter the body was when they were injected, not absorbed in the skin. If you are concerned, find out if the sunscreen you're using has non-nano zinc and/or titanium dioxide as it's not always disclosed on the label.

The Advantages of Mineral Sunscreen

  • Gentle on the Skin: Mineral sunscreens are less likely to cause irritation, making them a good choice for sensitive skin or those prone to allergic reactions, especially for babies and children.
  • Immediate Protection: Unlike chemical sunscreens that need to be absorbed into the skin, mineral sunscreens work immediately upon application.
  • Environmentally Friendly: Mineral sunscreens are generally considered safer for marine life and coral reefs compared to some chemical sunscreens.

There are many “so-called” natural mineral-based suncare products that even though they do not contain chemical sun protection like oxybenzones they do contain many other ingredients that are best avoided like silicones , parfum, fragrance , petroleum derived ingredients, hormone disrupting chemicals like phthalates , GMOs, parabens and more.

I chose these products based on a combination of ratings on Think Dirty, EWG and the Yuka app in addition to my own personal review of the ingredients.

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Please note that everyone’s skin is different and sunscreen products can be very finicky especially for the face, so what works on one person’s skin might not work for another. I would suggest if you’re unsure, find a store location that sells the sunscreen you’re interested in and test out a sample on your skin.

Best Mineral Sunscreen for Face

Sunscreen

Solara Suncare Fortune Teller Tinted Brightening Serum, SPF 30

Solarasunscreen

This tinted sunscreen helps to illuminate and address uneven skin tone. I also appreciate that it has hyaluronic acid (a superstar ingredient) and aloe which help hydrate and keep the skin barrier strong because I find that zinc based sunscreens can be drying. I have not personally tried this one, but it’s on my list because it’s clean, award winning and the user reviews on this one are fantastic.

Derma E Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30

Derma E Natural sunscreen review

Derma E products tend to be very reasonably priced. Even though this product has a longer list of ingredients and you might not recognize every one, it has a low non-toxic rating overall. I love that it's unscented and the reviews are pretty good. If you want it with a tint, I would suggest just adding a bit of foundation to mix in for some colour.

The Perfect Sunscreen by Consonant

Consonant sunscreen

I have been using this product for years. Even though it only has one tint colour, I've spoken to other women who use it with darker skin than me and it absorbs well into their skin and doesn't cause a white cast. Also, it has hundreds of positive reviews. The price point isn't bad either but you definitely need to moisturize or use a serum before you apply this - skin prep is so key before applying any sunscreen to limit your skin having texture. I love that it has aloe in it to help support the skin barrier function too!

Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint

Ilia Super Serum Skin Tint SPF

Even though this has a rating of 4 on EWG I included it because it is a very popular product and it’s better than 90% of the suncare products currently on the market.

There are two specific ingredients in question - aluminum hydroxide and butyloctyl salicylate. I’ve done extensive research on aluminum hydroxide and because it is not the same aluminum used in deodorant, the molecules are too large to penetrate the skin. One of its functions is to stabilize titanium dioxide which provides the sun protection. Butyloctyl salicylates function is to increase the SPF rating of sunscreens. Think Dirty rates this product a 3, which they consider safe. I do think it's a bit thick and has a heavy coverage, but that's just a personal preference.

Additional Clean Sunscreens

If you're curious about my favourite clean makeup picks, you can read this post here. Even though I wrote this post 3 years ago when I had severe rosacea, I still love and use some of the products mentioned in that post.

Best Mineral Sunscreen for Body

green beaver sunscreen

Green Beaver Mineral Sunscreen: This my go-to sunscreen for the whole family. It goes on white at first but absorbs nicely after a few minutes. It's super clean and fragrance free, plus it's a Canadian company which I love. They have a kiddie version too but it's essentially the same formula.

Unscented Natural Sun Care Creme by Matter Company: This clean sunscreen is quite thick but once it absorbs in, it's less noticeable. It has a nice texture and it’s quite moisturizing with shea butter, sesame seed and jojoba.

Think Baby (for adults too): Another great option for a mineral-based natural sunscreen. I've used this brand before and like it. 

flowers in sunshine

Sun Protection Tips

Please don't fear the sun, it is extremely essential for our health and well-being. We need it to manufacture vitamin D aka the sunshine vitamin. There are vitamin D receptors on pretty much every tissue in the human body, which is why it's more hormone-like than a vitamin. Vitamin D has many important roles in the body and the best way to obtain it is from the sun.

Here are some tips for having a healthy relationship with the sun and sun protection tips.

  1. Holistic Sun Care: Eating a diet rich in antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, green tea, salmon) can help your skin combat free radicals generated by sun exposure.
  2. Stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water helps maintain healthy skin (the sun can be very drying) and supports overall well-being.
  3. Avoid burning your skin, at all costs. Burning your skin so you can get a tan is misinformation. Burning your skin puts you at a much greater risk of developing skin cancer as tanned skin is UV damaged skin and will not prevent skin cancer.
  4. Mindful Sun Exposure: There are influencers out there on social media telling people to never wear sunscreen because the sun is healthy for us. This is a very extreme point of view and a misinformed perspective in my opinion.

It is true that some sun exposure is beneficial for our wellbeing because it helps your body produce vitamin D, which is essential for bone health and immune function.

We all have an individual set point for when our skin burns, understanding your own sun exposure is key to knowing your own sun safety.

Some people, myself included, cannot be in the sun for prolonged periods of time without proper sunscreen otherwise I will turn into a lobster. Just be smart about it.

So on that note, seek shade when you can, wear a hat to cover your face when you're spending lengthy periods of time in the sun.

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If I have missed an ingredient that is problematic or a formula has been updated and is no longer clean, please comment below so I can keep this list up to date. Additionally, if there is a clean beauty brand you love, please post it below.

I truly hope you find this information beneficial.

Joy

14 Comments
Emanuela Marcello   •   June 4, 2024

Thanks for the useful info Joy!

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 4, 2024

Melissa Linton   •   June 4, 2024

Could u please comment on sun bum range of mineral sunscreens ?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 4, 2024

Haidee   •   June 4, 2024

Would you recommend the brand Coola for a face sun screen, if so which one would you recommend? Many thanks

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 4, 2024

Terri Cooper   •   June 4, 2024

Thanks for all the great information. Have you tried Simply Zinc Ultra Tinted SPF 50 by Cyberderm? It’s my go to for Face. I find the Consonant Sunscreen too heavy.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 4, 2024

theresa wright   •   June 4, 2024

Have you explored Coola brand? the white tea SPF 50 seems amazing.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 5, 2024

Andrea Paris   •   June 5, 2024

Thank you for the info. For the face, you mention that you can mix in a bit of foundation to add some colour. Does adding in foundation impact the quality of the sun protection?

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 5, 2024

Tina   •   June 5, 2024

You answered I think πŸ€” all my questions regarding sun , sunscreen, exposure etc. thank you so much for this. I actually bought green beaver sunscreen a few days ago and I like it 😊. Not greasy, absorbs well, would recommend.

Reply
Joy McCarthy   •   June 6, 2024

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