I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely getting more outside time these days trying to keep the kids active and occupied. And I don’t leave the house without everyone putting on sunscreen. My kids have always used non-toxic mineral sunscreen but it took me longer to make the switch for myself.
If you’re in the same boat, here are some reasons why your whole family should choose non-toxic mineral sunscreen this summer:
- Conventional sunscreens contain ingredients that are known to harm coral reefs and have been shown to increase the chance of endocrine disruption. (Hawaii introduced a bill to ban some of these chemicals – it takes effect in 2021.)
- A 2018 FDA-commissioned study found that common sunscreen ingredients – including oxybenzone and avobenzone – were absorbed at much higher concentrations than expected. A follow-up study in 2019 found similar results with additional common ingredients. This means that according to FDA rules, the manufacturers need to demonstrate that the products don’t cause cancer, developmental issues, or endocrine disruption. This work has been repeatedly stalled with no clear direction on when additional studies will be undertaken.
I’m willing to bet industry is going to come out swinging to fight the allegations and very little will come of the research for quite some time. But it adds even more reason why you should switch to a mineral-based sunblock rather than chemical sunscreens. Yes, you, not just your kids.
What’s the Difference Between Mineral Sunblocks and Chemical Sunscreens?
Mineral sunblocks use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. They sit on top of your skin and physically block the sun’s UVA and UVB from hitting your skin.
Conventional chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, preventing skin damage. They include a combination of any of the following: avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
It was previously thought that these ingredients weren’t absorbed through the skin so the ingredients and products didn’t have to be fully studied.
Read that again… products you put on your skin and your kids’ skin all summer long haven’t been tested for long-term health and safety. What research has been done, suggests zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safer alternatives but must be formulated correctly with approved particle types (one reason I don’t recommend homemade DIY sunscreen).
Now, a word of caution. Since so many people are looking for mineral sunscreen, I’m seeing brands include zinc oxide or titanium – and prioritize the marketing around being mineral-based – but also contain chemical sunscreen ingredients (and often a host of other ingredients that aren’t healthy). And the non-active ingredients are important to look at too.
As with all personal care products, get in the habit of reading the full ingredient label, not just the front of the package. It’s more important to know what’s in a sunscreen than what’s not (and PABA-free just doesn’t cut it any more). If you want help reading labels, check out my Guide to Choosing Healthy Products.
What Else to Look For
Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 – 50. SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, and anything higher offers little additional protection.
Look for sunscreen labelled “broad spectrum” or “UVA and UVB protection”. SPF only measures UVB protection effectiveness. UVB radiation contributes to skin cancer and is the chief cause of sunburn, however UVA rays also accelerate skin aging and contribute to skin cancer.
Retinyl palmitate. This is a form of vitamin A that Health Canada’s draft guidelines indicate that may increase the skin’s sensitivity to sun. EWG and Environmental Defense warn against using sunscreens with Vitamin A (on ingredient labels often as retinyl palmitate or retinoic acid) as FDA studies have indicated that it can cause changes to cells when exposed to UVA radiation (though the Canadian Cancer Society reports that there is no evidence these changes are cancerous).
Before I dive into the product recommendations, remember that sunscreen should be your last line of defense when enjoying summer. Wear long sleeves, hat, and sunglasses and avoid being in the sun in the middle of the day wherever possible.
The Best Non-Toxic Mineral Sunscreen Brands
The brands I list here meet the following criteria:
- Free from chemical sunscreen ingredients (they use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients).
- Free from the ingredients in my Ingredient Watchlist (these are based on health and toxicity, if you have allergies be sure to read ingredient labels accordingly).
- Non-whitening and decent performance (this is fairly subjective, but I’ve only included products recommended by many).
Top Picks for Kids
Pump Spray: My kids have been using the pump spray since they were little. They love how quickly it goes on so they don’t have to sit still while I spend precious minutes trying to rub it in like some thick creams require. It’s on the greasy side so I don’t love it for me, personally. I have friends with kids with darker skin and they like it too.
Note: I don’t recommend aerosolized sprays because the fine mist can be inhaled, which poses health risks not associated with skin exposure. The pump spray comes out as a liquid stream rather than tiny droplets.
Baby Lotion: This goes on really nicely! It’s less greasy than the pump, but does take a bit more to rub in (like all lotions). It doesn’t leave a chalky residue and spreads well. A lot of people like the regular lotion as well. I haven’t tried it recently since the baby lotion went on nicer than the last time I tried the regular.
Top Pick for Adults
Lotion: This is truly the first mineral sunscreen to win my heart. It goes on well, doesn’t leave a heavy white residue, and keeps even my sensitive (super sunburn-prone) skin protected. It’s my summer-time go-to.
Stick: I used this stick for my face during ski season, and now I pack it in my bag for quick touch-ups when we’re out and about. It goes on nicely – the kids love it too.
Tinted Spray: I know I said I don’t recommend fine-mist sprays, but this deserves a mention because it comes in two tinted shades for darker skin. I’ve used the non-tinted version, and it feels good once applied. I recommend always spraying it into your hand first, and avoid inhaling the mist.
These aren’t my personal favourites, but get recommended often so are worth a mention.
Badger is a great all-around brand. When I first tried their sunscreen, it was very thick and hard to rub in – it’s the first sunscreen I used on my babies. But I tried a small amount more recently and it seems to have improved.
Everyday Face: This tinted face sunscreen spreads well, and provides a light tint to offset any whitening found in typical mineral sunscreens. It contains cetyl dimethicone, which if you have acne prone skin might contribute to breakouts.
Lotion: I used to use this myself – it was the first natural sunscreen I could handle and it finally allowed me to break-up with Coppertone. But eventually, I found it too thick and it left my black bathing suits stained. I’m including it here because so many people love the ThinkSport and ThinkBaby lotions, and it offers a texture and performance comparable to conventional products so can make for a good “gateway”.
This brand gets recommended a fair bit. I have to admit, I was underwhelmed when I tried it – it was hard to rub in and stayed pretty white. But it’s got a number of raving fans and the ingredients are decent.
I hope this list helps you pare down your search for the best non-toxic mineral sunscreen for your family. If you’re switching for the first time, maybe pick up a couple from this list to try. Everyone has slightly different expectations and criteria so it doesn’t hurt to have options!
And if you’re still not sure, you can join over 3,000 other health-conscious parents and parents to be over in my free Facebook Group the Green Product Forum to ask questions and support others! Request to join here.
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