Many people who know me also know that I recently started writing some articles for a Chinese-English lifestyle magazine, and that I began with a couple beauty articles on sunscreens and aftersun skin care. Some of my friends have asked when the sunscreen article will be out, because they want to know what sunscreens to buy.
Let me start with a disclaimer about my forthcoming article in said magazine: It does not reflect my own opinions about what sunscreens are best; rather, it was about so-called bestselling sunscreens, only it was really about bestselling high-end sunscreens, because of the demographic of the publication’s readership (i.e., wealthy Chinese-speaking tourists in NYC who buy luxury products). That’s why I’m writing this little guide to choosing safe sunscreens here.
My contribution to pushing safer products in that article was leaving out the ones on the lower end of the price spectrum that contained the most toxic sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, as well as any with retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A), which the Environmental Working Group states increases sun sensitivity and reacts with sunlight to speed the growth of tumors and lesions (not something I would want to put on my skin specifically to protect my skin from the sun).
Those two ingredients are the main ones to avoid when choosing a sunscreen. There are also a few other considerations (and I am taking these mainly from the EWG sunscreen website, which you can browse for more information):
- Make sure it provides broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) protection.
- The best sunscreens are physical (not chemical), meaning the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Apply liberally and reapply frequently.
- Avoid fine sprays or powders that can easily be inhaled during application.
- Stay indoors or in shade during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- Wear a hat and sun-protective clothing, duh!
SPF ratings only indicate protection against UVB rays, which are the ones that cause sunburn. Scientists have found that, while UVA rays do not cause sunburn, they can cause skin cancer, so it’s important to protect against both kinds. Surprising to me was the fact that UVA rays can penetrate normal glass windows, which means it’s probably a good idea to wear sunscreen even if you’re not out in the sun a whole lot. (That being said, I don’t often bother with sunscreen for everyday besides my foundation, because I believe in getting vitamin D, but I might change my habits.) Of course, a low SPF of 15 would be sufficient for daily use, but the longer or more intense the exposure, the higher the SPF should be.
Mineral sunscreens have improved with time, so they are not all as chalky white as you may remember from your days lifeguarding in the ’80s or something. But some chemical sunscreens are OK to use, too, like avobenzone.
The EWG sunscreen website has a list of the best products, but there are seriously a lot to sort through, which is the kind of thing I like to do, but I understand most people don’t have the time or motivation to do so. (You can also look up the sunscreens that you already have at the EWG website.) Here are my picks, meaning the ones I want to try, because I have only used one of these so far. Some of these are among the bestselling on amazon, which one can take to mean they are well-liked but could also just mean they have better marketing.
Badger products are awesome, but I’d opt for Badger SPF 30 Unscented Sunscreen ($15.99).
Kids’ sunscreens that anyone can use: BurnOut SPF 35 Kids Physical Sunscreen ($17.99), Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen ($19.95), Thinkbaby Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($15.99), and California Baby Super Sensitive Broad Spectrum SPF 30+ Sunscreen ($20.95).
Logically, products designed for sensitive skin often exclude known irritants (such as many fragrances), as does Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Sensitive Skin, Unscented, SPF 30+ ($15.95).
A sports-minded sunscreen preferred by marathon runners, cyclists, etc.: Sunology Natural Sunscreen Creme for Face SPF 50 ($14.99) and Natural Sunscreen Lotion for Body SPF 50 ($14.99).
Others to try
Elemental Herbs Sport Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($15.99)
Loving Naturals Clear Body Sunscreen SPF 30+ ($21.99)
The Honest Company Sunscreen SPF 30 ($13.95)
Block Island Organics Nontoxic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40 ($32)
John Masters Organics Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 ($32)
MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme/Lotion Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 (Creme $30/Lotion $34)
Daily facial moisturizers with SPF
DeVita Natural Skin Care Solar Protective Moisturizer SPF 30+ ($25.95)
Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer SPF 30 ($29)
Tinted moisturizers/makeup with SPF
Physicians Formula Super BB Cream SPF 30+ ($14.95)
Eau thermale avene Tinted Compact SPF 50 ($34)
BareMinerals Original Foundation SPF 15 ($27) (What I use because it feels like nothing yet covers everything!)
MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Creme SPF 30 Broad Spectrum ($32)
Sukicolor Tinted Active Moisturizer ($50.95)
Of course there are a lot of other good products out there, and I admit to using some that do not have the EWG’s lowest toxicity scores (most listed here have scores of 1 and maybe 2), but I’d say to just stay away from the worst ingredients and you’ll at least be reducing damage from harmful chemicals in some skin products.
I hope to update this blog once I’ve tried some SPF products!