7 sunscreens that are safer for you and the earth
Why trade one risk for another?
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Anytime you’re heading out the door, protecting your skin should be top of mind, especially in warmer climates and during seasons when your skin is exposed. This can mean using lotions and sprays containing broad-spectrum SPF ingredients or wearing clothing that covers or shades the skin from harmful UV rays.
Among sunscreens, you have a choice of products that rely on physical, mineral-based ingredients that reflect the sun’s rays off of skin or chemical ingredients that work by absorbing the rays before they can cause skin damage. There are pros and cons of each type of sunscreen, though the FDA’s recent findings that the chemical ingredients absorb into the body at high levels may give you pause in using products containing them. (The FDA continues to assert that the benefits of protecting skin from the sun outweigh the potential risks, at least until more research is done.)
What’s more, several of the chemical sunscreen ingredients have been banned for sale in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Hawaii, among other places, as they are suspected to contribute to coral bleaching in reefs—though experts don’t agree on that, either.
All of that is to say, if you’re looking for physical sun protection, there are plenty of great options out there—like these seven products, which reviewers rave over and keep buying again and again.
1. For a face sunscreen that goes on clear: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50
One of the big complaints about mineral sunscreens is the ghostly white veil they can leave on the skin, and especially on the face. Who wants that?
This option from SkinCeuticals uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect the skin with SPF 50, and reviewers say it feels lightweight and looks “invisible” once on, making it worth the higher-than-most price.
One Dermstore reviewer writes: “I was surprised by how thin this is, but it spreads very easily and settles on the skin very nicely. It has become my go-to summer base layer with a touch of setting powder.“
2. For face protection on a budget: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
If drugstore prices are more your speed, try the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen Lotion, which protects your skin from the sun using zinc oxide and claims to feel lightweight and non-greasy. It takes a little work to fully rub this product in, but as far as white casts go, reviewers say it’s not too bad.
“I like this product for my face. I have very sensitive skin and found face sunscreens ‘burned’ [when they went on]. Not this!” one Target reviewer writes. “It does leave a slight white tint but absorbs and fades within minutes after applying it. I use it every morning after my moisturizer and before makeup.”
3. For a non-greasy yet moisturizing body lotion: Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
Don’t the name fool you—this SPF isn’t only for sports or rigorous activities. If you like the added moisture benefits of using a lotion—and the guarantee that you won’t miss a spot if the wind blows, as can happen when applying a spray-ons—go with this sunscreen from Thinksport. This SPF active ingredient is zinc oxide and claims to absorb into the skin easily and quickly for a non-oily finish.
“This was the first time I haven’t burned in Hawaii. We had three brands of reef-safe lotions. This one, by far, was the favorite,” one Amazon reviewer writes. “The others were either way too hard to rub in or felt weird on the face. [Thinksport] stayed on great after swimming. We didn’t feel greasy. My skin didn’t feel clogged. It never got into our eyes (and we were pulling masks on and off). I had my husband order three more tubes.”
4. For a body spray with all-mineral ingredients: Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen SPF 30
There’s no denying that many people prefer spray-on sunscreens over lotions, and that these are great for fuss-free application—most don’t even require you to rub them in. If you’re in this camp, try this zinc-only sunscreen from Babo Botanicals, which claims to feel ultra-sheer and non-greasy. Just make sure you cover every square inch!
“I used this for my child and spouse and self for a beach vacation. It made it so much easier to get ready to go to the beach and the sun protection was great, and no one got a sunburn,” one Amazon reviewer raves. “You don't get as much product with the spray style but the tradeoff in quick application makes it worth it. Also, one bottle lasted the three of us six days and that is with all of us doing multiple applications a day.”
5. For protecting extra-sensitive skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
This SPF from Blue Lizard uses both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect the skin from sun exposure. It claims to be ideal for sensitive skin, as it’s free of fragrance and parabens, a controversial preservative used in some cosmetics.
One Amazon reviewer gushes: “I’m allergic to most all chemical sunscreens. I’ve tried several different mineral-based sunscreens only to be allergic to something still. I was hesitant to try something new again, but it was worth it. I tried Blue Lizard and I’ve had no allergic reaction. Applying the sunscreen is easy on your skin, lightweight, and dries quickly.”
6. For babies and children: Sun Bum Baby Bum SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion
The silky-smooth baby skin plenty of us wish we had? Protect it at all costs! Keep your little ones covered from the sun’s rays with the Baby Bum SPF 50 with zinc oxide, which also moisturizes using coconut oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter.
One Amazon reviewer writes: “I have tried a lot of baby sunscreens and this is by far my favorite. It is non-scented so it’s great for babies with sensitive skin, and it spreads and rubs in very easily. Most other baby sunscreens are sticky and impossible to rub in. This has no problems. We used it on my 15-month-old while being out on our boat all day and he did not burn whatsoever.”
7. For the ultimate protection: sun-protective clothing
All of these sunscreens are great options for coating exposed skin when you’ll be outdoors, but what’s even better in terms of sun safety is to wear clothing with a high UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating. A UPF of 30 is the Skin Cancer Foundation’s minimum recommendation, though 50 or more is even better: "A UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays and allows two percent (1/50th) to penetrate," states the organization's website. (Even your regular clothes offer some coverage, too: A plain white T-shirt has a UPF of about 7.)
If you’re going on a hike, bike ride, or sight-seeing, throw on clothing and accessories, like those sold by REI, to keep your skin safe from the UVA and UVB rays. The best part? No need to reapply a lotion or spray, as you’re guaranteed consistent coverage as long as you’re wearing your gear.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.