It’s beginning to feel a lot like summer, and I couldn’t be happier. But of course, summer fun isn’t without its perils. To avoid nasty sunburns, premature aging, and increased risk of skin cancer, it’s important to wear sun protection (yes, even if you don’t burn)!
Unfortunately, conventional sunscreen contains some nasty ingredients that can harm us and the environment. Here’s my guide to natural, non-toxic, and cruelty-free sunscreen!
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Physical vs. chemical sunscreen: Which should I use?
First, let’s talk about the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen, and why you might want either one.
Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen, is the old-school sunblock you might think of right away. It’s usually zinc oxide or titanium oxide and works by physically shielding your skin from UV rays and reflecting them. Since it’s not absorbed into your skin but sits on top of it as a barrier, physical sunscreens are more likely to leave a white cast on your skin.
Many sunscreens use nanoparticles, which have raised some concerns about how these particles penetrate the skin or harm small marine life—but the research is inconclusive and I’m not convinced this is an issue we should be worried about yet. Zinc oxide is known to be more effective than titanium oxide at providing sun protection.
Chemical sunscreen contains, you guessed it, chemicals, such as Octylcrylen, Avobenzone, and Octinoxate. These chemicals work by absorbing the UV rays, changing the electromagnetic radiation effect from harmful UV to harmless infrared rays.
Which one you prefer is really up to you. Chemical sunscreens may be more irritating on the skin, but physical sunscreens may leave a white residue. In addition, some chemicals used in sunscreen could be harmful for your body and the environment, so we’ll talk about those next!
Chemicals to avoid in sunscreen:
The common chemical sunscreen active ingredient Oxybenzone has a scarily high toxicity rating and is linked to health problems including hormonal disruption and allergies.
Oxybenzone and Octinoxate have also been linked to coral bleaching, so if you’re going to be in the ocean I’d recommend using a physical sunscreen on your body. In fact, these chemicals have been banned by Hawaii in order to protect their coral reefs! Physical/mineral sunscreens containing zinc or titanium oxide are considered “reef-safe.”
Where to buy non-toxic sunscreen:
Personally, I don’t like using mineral sunscreen on my face as I find it heavier and greasier (and my oily skin does not need that!). I look for light facial chemical sunscreens containing Avobenzone as the main active ingredient and avoid Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. For my body, I don’t mind using mineral sunscreens, especially if I’m going into the ocean.
Here are some brands that make sunscreens that fit my criteria for non-toxicity and are cruelty-free, starting with brands I’ve tried myself:
COOLA has both mineral and chemical sunscreens, but their chemical sunscreens do not contain Oxybenzone.
My recommendations: I’ve tried their Classic Face Cucumber Sunscreen with SPF 30 (gifted to me by their PR firm in exchange for an honest review) and absolutely love it. It doesn’t feel like sunscreen at all, but instead like a light lotion, and absorbs quickly into the skin. The cucumber scent is subtle and fades quickly. I highly recommend it!
I’ve heard great things about their mineral sunscreen, too! They also have tinted SPF products, sunscreen sprays, a makeup setting spray with SPF, and a full spectrum product that I’ve yet to try but would love to!
Founded by a lifeguard, Raw Elements makes natural, non-toxic, and reef-safe sunscreen. Their only active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, so if you’re worried about nanotechnology in your sunscreen and also want the broad spectrum protection of zinc oxide, this stuff is for you. They also have plastic-free products which come in metal tins, which is awesome for those looking to reduce their waste! Their products are also kid-safe.
My recommendations: I’ve tried their tinted face sunscreen but found it a little too heavy for my taste. However, I think it’d be great for people with dry skin types, since the formula contains awesome moisturizing ingredients such as camellia seed and hemp seed oil. I’ve also tried their face and body sunscreen, which I love for my body. It has the same great ingredients as their tinted face sunscreen and keeps my skin moisturized. I received these products as a gift from working with the brand and have no obligation to review or promote these products.
Discount: If you’d like to try Raw Elements, you can get 10% off with code ‘CAT’!
Here are some brands/products that I haven’t tried but would like to, and fit my criteria:
I’ve heard great things about Devita’s mineral sunscreen! They use all natural ingredients and are cruelty-free, 100% vegan, and paraben free. In addition, they do not use nanotechnology in their sunscreen.
Their Daily Solar Protective Sunscreen with SPF 30 has great reviews on Amazon, with many reviewers saying it’s not greasy and doesn’t leave a white cast. I also like how the ingredients list is on the short side compared to other sunscreens I’ve seen and all the ingredients are plant-based.
Here are some brands/products that I haven’t tried and are mostly non-toxic, but contain silicone (I’m not a big fan of silicone in my skincare but it’s technically non-toxic and I don’t mind it in my makeup products that I don’t use every day; read more):
Farmacy creates natural, non-toxic skincare products featuring their Echinacea GreenEnvy™ honey. Honey is full of antioxidants that nourish skin and its anti-microbial properties make it great for fighting acne, too. Of course, this means that Farmacy isn’t a vegan brand, but it is cruelty-free!
Their Green Screen SPF 30 sunscreen is a mineral sunscreen containing zinc and titanium oxide. The plethora of 5-star reviews say that it’s non-greasy and doesn’t leave a white cast! The plus side of it containing silicone is that it’ll make a good primer under makeup.
Biossance’s key ingredient in all their products is squalane, a dry oil that helps fight acne. I love squalane because it’s so lightweight on my oily skin, but also wonderfully moisturizing!
Their Squalane + Mineral SPF 45 goes on clear, despite being a mineral sunscreen, and is also meant to be a primer. I love this concept so much, because sunscreen should be something you put on under your makeup…so why not make it a primer, as well?
Discount: Biossance makes quality products, but they are definitely on the pricey side. You can use my referral link for $15 off your first purchase.
Did I miss any cool brands? Let me know what natural and non-toxic sunscreens you’ve tried and liked!
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