With summer right around the corner, it’s time we find the perfect natural sunscreen. But that’s easier said than done with all of the sunscreen out there full of toxic ingredients and misleading SPF numbers. So I wanted to create this ultimate guide to help anyone understand what to look for in a sunscreen. After reading you’ll understand once and for all what it takes to be a good natural sunscreen and you’ll finally feel prepared for all the fun out in the sun this summer!
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Let’s Start with Sunscreen Basics
I figure the best place to start when talking about sunscreen is the basics! Sure we all know you’re supposed to wear sunscreen to keep yourself safe. But why? The best way to make sure you’re making an informed decision is to be informed. So let’s jump into all things sunscreen!
The Science Behind the Sun and it’s Rays
I’m no scientist but we’re about to get a little scientific. Essentially, the sun transmits electromagnetic radiation in waves or particles on a spectrum of different wavelengths and frequencies. Ultraviolet light falls in between visible light and X-rays on the spectrum and is what we’re most concerned about when it comes to sunscreen. You know it as UV light. Or more specifically UVA (315-400 nm) and UVB (280-315 nm). A lot of UV light is filtered out by our atmosphere (thank god). But what does reach the surface has the energy to break chemical bonds. This is especially deadly for humans because we’re made up of chemical bonds we certainly don’t want broken apart.
While that’s a bunch of scientific mumbo jumbo, there are some important take aways:
- For one, we’re most concerned with UVA and UVB rays. Any sunscreen we do choose to use should have the ability to block both UVA and UVB from effecting our skin.
- Another aspect to keep in mind is the effect different UV light has on our skin. While UVB is the cause of sunburn, UVA has more long-term damaging effects on the skin (aka premature aging).
Ok But What is SPF?
SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and was introduced in 1962 to help measure a sunscreen’s effect against UVB rays (which are the rays that cause sunburns). So SPF is the perfect measure to help people understand how effect their sunscreen is. At least when it comes to sunburns.
In order to find this measure, testers round up their sun sensitive guinea pigs (don’t worry..they’re human guinea pigs) and measure how long it takes them to burn without any sun protection. Then they redo the test with a sunscreen. They then take the “with sunscreen” number and divide by the “without sunscreen” number and round it down. This gives them the SPF number for the sunscreen tested.
So What Do Those SPF Values Mean?
Once this SPF number is determined, they slap it all over their packaging. But most people have no idea how it works. Essentially it tells you how long you can stay in the sun using that specific sunscreen. To figure out how long, use the following equation:
Minutes in the sun it takes for you to burn x SPF number = maximum sun exposure time
So if it takes you 10 minutes to burn in the sun and you use a SPF of 15, you’ll be able to be in the sun for 150 minutes without burning. But before you go laying out in the sun for that exact amount of time, keep in mind they likely use far more sunscreen during their experiment than you do. The SPF number is more of a guideline and helps you know when to reapply sunscreen to keep your skin safe.
At the end of the day, a sunscreen with a higher SPF does give you more protection for longer from UVB rays. However once you get past SPF 30, protection doesn’t increase dramatically so the larger numbers give you a false sense of protection.
But What About Protection From UVA Rays?
If you’ve noticed, all of the information about SPF only mentioned UVB rays. That’s because most conventional sunscreen only protect from UVB light and allow UVA to be absorbed by the skin. This leaves you exposed to UV light that leads to premature aging which is not good. Especially when the solar UV energy that reaches the surface consists of 95% UVA and only 5% UVB. But you can look for “broad-spectrum” protection when purchasing a sunscreen to make sure you’re protecting your skin from both types of dangerous UV light.
3 Tips for Sunscreen Use
To summarize all of these sunscreen basics, I wanted to leave you with 3 easy tips to keep in mind when choosing and applying sunscreen.
- Know Your Risk – The amount of melanin in your skin protects you from UVB rays. So if you’re super pale (like me) then you’re not very protected from sunburns. This should come into account when picking your sunscreen. Also keep in mind any medication that makes you more sensitive to the sun or a family history of skin cancer. Everyone should wear sunscreen to be protected from UV rays, but certain factors mean you need even more protection (maybe consider a hat for extra protection while out in the sun).
- Buy “Broad Spectrum” Sunscreen – You want sunscreen that’s going to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. That will help protect your skin from early signs of aging and keep you looking your best without a sunburn in sight!
- Pay Attention to your Application – The best way to protect yourself is to apply your sunscreen effectively. For one, allow the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes to absorb into your skin before sun exposure. Also be sure to cover all exposed skin, including commonly missed spots like the temples, ears, back of the neck and tops of the feet. Lastly, both sweat and water do a number to sunscreen application so be sure to reapply after exposure or after 2 hours, whichever comes first.
What to Avoid When Choosing a Natural Sunscreen
Unless you live under a big old rock, I’m sure you’ve heard that Hawaii has banned sunscreen that can harm coral reefs. Chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching so this bill will make a difference in protecting the reef. Now I’m sure you’re wondering what that has to do with you—this legislation is the first step towards more natural sunscreen options for not only the planet, but for us!
While this new Hawaii legislation is amazing, it doesn’t limit all of the sunscreen on the market. So you need to know how to find the best natural sunscreen for yourself. The best place to start is to identify what to avoid when shopping for sunscreen. This will help you make the best decision for your health (and for the environment)!
As I mentioned before, high SPF values are incredibly misleading. In fact the FDA wants to prohibit the sale of sunscreens with a higher SPF than 50 because they convince people they are more protected than they actually are. With the rates of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – tripling over the past 35 years, it’s important we make sure the SPF we do choose is actually protecting our skin (and be sure to reapply it often!!).Are you protecting yourself from UVA and UVB rays? Did you know sunscreens with a high SPF might not work as well as you think they do? These are the sunscreen secrets companies don't want you to know!Click To Tweet
This ingredient causes hormone disruption in those who use it (altering sperm production in men and promoting endometriosis in women) as well as the before mentioned environmental concerns (for the coral reefs). So it’s safe to say this ingredient should be avoided at all costs. It can also combine dangerously with the chlorine used to sanitize most pools to form chlorinated oxybenzone which is even more toxic. Basically this chemical is crazy dangerous when in a product like sunscreen that you should be applying on a regular basis (aka every single time you’re out in the sun).
Retinyl palmitate is an antioxidant that combats skin aging but with that comes a dangerous complication. Studies have shown that it may trigger the development of skin tumors when used on the skin and exposed to sunlight. So this makes it an incredibly dangerous additive in sunscreen. It also contributes to unsafe levels of vitamin A. I recommend you avoid any sunscreen that contains vitamin A or retinyl palmitate – which is also known as retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol on ingredient lists.
The biggest downside of using natural sunscreen is the chalky white tint left behind by the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide used. However to try and fix this problem, companies have created nanoparticles to help this sunscreen spread easier. The downside of that is that these particles are so small they spread through the body unnaturally quickly, causing who knows what kind of damage to our body. So it’s best to avoid any sunscreen that has these dangerously small nanoparticles.
Misleading Marketing Claims
As I’ve discussed before when it comes to greenwashing, there are a lot of misleading claims made by brands on their packaging. While the FDA may have banned the use of “waterproof” and “sweatproof” on sunscreen in 2011, there are still other terms in use. This includes things like “sun shield” and “age shield.” While these terms imply full protection from the sun, it’s often far from the truth.
How to Pick the Perfect Natural Sunscreen
Now that you know the basics of sunscreen and what to avoid, it’s time we get into finding the perfect natural sunscreen. Now I know there’s a lot of factors to keep in mind. I’m honestly a little overwhelmed myself. But hopefully at the end of this section you should know what to look for and feel confident in your natural sunscreen decision.
Be Sure Your Natural Sunscreen is “Broad Spectrum”
Looking for a “broad spectrum” natural sunscreen will make sure you’re protected from both UVA and UVB rays. However there’s something else to keep in mind. A recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that nearly 67 percent of sunscreens didn’t work. This was because so many of them weren’t providing protection from UVA rays. While the US severely lacks legislation expecting more from companies, the EU has passed strict laws requiring sunscreen to provide adequate protection against UVB and UVA rays. So if you want to be sure that your sunscreen is a good choice, a good test is to see if it’s sold in Europe. With the solar UV energy that reaches the surface consisting of 95% UVA and only 5% UVB, it’s crazy important we protect ourselves from both forms of UV light.
Avoid All Spray Sunscreens
My recommendation is always to go for a lotion sunscreen over a spray sunscreen. The sprays never provide enough coverage and typically surround you in a cloud of toxic chemicals that you and everyone nearby are forced to breathe in. Plus most spray sunscreens use chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone which we know is always bad news. Sure using a lotion sunscreen is more work, but it allows you to be sure you’re adequately protecting your skin.
Look for a Physical Sunscreen like Zinc and Titanium Dioxide
If you want a good natural sunscreen, look for zinc and titanium dioxide on the ingredient list. These are two of the top favorite ingredients for natural sunscreen. While they can have problems with nanoparticles, looking for a natural sunscreen that is “non-nano” will make sure you are protected. Also, sunscreen with zinc oxide or 3 percent avobenzone offer the highest UVA protection.
The Best Natural Sunscreen Brands
I couldn’t talk about everything involving natural sunscreen without mentioning some of the best brands to shop for! Now that you understand everything it does (and doesn’t) take to be a good natural sunscreen, you understand why these products are so well loved!
Luckily there are so many brands creating quality natural sunscreen out there. Which is made apparent by the long list of beach and sport sunscreens created by EWG (they even have a list for the best facial moisturizers with SPF). Since these lists are so amazingly comprehensive, I’m going to pick three of my favorite brands to talk about here.
This brand has been killing it ever since they first came out. I must admit, I’m a total sucker for their branding. Plus their description labeling them perfect for the “eco-conscious adventurer in all of us” is amazing. The best part is, they’re available at Target! Seriously, their selection of natural sunscreen lotion and sticks is so good. While I’d personally avoid any of their spray sunscreen, they have super fun sunscreen sticks in bright colors that will make sure you don’t miss any spots!
My Top Picks for Bare Republic:
- Bare Republic Mineral SPF 50 Body Lotion – This product is the perfect combination of physical sunscreens and an easy application. It has a light scent and is going to keep you protected whether you’re lounging by the pool or hiking a volcano in Hawaii (I wish!). Buy it on Target.com.
- Bare Republic SPF 50 Neon Sunscreen Stick 3-Pack – Festival Edition – These 3 packs are so colorful! I love the different color combinations available and they’d be perfect to use while on the beach to make applying sunscreen more fun. Buy it on Target.com.
This brand is one I commend for creating natural skincare. But luckily, they also create facial moisturizers that have natural sunscreen built in. It can be hard to find makeup brands that also use natural sunscreens in their formulas, so this is a good find!
My Top Picks For Juice Beauty:
Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer, SPF 30 – This product is a wonderful lightweight option to give your face SPF protection every day. I recommend using it under your makeup application every morning. Buy it on Amazon Prime.
- Juice Beauty Stem Cellular CC Cream, SPF 30 – Who doesn’t love a good CC cream? This product provides both SPF protection and color correction with anti aging properties. It’s a winner in my book!. Buy it on Amazon Prime.
This is hands down one of my favorite essential oil brands (which I talk about here). But they also happen to make a ton of amazing natural products (many containing their amazing essential oils). So when they announced a natural sunscreen, I was crazy excited! Every product they create is amazing so a natural mineral sunscreen was sure to be absolutely amazing.
My Top Picks for Young Living:
- Young Living Mineral Sunscreen Lotion – This product is awesome because they created non-nano zinc that spreads well without leaving a white cast. Which is pretty hard. They managed it by combining the particles with jojoba oil to help them spread better. This gives you the strength of zinc physical sunscreen without the pasty white finish. Buy it on Young Living.
- LavaDerm After Sun Spray – Young Living also created an amazing after sun spray that is pure gold for someone who is constantly sunburned like me. It does wonders to take the sting out of your sunburn and help you to heal faster. Plus it’s made from natural ingredients which is always important to me! Buy it on Young Living.
Boy was that a long one. But I’m glad you made it all the way to the bottom! You can’t be too safe when it comes to sun protection. By choosing the right natural sunscreen, you protect your skin from aging as well as skin cancer. Which are both not something to mess around with! But I felt like this guide was an important one to cover when SPF is such an important part of any anti aging skincare routine.
I’m pretty excited to get my hand on all the colors of those Bare Republic sunscreen sticks. How about you? Any sunscreen brands you’re loving on? Comment down below and let me know!
- What is Ultraviolet Light?
- What do SPF numbers mean?
- The Best Sunscreens of 2018 (and Toxic Ones to Avoid)