While other rates of cancer are decreasing, melanoma (skin cancer) is on the rise, with more than 2 million Americans developing skin cancer each year. The Environmental Working Group, in its 2014 Guide to Sunscreens, explains that this is due to an artificial sense of security in the power of sunscreen to protect the skin. People fail to take other measures to protect themselves from the sun, i.e. covering up, finding shade when possible, and avoiding the sun at noon. SPF numbers measure a sunscreen’s ability to deflect burning UV rays, but it does not say anything about a product’s ability to filter the UVA rays that cause skin damage and, potentially, melanoma.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a new set of sunscreen regulations in December 2012, but the EWG laments that they are not strong enough to transform the market. While the regulations crack down on certain bogus label claims, companies are still allowed to use toxic ingredients as chemical filters. Fortunately it’s becoming easier to find safe, green sunscreens, thanks to the EWG’s online database. This post will highlight 10 of their top-rated sunscreens, including ones that I’ve tried. The lower the score, the lower the hazard. Direct links are in the listed price.
1. Raw Elements Physical Eco Protection Sunscreen (3 fl oz / 88 mL), $18.99
When I first applied this sunscreen to my son’s face, he said, “It smells like chocolate!” The list of ingredients is readable and appealing, and includes green and black tea, beeswax, coffee bean, cocoa and mango butters. Raw Elements, which has been rated EWG’s top sunscreen for kids, is non-GMO, organic, all-natural, cruelty-free, and reef-safe. EWG score: 1
2. Badger Sunscreen Cream, Unscented Active (2.9 oz), $15.99
This natural sunscreen, which received a good review in Toxin Toxout, is made with only 5 ingredients, including beeswax, sunflower oil, vitamin E, and sea buckthorn. It is water-resistant for 40 minutes (there is a sport version that lasts 80 minutes), biodegradable, cruelty-free, and reef-safe. EWG score: 1
3. Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen, Unscented (4 oz), $15.95
This sunscreen is made with shea butter and organic aloe, which hydrate and soften skin during use, as well as baobab oil to increase vitamin D. It is water-resistant for 40 minutes, certified gluten-free, vegan, reef-safe, and cruelty-free. I’ve used this sunscreen and really liked it, although, as with all zinc-oxide sunscreens, it requires more work to rub in the thick layer of whiteness. EWG score: 1
4. Butterbean Sunscreen (7 oz), $10-18
Containing organic and fair trade shea butter and coconut oil, this kid-friendly sunscreen comes as a thick, whipped cream in a metal tin. Its base is non-nano uncoated xinc oxide, and it is unscented, water resistant, and chemical-free. EWG score: 0
5. Bare Belly Organic Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 (4 oz), $15.95
This sunscreen comes in a handy tub, making for easy application. Its base is 25% non-nano zinc oxide, mixed with organic shea butter and coconut, avocado, and sesame oils. It is water resistant, free from egg, dairy, and gluten, and cruelty-free. EWG score: 1
6. TerraSport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 (6 oz), $22.99
Made with transparent zinc oxide, this sunscreen is non-whitening, non-greasy, and fragrance-free. It’s water-resistant up to 80 minutes, and good for active, sweaty dry-land activities. Kids won’t complain about stinging eyes. EWG score: 1
7. Nine Naturals Sunscreen SPF 32 (4 oz), $24
Another zinc-oxide sunscreen with jojoba seed oil, shea butter, and olive oil, this smooth sunscreen is free from sulfates, parabens, BPA, triclosan, DEA, and petrochemicals. No synthetic dyes or fragrances. It is advertised as a safe, non-toxic choice for pregnant women. EWG score: 1
8. Caribbean Solutions SolGuard Kid Kare SPF 25 (6 oz), $16
With a titanium dioxide and zinc oxide base, this sunscreen is kid-friendly and won’t sting eyes. It’s all-natural, nanoparticle-free, no parabens, and reef-friendly. It’s available at Target or online. EWG score: 1
9. Smart Girls Who Surf SPF 30+ Organic Sunscreen Face Stick (0.56 oz), $12.99
This is pricier because of the face stick format, which also has a better EWG score than the company’s other lotion-style sunscreens. It is water- and sweat-resistant, and has no chemicals, parabens, or fragrances. Its inactive ingredients include a host of organic oils, green tea extract, and soothing calendula. EWG score: 1
10. Green Beaver Certified Organic Kids Body Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30 (90 mL), $21.99
This sunscreen is not in the EWG's database and is only available in Canada, but it's a favourite in my household, which is why I want to mention it. Made by a small company in Ontario, this sunscreen is certified organic, approved by Health Canada, fragrance-free, non-silicone-coated, non-nano, and spreads easily. It's not overly white, though it can feel a bit greasy until it becomes absorbed. Available online or in large supermarkets and health stores.