The Safest Sunscreens for Your Family and the Planet
I’ve been trying to save space and reduce clutter by keeping my family’s clothes seasonally separated. Spring got off to a rocky start, but it’s finally time for me to put aside all those cool-weather clothes and prepare for some fun in the sun! I’m so glad that my kids and I are able to spend time outdoors in the summer; it’s wonderful to have the quality time, but it’s also a chance to sneak in some sun education. If you ask me, it’s never too early to learn about sun safety, and I’ve been trying to make sure my kids are aware of why we need to protect our skin.
I try to make sunscreen a last resort, because it’s just one more man-made product we have to put on our bodies. It’s known to include chemicals that damage us and the planet, so it’s never my first choice of defense. To help combat the sun’s damaging effects, we wear protective clothes that keep us covered but cool, we seek shade, and we constantly keep an eye on how much time we’re spending in the direct sun, but those things aren’t always enough. If you go to the beach, for example, it can be tough to keep covered at all times, stay under a beach umbrella, and totally plan your day around the sun’s harshest rays. It’s just not always feasible, and in those cases, sunscreen is an absolute must.
In trying to find the best sunscreen for my family, I’ve been browsing the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) sunscreen research webpage; it helps me track down the best options with the least-questionable ingredients. They rank products on a scale from 1 (best) to 10 (worst), and I try to stick with products with a 1 or 2 rating. Since I’ve spent some time researching the best and safest sunscreens on the market, I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you. I’m including lotions and creams, sticks, and sprays, and they are all free of harsh chemicals and oxybenzone. Side note: spray suncreens are not generally recommended. The risk of inhalation is high with sprays, and they make it more difficult to get adequate coverage. I’ve decided to include some of the better options because I know sometimes convenience matters, and people will use them anyway. No sprays rank higher than a 3, so they’re an exception to my 1 and 2 rating rule.
- Babo Botanicals.
- Their SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen formula is non-nano, reef-safe, water resistant up to 80 minutes, and free of gluten and other common allergens. This fragrance-free version is great for sensitive skin of any age, and the light, non-greasy formula is easy to apply. Organic oils leave your skin feeling soft and silky. It does take a bit of rubbing, but if you put the few extra seconds into the application, it will be clear and smooth. EWG rating: 1.
- The Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sport Stick provides the same broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection but in stick form. The stick makes it especially easy to apply to your children’s faces, and you can even use this one on the lips. It spreads like butter and goes on clear. EWG rating: 1.
- True Natural. Baby & Family broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen is a non-nano, unscented, vegan formula with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. It’s water resistant for up to 40 minutes, has a creamy consistency that rubs on nicely, and it doesn’t leave behind a white residue. All True Natural products are biodegradable and reef-safe, so you can do what’s good for your skin without harming the planet. EWG rating: 2.
- Babytime! With zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, Babytime! Sunny Sunscreen provides broad spectrum, SPF35 protection that is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. The formula spreads easily and isn’t sticky or white and pasty. Green tea and aloe are added to keep skin cool in this reef-safe, gluten-free, and vegan sunscreen. EWG rating: 1.
- All Good.
- The All Good Kid’s Sunscreen Lotion has a broad spectrum SPF of 30 and is water resistant up to 80 minutes. It contains non-nanoparticle zinc oxide only, and is vegan, gluten-free, gmo-free, and reef-safe. This is a new and improved formula, and I’ve been very happy with the way it applies. I feel like I have to use slightly more of this product than I do of some others, but it’s not at all greasy or crumbly, and it rubs in clear. Of the sunscreens featured here, this is the only one that has a noticeable fragrance. The scent is light and floral, presumably from the organic flower extracts listed in the ingredients. EWG rating: 1.
- The All Good Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick provides SPF 50+ protection with water resistance for up to 80 minutes. I usually use sunscreen sticks for the face, ears, and neck, but the wide mouth of this stick makes it ideal for applying all over the body. It’s slightly waxy, but it applies beautifully, and I think this is the one I’ll personally be using most often this summer. Non-gmo, non-nano, gluten-free, coral reef-friendly, and biodegradable. EWG rating: 1.
- The reef-safe All Good Coconut Sunstick contains 20% non-nano zinc for broad spectrum SPF 30 protection. This one is not labeled as water-resistant, but it’s great for everyday use. It applies smoothly and goes on clear. The coconut scent is just right–yummy but not overpowering. The kids loving applying this to their own faces and ears, and I’m happy that their isn’t any mess involved. EWG rating: 1.
- All Good Kid’s Sunscreen Spray is an SPF 30, non-nano zinc formula that’s water resistant up to 80 minutes. Like the other All Good products, it’s coral reef-friendly and is also vegan, gluten-free, and gmo-free. Compared to other sunscreen sprays I’ve tried, the actual sprayer on this bottle is a little more forceful and direct, but it also seems to apply a thicker, creamier, more even coating of sunscreen, which makes me feel a whole lot better about using a spray. It’s also so much less greasy than what I’m used to, but it leaves your skin feeling so soft. I know I’m not supposed to use sprays, but this one is hard not to like. EWG rating: 3.
- All Terrain. The All Terrain AquaSport Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Spray is fragrance-free and water resistant up to 80 minutes. It uses non-nano zinc oxide and is free of coral reef-destroying oxybenzone. The AquaSport Spray leaves more of a sheen than the All Good spray, but it’s still not greasy and doesn’t leave you feeling like a slippery mess. The pump-style sprayer dispenses the sunscreen in small bursts, so you really have to use your hands to spread it around and make sure everything is covered. I see this as an advantage, since one of the biggest problems with other sprays is that people spray and go, and they end up not covering their skin evenly. Shake, spritz, spread, and you’ve got natural sun protection with a bonus of silky skin. EWG rating: 3.
A few reminders about sunscreen usage:
- Physical/mineral sunscreens (i.e., zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) have come a long way in recent years, and they’re easier to apply than ever before. If you’re accustomed to using chemical sunscreens (e.g., oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, etc.), however, you should know that the physical variety generally requires a little more rubbing into the skin in order to get rid of the pasty white residue that they might otherwise leave. It’s really not a big deal, and you get used to it pretty quickly. My kids have never known chemical sunscreens, and they are perfectly happy using physical sunscreens with or without the “white”. That being said, the sunscreens I’ve featured here really are easy to use and don’t leave you looking like Casper, which is one of the reasons I chose them.
- Don’t be stingy. You want to make sure you’re adequately covered, and don’t forget areas like ears and hands. The most expensive sunscreen is a lot cheaper than medical treatments.
- Reapply! You can use the best sunscreen available, but if you don’t reapply at the recommended intervals, you’re not going to get the protection you need.