June 4, 2011

The Ultimate Sunscreen Guide

The San Francisco Chronicle just posted a report on how Sunscreens need to protect skin from UVA rays. The article states that over half the sunscreens on the market do not provide adequate UVA protection. This is exactly what I covered in my post Protection: Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreens! To help out those of you who want to buy safe sunscreen with wide spectrum protection, I have put together this outline of what to look for when you're on the hunt for a new sunscreen.

Titanium Dioxide vs. Zinc Oxide
The only two FDA approved ingredients that sufficiently cover both UVB and UVA ultraviolet rays are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Make sure to look for one or both of these ingredients in your sunblock. For comparison of the coverage achieved by titanium vs. zinc, see my previous post Protection: Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreens.

Nanoparticles are a hot topic lately. Both zinc and titanium can be made in small particles (>100 nanometers) and then even smaller particles (<100 nanometers). The advantage of nanoparticles is that they are smaller, which means your sunscreen goes on clear, rather than white. This is cosmetically advantageous for those of us that don't like looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost. However, some are concerned that because of their small size, nanoparticles may be absorbed into our bodies and reach the blood stream and brain. However, there have been no studies that prove the harm, or for that matter, the safety of nanoparticles. Currently, we have no good answer. Until we do, I generally try and steer clear of nanoparticles.

If you are interested in reading further,  mvo blog has a good article on the Macquarie University's research in their post on nanoparticles.

Ingredients to Avoid
When you are shopping for a sunscreen there are a few ingredients you really want to avoid. These include:

  • Retinyl palmitate
  • Parabens
  • Phenoxyethanol
  • Fragrance

The San Francisco Chronicle article states that retinyl palmitate is used in over 30% of sunscreens and it has shown to result in skin tumors in animals. We want a sunscreen that protects us from skin cancer, not one that accelerates it! Parabens and phenoxyethanol are icky preservatives widely known to be controversial ingredients. Fragrance, if not from essential oils, is an umbrella term for dozens of unnamed ingredients, which are not required on labels in order to protect trade secrets. However, third party studies have found numerous unsafe chemicals in fragrances. See this report on newswire. So make sure your sunscreen doesn't contain any of these nasties.

Good Ingredients to Look For
If you're going to be slathering it all over your face every two hours, it may as well have some stuff that's good for your skin, right? Look for: jojoba oil, borage oil and shea butter. Sun exposure generates free radicals, so keep your eyes peeled for antioxidants and free radical scavengers like green tea and astaxanthin.

Additional Protection
Red raspberry seed oil has been shown to have an SPF from 30-50 in some cases. Therefore, finding a sunscreen with red raspberry seed oil in addition to zinc and/or titanium can potentially provide additional protection. One example of a sunscreen with red raspberry seed oil is Think Sport Livestrong sunscreen, which you can buy at their website. I've tried this one and it rubs in well, without greasy or chalky residue.

Another sunscreen with red raspberry seed oil is Green Beaver, which you can buy here. I haven't tried Green Beaver sunscreen myself, but reviews online say that it rubs on well, but is a little greasy. So it may be best for those of you with slightly dry skin.

I've saved the best for last! Marie Veronique Organics has a sunscreen with red raspberry seed oil high up on the ingredients list, not to mention all kinds of yummy nutrients for your skin to drink up (like green and white tea, sea buckthorn oil, carrot seed oil, apricot kernel oil and honeysuckle). There isn't a single ingredient that isn't beneficial for your skin in this elixir. You can snag a bottle from their beautiful website. It's available in clear and two different shades. The tinted versions go on like a tinted moisturizer, giving very light, natural coverage. It goes on like a dream, and I swear it made my skin look luminous.

Cosmetic Elegance
Finding a sunscreen that satisfies ALL of these qualifications AND looks good on is quite the challenge. I know, because I keep testing them out in an attempt to find the one that blends the best. Some other sunscreens I've tried that go on without the greasy residue or chalky whiteness include Elemental Herbs zinc sunstick, which you can buy on their website. It smells like coconut and makes me feel like I'm on a beach in Bali. But for those of you that are particularly sensitive, it also comes in an unscented version.
The other option I love is Trukid sunscreens. They have a stick that is just barely tinted so that you can't even tell you've applied anything. You can pick up Trukids face stick on their website. Trukid also makes a bottle of cream sunscreen, which applies like a chemical sunscreen (it's that easy to rub in) and smells like mandarin oranges. So delicious! Get it on their website right here. What I love about Trukid is that they are so quick to respond to cosmetic safety reports. When the news on retinyl palmitate emerged, Trukid was the first to reformulate and come out with new sunscreens that didn't contain the icky ingredient. And you'll notice, if you head to their website, that they label their new product very clearly: "Now does not contain vitamin A." Just recently, they responded to my concern about including phenoxyethanol in their sunscreens and removed it! You don't know how jazzed I am that they did this! I just love the consistency of their sunscreens and now their ingredients are just dazzling.

___________ _ ___________

Ingredients in Think Sport Livestrong Sunscreen:
Active Ingredient: Zinc oxide 20%. Inactive ingredients: purified water, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, capric caprylic triglycerides, sorbitan stearate (coconut based), pine wood resin, vegetable glycerin, hydrogenated castor oil, magnesium sulfate, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, vitamin C, vitamin E, olive oil, raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil, hyaluronic acid (vegetable derived).

Ingredients in Green Beaver Sunscreen:
Active Ingredients: zinc oxide 21%. Inactive Ingredients: sunflower seed oil*, caprylic/capric triglyceride, glyceryl isostearate, polyhydroxystearic acid, glycerin, sorbitan olivate, glyceryl stearate, acacia decurrens/jojoba/sunflower seed wax/polyglyceryl-3 esters, dicaprylyl carbonate, raspberry seed oil*, d-alpha tocopheryl acetate, hydrolyzed jojoba esters, jojoba esters, purified water. *Certified organic ingredients

Ingredients in Marie Veronique Moisturizing Face Screen:
Active Ingredient: 20% non-nano zinc oxide. Inactive ingredients: green & white tea, jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, meadowfoam seed oil, sunflower oil, emu oil, vitamin E, vegetable glycerin, red palm oil, red raspberry seed oil, lecithin, potassium sorbate, allantoin, Cosmocil CQ*, xanthan gum, mica, sea buckthorn oil, yangu oil, rosemary, pearl powder, carrot seed essential oil, cistus essential oil, honeysuckle, helichrysum essential oil, iron oxides.

Ingredients in Elemental Herbs Sunstick:
Active ingredient: zinc oxide 20% (non-nanoparticle). Inactive ingredients: beeswax*, sesame seed oil*, jojoba seed oil*, camauba wax*, avacado oil*, cocos seed butter*, tapioca starch*, coconut oil*, shea butter*, buriti fruit oil*, vitamin E. *Certified organic ingredients

Ingredients in Trukid Sunny Days Face Stick
Active ingredients: titanium dioxide 8%, zinc oxide 5%. Inactive Ingredients: soybean oil, beeswax, shea butter, aloe barbadensis leaf extract , sweet almond oil, orange oil, vitamin E, gragefruit oil, coconut oil, tangerine oil, rosemary leaf extract.

Ingredients in Trukid Sunny Days Sunscreen:
Active ingredient: zinc oxide 20%. Inactive ingredients: purified water, aloe barbardensis leaf juice, capric caprylic, triglycerides, sorbitan stearate, polyglyceryl-4 idostearate, hexyl laurate, cetyl dimethicone,dimethicone, castor oil, magnesium sulfate, sunflower oil, jojoba oil, cucumber extract, green tea extract, tocopherols, pomegranate juice, hyaluronic acid, ethyl hexyl glycerin, polyaminiopropyl biguanide, grapefruit Oil, yuzu, sweet orange oil


  1. Out of curiousity, whats your opinion on spray sunscreens? I'm pretty obsessed, since it frees you of that icky sunscren on the hands (plus sand) feeling and it drys quickly, evenly, and doesn't feel greasy. Plus, its easy to apply without the help of a friend, which is great for daily use. I briefly read somewhere there were concerns about kids inhaling it, but other than that I'm not sure how it ranks.

  2. You're right. I've tried those sprays and they are SUPER convenient. But sadly, they have a few problems with them. The first is that there aren't any spray sunscreens that use mineral SPF. That means you're using oxybenzone and avobenzone chemical actives. Oxybenzone has been linked to cancer. This is because it can penetrate the skin and act as a photosensitizer, which produces free radicals when exposed to sunlight. This means it may be a photocarcinogen. It's still a very controversial ingredient, though. See this article, under the headline "Controversy":


    The other problem with spray sunscreens is exactly what you guessed; the particles can be inhaled. And not just by kids, by everybody. But if you love eliminating the messy goop, you should really look into sunscreen sticks. My favorite is Elemental Herbs Zinc Sunstick (http://store.elementalherbs.com/zinc-sunstick-p13.aspx). It goes on clear, so that there is NO rubbing in necessary. It smells like coconut! Drool. AND almost every ingredient is certified organic :)

  3. I was just about to ask you about a recommendation for sunscreen, and then saw this. Amazing.

  4. Thanks for the post, Char! I just bought a bottle of the Marie Veronique to give it a try.

  5. I'm so glad you guys like it! Let me know what you think of the Marie Veronique, Morgan!

  6. Anonymous6/25/2011

    Great post Charlotte! I love www.SoleilOrganique.com Check out their mists. One for kids too with natural fragrance. Can't say enough about it.

  7. I haven't tried Soleil Organique. Thanks for the heads up! I'll have to check them out.

  8. Mineral sunscreen + cute floppy hat = BIG WIN!!

  9. Thanks for all your info!!! I was wondering if you have tried TRUE naturals new spray sunscreen? http://www.truenatural.com/shop/all-natural-sunscreens/item/246-broad-spectrum-spf-50-sunscreen-spray.html

  10. I haven't! but those ingredients look pretty clean, except for the Ethylhexyl Olivate, which I can't find much information on. Just be careful not to inhale while spraying.

  11. Artificial fragrance can cause problems

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