Finding a suitable “safe” sunscreen can be tricky business. Things have changed since the Coppertone days (or, for some of us, no-sunscreen-at-all days) of our childhood with, most recently, the mineral-based sunscreens taking the world by storm. Mineral sunscreens (those with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the main ingredients) are reportedly the safest choice for our skin these days. And I am sure there are many out there who would not agree with me recommending anything else, BUT I have to admit … my kids are not the biggest fans and the sunscreen battle can get really tiresome around here. Plus there are some slightly better alternatives worth considering.
Though effective, mineral sunscreens are notorious for not fully rubbing into your skin (since they basically sit on the surface instead of absorbing into your skin like other lotions), not completely washing off for a couple days, and even staining dark bathing suits on occasion (sadly, it’s happened to me). Some mineral sunscreens are definitely better than others, especially those that are tinted (like Sun Love from Annemarie Gianni, which is especially great for faces), and we also like this spray version of Goddess Garden. So we do still use some mineral sunscreens as well … our skin is our largest organ after all, and we want to treat it right! BUT, when you have to use sunscreen almost every.single.day of the summer the super thick stuff can get a little old after a while.
So, since not all of us are always striving for perfection, I want to share how I figured out what safer regular (i.e. chemical-based / non mineral-based) sunscreens to try and what we think of them.
Sunscreen Safety Ratings
First of all EWG – the Environmental Working Group – is not at all a sponsor of ours. They are simply a fabulous resource that everyone should know about! In their own words the EWG is “a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.” They basically do all the homework for us when it comes to choosing safe products for our families including rating the safety of hundreds of different sunscreens (as well as other products) on a scale of 1 – 10. This is just one big science experiment I do not have time for so I always check their database, both on my computer and on their free app on my phone, before making a purchase. I especially love the ability to scan the bar codes of products using the smart phone app when I’m at the store!
I spent some time on their website and want to share my search result links for…
- The Safest Mineral-Based Sunscreens
Click my link and as you’ll see this list starts with the safest options first – with a rating of “1” – and there are loads of choices in that category. BUT, if you keep scrolling, there are also quite a lot of choices that are considered moderate and even high hazard (anywhere from a 3 to 7 rating). So, just because a sunscreen says it contains titanium dioxide – one of the main ingredients in “safer” mineral sunscreens – does not mean it’s automatically the safest choice.
- The Safest Non-Mineral Sunscreens
Click on these search results and you’ll see there are (not surprisingly) no “1’s” in this category, but the first one does have a “2” rating and is therefore still considered “low hazard.” Obviously that’s not quite as good as a “1” rating – and the database will tell you exactly why it got a 2 if you click on the details – but it’s still not too bad when you look at the overall scale below.
What the ratings mean:
Now, let’s be honest … some of us are okay with a “2” and even a “3” rating. Including me on occasion! So, while visiting my parents in Florida over Spring Break, we purchased and used four of the SAFER non-mineral sunscreens just so we could share what we thought of them.
Safer Non-Mineral Sunscreens We’ve Tried
With a rating of “2” this one falls into the “low hazard” category. Not too bad, if I do say so myself. When my 12-year-old, the biggest sunscreen hater I know, told me she actually didn’t mind using this one I thought I might need to have my hearing checked. It is seriously a challenge some days – who am I kidding, most days – to get her to put sunscreen on willingly because she hates it so much. So the fact that she actually found nice things to say about this one (such as how it’s a thinner lotion that rubs in well and smelled nice) was just MUSIC to my ears!
The downside is that it’s $9.59 for a small 3 ounce bottle. That’s $3.20 an ounce.
This is the thickest lotion out of the four non-mineral options we tried so you might feel like it gives you a little better coverage, but it did also seem a little greasier than the others and did start to get crumbly on your skin if you rubbed it in too much or too hard.
The 4 ounce bottle of Beyond Coastal does cost $14+ on Amazon so it actually makes the first choice sound like it’s not a bad deal! This one comes out to $3.60 an ounce.
BANANA BOAT PROTECT & HYDRATE
This is likely a brand you’ve heard of and this particular formula is one we first learned about from a friend who was on a similar mission (to find the best non-mineral sunscreens to appease her children!). This one rubs in well although my daughter – who we can just dub the “sunscreen critic” at this point – says it’s her third favorite out of the four listed here. She says it’s hard to squeeze it out of the bottle (gotta agree with her here, especially when you get near the end), and she is not crazy about the smell either.
It is a good deal though – especially if you buy the pack of three 6-ounce bottles on Amazon for $26.99. That’s $1.50 an ounce.
This is definitely the thinnest lotion out of the four listed here. Meaning it will start dripping straight out of the tube if you’re not careful. So you might not feel like the coverage is as good as some of the others, but it sure does rub in nicely as a result and makes it my little “sunscreen critic’s” second favorite choice out of these options. They have done a little rebranding so while I’ve purchase bottles that look just like this one below in Florida, the only one we could find this week in NC is pictured above in the group shot. It appears to be pretty much the same formula though.
We found this one for $8.99 for an 8 ounce bottle, which comes out to $1.12 an ounce.
No matter what sunscreen we use, we do reapply often (especially when swimming) and also use swim shirts and hats for extra coverage as well.
Now, I’d love to know your thoughts on mineral vs. non-mineral sunscreen. Do you only use the SAFEST choices (a “1” rating) or are you okay with some of the other alternatives? Please share in the comments below!
86 thoughts on “How to Choose a Safe(r) Non-Mineral Sunscreen”
I can’t use the mineral sunscreens because they make me perspire. I know it’s from the mineral based because I put it on my arms and face, chest and neck and that is where I perspire.
Good info! We ( seniors!) have been using Thinkbaby mineral sunscreen for several years now & we love it! It is rated #1 on the EWG site & has an SPF rating of 50. I have extremely sensitive skin, but this really works for me. It has a very light white cast that goes away very quickly….it is gone by the time you are finished lathering up & it’s waterproof too. They also have a tinted facial sunscreen which applies very smoothly & evens out skin tone. We feel both are worth every penny spent!
We love the Green Goddess spray but after the first 3-5 applications, it will no longer spray out! Anyone found a solution for this?
We had this issue too. No luck yet
Great info! My so. And Inare redheads so this is very important. I have a question. Why are the spf 20 all the way up to spf 90? If you are wanting sun protection why would someone but 20 when 90 is right next to it on the shelf? I don’t get it?
Those numbers are very misleading. SPF 5 blocks 93% of UVB Ray’s whereas an SPF 30 blocks 97%.
Here is a good article on SPF ratings from The skin Cancer Foundation: https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/ask-the-experts/does-a-higher-spf-sunscreen-always-protect-your-skin-better
Have you ever tried Blue Lizard baby or the regular Goddess Garden? I believe both of these scored a 1 on the EWG site so I was curious if you’d ever found them….
What about sunscreen for my face? Like you all, I have done research and after research until I am so undecided. I’ve chosen Alba because I sprayed only the top of my feet and sat under umbrella at a lake and burned everywhere except where I sprayed. However, my face is sensitive and am using Origins with spf but am still getting burnt on my face and don’t really want some thick, pore clogging stuff on my face. I want something that works but is not heavy on the chemicals. I bought Coola face but when I got home it was rated a 7 on EWG. ANY SUGGESTIONS FOR FACE SUNSCREEN/moisturizer???
This is my favorite for face, I have used it for years. Light and not oily but keeps me from burning. Price check around though because you can get a much better price from other websites. http://devitaskincare.com/store/solar-protective-moisturizer-spf-30-25-oz75ml-p-17534.html
Not sure if banana boat is the same brand in Australia and America but there was bad press in January concerning bad burns.
I love that you are sharing safer options! This is something I am very passionate about!
I was in the same boat a few years ago with sunscreen. At, the time, my kids were still fairly little and so they gripes no matter what type of sunscreen we put on them! We ended up using a really great brand as far as coverages and safety, but all our old beach photos show them looking like little ghosts.
Anyway, I was introduced to Beautycounter a few years ago and instantly fell in love with their products. It didn’t take long for me to also fall in love with their mission to educate and get safe products into the hands of everyone!
They ban over 1400 ingredients that are known to be harmful to humans. (The U.S. only bans 30!)
They’re not only safer, but the products are amazing too! The sunscreen IS a mineral sunscreen, but it’s NOTHING like other mineral sunscreens. It rubs in like lotion, isn’t greasy and has awesome coverage! We’ve been using it for 2.5 years now and absolutely love it!
I would love to send you a sample for you to review!
Please let me know if this is something you’d be interested in.
I have found that Alba Botanicals and Sun Bum are the best two sunscreens for my family. We like the coverage (not overly thick), the scent (especially Sun Bum) and for my husband who is bald it does not tend to run into his eyes and burn.
You should try Alba Botanica products – we’ve used them for several years and I LOVE them. Good consistency and they smell awesome.
So glad to see the banana boat protect and hydrate made your cut! I’ve been using it for a few summers now and it’s by far my favorite. I’m very active in summer, and have to do a mix of mineral based and non-mineral based to keep my Irish skin protected! I have to fall back on some of the sprays when I’m kayaking and such, but I always start with that particular banana boat lotion.
What about banana boat kids? It has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as its main ingredients and is $10.28 for 12 oz ($0.86/oz) on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Banana-Boat-Sunscreen-Family-Spectrum/dp/B004CDWZMC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1494797378&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=banana%2Bboat%2Bkids&th=1). I have used this on my kids for two years and haven’t had burns or complaints.
This sunscreen gets a 6 from EWG.
Got the banana boat one today! Smells great! Thanks again for the great post!