A good organic sunscreen is a vital part of any complete skin care routine. While sunlight can provide all sorts of health benefits (like aiding in the body’s production of vitamin D and serotonin), too much exposure can cause serious long-term damage to your skin. This damage can range from mild to life-threatening including premature wrinkling of the skin, age spots, severe skin burns, and even cancer. A good rule of thumb is to wear a healthy sunscreen product on your face and any other exposed areas every day. This is because sun damage can accumulate over time from short and incidental sun exposure each day. Even if you are spending most of your days indoors, you can still be fully exposed to powerful UVA rays (these rays can penetrate glass windows). Ideally, you’ll want to reapply your organic sunscreen every two hours; however, this can be a difficult + inconvenient habit to build. Try using a solid SPF 30 product (longer protection), wearing a hat + sunglasses when outdoors, and making a note to reapply your sunscreen before going outside. Keeping a jar of sunscreen in your bag or car will help to solidify this habit. Also, your lips need SPF protection too! Check out our favorite organic lip balms with SPF protection in our article: 40 Best Organic Lip Balms of 2019.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of ineffective sunscreens on the market today. In a recent Environmental Working Group report, 75% of the sunscreen products that they examined provided inadequate protection from the sun. Most sunscreens available today typically offer protection in the form of either a mineral sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals sit on the surface of your skin and physically reflect sunlight away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens work a bit differently and have caused concern amongst dermatologists and researchers. Instead of physically deflecting UV light away from the skin, chemical sunscreens absorb the UV radiation into the skin and dissipate the energy via a chemical reaction under the skin. Additionally, there is concern that chemical sunscreen ingredients can permeate the skin and cause hormone disruption and allergic reactions. Because of this, the EWG and most dermatologists recommend using mineral sunscreens instead of chemical sunscreens. Common chemical sunscreen ingredients to avoid include oxybenzone (one of the worst offenders), avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. To learn more about organic sunscreens and how they work, jump to our Guide to Using Natural & Organic Sunscreens at the bottom of this page.
For this 2018 top list of the best organic sunscreens, we reviewed hundreds of products to bring you the safest and most effective sunscreens we could find. This list is composed of entirely mineral-based organic sunscreens which use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for active sun protection. Every organic sunscreen product on this list 1) contains organic + natural ingredients 2) does not contain chemical sunscreens and 3) avoids the use of harmful ingredients like such as parabens, PEG compounds, phthalates, formaldehydes, ethoxylated ingredients, petrochemicals, triclosan, TEA/DEA, and synthetic fragrances + colors. Additionally, all ingredients were thoroughly researched and checked against the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep® Cosmetics Database to ensure that they are safe for use. If you are searching for a tinted SPF organic sunscreen, then check out our list of Best Organic Face Moisturizers of 2019 and filter by “SPF.”
If you’re still on the fence about which sunscreen product will work best for your skin, then check out The Ox Box! Each quarter, we’ll send you a box filled with premium organic skin care products (including sunscreens) that have been hand-selected based on your specific skin type and skin conditions.
Guide to Using Natural & Organic Sunscreens
Natural and organic sunscreens are not only effective at protecting your skin from sun damage, but they can also improve the health of your skin. Great natural sunscreens usually contain potent antioxidants (like coconut oil, resveratrol, and green tea) which are beneficial for healing existing sun damage. Zinc oxide, a common active ingredient in natural mineral sunscreens, can heal acne breakouts, help retain moisture, and lower skin inflammation.
Choosing the right natural sunscreen for your particular needs requires a little understanding of how sunscreens work. While an organic sunscreen may sound wonderful on paper, it may not provide the kind of protection that you need. For example, does the sunscreen protect against both types of UV radiation? Does it contain ingredients that are harmful to the skin or speed up sun damage? How long will the product provide sun protection before needing to be reapplied?
This brief sunscreen guide was designed to help you to answer these questions so that you can be more informed when shopping for a natural or organic sunscreen. According to dermatologist and Environmental Working Group recommendations, an “ideal” natural + organic sunscreen should meet the following criteria:
Radiation energy emitted from the sun reaches the earth in the form of ultraviolet rays (UV). The warmth that we feel from sunlight is made up of two types of rays called ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). These rays each have their own properties and interact with your skin in different ways.
UVB rays are the rays responsible for sunburns. These rays have a short wavelength and can only penetrate the top layers of your skin—causing the surface burn. UVB rays are strong enough to damage our skin’s DNA and are thought to be responsible for the development of most skin cancers.
UVA rays are the rays responsible for tanning and premature aging signs. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and can penetrate two layers beneath the skin into the dermis. The damage that UVA rays causes is more subtle and worsens over time. Unprotected exposure to these rays can cause wrinkles, pigmentation, age spots, and sagging caused by a loss of skin elasticity.
Broad spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays; however, SPF only measures a sunscreen’s ability to filter UVB rays.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is a measure of how long you can stay out in the sun without getting sunburned. To use it, you simply take the amount of time you can normally spend outside without getting burned and multiply it by the SPF of a product. For example, if you can go 10 minutes outside without getting burned, then an SPF of 30 would allow you to stay out in the sun for 300 minutes (5 hours) before getting burned (10 minutes x 30 SPF).
The higher the SPF, the longer you can stay out in the sun. However, a high SPF doesn’t mean that you’re getting stronger protection. A SPF 50 sunscreen can block about 98% of UV rays while a SPF 100 will only block 99%. No sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays and higher SPFs only add marginal filtering protection.
The amount of time that you can spend out in the sun without getting burned depends upon how much melanin you produce. Melanin is a protective pigment that is found in your skin. This pigment naturally protects your cells from UV radiation. The more melanin/pigment in your skin, the longer you can theoretically stay out in the sun naturally.
Regardless of the SPF rating, it is recommended that sunscreen be reapplied every 2 hours for maximum protection. Everyday activities, friction with clothing, water sports, and sweat can all reduce the amount of sunscreen on your skin.
Mineral sunscreens are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals sit on the surface of your skin and physically reflect sunlight away from the skin. Mineral sunscreens offer many benefits:
The downside of mineral sunscreens is that they can be thick, take a long time to rub in, and leave a white tint on your skin. Some organic sunscreens contain smaller particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (referred to as micronized or nano-sized) which can make these formulas thinner and easier to apply. While there is a lot of controversy over nano-particles, there is no significant evidence to prove that zinc nano-particles penetrate into the skin in large amounts or cause damage (source).
Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds which absorb UV rays into the skin. Then, by a chemical reaction, these compounds transform UV rays into heat and release that heat from the skin. Common chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. While chemical sunscreens are easier to apply than mineral sunscreens, there have many downsides:
Dermatologist and The Environmental Working Group recommend zinc oxide-based mineral sunscreens as opposed to chemical sunscreens.
While spray sunscreens are super convenient, they may not provide a lot of sun protection. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concern that spray sunscreens may not be able to provide a thick enough coating to achieve their advertised protection. There are also some concerns that the chemicals in sunscreens may be inhaled into the lungs and cause damage. Even mineral sunscreens, like titanium dioxide, can be harmful if inhaled in meaningful amounts.
Until better information on the safety and effectiveness of spray sunscreens becomes available, it’s best to stick with a good old-fashioned lotion sunscreen.