Hey, are you in theatre?
You might get asked that question if you wear mineral sunscreens with zinc.
At a juice shop in San Diego, that’s what one person from Superfoodly was asked. While waiting in line to order, the elderly lady next to him asked that question. When he said no, her follow-up was…
“I thought you were in theatre because your face has been painted all white.”
She honestly thought it was theatre makeup! No, it was chemical free sunscreen with a SPF 50+ rating. Okay so she’s an old grandma, but what are other people thinking when they see you wear this stuff?
A neighbor who was not that old, 50-something, said to this same guy:
“You missed some shaving cream, it’s on your ear.”
Um, no. Who shaves their ears anyway?! It was physical sunblock he was wearing.
Those are just a couple examples of many. We won’t even tell you the story about the 20-something employee at the Apple store in Manhattan Beach, California who blamed the broken touch ID as being the customer’s fault… because he wears sunscreen. The dude seemed to have a real vendetta against people who wear it.
Basically, it seems a large chunk of the population thinks you’re a freak or there is something wrong with you mentally if you want to wear sunscreen daily.
The funny part is that they’re not getting the last laugh, because their skin looks like crap as they age. And that would be the best case scenario.
The worst – which is definitely no laughing matter – is that you can get deadly skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
The scary part? You don’t even need to be that old or have fair skin.
Just this year, one of us here had a childhood friend pass away from skin cancer. He was only in his mid-thirties! He discovered an unusual mole one day after shaving off his beard. He wore sun protection too and it’s not like his skin was unusually fair – just your average white guy. Now a wife and son are left behind.
Isn’t sun good for vitamin D?
Unsafe and toxic chemicals aside, this allegation is the one you hear most among the anti-protection crowd. That it blocks your skin from making vitamin D.
The truth is that whether you wear it or not, the risk of vitamin D deficiency is a major problem.
This has to do with the modern way of living and working indoors. Quite different from the days our ancestors.
Is getting melanoma, wrinkles, and blotchy skin worth the benefit of vitamin D from the sun?
That’s your choice, but know that the official statement from the American Academy of Dermatology on this topic is this (1):
“Vitamin D can be safely and easily obtained from a healthy diet that includes foods naturally rich in vitamin D, foods/beverages fortified with vitamin D, and/or vitamin D supplements. Because of the known side effects of UV exposure, vitamin D should not be obtained from unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.”
When it comes to getting it from food, both the animal and vegan vitamin D sources are unlikely to give you the RDA, let alone the higher amounts which research suggests for optimal immune support and health; up to 5,000 IU, which is 7 to 10x higher than the RDA (2) (3) (4) (5).
One person here tested as having low vitamin D levels five years back. His doctor told him to take a supplement. He’s been using a chewable D3 supplement daily – this particular product – and his blood tests have been good ever since. To be clear though, his story should NOT be construed as medical advice. Talk to your own doctor before supplementing.
Why oxybenzone and avobenzone are bad
Skin cancer and wrinkles or wearing dubious chemicals that end up in your bloodstream? Pick your poison.
Chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, and octocrylene will also still make you look like crap.
They create less of a white cast, but your face and body will be greasy. The cheaper ones are both white and greasy.
Aside from the terrible look and feel, are chemical sunscreens safe?
They do create a broad spectrum barrier against UVA and UVB rays, and that’s a good thing. However research suggests they end up in your bloodstream, generate free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), act as mutagen, can trigger allergic reactions, and even interfere with your hormones. (6) (7) (8) (9) (10)
Less premature aging from UV rays, but some of these chemicals create their own free radicals. Those too may accelerate signs of skin aging.
Oh and the spray versions? Those chemical nano-particles take a straight one-way trip to your lungs, as you breathe the microscopic mist in during the application. That includes the micronized titanium dioxide sunscreens which are “natural” but whose safety is disputed. (11)
Do you really need sunscreen daily?
When your office is beachfront, can you have a complaint about it?
Yes, there is one.
As the EPA advises, white sand and other bright reflective surfaces – like concrete, bodies of water, and snow – can double your UV exposure. (12)
Fortunately the windows are film tinted, so less than 1% of UV enters the office. But when outside, it means up to 2x the radiation, thanks to the backyard of sand and the Pacific ocean (we understand if you don’t have sympathy for our suffering).
But whether it’s a SoCal beach or a summer in Michigan, you’re being bombarded with damaging UV radiation wherever you are…
The winter is safer, but not safe. Year ’round coverage with at least a SPF 15 is advised. Better yet is a 30 rating, especially for summer and southern climates.
72 reviewed, top 10 selected
We analyzed 72 products which are branded as natural, organic, and/or physical mineral sunblock. All of these could be considered the best if you’re comparing to the other 90% loaded with oxybenzone and avobenzone.
Obviously though, 72 is too many for you to choose from. You only want the crème de la crème, not a long list!
Based on certain things we didn’t like in the ingredients, we were able to whittle that list down to 49.
We then obtained these 49 products. Some we purchased and some were free samples obtained at Natural Products Expo West and by direct request. Whether we paid for them or not had no bearing on our opinion. In fact, our top-rated water resistant sunscreen for body and acne prone skin has been purchased by us 100+ times cumulatively over the years (for surfing).
Among the the final 49, further scrutiny was given.
The brand Zinka is both a chemical and physical sunscreen together. Its UV-blocking ability comes from minerals (physical-blocking) but 13 out of the 14 shades use artificial chemicals for coloring, like red 40 and yellow 5 lake.
It’s popular among surfers and is effective for the nose and blocking glare, but the addition of dyes disqualifies the mineral-based Zinka products.
Artificial colors are a more obvious example, but there are plenty of other ingredients which disqualified products such as parabens, phthalates, petroleum (petrolatum), and even though it’s naturally derived, the physical sunscreen known as titanium dioxide.
Zinc is an essential mineral for humans and animals, titanium is not and may be dangerous.
Unlike the best natural choice which is zinc oxide, the mineral titanium dioxide has cancer concerns when inhaled and has been found to cause oxidative stress and mitochondrial damage in the brains of rodents. Some believe it may be linked to worsening of inflammation in the GI tract, such as what’s experienced with Crohn’s disease. Theoretical links to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have also been proposed.
The rebuttal by the natural skincare industry is that the suspected toxicity and health risks are more related to nanoparticles, not the microparticles of titanium which they use.
100 nanometers is the cutoff between nano and micro. The big problem is that filtering out 100% of the nanoparticles seems to be a challenge.
When researchers at ASU tested high qualify (food grade) non-nano titanium dioxide, they found that 36% were of nanoparticle size (under 100 nm). The precise distribution of sizes is shown above. The 6 purple bars on the left are all nano-sized. (13)
Scientists in the Netherlands found that 89% of food and personal care products contained nanoparticles, even though there are stricter rules against them in Europe. (14)
In light of these findings, how can one take comfort in using titanium dioxide sunscreens, even if they’re non-nano?
Looks like Burt’s Bees for babies is getting axed. Here’s who else wound up on our chopping block…
|Brand/Product||Reason For Disqualifying|
|Alba Botanica mineral line||titanium dioxide in facial, kids, sport, and sensitive skin products|
|Aveeno Natural Protection||6% titanium dioxide|
|Babyganics||3% titanium dioxide and 5% octisalate, among other chemicals|
|Babo Botanicals||Not bad, but can’t be a favorite with xanthan gum inside|
|Blue Lizard||5% titanium dioxide|
|Burt’s Bees Baby||2.8% titanium dioxide and undesired chemicals like alumina (aluminum oxide)|
|Coola Organic Suncare||Creams and sprays are made with organic plants, but they still use avobenzone and octinoxate. Their Mineral Face doesn’t, but it has 3.2% titanium dioxide.|
|Earth’s Best SPF 30 for babies||2% titanium dioxide|
|Jason Sunscreen||Sport, Family, and Kids use homosalate, octocrylene, and other chemicals. Mineral version uses titanium dioxide.|
|Kiss My Face Organics||Mineral sun spray/cream for Kids and Face & Body contains 6% titanium dioxide.|
|Sun Bum SPF 50 Clear Zinc Oxide||Contains octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene and other chemicals.|
|TotLogic Safe Sunscreen||Polygylcerl-4 isostearate, methyl dihydroabietate cetyl dimethicone, hydrogenated castor oil|
|True Natural SPF 50 unscented||6% titanium dioxide|
|Zinka Clear||No artificial colors, but this is a physical and chemical sunscreen together; zinc oxide and oxybenzone.|
After all was said and done, we were left with only a handful of brands, each having multiple products. From those, we chose the top 10 natural and organic sunscreens which look, feel, and perform the best.
You can’t really say there’s a number one sunscreen, because each has their benefits and drawbacks. It all depends as to what characteristics are most important to you.
With that said, here’s how we’re categorizing our 10 favorite.
For face (6 products)
- 3 for daily use – This is for when you want natural sunscreen that doesn’t stain clothes or make your face white. Aside from moderate protection, aesthetics is first and foremost for these.
- 3 for sports – These are waterproof (technically water resistant) for up to 80 minutes. Having higher SPF also earned a higher ranking. Less emphasis on aesthetics.
For body (4 products)
- 2 for daily use – These are easier to apply and have minimal whiteness. The trade-off is that they have lower SPF ratings and less resistance to sweating/water.
- 2 for sports – When you need excellent SPF and maximum water resistance. Won’t look great, but they will do a good job at protecting you.
Best natural sunscreen for face
Starting with those for daily use, the following 3 stood out for their ability to spread easily, dry with a matte finish, and cause the absolute minimal amount of whitening. Some is inevitable, since zinc is a white metal, but no one is going to ask you if you’re wearing theatre makeup with these.
1. Goddess Garden Face The Day
This one is not cheap, which is the only strike it has going against it. Based out of Boulder, Colorado, Goddess Garden Organics is unique in that they use organic sunscreen ingredients. Minerals (i.e. zinc oxide) can’t qualify for certification, but the eligible components are certified to NSF/ANSI 305 organic body care standards. That also means they’re non-GMO and oxybenzone free.
Photo of 36 year old male wearing Face The Day (no moisturizer or anything else) taken in natural sunlight next to window. Despite being a Long Beach native, a life of daily protection means he’s approaching forty without a wrinkle or sunspot in sight.
- SPF 30 rating – Its active ingredient is 19% zinc oxide – a high percentage – yet this formula leaves very minimal whiteness.
- Matte finish – Dries quickly with no oily appearance.
- Works as a primer – This is a good sunscreen for women because it’s designed to be used as a makeup primer, if desired.
- Anti-aging benefits – Chicory root offers a firming effect, while the non-comedogenic aloe leaf and carrot seed oils offer moisture.
- Price – For those on a budget this may be too expensive for daily wear.
- Not water resistant
- Bottle size – It’s a 1 ounce pump. Hopefully they come out with a larger and more cost-efficient bottle in the future.
2. Goddess Garden Facial
A more cost-effective option with a MSRP that is around 1/3 the price of their Face The Day sunscreen. You can get it in a 3.4 oz squeeze tube which conveniently, is the maximum legal size for getting through airport security with it in your carry-on luggage. When you first apply it, you think it’s going to be a disaster because it’s splotchy, but within 10 or 15 seconds of spreading that all disappears.
- SPF 30 rating – Has the same active ingredient of 19% zinc oxide.
- Moisturizing – Contains aloe leaf juice, shea butter, and safflower seed oil.
- Water resistant – 40 minute rating.
- Essential oils – Contains lavender and helichrysum oil, the latter of which is a very expensive ingredient!
- Fewer anti-aging ingredients – That also means no firming benefit.
- Less matte – Not as good as Face The Day from Goddess Garden, but pretty close.
3. Thinksport Everyday Face sunscreen
We’re only recommending this for women. Why? Because it’s naturally tinted using iron oxide, so the skin doesn’t turn white from the 20% zinc oxide. Even on a man, it’s surprisingly hard to tell it’s tinted after putting it on. But still, this isn’t exactly the most manly choice (if you’re a guy, imagine having this bleed off your face in public). For women, it may kill two birds with one stone; covering blemishes while offering a good mineral-based sunscreen.
- SPF 30 rating
- 80 minutes water resistant – The longest rated time a product can have. This is the only sunscreen for face that works for casual daily wear as well as sweaty activities/swimming. The caveat is that it could bleed and stain clothes during those activities.
- Cost efficient – Especially for women who can use it in place of a primer and BB cream.
- Not all skin colors work – We have heard reviews from Indian and African American women who use the regular non-tinted Thinksport and it works, but they haven’t yet tried this one yet. The best natural sunscreen for black skin may not be the tinted. Likewise for those with very fair skin.
Best for face during sports
Next up are the top 3 contenders for sports. These won’t look as good, but they will offer you good sun protection and all have a 80 minute rating for water resistance.
1. Thinkbaby sunscreen
From the same manufacturer as Thinksport Everyday Face, but this is not-tinted. Nothing from this brand is completely unscented, but this is the least scented. Sure, it’s a mineral based sunscreen for babies, but it turns out to be just as good for adults too.
The marketing with “baby” in the name may lead you to think it performs differently or worse. Our research uncovered that this is identical to the formulation of the regular Thinksport. Water resistance and SPF rating is the same. Ihe only difference between Thinkbaby and Thinksport is the scent.
This does not have the currant and grapefruit smell that Thinksport has, which causes allergies and sneezing in some people. The Thinkbaby scent is papaya, a milder choice for those with sensitive skin and nose.
On the neck is Thinkbaby, which is the typical amount of white cast residue you should expect. On the face is a non-waterproof chemical sunscreen from Japan for comparison; Shiseido Senka Aging Care (which is the best looking for a chemical-based).
- SPF 50 rating – The highest you can get for a natural cream.
- Best water resistance – It measures at the top of the scale, which is 80 minutes.
- Doesn’t cause breakouts – Yeah it’s goopy, but from years of use while surfing, it wasn’t an acne trigger.
- Looks like theatre makeup – Yes, this is that product. Don’t wear it out and about.
- Very water resistant – Good while you’re in the ocean, bad while you’re in the shower.
2. Badger Sport sunscreen
While there are plenty of mineral sunscreen options on the market, very few are organic. Badger is a tried and tested brand and this one uses 100% “certified natural” ingredients with 98% of them being organic. Even though it has a higher percentage of zinc oxide at 22.5%, its SPF is a bit lower than other brands.
- SPF 35 rating – Not the highest possible, but sufficient for most people.
- 80 minute water resistance
- Vitamin E – This antioxidant comes from the sunflower ingredient.
- Unscented – Great choice if you have allergies.
- Very thick – Does not spread very easily.
3. BurnOut Ocean Tested sunscreen
An oldie but goodie, BurnOut skincare company was created by a Santa Cruz surfer and it was one of the very first physical sunscreen brands to hit the market. For over a decade they’ve sold their broad spectrum SPF 30 for face and body.
More recently, they’ve launched a couple physical mineral-based blocks that are even better thanks to added ingredients. Their original worked great for surfing, but this new one is specifically branded as an ocean tested physical sunscreen and comes with an antioxidant boost.
- SPF 30 rating
- Uses organic ingredients – Not everything, but most of what you see on the label is organic.
- Spreads easily – This is more comparable to a lotion, not a paste.
- Antioxidants – Organic green tea extract, pomegranate juice, and vitamin E.
- Lower SPF – Sufficient for most, but not all activities.
Best mineral sunscreen for body
The following two are for daily use. They’re light weight and go on easy. Unlike those for swimming and exercise, you actually don’t want them to be too water resistant because that makes them difficult to wash off. These fit that happy medium; they stay on with most land activities, but wash off without a problem.
1. BurnOut Sunscreen review (the original)
From the same guys as the Ocean Tested sunblock, this is their original formula. The fact that it has been a bestseller for over decade is because you don’t fix what ain’t broken!
The product label doesn’t even specify a water resistance rating for it, but it does remain reasonably intact with light sweat and water activities where you are only are submerged for brief period. Like with surfing, where most time is spent laying on a board paddling and sitting on it as you wait for waves. Not recommended for swimming though.
You can use it for your face too, but it will leave more white residue than something like Goddess Garden sunscreen.
Top photo is arm before Burnout has been rubbed in. Bottom is 5 minutes after being rubbed in. Dries almost clear. If you look closely at the moles and hairs, you will notice they’re still dark.
- SPF 30 rating – From 18.6% zinc oxide.
- Great for arms and legs – Unlike Thinksport which is really thick, this spreads easily.
- Almost clear – No white chalky appearance after drying.
- Matte finish
- Antioxidants – Vitamin C from camu camu berry, plankton extract, and other natural sources.
- Oil free – Good sunscreen for sensitive skin and acne prone faces.
- Fragrance free
- Price – The tube is small and has a MSRP that’s more expensive than the larger 3 oz. Thinkbaby/Thinksport tube.
2. Badger unscented sunscreen lotion
Similar to their sport version from the prior review, but this one is less hardcore. It’s a spreadable lotion with less minerals. The drawback is a lower SPF rating, but the benefit is less whitening of the skin. Half the water resistance rating means you don’t have to scrub like crazy to get it off.
Here it is on the face. It’s matte, but it makes the skin pale. Up close you will see little balls of the dried cream (see chin area and eyebrows). That’s why it’s a better choice for your body.
- Contains organic ingredients – Aloe juice, sunflower oil, and glycerin.
- SPF 25 rating – From 14% zinc oxide.
- Dries matte
- Allergy friendly – With no fragrances.
- Antioxidants – From elderberry and sunflower.
- Non-comedogenic – Won’t clog pores.
- Bad size for travel – The 4 oz size exceeds the carry-on limit for airplanes.
- Some whiteness – Even though it has a lower SPF than Burnout, it’s a whiter color.
Top choices while swimming
The last two physical sunblocks are for your body and work best for swimming and sweat. They both have the highest possible water resistance rating. You can wear them on your face too, but they won’t look great.
Yes, this brand is a favorite for two categories. What makes it particularly good for your arms, legs, back, and stomach is its price point. Using BurnOut Ocean Tested and Badger Sport will both look better, but their MSRP is more expensive per ounce. This is one of the cheapest sunscreens that is natural and mineral-based. The only difference between Thinksport vs. Thinksport Kids Safe and Thinkbaby is their scent and marketing.
The Kids sunscreen smells like orange/citrus. Most people like it better than the currant and grapefruit scent you get with the regular. Baby is papaya. Since they’re all the same efficacy for protection, choosing one just depends on what your scent preference is.
- SPF 50+ – This is the best you will find for a mineral-based product.
- 80 minute water resistance – The highest ranking possible.
- Affordable – Great choice for families and frequent use.
- Antioxidants – Vitamin C, vitamin E, and others.
- Moderate spreadability – It’s not a paste, but spreading it on the body is not as easy as a lotion.
- White coating on skin – Hard to avoid.
- Difficult to wash off – Makes cleanup difficult but it’s a benefit for swimming.
Since they’re inexpensive, you can always get one of each to experiment with.
2. Zeb’s organic sunscreen
Affordable with chemical-free organic ingredients? Yep! Not everything inside is organic, but the olive, sunflower, and coconut oils are. It has the consistency of a lotion, which makes it easy to rub in. The trade-off is a lower SPF than Thinksport.
There isn’t noticeably white residue on the leg. Because it’s so liquid, you can really rub it in ’til it disappears.
- SPF 30 rating – Comes from 12% zinc oxide.
- 80 minute water resistance
- Minimal whitening – Much less than Thinksport.
- Easy to apply – Cover your back and everywhere else in no time.
- Not #1 in water – It has the same 80 minute rating as Thinksport, but that’s because there’s no higher ranking. Personally we have found that Thinksport stays on the longest.
- Lower SPF rating – May not be good enough for tropical beaches and similar extremes.