When scanning the dozens of bottles of sunscreen at your local drugstore, claims like "waterproof," "broad spectrum protection," "all-day protection" and "block harmful rays" help you to decide which brand offers the coverage you need - not only to protect you from sunburn, but from becoming one of the one million Americans annually diagnosed with skin cancer.
According to the Environmental Working Group's 2009 study of the safety and effectiveness of 1,572 skincare products containing sunscreen, the bitter reality is that 3 out of 5 products actually provide inadequate protection from the sun. Still, this is an improvement from last year, when 4 out of 5 failed to meet the EWG's standards for safe suncare.
Still frightening is that many of these sunscreens contain potentially toxic ingredients which are absorbed into your skin and bloodstream, potentially releasing skin-damaging free radicals, disrupting your hormone system, causing allergic reactions or building up in your body and contributing to various health issues.
According to EWG's analysis of its Skin Deep database, many leading brands you'd find lining the shelves at your local drugstore fail to meet its overall criteria for safety and effectiveness, but conditions are improving: 70% of sunscreens now contain strong UVA filters, compared to just 29% last year and 19% fewer sunscreens contain ozybenzone, a suspect chemical found in many sunscreen brands.
Here, we give you EWG's July 2009 release of the 10 best beach and sport sunscreens, plus 3 more from the top 25. To see the most updated list, visit EWG's current list, plus see how your moisturizer and lip balm with SPF rate.
For another take on this topic, The Daily Green's Alexandra Zissu, in a recent Ask an Organic Mom blog post, explains her method for choosing a safe sunscreen for herself and her daughter.
Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body
As you'll find in the ingredients list of Badger and in all of the EWG's top 10 sunscreens, for truly effective sun and health protection, zinc oxide (along with titanium oxide) is used to deflect the sun's rays, rather than synthetic chemicals which absorb rays, raising health concerns because they penetrate the skin and enter your bloodstream.
Zinc oxide provides protection from UVA/UVB rays, while extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, cocoa butter and shea butter keep the skin moisturized. Badger sunscreens are water resistant up to 40 minutes, and use natural ingredients without fragrances, preservatives or dyes.
Tru Kid "Sunny Days" Natural Mineral Sunscreen Stick
Mineral ingredients micronized titanium dioxide and micronized zinc oxide offer broad spectrum protection, along with mostly organic ingredients including soybean oil, sweet almond oil, Vitamin E and other natural plant ingredients to moisturize and soothe.
Purple Prairie Sun Stick
Its the easiest way to pack your sun block for your on-the-go life a 2-ounce sun "stick" from Purple Prairie in SPF 30 ($7.49) that's small enough to throw into the pockets of a pair of swim trunks.
Purple Prairie uses 100% natural ingredients for UVA and UVB sun protection, adding cocoa and shea butter to moisturize, too.
Lavera Sunscreen Neutral ($21) is one of the best sunscreen products for hyper-sensitive skin, even for those suffering from allergies or skin conditions like dermatitis or eczema. It's easy to see why founder Thomas Haas was inspired to create a line of natural products safe for sensitive skin he was tired of his own dermatitis flaring up after using products with irritating synthetic ingredients.
Lavera's USDA-certified organic sunscreen is free from ingredients best avoided, including fragrances, gluten and parabens. The German product is certified organic in Europe by the BDIH, a natural cosmetics certification organization that enforces standards considered even higher than the USDA Organic Program.
Soléo Organics All Natural Sunscreen
Soléo Organics ($13.99) lists organic ingredients and is recommended for both kids and adults, offering broad spectrum protection (both UVA and UVB rays) for the most sensitive of skin using a 100% chemical-free zinc oxide natural ingredient.
Soléo's formula is made from 22.3% zinc oxide, along with natural ingredients like oils, beeswax, green tea and chamomile.
UV Natural Sunscreen
UV Natural's ingredients are made from 24.8% zinc oxide (one of the highest percentages on EWG's list), along with natural ingredients like green tea, grape seed, macadamia oil, natural Vitamin E and colloidal silica.
The sunscreen ($18) offers a flawless finish with no white mineral residue, but be wary of greasiness: User reviews on EWG's Web site complained that the formula left their skin feeling too oily.
The sunscreen lists all chemical-free ingredients, such as sunflower, coconut, jojoba and eucalyptus oils; deionized water, soy-based lectithin, glyercine, xanthan gum, green tea extract and Vitamin E, Vitamin A and shea butter.
Mexitans various sunscreens (including Tropical Sands) use micronized zinc, but the brand notes that its formula may still leave a mild white appearance or seem to flake off the skin if applied too liberally.
California Baby sunscreen isn't just for kids - it's made with hypoallergenic ingredients, which means you can relax by the pool irritation and sunburn-free. All of the brand's sunscreens are water-resistant and chemical-free, using only organic and sustainably grown ingredients.
The fragrance-free lotion ($19.99) won't stain skin and thanks to its water-resistant formula, sweat won't liquefy the block into a greasy mess down your face, either. Recommended for swimming, hiking, and any outdoor activities, remember to always reapply generously after every sweat-breaking activity, so kids and adults alike can play outside worry-free from the harmful effects of the sun.
MyChelle Sun Shield
MyChelle Sun Shield ($19) does more than just protect your skin from harmful UVA/UBA rays its combination of natural anti-aging ingredients including capric triglyceride, leaf juice powder, soybean oil and D-beta carbohydrates work to reduce redness and inflammation, hydrate skin to reduce wrinkles and tighten skin to reduce facial sag. It's a two-in-one product for both skin protection and improved skin appearance, too.
"ZinClear," MyChelle's own trademarked blend of the mineral zinc oxide, provides chemical-free protection from the sun while a small amount of titanium oxide (less than 1%) deflects rays from the skin to create a protective shield from the sun's damage, without having to worry about harmful chemicals being absorbed into your bloodstream.
Specially formulated for babies and kids, Little Forest sunscreen ($17) is among the most highly-rated sport sunblocks for kids (California Baby holds the top spot in this sub-category). Like all preceding sunscreens on the list, Little Forest is a mineral-based sunblock (8% titanium dioxide and 6% zinc oxide) that's paraben-free.
What's different about Little Forest, though, is its exclusion of phthalates a chemical added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability. Health concerns surrounding exposure to the chemical are currently provoking companies to phase phthalates from their products.
Little Forest sunscreen lotion ensures that your children aren't being exposed to chemicals harmful to their hormonal balance and endocrine systems, while still receiving the protection they need from the sun as they enjoy the pleasures of their first summers.
The antioxidant-rich Elemental Herbs Sport sunscreen in SPF 20 ($8.99) keeps sunburn at bay with a 25% zinc oxide solution. The lotion rejuvenates skin with extra virgin olive oil infused with certified organic green tea leaves and rose hips. The company operates its own farm near Morro Bay California's central coast to grow food and herbs for its healing balms. Sunscreen ingredients are sourced from suppliers who pass Elemental Herbs' high social and environmental standards.
You can feel good knowing that your purchase contributes to a better cause, too - 1% of the company's sales are donated to One Percent for the Planet, a non-profit dedicated to fighting social and environmental justice internationally.
Vanicream Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
The sunscreen is non-comedogenic, which means you can apply it to your face without worrying that it clogs pores or causes acne.
Keys Soap Solar RX Cosmetic Sunblock
Ranked as the second leading brand in safe, natural sunscreen protection by the EWG, Keys Soap Solar RX cosmetic sunblock in SPF 30 ($26.95) will help protect you from rays that burn (UVB rays) and rays that damage and lead to premature aging (UVA rays).
Keys uses zinc oxide to offer broad-spectrum protection in a base of organic ingredients including avocado and blue cumin oils, shea butter, vegetable wax and vegetable-derived ingredients clary sage and citrus sinensis (sweet orange).
Marie-Véronique Organics Crème Du Jour
The non-comedogenic, plant-based sunscreen (made from green tea and jojoba, red raspberry seed and sea buckthorn oils) is recommended for all skin types and provides UVA and UVB sun protection with 20% zinc oxide. Essential fatty acids emu oil (high in omega 3, 6, 7 to break down scar tissue and treat wrinkles) and pearl powder (treats hyper pigmentation/red skin) gives it additional anti-aging properties.