The sun is shining on the regular and we’re loving it! But, while we love the many benefits the sun brings us, we also want to be mindful of the protections we need too. That’s why we set out on the quest for the best natural sunscreens for kids and families. All are EWG Verified or rated high, and all do their part for protecting our families and protecting our earth and its oceans.
Thankfully, as more research about the dangers of chemicals in sunscreens come out, we have lots of options when it comes to natural sunscreens for kids and families. Though you’ll still find many who believe that the toxic chemicals in most chemical sunscreens (oxybenzone, octinoxate and homosalate) are safe (including dermatologists) are safe, we wonder why we’d take chances when there are plenty of physical barriers that do the job and are safer?
Why Do You Need The Best Natural Sunscreens?
We love the sun. Without her? Our earth would not even exist. The boost and immunity we get as the sun helps give us Vitamin D are incredibly crucial to our bodies and our minds.
But we also have to acknowledge the reality of skin cancer, sunburn and skin damage. We want to take in as much of the good we can while we also block out the harmful Ultraviolet Radiation.
And we want to do so in ways that don’t give us different cancer risks as can be the case when you use a chemical barrier sunscreen instead of a natural physical barrier sunscreen.
What’s the difference? Well, chemical sunscreens filter the harmful UV rays with chemicals. They filter the ultraviolet rays out, but they do so using chemicals that absorb into your skin (your body’s largest organ) to block. Natural or physical barrier sunscreens block out the harmful UV rays by sitting on top of your skin and physically blocking the ultraviolet rays out.
What Are The Dangers of Chemical Sunscreens As Compared To The Best Natural Sunscreens?
Chemical sunscreens are made of chemicals. Plain and simple. FDA testing has shown that all non-mineral sunscreen chemicals absorb into the body and are measurable in the blood even after just single use. Not to mention many of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens have been found in breast milk and urine.
Here’s the thing about those chemicals too…Many of the active ingredients that are in chemical sunscreens were grandfathered in by the FDA from the ’70s, with nary the concern about potential damage to our bodies. And in 2019, the FDA released a statement that said there wasn’t enough health or safety data that would allow them to designated 12 of the top 16 sunscreen chemicals as ‘generally recognized as safe and effective,’ or GRASE. Those 12 include oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and avobenzone.
In studies published in 2019 and 2020, the FDA showed the absorption of several of those chemical sunscreen ingredients and the finding of those chemicals in the blood and skin even weeks after they’d been applied. That means chemicals the FDA says there’s not enough data on to designate as safe (and we’d argue have sufficient data to show them as possibly unsafe) stick around in our blood and on our skin weeks after they’re used. Though those reports did finally designate popular ingredients PABA (aminobenzoic acid) and tolamine salicylate were unsafe, the end result was most of the common chemicals in sunscreen can’t be shown to be safe. Only two can–the two most commonly found in the best natural sunscreens: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
And as we know about most natural products, there’s always lots of greenwashing when it comes to battling for your dollar. Many ‘natural sunscreens’ will mix physical barriers with chemicals to give the appearance of prioritizing safety, but they’re not fully. When shopping for the best natural sunscreens, stay away from sunscreens that use any of the following:
- Oxybenzone: Found to be a possible hormone disruptor with high rates of skin allergy, and detected in nearly every American–found in mother’s milk and an FDA study found blood levels that were nearly 500 times the cutoff for systemic exposure.
- Octinoxate: The study found blood levels were 13 times higher than the cutoff for systemic exposure and it too is detected in breast milk. It’s a hormone disruptor that affects the reproductive system, the thyroid and even behaviors in animal studies and has moderate rates of skin allergies and irritation.
- Homosalate: The FDA found it in blood levels 37 times the cutoff for systemic exposure, as well as in breastmilk. It’s a hormone disruptor that affects estrogen, progestogen and androgen. It’s also found in breast milk.
- Avobenzone: The FDA found avobenzone levels in the blood 9 times higher than for systemic exposure. The breakdown of avobenzone often is the cause of high skin allergy and irritation and it’s unstable in sunshine–so you can see the logic in its use as a sunscreen ingredient.
And while the research is mixed concerning any of those ingredients and their connections to cancer (though any connection is enough for us to suggest staying away), there is a definite concern for the use of many of those ingredients when it comes to protecting our oceans and reefs. In fact, many places around the world have banned the use of sunscreens with those ingredients.
Additionally, you need to look at the inactive ingredients in sunscreens. You know, those in the teeny print that’s even harder to find than the active ingredient. One of big concern is the preservative methylisothiazolinone (try saying that three times fast). Often this preservative is used in conjunction with another one: methylchloroisothiazolinone. These can cause significant irritation and allergy in children, particularly when left on skin as it is in sunscreen. Though the American Contact Dermatitis Society named methylisothiazolinone as its allergen of the year in 2013, it’s still fairly common in chemical sunscreens.
Mineral Ingredients Make For The Best Natural Sunscreens For Kids And Families
As we said, the only two sunscreen ingredients the FDA felt confidently enough in to specifically call safe for our use were Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. Mineral sunscreens are made with these two mineral ingredients and they’re typically either nanoparticle or non-nano particle. There’s a lot of controversy about which is better for you or the planet. In a few words, nanoparticles are smaller and in zinc dioxide and titanium dioxide, they’re what rubs in better and doesn’t leave as much ‘white’ on your skin. But, they’re also small enough that some manufacturers choose to use non-nano particle minerals in their physical sunscreens because they aren’t absorbed as easily in the ocean and reef. There are mixed studies on both, but the basic conclusion of the use of either is that they’re way better to use than chemical barriers.
When it comes to Zinc oxide or Titanium dioxide with regard to one being better or needing to be the main ingredient, the general consensus is that zinc oxide is the most important ingredient. For some sunscreens being EWG Verified or scoring a 1, it’s the only ingredient. For mineral sunscreens, there is a combination of both. Zinc has a better absorber that goes across more wavelengths and is more broad-spectrum in UVA and UVB coverage. As well, Zinc Oxide is the only active sunscreen ingredient that is FDA approved for babies under the age of 6-months. It’s what you find in the best diaper creams, showing it’s safest for babies as well. When paired with titanium dioxide, which reflects the sun’s UV rays, you’re sure to be getting full coverage sun protection.
The bottom line to remember when looking at the best natural sunscreens is that Titanium dioxide is a naturally-occurring mineral we find in the crust of the earth. It absorbs UVB and some UVA rays, but it is not as broad-spectrum as Zinc Oxide. Zinc Oxide is also a naturally-occurring UV absorber and does a better job with UVA protection. If you plan to use a natural sunscreen that sprays on, you will want to be sure that it’s non-nano particle, as there are some inhalation risks that cream sunscreens obviously don’t carry.
The Best Natural Sunscreens For Kids And Families Are Also Best For Oceans
These days, everyone says they’re making a ‘reef-safe’ sunscreen because many places are banning sunscreens with chemical ingredients as they harm the oceans and reef life. There really isn’t any regulation about what is ‘reef safe,’ and since we know that companies greenwash so they can get your money into their pockets, they’ll tell you just about anything. If you want to be sure your sunscreen is completely reef safe, only buy sunscreens where the active ingredient is non-nano particle titanium dioxide or non-nano particle zinc oxide. In places where there are bans on reef-destructive sunscreen, those are the only ones allowed anyway.
What Else Should You Know About The Best Natural Sunscreens?
Believe it or not, sunscreen really is the last defense against sun damage. The EWG recommends that sunscreen should be your last step, not the first, when it comes to sunscreen. Dressing for sun protection is the first way to protect yourself from sunburn, as well as ensuring you have lots of shade available. Sunglasses and hats are incredibly important as they can protect your eyes and face from UV damage. And yes, you should wear sunglasses even if the sun is not too bright because UV rays are out no matter the cloud coverage.
The Best Natural Sunscreens For Kids And Families
We always love when Mothering Mamas take their brilliant ideas and share with the world. That’s the case for Earthie Mama Alex Du Toit. In her small town, she became known as the Earth Mama because of the recipes she was using for natural wellness and living within her own family. Every product was created to be as safe as it could be for her three children and the world, and Alex is 100% committed to the health and wellness of families and the earth.
When we’re looking for the best natural sunscreens for families and kids, we of course go to the experts! Torben Lonne is a diver and editor-in-chief of DIVEIN.com, an online scuba diving publication that focuses on how to also make positive impacts on the environment. Torben is a proud papa who wants only the good stuff for his family and he swears by Kabana’s GreenScreen Organic Sunscreen. EWG raves about it too, as it’s free of all chemicals, fragrances, additives and chemicals. It’s a truly reef-safe sunscreen that’s good for your littles too.
You may already be familiar with Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard’s Hello Bello line of affordable family products. They’ve just released a natural mineral SPF stick that’s just zinc oxide and it glides on super easily for littles. It’s packed with organic coconut oil and cocoa butter for skin hydration, and the non-nano since is great for the whole family. It’s reef-friendly, vegan and cruelty-free and sticks are so much less messy sometimes for those wigglers and squirmers!
You know those ‘tinted sunscreens’ that are way more sunscreen than they are tint, and they leave the sunscreen look on your face? Yeah, us too. That’s why we can’t get enough of Earth Mama’s LadyFace Tinted Mineral Sunstick.
It’s sun protection, yes, but it’s so much more! It’s also a certified organic beauty stick. Yes, that means that you can use it as a primer/base or even your foundation depending on the coverage you want. It comes in light/medium and medium/dark and you can blend them–all with SPF 40.
But one thing we love best is that it doesn’t just block UVA/UVB rays, though that’s the main job, of course. It ALSO blocks blue light–you know, the light that comes from digital screens like you’re undoubtedly reading right now. Yep, blue light isn’t great for our skin or eyes either and the Lady Face Beauty Stick puts the halt on it!
Earth Mama also makes sunscreen lotions that are perfect for your little’s skin–formulated just for them and to be even extra careful with super sensitive skin. In fact, they call it their Uber-Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion and colloidal oatmeal makes it magic. Their mineral sunscreen has argan oil in it for extra hydration, and basically between the three, they have you covered.
The entire Think sunscreen family line is incredible, and was the first to pass Whole Foods Premium Care requirements from the moment they were created in 2010. They’ve never not had EWG’s highest rating, and Think products are free from anything bad for your family or the ocean. Entirely reef-friendly with non-nano zinc, it absorbs easily and without the greasy after-feel so many kids (and adults, let’s face it) just don’t love. Even better, it goes on so smoothly–something many complain they miss about chemical sun barriers, and there’s a product for everyone in the family–babies to adults.
Another mama favorite, the Badger family of sunscreens keeps your family safe from sun damage as well as harmful chemicals. It’s non-nano zinc is combined with organic sunflower oil, organic jojoba, organic beeswax and sunflower Vitamin E for protection and nourishment. It’s reef-safe sunscreen and is an EWG favorite that is eco-friendly and biodegradable. Badger is a family-owned, woman-run B Corporation and they use their products on their own families, knowing you need to trust them with yours.
Speaking of natural mama-owned businesses, another one of our natural sunscreen for families and kids faves is Project Sunscreen. Created by two moms who have backgrounds in education and public health, the roll-on is designed to be better for the earth and families. Co-Founders Rachel Henderson and Dr. Ashley McGovern wanted an easy-to-use sunscreen that worked, but that was FUN for kids to use so they’d want to put it on and stop groaning when you tell them it’s time to apply. Rachel is a native of New Zealand and Australia and she and Ashley collaborated on the perfect protection that would also motivate kids to use it. Project Sunscreen is cruelty-free and the mamas will not allow it to sell in countries that do animal testing. It’s reef-friendly and we love the adorable packaging and transportability. There’s a roll-on for every member of the family, and trust us, you’re going to love the ease of a roll-on for your littles!
And as we’ve said, sunscreen can’t be your only defense against skin cancer and sun damage. Taking daily measures to balance our need for sun exposure with our need for sun protection, we love Coolibar products! They’re great for us natural mamas because it’s UPF 50+ clothing that means you don’t have to put sunscreen on! That also means you don’t need to worry about the effects of bottles of sunscreens on the planet because you’re already wearing sunscreen that never washes out. They’re comfortable and cool products that let you enjoy the day at the pool without any sunscreen fights. Of course, you’ll want to make sure you protect hands, feet and neck and face, but all of Coolibar products are eco-friendly and protective.
Their LumaLeo Organic Cotton line is super comfy and fashionable, and make every-day sun protection as easy as getting dressed. We can’t get enough of the LumaLeo hoodies for tweens/teens! The Brittany Beach Hat is perfect for day-to-day outings for mama, and tons of our forum mamas said their partners loved the Men’s High-Tide Long-Sleeved swim shirt for every day wear too. And one of our favorite kids’ outdoor hats is the Convertible Boating hat–it’s great for a day at the beach or protection out in the woods with it’s cool and comfy material and fit.
Believe it or not, according to the EWG, some studies show people who rely solely on sunscreen for skin protection are actually more likely to get sunburns, which are linked to skin cancer. You really should get in the mindset of dressing for sun protection to help.
At the end of the day, you want to be safe. Finding the best natural sunscreens for kids and families really will depend on the needs of your family, but there are some non-negotiables that these sunscreens have. Be sure to be a label reader and investigate the ingredients–what goes on your skin is as important as what goes in it.
We are committed to finding, researching, and recommending the best products. We earn commissions from purchases you make using the retail links in our product reviews. Learn more about how this works.