Ask The Expert: What Makes A Good Natural Sunscreen?

How do we know which "natural sunscreens" are actually natural?Summer loving means stocking up on sunscreen. With all this greenwashing going on, how do we know which sunscreens are actually “natural?”

We asked skin expert, Dr. Ted Lain, of Ted Lain Dermatology in Austin, Texas, what we should do when looking for sunscreen protection for our families. Dr. Lain is a father, and he shared what he looks for most when protecting his family.

Q: What kind of sunscreen should we look for?

First, be sure the SPF is at least 30, though it’d be okay to go higher because people don’t tend to put a thick enough layer on to actually reach that rating on their skin. If you are looking for SPF 30, a thin layer of SPF 50 as opposed to a thin layer of SPF 30 may actually do the trick.

Second, look for water resistance because you can be more sure that the sunscreen will remain on the skin when you are swimming or sweating! And be sure to look for ‘broad-spectrum’ because you’ll be protected from both UVA and UVB rays that can cause skin cancer.

Related: The 6 Sunscreens to Avoid This Summer (and 6 Safe Alternatives)

Q: There’s so much greenwashing in ‘natural’ sunscreens, so what should we look for to be sure we are really safe?

Natural sunscreens imply the use of only mineral ingredients to protect skin from the sun, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as well as the avoidance of preservatives, such as paraben and methylparaben.  Most will also include anti-oxidants to help give even more protection from sun damage. I tend to avoid sunscreens with essential oils because not only are they unnecessary, but they can also lead to contact rashes.

Q: As a dermatologist, what safe sunscreens can you recommend? It seems like so many dermatologists go straight for the chemical-laden ones. 

If you want to avoid chemical sunscreen ingredients, but don’t worry about preservatives or other artificial chemicals in the lotion, then look for “sensitive skin” or “baby” formulations of popular sunscreen brands, because these will contain only the natural mineral sunscreen ingredients mentioned above.  

If you want to avoid artificial chemicals altogether, though, then look for “organic” sunscreens. I commonly recommend brands such as Badger and Kiss My Face.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share about chemicals in sunscreen? I know you have some recommendations based on a study about sunscreen ingredients and sperm function.

The study that focused on the in vitro effect of chemical sunscreens on sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg is concerning, but needs to be validated with in vivo studies before we make any firm conclusions. Out of an abundance of caution, I recommend avoidance of chemical sunscreen ingredients to my patients who are trying to get pregnant. 

 


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