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?
Related: Hawaii Bans Sunscreens Containing Chemicals That Harm Coral Reefs
The Best Natural Sunscreens For Kids And Families
Top Pick For All Family Members
Think Baby Sunscreen
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 been a 1 on the EWG scale, and Think products are free from anything bad for your family or the ocean.
They're 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.
Think sunscreens come in a variety of SPFs and formulas for the entire family, but you can't go wrong with any member of the family using any of the product line, really.
And, we love their Thinksocial effort, which has given over $500,000 to select partners to help better the world and the environment. They want to make the world safer, healthier, less toxic and more helpful to humans in general, and their sunscreens do all that and more.
- EWG score 1
- Sustainable and environmentally friendly
- Smooth, non-greasy application
- Charitable organization
Best Tinted Sunscreen
LadyFace Tinted Mineral Sunstick by Earth Mama
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.
- Certified organic beauty stick
- Can be a primer/base for foundation
- Blocks blue light from digital screens
- Two tinted shades that can be mixed
Best Organic Sunscreen
Kabana GreenScreen Organic Sunscreen
As a fair, strawberry blonde biochemist who suffered painful sunburns without powerful sunscreens, Erik Kreider knew he wanted better. He had learned that the skin absorbed chemicals in his work, and was concerned. He found that in sunscreens, the absorption was particularly high, and concerning. He realized that bodies are like an ecosystem that are impacted by an oil spill when we put toxins (like those in commercial sunscreens) on them, and he wanted to make something that long-term was safe and didn't put our bodies at risk. Kabana Skin Care was founded to give the world just that-healthier, safer and effective sunscreen.
Of course, when we're looking for the best natural sunscreens for families and kids, we also go to the experts who use them. 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.
- Chemical and fragrance-free
- Created by a biochemist
Best Baby Sunscreen
Earth Mama Baby Sunscreen
What can we say? Earth Mama Organics knows sunscreen. And, they know babies' skin.
So it's no wonder that their Earth Mama Organics Baby Sunscreen is our fave sunscreen for babies.
Don't be fooled-anyone in the family can wear it. It's reef-friendly, there's no chemicals, no artificial fragrance and made with non-nano zinc.
It's broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection and it's water resistant for up to 40 minutes. It's made with organic red raspberry seed oil (did you know the red raspberry has the highest naturally occurring SPF value in the plant world?) and organic pomegranate seed oil so it boosts UV protection in a natural way.
But, when it comes specifically to why we love it for baby? It's because it keeps that baby-soft skin baby soft with organic calendula and organic shea butter. It's been tested by pediatricians and dermatologists to make sure there's no irritation, and every single ingredient is sourced with ethical and sustainable consideration.
Earth Mama Organics are an easy way to protect the whole family, but especially baby as you keep that delicate skin ready to soak in just the right amount of Vitamin D in a safe way!
- Organic ingredients
- Red Raspberry and Pomegranate seed boost UV protection
- Silky Soft application for baby skin
- Good for whole family
Best Sunscreen For Face Moisturizing
Block Island Organics Natural Face Moisturizer Sunscreen
Block Island is another EWG favorite, with non-nano zinc that's easy to spread, lightweight and moisturizing. It has the antioxidant Vitamin E in it to help protect against the effects of premature skin aging and cancer, and since Block Island Organics already creates incredible skincare items, their sunscreen is a natural addition to their line. It's important to consider sunscreen in your facial moisturizer, but it's hard to find ones that don't give that white cast. This fits the bill and protects at the same time.
Block Island's mission is to create safe, effective non-toxic suncare that is affordable for all. They love the outdoors and believe the sun is to be enjoyed and not hidden from. BUT…that means the right sunscreen is necessary and that's why they live by the "Play Smart, Play Safe," mantra.
They believe that consistently rising cancer rates are due in part to poor quality sunscreens and that's why Block Island is transparent in their marketing and creating of an incredibly moisturizing sunscreen for your face.
- Organic ingredients
- Transparent company
- Perfect for Daily wear
- Vitamin E helps prevent premature skin aging and cance
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.
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.
Related: Hawaii Bans Sunscreens Containing Chemicals That Harm Coral Reefs
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.
Related: Ask The Expert: What Makes A Good Natural Sunscreen?
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.
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.
Still, sunscreen is definitely essential. And, contrary to popular belief, a bigger SPF does not mean it's better. Talk about incredible marketing. SPF stands for sun protection factor and all it is is a measure of how much sun you can get wearing the sunscreen without getting a sunburn compared to how much sun you could get without wearing protection.
The thing is, marketers like to make you think that if you're using SPF 50, you're better protected than you'd be with SPF 30 and that's simply distorted. In fact, the FDA actually called out sunscreens with SPF of 50 or higher and called their marketing misleading because these higher SPF sunscreens don't protect that much significantly more. First, SPF really only applies toward UVB ray protection. UVB rays are what give you the 'red burn,' but you can still get damage from the UVA rays, and you'd never really even know. So you need to make sure you have a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both. According to the EWG, an SPF 50 sunscreen might block out 98% of UVB rays while an SPF 100 would block 99%. It sounds like the jump from 50-100 would be more, doesn't it? It's not, though, so the rule of thumb is to reapply. An SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays compared to an SPF 30 at 97%, but regular reapplying and proper application each time is the best way to protect yourself. Don't waste the money on the higher SPF.
Another thing you'll want to watch out for in the ingredients in the best natural sunscreens for kids and families is that there isn't any retinyl palmitate. This is a type of vitamin A and is used in a lot of sunscreens to help battle the UVA skin aging effects. But, many animal studies in animals have shown that it may actually increase the risk of skin cancer, and in European sunscreens? It's not used. Shoot for that here too.
Last, know that no sunscreen is 'waterproof' and the FDA won't even allow that terminology to be used anymore. Look for water-resistant sunscreen, but remember that means you can swim for about 40-50 minutes before you should consider reapplying for maximum protection.
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