Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Guide for 2021

Sunscreen bottle on beach

Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Guide for 2021

The Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Guide for 2021 will discuss the harmful ingredients in sunscreens causing adverse health effects. It is also going to cover the active ingredients to look for, along with recommendations so you can be an informed shopper.

*This article includes affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Why Do We Need Non Toxic Sunscreen?

People use sunscreen to prevent burning, reduce risk of skin cancer, and to prevent aging. 

While sunscreen is used to prevent the health issues above, chemical sunscreens, are linked to health additional health concerns. These concerns include endocrine disruptors and skin allergies, as well as bleaching of coral reefs.

What is the best non toxic sunscreen to prevent burning, cancer, and aging, while avoiding endocrine disruptors, skin allergies, and other concerns?

Let’s first understand the sun’s rays and impacts so we can then determine the best sunscreen. 

Two Main Types of UV Rays

There are two main types of UV sun rays. They are called UVA rays and UVB rays.

UVA rays

Melanoma skin cancer is caused by UVA rays, which penetrates deep below the skin’s surface.  These rays can penetrate glass and clouds. 

Since they penetrate deep into the skin, they cause free radical damage and premature skin aging.  Conventional sunscreens do not always block these rays.

UVB Rays

UVB rays penetrate the outer layer of our skin.  These rays are what causes our skin to burn.  They are responsible for non-melanoma skin cancer. 

UVB rays are also part of synthesizing Vitamin D.  It is most ideal to get vitamin D from the sun rather than diet because it is more effective for our body.  

Vitamin D has been shown to be protective from bladder cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and skin cancer.

 When putting sunscreen on before going in the sun, it blocks the Vitamin D synthesis. 50% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D due to not getting enough through sunshine and adequate amounts in their diet.

A study by Reichrath titled “Solar UV-radiation, vitamin D and skin cancer surveillance…” found that SPF of 8 block UVB rays by 95% and SPF of 15 blocks UVB rays by 95%.  Clearly this can impact our body’s ability to synthesize vitamin D and lead to deficiency.

I recommend checking with your doctor or medical professional to determine if you are getting enough Vitamin D or if you should supplement vitamin D due to deficiency. 

Comparing UVA rays, UVB rays, and protection with broad spectrum sunscreen

What SPF Should I look for in the Best Non Toxic Sunscreen?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor.  It is measuring how much UV ray exposure is needed to produce sunburn on protected skin versus produce sunburn on unprotected skin. 

Sunscreens were not made to prevent a burn but instead to slow the burning of the skin.  This is where the SPF rating system comes into play.

Higher SPFs does not exactly mean better and this often creates a false sense of hope.

Graphic of SPF numbers and sunscreen bottle

I used to always look for the highest rating SPF I could find on the shelf.  Little did I know I should be flipping over the label and actually reading the active ingredients, as well as, the inactive ingredients.

SkinCaner.org states that “Regular daily use of SPF15 can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 40 percent, and lower your melanoma risk by 50 percent.”

Measurement of defense against sunburn:

SPFBlocks % of UV Rays
1593%
3097%
5098%

As you can see from the table above as the SPF increases the block % of UV rays also increases. Once you get to SPF of 25 there is not much difference the higher SPF you go. Just because it is a high SPF does not necessarily equate to safer sunscreen. It is best to compare the active ingredient percentage for more accurate comparison.

80% of the sun’s rays still reach the Earth on a cloudy day.  Even on an overcast day, sunscreen is still important to protect your skin.

Skin types and skin tones will play a role in how effective sunscreen is in preventing you from burning.  For example, someone like me with sensitive skin will burn much faster in direct sunlight during sunny beach days.

Reading the Sunscreen Label

You will notice active ingredients and nonactive ingredients are listed on the label.  We are going to discuss the active ingredients to avoid in chemical sunscreen and ingredients to look for in safer mineral sunscreen. 

Most conventional sunscreens on the market include harmful chemicals.  This post will focus on the active ingredients, but a few other ingredients that should be avoided are parabens, fragrance, and retinyl palmitate. You can check out my blog post on Why You Should Avoid Fragrance.     

Active Ingredients to Avoid in the Best Non Toxic Sunscreen

  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate

Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone is often an active ingredient in broad spectrum chemical sunscreens. It can absorb both UVA and UVB rays.  Sunblock is categorized as broad spectrum if it can absorb or block both types of rays.

Two-thirds of the sunscreens in the market contain oxybenzone according to the EWG (Environmental Working Group).   The CDC has determined that 97% of people tested have oxybenzone in their blood.

Oxybenzone is an endocrine disrupting chemical.  Its absorption through the skin and into blood stream is based on the molecular weight.  Other health effects oxybenzone may be linked to include skin allergies, breast cancer, endometriosis, lower testosterone levels, and significant associations relating to adverse pregnancy and birth outcomes.

One research article shows a link between oxybenzone and Hirschsprug Disease.  This is a birth defect where the baby is not able to pass stool do to its effects on the large intestine.  The EWG recommends avoiding oxybenzone during pregnancy and while trying to conceive.

When oxybenzone is exposed to light, it can release free radicals. Therefore, it is a photosensitizer and photocarcinogen.  The free radicals can cause damage and result in cell death and aging.

Oxybenzone can also harm the marine environment, including coral reef bleaching.  Hawaii and Key West have banned the sale of sunscreen with oxybenzone to protect coral reefs from dying and to protect other marine life.

Octinoxate

Octinoxate is not full spectrum but it does block UVB rays.  The molecular weight allows it to be absorbed into the blood stream through skin absorption.  Octinoxate is fat soluble so it is stored in the fatty tissues in the body.

It is linked to endocrine disrupting effects and reducing thyroid hormones in the blood.  It has also been linked to reproductive and neuro development in offspring, as well as increases in the spread of breast cancer cells.

While this is an active ingredient in sunscreen, most people would use it while in the sun, it has been linked to photoallergic reactions and contact dermatitis.  It can also cause allergic reactions.

Octinoxate does cause coral bleaching.  One study done by Haereticus Laboratory shows that even a very small amount of octinoxate can cause bleaching of coral quickly. 

Avobenzone

Avobenzone is considered obesogenic.  Obesogens impact our lipid metabolism and can sometimes lead to obesity. 

A recent study published in 2017 found when avobenzone is exposed to chlorine and sunlight, it is broken down even farther to a more toxic substance.  This is ironic due to the fact that avobenzone is used in sunscreen formulation. Most individuals apply sunscreen when going swimming in a chlorine pool.  This is incredibly disturbing.

Homosalate

Homosalate is another chemical sunscreen ingredient to avoid.  It is an endocrine disruptor. It can block testosterone and impact estrogen. 

Active Ingredients to Look for in the Best Non Toxic Sunscreen

  • Zinc Oxide
  • Titanium Dioxide

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is a physical barrier sunscreen.  It blocks both UVA rays and UVB rays so it’s broad spectrum.

Zinc can leave a white cast, but with new technology it is able to break down the particles so it is better absorbed on the skin without leaving behind a white cast. 

Look for non-nano zinc oxide. This is used to ensure low risk of the zinc being absorbed into the bloodstream since it sits on the skin’s barrier. 

Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide only blocks part of the UVA rays, but does block the UVB rays.  This ingredient, like zinc oxide, can leave a white cast as it creates a physical barrier.

Tips for Shopping for the Best Non Toxic Sunscreen

It is a good idea to look for mineral sunscreens that are broad spectrum.  You should seek sunscreen products that contain 15% – 20% of zinc oxide. 

With more mineral sunscreen options available, there are more options for effective sunscreen without toxic ingredients that don’t leave the white cast. 

The Environmental Working Group can be a great tool when looking for the best nontoxic natural sunscreen.  They have a great guide and searchable data base.

My Personal Favorite Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Options

Beach, beach bag, and favorite Beautycounter sunscreen

Currently I am using Beautycounter’s sunscreen exclusively.  I am a consultant with Beautycounter, but I promise to give you my honest opinion and feedback. This sunscreen works really well for my skin type.  I find it moisturizing and it does not dry me out like other brands.

I love it because it contains safer ingredients and is reef friendly.  It also contains non-nano zinc oxide. 

I have very fair and sensitive skin and I can use it without burning or irritation.  I do reapply regularly and when in the direct sun do my best to reapply every hour. 

Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion

It has an SPF of 30 with the active ingredients: Zinc Oxide 19%.  This is a great lotion for the entire family.  It is water-resistant.  It is smooth and blends into the skin so it does not leave a white cast.  

A little goes a long way.  I use it on my entire body, including my face, especially on those long beach days.

Beautycouner’s Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for the Face

Beautycounter's Daily Sheer Defense

The Countersun Daily Sheer Defense for the Face has SPF of 25.  Its active ingredient is zinc oxide at 14.96%.  This option is thinner than Beautycounter’s lotion so it is great for everyday use and can be layered with makeup.

I wear this daily on top of the Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer on days I know I will be outside. 

Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Stick

Beautycounter's Mineral Sunscreen Stick

This sunscreen stick has a formulation with SPF 30 and active ingredient zinc oxide at 15.4%.   This is the kids’ favorite for their face.  I actually keep one in the car and we pass it around in the morning on the way to school for everyone to apply.

This is also the perfect lip balm with SPF.  It can be hard to find safer lip options without the harmful ingredients. 

Beautycounter’s Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist

Beautycounter's Sunscreen Mist

This mist has SPF of 30 and the active ingredient is zinc oxide at 14.5%.  While I am not a mist sunscreen fan in general, this is great when kids are sandy and I need to reapply. I have always preferred lotion to a mist because I can get better coverage and do not feel like I am wasting product. 

Air powers the mist bottle. Where most sunscreen sprays are powered by aerosol. Beautycounter’s mist is better for the environment.  The mist also contains non-nano zinc oxide. Nano zinc oxide is a health concern because the small parts are susceptible to inhalation. Beautycounter’s mist is a great option if you are looking for a safer mist sunscreen. 

Beautycounter’s Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer

Beautycounter's Dew Skin

This is a tinted moisturizer offer light coverage with SPF of 20.  It’s active ingredient is zinc oxide 14%.  I wear this daily. If I am going to be in the direct sun for extended time, I do apply the Daily Sheer Defense for the Face or the Mineral Sunscreen Lotion on top. 

Other Non Toxic Sunscreen Brands Recommended

When reviewing other brands, be sure to read the ingredient list.  If you have questions feel free to message me. 

Even within the same brand different ingredients can be used for different formulations. For example, it might have a sensitive version and a sport option that would be different ingredients.  Previously, I used Blue Lizard and one formulation of the brand contains PEGs which I try to avoid.  It pays to read all the labels not just one label within the brand.

I compiled the list below after reading the labels for all the ingredients, but also checking the level of active ingredients.  While there are other safer mineral sunscreen options available, some had a low percentage of the active ingredient so I dismissed listing them here.

Badger

Juice Beauty

Babo Sunscreen

Earth Mama

Additional Tips to Avoid Sun Exposure

  1. Apply sunscreen 15 mins before going in the sun
  2. Use about 1 oz of sunscreen to cover the entire body
  3. Reapply every hour or earlier if needed
  4. Wear a hat to keep the sun off your face
  5. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes
  6. Wear sun protective clothing to provide additional layer of protection
  7. Opt for the shade such as a tree or umbrella
  8. Stay out of the sun in the mid to late afternoon when the sun’s rays tend to be the strongest

Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Conclusion

In conclusion, it is best not to rely on the SPF number, but instead the percentage of the active ingredient is more important.  Learning to read a sunscreen label to check for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide is key.  Then make sure it does not include oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, or homosalate. 

Hope this post will help you navigate the sunscreen label and always reach out with any questions.  Enjoy those bright sunny days to come!

Resources:

Reichrath, Jörg, and Bernd Nürnberg. “Solar UV-radiation, vitamin D and skin cancer surveillance in 1 organ transplant recipients (OTRs).” Sunlight, Vitamin D and Skin Cancer. Springer New York, 2008. 203-214.

US Department of Health and Human Services. “The Surgeon General’s call to action to prevent skin 3 cancer. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2014.” (2014).

Boas, Malene, Ulla Feldt-Rasmussen, and Katharina M. Main. “Thyroid effects of endocrine disrupting 30 chemicals.” Molecular and cellular endocrinology 355.2 (2012): 240-248.

Axelstad, Marta, et al. “Effects of pre-and postnatal exposure to the UV-filter octyl methoxycinnamate 31 (OMC) on the reproductive, auditory and neurological development of rat offspring.” Toxicology and applied pharmacology 250.3 (2011): 278-290.

Alamer, Maha, and Philippa D. Darbre. “Effects of exposure to six chemical ultraviolet filters commonly 34 used in personal care products on motility of MCF‐7 and MDA‐MB‐231 human breast cancer cells in vitro.” Journal of Applied Toxicology38.2 (2018): 148-159

https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts

https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/

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