It’s well-established that if you’re going to be out in the sun, the best way to protect yourself and your children from harmful ultraviolet radiation (in combination with limiting the time of your exposure and covering up with a long-sleeve shirt, hat and sunglasses) is to continuously apply sunscreen.
When you apply a product with SPF (Sun Protection Factor), you’re protecting the skin from UVB rays, the shorter of the UV waves that can give you a sunburn. But what about UVA protection? This is where protection gets dicey. While many sunscreens are labeled “broad spectrum,” which leads you to believe you’re getting total coverage, the actual UVA protection may be inadequate. UVA, comprised of UVA1 and UVA2 rays, can cause skin damage, aging and cancer — with no signs whatsoever. Equally as concerning, it is believed that some ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens (such as oxybenzone, found in 80 percent of chemical sunscreens) break down when exposed to sunlight, penetrate the skin, and can cause allergies and hormone disruption, as well as skin damage. This is particularly troubling to me as a parent. Children are not only the most vulnerable to sun damage but to the harmful effects of chemical exposure from sunscreens.
The simple fact is, not all sunscreens are created equal. Some of the most aggressively marketed and available sunscreen brands do not provide adequate protection against both UVA and UVB and/or may contain harmful chemicals. It’s important to be aware that the words “children” and “kids” placed on sunscreen labels may just be a marketing gimmick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has shockingly low standards of regulation for sunscreen makers, although starting this summer, they’ve mandated that sunscreen packaging be straightforward about exactly what’s inside (with the percentage of active ingredients listed on the package) and how much sun protection is provided.
The Environment Working Group, a non-profit organization that specializes in research and advocacy in the area of toxic chemicals, recommends you avoid chemical sunscreens in favor of mineral ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, especially for children and those with sensitive skin. Non-mineral options, they warn, are more likely to contain potential hormone disruptors and less likely to protect sufficiently against harmful UVA rays. They also discourage the use of sprays and powders, to avoid inhalation dangers.
Choosing an effective sunscreen may seem overwhelming, but there are a lot of fantastic online resources to guide you toward a healthy sun safety plan. The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great list of prevention tips, Alpha Mom breaks down the science behind sunscreen and why certain sunscreen choices are better than others, and the Environmental Working Group’s 2013 Guide to Sunscreens is a database of over 1,700 sunscreens, lip balm, moisturizers, and makeup to help you research, compare, and contrast options. There’s also an iPhone App to keep handy while shopping.
To make your research even easier, we’ve rounded up EWG’s highest rated/least toxic sunscreens and cross-referenced them with Alpha Mom’s mom-tested 2012 recommendations, Amazon reviews, and my personal favorites, for a complete list of safe sunscreens to shop from. All of these sunscreens have at least an SPF of 30 and both UVA and UVB protection. In general, these formulas are more expensive than chemical ones and take more effort to rub in, but we think it’s time and money well-spent!
Top Rated Sunscreens 1 of 30
We've rounded up EWG's highest rated/least toxic beach and sport sunscreens with an SPF 30+ and both UVA and UVB protection, and cross-referenced them with Alpha Mom's mom-tested 2012 recommendations, Amazon reviews, and my personal favorites, for a complete list of safe sunscreen options to shop from.
Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen 2 of 30
Offering all the protection of an SPF-30 sunscreen without the scent, this product is for children or adults with sensitive skin. A gentle-but-hardworking formula keeps harmful rays at bay and maintains the skin's moisture balance with plant butters and herbal skin conditioners.
Get them here, for $12.20 each ($3 per ounce)
Ava Anderson 3 of 30
Ava Anderson Non Toxic, SPF 30+
This sunscreen gives you broad-spectrum coverage for every age, with organic botanical ingredients. Plus, it's completely non-toxic: no nanoparticles; no chemical UV absorbers; no parabens; no phthalates; and no synthetic preservatives, fragrances, or dyes.
Get it here for $18.95, 2.9 oz. (6.50/ounce)
Babo Botanicals Clear Zinc Sunscreen 4 of 30
A non-nano zinc oxide sunscreen (which means it won't absorb into the blood stream) that's all-natural and hypo-allergenic, with a host of certified-organic ingredients like green tea extract, rose hip oil, jojoba seed oil, and shea butter.
Get it here for $21.95, 3 oz (7.30/ounce)
Badger Natural & Organic Sunscreens 5 of 30
Badger Baby Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
Badger Kids Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
Badger Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
Badger Sunscreen Cream, Lavender, SPF 30
Badger is one of the more accessible brands on the list. It's made of safe, USDA Certified Organic ingredients, with zinc oxide as the only active ingredient (also used to treat diaper rash). Natural and organic plant oils provide ultra-moisturizing nourishment, it's rich in vitamins, and antioxidants protect skin from the sun. I use the kids version on my son, and while it's hard to rub in, it's effective.
Get it here for $14.49, 2.9 oz ($5/ounce)
Beauty Without Cruelty 6 of 30
Burnout 7 of 30
BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 30
Highly rated by Amazon users, BurnOut offers UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection, is water-resistant, and will not run into eyes. It's also chemical-free, hypoallergenic, non-greasy, and won't clog pores, which makes it good for sensitive skin. It's rich in antioxidants, and enriched with papaya, plankton, and plantain extracts to protect and nourish.
Get the kids version here for $17.99, 4.8 oz ($3.75/ounce)
Get the original version here for $17.99, 3.4 oz ($5.29/ounce)
Climb On! Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 8 of 30
Climb On! is another sunscreen that comes highly rated by Amazon.com users. One ingredient, red raspberry seed oil, is known to contain a high level of essential fatty acids, which research shows are connected with reduced stress in the body. It also exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and acts as a broad-spectrum UVA and UVB shield.
Get it here, $15.18 for 3 oz ($5/ounce)
COOLA Suncare Baby Moisturizer Mineral Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 50 9 of 30
Designed especially for baby's delicate skin, this mineral SPF 50 with broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection contains absolutely no chemicals or preservatives. Organic shea butter, sesame seed, and avocado oils keep baby soft as…well, a baby's bottom.
Get it here, $36 for 3 oz ($12/ounce)
Coral Safe Broad Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 50 10 of 30
ECO logical skin care Baby All Natural Sunscreen SPF 30+ 11 of 30
This pick is a favorite of Musings of a Housewife (who takes sunscreen very seriously and says it goes on smoothly!). It's powerful in UV protection yet gentle enough for the tender skin of infants, thanks to ingredients like shea butter, and jojoba, avocado, and carrot oils.
Get it here, $17.49 for 3.5 oz ($5/ounce)
Elemental Herbs Kids Sunscreen, SPF 30+ 12 of 30
Episencial Sunscreen, SPF 35 13 of 30
Goddess Garden Sunny Baby Natural Sunscreen, SPF 30 14 of 30
Created by a mom for her daughter, Goddess Garden sunscreen is free of chemicals, biodegradable and sheer. Safe and effective and made with organic ingredients.
Get it here, $17.99 for 3.4 oz ($5.30/ounce)
Green Babies Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, Unscented, SPF 30 15 of 30
Another Amazon.com favorite. Made with tangerine essential oil to hydrate young, sun-exposed skin, Green Babies Zinc Oxide sunscreen is also free of PABA, parabens and oxybenzone.
Get it here, $14.99 for 3 oz ($5/ounce)
Green Screen Organic Sunscreen, Original, SPF 31 by Kabana Skin Care 16 of 30
Green Screen Organic Sunscreen is healthy, highly effective and safe for children and adults of all ages. It's gluten-free, cruelty-free, and vegan. Plus, it's ecosystem-approved: the biodegradable formula is safe for reefs and the aquatic environment and the packaging is 100% recyclable.
Get it here, $16.49 for 4 oz ($4.10/ounce)
Jersey Kids All Natural All Green Sunscreen, SPF 30 17 of 30
Jersey Kids products are formulated for kids of all ages. They're chemical-free, fragrance-free, and, when applied properly, blends well with all skin tones. Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide. Baby Safe. Cruelty-free. Never tested on animals.
Get it here, $14.99 for 2.0 oz ($7.50/ounce)
Lavanila Laboratories The Healthy Sun Screen Body Cream, SPF 30 18 of 30
This body cream uses a new generation of mineral sunscreens for broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection. Infused with green tea, organic shea butter, and soothing cucumber, this luxurious formula works to hydrate, nourish, and protect.
Get it here, $38.00 for 4 oz ($9.50/ounce)
MDSOLARSCIENCES 19 of 30
This sunscreen is the priciest on our list, but it's specially formulated with a subtle tint to minimize redness associated with acne and rosacea-prone skin. A lightweight, "barely-there" formula goes on silky smooth and blends quickly and easily to a moisturizing, matte finish to help even skin's tone.
Get the mineral creme here, $30 for 1.7 oz ($17.65/ounce)
Get the lotion here, $34 for 2.75 oz ($12.36/ounce)
Raw Elements USA ECO FORMULA, SPF 30 20 of 30
A top-rated sunscreen by Amazon.com users, Raw Elements is one of the more affordable option in this round-up, costing less than $4/ounce. This all-natural formula boasts balanced Physical UV protection and is a performance-driven sunscreen, which means it's water-resistant beyond 80 minutes, yet gentle and moisturizing.
Get it here, $11.38 for 3 oz ($3.80/ounce)
Seventh Generation Wee Generation Baby Sunscreen, SPF 30 21 of 30
Another top-rated Amazon.com pick. Affordable and accessible, this gentle, hypo-allergenic lotion offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection that's good for the whole family (even baby!). The water-resistant formula features non-absorbing mineral sun filters that stay on the skin's surface to defend against harmful rays. Contains no chemical sunscreens, parabens, gluten or PABA.
Get it here, $15 for 3 oz ($5/ounce)
SunClear Sunscreen, SPF 30 22 of 30
Grahams Natural Alternatives was created after founder Geoff's son Ryan developed severe eczema at 14 months of age. It's especially formulated for those with sensitive skin, including eczema and psoriasis. Plus it's got a light, pleasant coconut smell!
Get it here, $21.59 for 5.29 oz ($4/ounce)
Sunology Natural Sunscreen 23 of 30
One of my personal favorites, Sunology contains an important natural ingredient known as Vita OlÃ©fera. Vita OlÃ©fera is comprised of a Moringa Oil complex as well as one of the most sought-after, nutrient-dense oils in the world. It is rich in antioxidants and prevents the formation of wrinkles and other harmful skin disorders. This will actively rejuvenate, while nourishing and protecting the skin.
Get the kids version here, $23.98 for 3 oz ($7/ounce)
Get the lotion here, $12.99 for 3 oz
Sunumbra Natural Sunscreens 24 of 30
Specially formulated for kids with sensitive skin, Sunumbra Sunkids sunscreen is all about natural ingredients. And that includes black tea extract, Cape chamomile oil, and even broccoli sprout extract.
Get the kids version here, $33.70 for 3.5 oz ($9.62/ounce)
Get the sport version here, $31.70 for 3.5 oz ($9.05/ounce)
thinksport Sunscreens 25 of 30
AlphaMom's 2012 #1 Choice for Kids & Baby and #1 EWG rating every year since 2010. Thinksport Thinkbaby sunscreen is free of biologically harmful chemicals and offers the highest level of broad-spectrum protection. Made in the U.S.A.
Get the sport version here, $15.99 for 3 oz ($5.30/ounce)
Get the baby version here, $15.99 for 3 oz ($5.30/ounce)
TruBaby Water & Play Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30+ 26 of 30
True Natural Cosmetics 27 of 30
The 100% mineral formula protects even the most sensitive skin while offering unscented, vegan sun protection from harmful UV rays.
Get it here, $17.99 for 3 oz ($6/ounce)
TruKid Sunny Days 28 of 30
This all-natural, non-chemical sunscreen was made just for kids but is great for the entire family. It also spreads well when applying.
Get it here, $17.40 for 3.5 oz ($5/ounce)
TruVillage 29 of 30
#1 ratings by EWR, all natural, free of harsh chemicals & fragrances, broad spectrum sunscreen protection, not tested on animals, and does not contain vitamin A.
Get the scented version here, $15.99 for 2.5 oz ($6.40/ounce)
Get the unscented version here, $16.00 for 2.5 oz ($6.40/ounce)
UV Natural 30 of 30
With a blend of calming ingredients such as grape-seed oil and vitamin E, UV Natural Baby Sunscreen soothes and hydrates young skin.
Get the baby version here, $30.00 for 5.29 oz ($5.70/ounce)
Get the sport version here, $29 for 4.4 oz ($6.60/ounce)
Once you’ve chosen the best sunscreen for your family, be sure to follow instructions for application and reapplication, and remember that sunscreen alone will not protect skin against UV rays; it is just one vital part of a complete sun protection program!
It’s also super important to remember that infants under 6 months of age should be kept out of the sun. Their skin is too sensitive for sunscreen. If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact your doctor.
Have a happy and healthy summer!