Practical Face Sunscreen Guide

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Non-Toxic Face SunscreenI do not always wear a face sunscreen but, when I do, I choose the best ones based on how long I will be in the sun. I use a face sunscreen as part of my UV rays’ protection strategy. You are about to learn how you can quickly know which face sunscreen is right for you as well as some of my favorite choices.

 

What do we want from a face sunscreen?

 

We want it to be safe, meaning not damaging to our skin and overall health.

 

We want it to be effective, meaning that it has to protect us from both UVA (short-wave ultraviolet-A rays) and UVB (ultraviolet-B).

 

And we want our face sunscreen to be practical, meaning without a ghostly whitening effect. Nobody wants to look like a ghost unless you are going to a Halloween party.

 

First of all, all active ingredients of sunscreens – UV filters – can be divided into two groups: chemical and mineral.

 

Chemical Face Sunscreen Products

 

Chemical UV filters include the following chemicals: oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone.

 

Oxybenzone: associated with acting like estrogen in the body; altered sperm production in animals; linked with endometriosis in women.

 

Octinoxate (Octylmethoxycinnamate): linked with hormone-like activity; reproductive system, thyroid and behavioral alterations in animal studies; may cause skin allergy.

 

Homosalate: linked to estrogen, androgen, and progesterone disruption.

 

Octocrylene: relatively high rates of skin allergy.

 

Because chemical UV filters either are linked with endocrine disruption or skin allergy or both, I do not recommend them.

 

Mineral Face Sunscreen Products

 

The sunscreens that I prefer are mineral, which are made with either titanium oxide or zinc oxide or both.

 

There are two types of sun protection we need: UVB (ultraviolet-B) and UVA (short-wave ultraviolet-A rays). UVA radiation does not burn the skin as UVB does. It is sneaky, because you can receive dangerous levels of UVA without knowing it. Also, UVA protection is not linked to the SPF value. How convenient! In other words, the higher SPF value does not always mean better UVA protection.

 

SPF simply shows how much time you can spend in the sun without burning your skin. At the same time, UVA radiation is very harmful and may be even more harmful than UVB because it affects deeper layers of the skin.

 

From racking the EWG Annual Sunscreen Guide for years now, I noticed a pattern that I confirmed from other sources as well. Zinc oxide offers excellent UVA protection while titanium oxide offers only a good or okay UVA protection. Thus, I prefer sunscreens with zinc oxide or a titanium oxide/zinc oxide blend.

 

Whitening Effect – the Balancing Act

 

You might have noticed that mineral sunscreens leave some whitening effect. The reason mineral sunscreens make you look like a ghost is that their particles are bigger (non-nanoparticles) and they sit on top of the skin. The thicker layer you have sitting on your skin, the more protection you have from UVA.

 

The advantages of nano zinc oxide is that it does not cause a whitening effect and it protects from UVB rays better than non-nano zinc oxide.   Keep in mind also that non-nano minerals can’t be 100% nano and will have some percentage of nanoparticles. (source)

 

If you have heard about nanoparticles causing DNA damage, you might be freaking out right now. Don’t!

 

Yes, there was a concern that nanoparticles (<100 nm) can penetrate the skin and damage the DNA. There are no conclusive studies though.

 

In fact, this year the EWG came to a conclusion that nanoparticles are not a reason to stress out about. They either do not get absorbed or the absorption rate is less than 0.01 percent of either non-nano or nano zinc that has entered the bloodstream. The study could not determine if the zinc in the bloodstream was insoluble nanoparticles. Therefore European regulators concluded it was most likely zinc ions, which would not pose any health risk. (source) Notice that the conclusion was made by a European regulator who I trust a little better.

 

As for the effects of nanoparticles on marine life, the long story short is that we don’t know much about it.

 

I still prefer non-nano mineral sunscreens but I am not as concerned as I have been before if that claim is truthful. It is hard to track that stuff due to non-existing regulations.

 

Other Ingredients in Face Sunscreen Products

 

What makes it more complicated to pick a perfect face sunscreen is that roughly 75% of total sunscreen composition is made up of inactive ingredients. And they have to be good, too, right? There should not be any irritating, potentially harmful, pore-clogging ingredients, and the preservation system should be sufficient.

 

With this said, without further ado, let me provide you with a list of face sunscreens I like.

Mineral Face Sunscreen

Annmarie Sun Love – Natural Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 20 (2 oz), $39.95

 

Active Ingredient: 15% non-nano zinc oxide

 

Inactive ingredients: *Helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil; *Cera alba (beeswax); *Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin) seed oil; *Cannabis sativa (hemp) seed oil; *Olea europaea (olive) fruit oil; Titanium dioxide, Mica, Iron oxide, Yellow iron oxide, Brown iron oxide, Zinc oxide; Hippophae rhamnoides (sea buckthorn berry) extract; *Mauritia flexuosa (buriti) fruit oil; Lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil; *Theobroma cacao (cocoa) seed butter

 

*Organic or wildcrafted

 

My thoughts: To deal with the whitening effect, they added mineral pigments such as mica, iron oxide, yellow iron oxide, and brown iron oxide to create a tint. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably know that I am concerned about possible heavy metal contamination in mineral pigments. However, I believe the topical application of pigments with trace amounts of heavy metals within the FDA guidelines is okay. My concern is more about a possible inadvertent disproportionately high heavy metals contamination, the risk of which can be avoided if the companies buy their pigments from a trusted US or European supplier or better yet if the company sends the pigments they buy to an independent lab for testing. However, to test every batch might be cost prohibitive for small businesses. So far, I have not found a company who would be willing to back up their claims of pigment testing.

 

With this said, Annmarie buys their pigments from a trusted US supplier and they even showed me pigment documentation that reflects that heavy metals are within the FDA guidelines. I also use and recommend their foundation powders.

 

I tried their old formula of the face sunscreen when they had water in it and as a result had to have a preservative. It worked fine for me.   There was a whitening effect and the tint blended with my skin tone. It is probably hard to say whether you will like the tint for your particular skin tone. But the good news is that you can purchase a sample for $5 with no shipping charge, which comes with a $5 coupon. Good deal, huh?

 

Where to buy: Annmarie website

 

By Valenti Organics Choco-Coco White Solid Solar Screen (sunscreen) SPF30+, 4 oz, $15

 

Active Ingredients: non-nano Zinc Oxide – 8%, sunscreen grade non-nano Titanium Dioxide – 10%

 

Inactive Ingredients: Organic Coconut (Cocos Nucifera) Oil, Organic Virgin Coconut (Cocos Nucifera)Oil, Organic Shea (Butyrospermum Parkii) Butter, Organic Cocoa (Theobroma Cacao) Butter, Organic Carnauba (Copernica Cerifera) Oil.

 

My thoughts: Unfortunately, I have not had a chance to try this product so as I can’t say how much whitening effect it leaves. If you have tried it, please share your feedback with us. I wanted to include it because I had recommended By Valenti Organics skincare products before and some of you asked me about this sunscreen. The inactive ingredients are all organic and pure. Ms. Valenti strikes me as a person of integrity and who is passionate about doing the right thing.

 

Where to buy: By Valenti Organics website

 

Badger Balm Tinted Sunscreen – SPF30 Unscented Cream, 2.9 oz, $15.99

 

Active Ingredients: Non-Nano, Uncoated Zinc Oxide 18.75%

 

Inactive Ingredients: *Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, *Cera Alba (Beeswax), Tocopherol (Sunflower Vitamin E), *Hippophae Rhamnoides (Seabuckthorn) Fruit Extract, Iron Oxides (C.I. 77492, C.I. 77499) (and) Jojoba Esters.

*=Certified Organic

 

My Notes: I tried it on vacation in Hawaii where I needed something more protective from both UVA and UVB rays. The tint was lighter than my skin tone so my face looked like I chose a bad foundation. But it was still a much better option than the un-tinted one. I wanted to include it because the botanical ingredients are organic and good for your skin, it is effective, and it may work for you as well. There are lots of Amazon reviews you can read through to figure out if it is worth a try. Like the majority of companies, they do not test their pigments for heavy metals but buy them from trusted European suppliers.

 

Where to buy: Badger Balm website or Amazon

 

Hana Organic Skincare Everyday Crème (with 15 SPF), 15 ml, $38

 

Active Ingredients: 12% non-nano zinc oxide

 

Inactive Ingredients: *rose, *calendula & *lavender-infused *apricot oil; *jojoba & *rosehip seed oils; *cocoa butter; aloe vera gel; *rose hydrosol; pure filtered beeswax; non-nano zinc oxide; *vegetable glycerin; vitamin E; Leucidal liquid SF ECOCERT; *geranium & *lavender essential oils 

 

My comments: This is my favorite for everyday use! The whitening effect dissipates after a few minutes, and it is very moisturizing. The texture is like a traditional crème that I know many of you like. It is easy to apply. Because there is water in the composition, a preservative has to be used. The common difficulty with traditional crèmes is that that they have to contain water and preservatives. Those preservatives are often a source of skin irritation or even endocrine disruption. I love Karen’s (the owner and formulator) choice of a preservative, Leucidal Liquid, which consists of an isolated peptides secreted by the bacteria during the fermentation process of radishes with Leuconostoc kimchi.  Leucidal® Liquid is accepted by Ecocert as an ingredient in certified organic cosmetics.  Because the SPF is only 15, when I know that I will be exposed to the sun for longer than 2 hours, I wear a hat.

 

Where to buy: Hana Organic Skincare website

 

So what is next?

 

All in all, finding a perfect sunscreen is a bit tricky. A physical barrier is still important even if you wear a sunscreen. I am glad that I found Hana Organic Skincare crème that I can use as part of my sun protection routine without looking ghostly.

 

If you used any of these sunscreens, please share your experiences so we can help each other out.

 

If you think the sunscreen you use follows the guidelines I outlined here, please let us know what the sunscreen is in the comments. Or simply tell us which out of these 4 you would like to try.

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16 Responses

  1. Hi, Irina, I am so glad you reviewed sunscreens. I’ve been looking for a good, physical sunscreen without titanium dioxide for a while. I liked the texture of SkinCeuticals but it contains titanium dioxide 🙁 I tried Marie Veronique and loved the concept and REALLY wanted to love it but it didn’t apply well. It dried off way too fast for an even application and it had a yellowish tint. The one that I found and currently use and like is called Suntegrity SPF 30 without parabens, nano-particles and other nasties.They have tinted versions and a non-tinted. The tinted version was too yellowish for my skin tone so I got the non-tinted. It is a face sunscreen and a primer. It still has a slight whitish cast right after the application but it goes away after 10 min. Check out that brand and see what you think about it.

  2. Great post. Our whole family uses ABC sunscreen from Arbonne ( toxic chemical free)and we do love how well it works on our fair skin… it does take some good rubbing in…but I don’t mind. I was actually wondering about other sunscreens that have ” bug repellent” in them. Are they just adding essential oils to help ward off pests and does it work?

  3. Stephanie

    Why did this not come out 2 days earlier?? 🙂 I just placed an order to try Juice Beauty CC Cream. It’s SPF 30, non-nano Zinc Oxide 20%. I was going to get the tinted moisturizer (BB cream), but decided to add the anti-aging. 🙂
    Will definitely try Hana (Badger is just so hard to blend) depending how Juice Beauty performs or if the ingredients aren’t the best. EWG has it as an overall 1, with all ingredients a 1 or 2 and only 2 with no data (polyglyceryl-10 laurate and petitgrain oil).

    Thanks again for all you do!

    Active Ingredient:
    Zinc Oxide 20%
    Inactive Ingredients:
    Aloe barbadensis (organic aloe juice)*,
    cocos nucifera (organic coconut oil)*,
    pyrus malus (organic apple juice)*,
    vitis vinifera (organic white grape juice)*,
    caprylic/capric triglyceride†,
    sorbitan stearate,
    ricinus communis (castor seed oil),
    polyglyceryl-10 laurate,
    magnesium sulfate,
    helianthus annuus (organic sunflower seed oil)*,
    simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba seed oil)*,
    tocopherol (Vitamin E),
    magnesium ascorbyl phosphate (Vitamin C),
    sodium hyaluronate†,
    malus domestica (apple fruit cell culture extract),
    vitis vinifera (grape fruit cell extract),
    citrus medica limonum (lemon leaf cell extract),
    iron oxides,
    phenethyl alcohol,
    ethylhexylglycerin†,
    citrus reticulata (mandarin oil),
    citrus aurantium (petitgrain oil).
    † = plant derived
    * = Certified organic ingredient

    • Stephanie, I actually forgot about Juice Beauty sunscreen. I used it for a few years, the non-tinted version and I kind of liked it. It also goes a bit white (just like any physical sunscreen would) but it did not irritate my reactive skin or make me break out. The ingredients are also pretty “clean”. The way I used to apply the non-tinted version was by mixing it w a bit of Dr. Hauschka bronzer (just a few drops). Then I would wait about 10 min and blot the residue and forget about it 🙂 I hope you like it. If I was to rate it, I would say that was my second favorite after my current choice Suntegrity.

    • Hi, Stephanie: I think polyglyceryl-10 laurate and petitgrain oi are okay. I am not a huge fan of ethylhexylglycerin as it is linked with skin irritation in the Skin Deep. To be fair, I have used products with this ingredient and did not experience any problems. This product is also formulated with multiple goals in mind, which can be too hard to fulfill. For instance, there is sodium hyaluronate, which is an anti-aging igredient that, in my opinion, should be used as a separate product and consciously so you do not face its side effects. As far as I know, products with sodium hyaluronate should be applied on the damp skin. I personally still like Hana better, again just by looking at the ingredients. But again, it is just my opinion and I have not even tried Juice Beauty. Let me know how you like it, if you use it. Let me know what you think. ~Irina

  4. It is very important to remember that the SPF listed is based upon using one ounce of sunscreen. Yes, one ounce it what we are supposed to be applying and I’m always shocked by how few people know this.

    • Hi, Hannah: thank you for bringing this up. It is one ounce per exposed areas of the body, which might not very clear. I think a better way to say it is 2mg/cm2, which would be roughly 0.25 teaspoon per 0.155 squared inch. Yes, it is a lot of sunscreens. ~Irina

  5. Hi Irina! Can you let me know your thoughts regarding the sun prep SPF 30 from hynt beauty ? Here are the ingredients:
    Active Ingredient: Titanium Dioxide 9%

    Ingredients: Aloe Vera Gel (Purified Water & Aloe Vera Barbadensis), Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil*, Krameria Triandra (Rhatany) Root Extract* , Hyaluronic Acid (plant derived), Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Extract*, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Oryza Sativa (Rice Bran) Oil*, Laminaria Algae Extract*, Comfrey Root*, Dexapanthenol, Vitis Vinifera (Grape Seed) Extract*, Glycrrhiza Glabra (Licorice Root) Extract*, Sodium PCA, Squalane (Plant Derived), Allantoin (Plant Derived), Leucidal Liquid (Radish Root Natural Preservative), Tocopherol Linoleate/Oleate (Vitamin E), Wild Pansy Extract*, Pycnogenol (Pine Bark Extract), Riboflavin Root Extracts, Alpha Bisabolol (Chamomile)*, Plantain, Beta glucan

    • Thank for this, Elena! If it meets my standards, you will see it in the next edition of the Safer Face Sunscreen Guide. Thanks! ~Irina

  6. Thank you, Irina. You have guided me well on my quest to live a less chemical life. After switching to mineral sunscreen, I have tried Badger’s tinted sunscreen that you recommend, Think Sport Everyday Face tinted sunscreen, and Elta MD SPF 41 tinted sunscreen. Badger, though I trust and regularly use their other products, I found to be fairly thick and difficult to blend in, but I like the feel and tint of the Think Sport and Elta MD. Based on ewg ratings, I prefer Thinksport and use it daily. Would you have any further insight either of these? Also, I have friends who are fans of the Arbonne sunscreen, but I’ve not been so sure. Any thoughts?

    • Thank you, PJ, for sharing this helpful information. I will definitely take a look at these brands in more detail when I am updating this post next time. You are right about Arbonne. Thank you. ~Irina

  7. Beverly Villarreal

    Hi Irina,
    I’ve actually been going without sunscreens because of the chemicals in them, so I was happy to see your research. I got the $5 sampler from AnnMarie’s for the SunLove. I was surprised at how greasy it felt, plus the tint was too light and still looked “ghostly.” Then I read in Southern Living’s Ask Dr. Molly (veterinarian) column that “Pet-specific brands of sunscreen are available, but many products made for humans are okay for pets–except ones containing zinc oxide, which is toxic if ingested.” My dog loves to lick any bare skin she can find, so now it seems I won’t be able to use zinc oxide-based sunscreens. Just wanted to make this known to others who have pets that lick their skin.

    • Hi, Beverly: It is nice to hear from you again! How have you been? And I am sorry that you did not like Annmarie sunscreen. I don’t understand why Dr. Molly thinks that titanium oxide or even endocrine-disrupting chemicals are okay for dogs to ingest but not zinc oxide. Did she provide any reason or sources to support her statement? What brand are you using now? Thank you, again! And if you are reading this comment and any products I have listed in this post work for you, please let us know, too. I highly appreciate that! ~Irina

  8. Beverly Villarreal

    Yes, I didn’t understand why the vet thought other chemicals were OK to ingest. I didn’t know if you had heard of any of this before and maybe knew otherwise on the zinc oxide. I was totally unaware of pet sunscreens and was surprised she said human sunscreens were OK to use, given they usually tell you not to use human shampoos to bathe your dog with! I will have to research the zinc oxide toxicity claim for dogs and see what there is to it. I currently don’t use sunscreen on a regular basis; I stopped using them a few years ago when I heard that the chemicals actually increase the risk of sun cancer, and that sunscreens can interfere with the sunlight creating vitamin D for our bodies. I’m not sure about the validity of either of those claims , but decided to go without. I’m not someone who hangs out at the pool or beach, but I do like to work in the yard and have been known to set up a large patio umbrella over an area I’m weeding if it’s in the sun too much 🙂

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