The best eco-friendly mineral sunscreen you can buy
"Eco-friendly" may be a relative term, but Hawaii and Mexico have signed bills into legislation banning two reef-toxic and potentially human-toxic active ingredients found in chemical sunscreens. According to recent research conducted by ecotoxicologists in Hawaii and the Virgin Islands published in the journal "Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology," these ingredients are "bleaching" — that is, killing — coral reefs by damaging their endocrine and immune systems to a point at which they're left with an even lower threshold for globally-warming waters.
Chemical sunscreens work well, which is why most of us who wear sunscreen have been using them since their inception. But how, exactly, do they work? They soak into our skin, where they then absorb UV rays by using one or more of the following "active," or sun-screening organic compounds: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, and homosalate.
These chemicals have proven toxic to small marine and possibly other aquatic animals, and even if you're not spending the day by the sea, will enter watersheds when you rinse them off in the shower. They also might be toxic to you, but the scientific jury's still out on that as of yet.
Mineral-based sunscreens, on the other hand, almost exclusively use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which mostly remain on the skin's surface and reflect UV rays. This is why it's so difficult to get these heavy metals to rub in, because, as a matter of principle, they don't. We've found several great options that blend in better than other mineral sunscreens without sacrificing protection.
Plus, there are a couple of ways to reduce the streaky mess mineral sunscreens tend to leave on our skin and clothes. For one: Apply this paste well before you step outside, but also before you get dressed, and let it soak in as much as possible. This seems to help reduce staining on clothes. And secondly, though tinted mineral-based sunscreens will still stain your clothes, they seem to blend surprisingly well with most skin tones, despite being an alarming pale orange in the tin.
We've tested several mineral sunscreens to find the best ones that are effective, look good, and won't hurt the environment.Editor's Note: We'll frequently update this guide because we're continually testing mineral-based sunscreens as we come across them. offers optimal but affordable protection without any potentially harmful chemicals.
Zinc oxide and purified water are the main ingredients in Thinksport's Sunscreen, which is a great option for the hypoallergenic and eco-conscious buyer alike. Although it can leave you a bit pasty — as practically all mineral-based sunblocks do — it does eventually blend while still managing to offer superior UVA and UVB protection.
Amazon buyers gave it an average of 4.2 stars out of nearly 350 reviews, complimenting it on everything from its ability to blend, its high rating from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and its affordable price per ounce. Some complain that it dries their skin out too much, which zinc oxide tends to do, and many others had trouble rubbing it in.
If you find blending zinc oxide into your skin to be a nuisance, you might go for Thinksport's Everyday Face, which comes with a natural tint and blends with most complexions. Just take care around clothes, car seats, or anything else you want to avoid staining, and to that end, it probably won't do too well in water.
We're also a big fan of Badger's array of sunscreens, especially for watersports — and the SPF 34 Anti Bug Sunscreen is my personal favorite, though I have no qualms about going outside looking like a streaky white mess.
Badger's sunscreen becomes especially handy where tropical, disease-ridden mosquitoes abound, but it's probably not for everyone. We're looking into other options, but this is a wonderful, industrial-strength option for deeper, buggier expeditions.Why you'll love it: Goddess Garden offers thorough but affordable protection without the potentially harmful chemicals found in chemical-based sunscreens.
Zinc oxide and purified water are the main ingredients in , which is a great option for the hypoallergenic and eco-conscious consumer alike. Although it can leave you a bit pasty, it does eventually blend into skin while still managing to offer superior UVA and UVB protection.
Amazon shoppers gave it an average of 3.4 stars out of nearly 650 reviews, complimenting it on everything from its ability to blend, its high rating from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and its affordable price per ounce.
Some complain that it dries their skin out too much, which zinc oxide does tend to do, and many others had trouble rubbing it in. You do have to shake the bottle before use to ensure that the contents are mixed and it can blend into your skin properly.
If you find blending zinc oxide into your skin to be a nuisance, you might go for Goddess Garden's 30 SPF Facial Natural Sunscreen, which many buyers find easier to blend, even though it comes with a higher (19%) concentration of zinc oxide. It's more than twice the price of the one we recommend for daily use, though.
Cons: Requires some effort to rub in, but eventually will (tip: start with some moisturizer, just make sure it has no counteractive Vitamin A)Bare Republic's SPF 50 Mineral Spray Sunscreen is easy to apply, hypoallergenic, and mostly water-resistant.
There are few spray-on sunscreens that are mineral-based, and those that are generally don't offer a high enough concentration of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for adequate protection from intense and/or direct sunlight. Bare Republic's SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Spray carries 12% zinc oxide and 6% titanium dioxide, which I found to be just right for a day on the beach, occasionally splashing in for a dip.
While I probably should have reapplied after a couple of hours — and certainly after swimming — an entire day in the sun wearing this stuff left me neither burned nor tanned.
We like that Bare Republic's spray-on sunscreen rubs in pretty well right away and dries without the greasy, shellac-like residue that disgraces your skin after applying chemical-based sunscreens, though it does leave its own distinct film. Just remember that this is not the same as your standard chemical spray-on sunscreen: It does require rubbing in to blend and feels sticky for the first few minutes.
Bare Republic's spray-on sunscreen does seem to work well in water, as purported, but I did notice it coming off as soon as I got in (well after applying), so it may not work as well as mineral-based creams.
Target shoppers gave it an average of 4+ stars out of over 180 reviews. Most say that its quick and easy application, despite demanding more attention than chemical-based sprays, was preferable to creams, and that it worked well in the pool and at the beach. Many buyers take up issue with the scent, but Insider Picks' staff found the Citrus Cooler to have a more neutral, inoffensive essence compared with than the brand's other pairings (mango-coconut, coco-vanilla).
Cons: Leaves a mild residue, and much of it washes off in water (well after application), though I was still protected after most of it seemed to have been lost to the sea (note: I burn easily)
Why you'll love it: can be worn for just about any occasion under the sun.
I haven't found any mineral-based sunscreens that apply sheerly, but I have, however, found a few options that come naturally tinted and seem to blend pretty well with a variety of skin tones, and my favorite so far is Raw Elements' Tinted Facial Moisturizer.
While it is definitely on the greasier side, it blends in better than any I've tried to date, so it ought to accommodate those who are understandably averse to showing up at the beach looking like The Friendly Ghost, but who still have an interest in keeping sunburn at bay. It also seems to serve as a decent foundation for makeup for some, but you'll want to apply it well ahead of anything you're planning on putting over it.
And, if tinted sunscreen isn't your thing, and you don't mind having a bleach-white face for a few minutes until your sunscreen soaks in (maybe about 20-40 minutes), I'd go with the Face & Body formula. I found that if you're not terribly careful with the tinted stuff, it can be quite messy.
As with most mineral-based sunscreens, this stuff clogged my pores and eventually made me break out, which, of course, is all part of a day or week in the life of testing an endless slurry of products on your behalf, dear reader.
But in all seriousness, as long as you make sure to wash mineral-based sunscreens off thoroughly — though it might require a brillo pad — you should be fine, and if you have especially sensitive or oily skin, a simple facial mask should take care of you. I like Mario Badescu's Drying Mask, which, ironically enough, is a tan-hued mineral-based paste not unlike the sunscreen you'd be asking it to remove.
I also went ahead and used Raw Elements' tinted paste on my neck, arms, and legs, and my skin might have taken on a sort of ashy-grey-orange tone at first, but it faded in short order, and I didn't burn at all.
Why you'll love it: Manda's SPF 50 Organic Sun Paste with Thanaka is about as stripped down as sunscreen gets with eight very basic and natural ingredients
Most sunscreens, even the ones that claim water-resistance, wash off pretty quickly in the water, and especially in the surf. Surfers and swimmers need something that water won't ablate. Manda doesn't wash off, and to that point, doesn't run at all, so you shouldn't find it burning your eyes.
It also will not rub in, and if it does, you've probably spread it too thin, or at least beyond its optimal efficacy. For that reason, I wouldn't recommend it for running about town, but it works wonders for aquatic enthusiasts, as well as perspiring, landlubbing athletes who spend prolonged periods of time in intense and/or direct sunlight.
And while khaki/beige might not be the most flattering hue to smear over any shade of human flesh, it sure beats ghost white or atomic orange. Although Manda's 20% concentration of zinc oxide can simultaneously dry out your skin and clog your pores, Manda has taken the unique step to include what might be the oldest sunscreen known to humankind.
Thanaka, the mustard-yellow paste that gives Manda its tint, is made from a small, shrubby, southeast Asian tree by the same name, and was made popular over two millennia ago in Myanmar for a bevvy of dermatological reasons.
Apart from being a mildly effective natural sunscreen, thanaka is a regenerative antioxidant and an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal moisturizer that is also regularly used by the Burmese to treat acne. Further, it's likely that it inhibits the enzyme tyrosine's production of melanin, which might help reduce the development of melanoma and even brighten your complexion — not that it needs brightening.
This sunscreen — weirdly — is also entirely food-safe. I personally tested that claim, and may or may not have reached for seconds.
While zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been researched, tested, and mostly endorsed as reasonably safe sunscreen ingredients for many decades, the jury is still largely out on the active organic compounds used in chemical sunscreens, which are considerably younger.
Although mineral-based sunscreens are preferable because they have been tested extensively and deemed largely safe for people and the environment, they are not entirely free from controversy, either.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are powders that can be manufactured as ultra-fine nanoparticles (measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter), which allow these thick sunscreens to go on sheerly without leaving a white residue, and appear to be harming reefs, too. Plus, as with most powders, they're also potential respiratory toxins in high enough concentrations.
NPR reported in 2015 on which estimated that some 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen end up lathering coral reefs worldwide every year. This past year, forensic ecotoxiclogist Craig Downs, Ph.D., told Vogue to look for products with "non-nano" ingredients larger than 150 nanometers, at which size their toxicity level to sea creatures — and you, as a respiratory threat in spray-ons — becomes minute.
Navigating the retail market with this information can be tricky. Terms that suggest environmental and social responsibility like "reef-safe" and "non-nano" are largely, if not entirely unregulated, so take them with a grain of salt, and do your best to find brands that support these claims. We will, too.
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