One of the constant summer struggles I have as a mom is getting my kiddos, and often my husband, to wear sunscreen. And I know I am not alone.
Getting a toddler, or a teen, to stand still and take the extra few minutes it takes to properly apply sunscreen often feels like a task of Herculean proportions. And, I will admit on more than one occasion I have decided to forego, or at least postpone a trip to the pool, simply to avoid the sunscreen battle. When my kids were little they thought I was the coolest mom on earth for taking them on so many night swims. Little did they know that swimming after dark saved me countless hours of frustration trying to apply sunscreen to three little bodies.
Now that my children are older keeping them indoors during the hottest portion of the day is no longer a viable alternative to sunscreen wearing. Between baseball, tennis, pool parties and the like they are always on the go outside – a fact which I love. Fortunately, they are now old enough to be responsible for applying their own SPF. But, I am still responsible for purchasing the sunscreen and reminding them to wear it.
With so many products on the market and so much buzz in the news about the effectiveness and safety of various types of SPF this is an enormous responsibility.
If you’ve been reading for awhile you know my approach to healthy living. I try to minimize my family’s exposure to toxins in our food, cleaning products and personal care products wherever possible. It only make sense that I would also be a bit obsessive about picking the best sunscreen I can. This is a product that we are literally slathering all over our bodies multiple times everyday. Just like body wash and body lotion, sunscreen is one of the most important products for which it is really important to make safer choices.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that the formulas I had been relying on for years were among the worst of the worst – both in terms of personal safety and environmental impact. For years I had been buying a certain popular name-brand endowed with a health-halo mist formula sunscreen in bulk. My boys loved the quick application and sun protection it offered, my husband liked that it felt “dry” and I was just grateful they were “protected”.
Even the fact that my daughter couldn’t wear this sunscreen, or even really come into incidental contact with it, without erupting into hives or developing minor burns on her body, wasn’t a red flag to me.
Can you say denial?
Obviously, we shielded her from the effects of the chemical spray and searched for a better option for her that wouldn’t irritate her incredibly sensitive skin. In fact, I’ve actually been buying a mineral, safe sunscreen for almost 12 years. But we reserved that special, “expensive”, and let’s be honest, streaky white lotion that was tedious to apply, bottle solely for my daughter.
However, now that I know what I know about the potentially dangerous side effects of the chemicals commonly found in sunscreen and their lasting environmental impact, my days of selecting the easiest option are long gone.
Know better, do better.”
In light of al of the confusion currently swarming around sunscreens, I thought it might be helpful to dispel share some of my hours of research and dispel some of the common myths associated with SPF. And at the end of the post I’ll share some of my own favorite mineral sunscreens.
Fiction: We only need sunscreen when we go to the pool or the beach.
Fact: We should apply sunscreen every time we go outside – even if its cloudy. Yes, every day.
Fiction: My skin is deeper-toned, so I don’t need sunscreen.
Fact: Deeper skin-tone does not protect you from sun damage. Everyone needs to wear sunscreen.
Fiction: I am already tan, so I don’t need sunscreen.
Fact: Sunscreen protects against more than sunburn. A tan is not protection against the lifelong skin damage inflicted by the sun’s harsh rays.
Fiction: All sunscreen is the same.
Fact: There are major differences between sunscreens, including SPF (sun protection factor), effectiveness, water-resistance, and formulation. Sunscreens can be divided into two main categories: mineral sunscreens, which rely primarily on zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block UV rays, and chemical-based sunscreen, which commonly rely on potentially harmful chemicals such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, that have been linked to hormone disruption and molecular cell damage.
Fiction: Sunscreen is bad for the ocean.
Fact: While it’s true that chemical-based sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate have recently been BANNED in Hawaii (with legislation pending in Mexico) because of their contribution to the collapse of coral reefs, mineral sunscreens do not harm fragile ocean life. They are safer for us and the ocean.
Fiction: Mineral sunscreens leave me a streaky white mess.
Fact: Mineral sunscreens protect the skin by using minerals such as zinc-oxide or titanium dioxide that sit on the skin’s surface and reflect UV rays so it is harder to rub these formulas into the body, because they were actually designed to sit on top of the skin. That said, many newer products on the market rub in much more easily than the mineral sunscreens of yesteryear. And there are also a number of mineral spray sunscreens on the market now. [NOTE: these sprays are NOT like the aerosol mists used in chemical sprays. Rather they spray a very fine lotion that does need to be rubbed into the skin. But the application process is much faster and easier because the bottle limits the amount of lotion dispersed. I highly recommend these mineral sprays – even if they are “mineral-based” versus pure mineral sunscreens.]
Over the years I have stumbled across a number of tips and techniques for wearing mineral sunscreen without impersonating a ghost. First, I like to apply the first coat of sunscreen well-before heading outdoors – typically right after a shower and before getting dressed. Not only is this good practice because it helps develop the habit of wearing sunscreen everyday and ensures that you don’t miss any spots, but also it gives the sunscreen time to soak into the skin thereby increasing its effectiveness and reducing the white appearance. Second, I apply small amounts at a time. Rather than dumping a whole handful of sunscreen into my hand, swiping it onto my body, and then trying to spread it out – a technique which never works – I work with little bits at a time, warm it up in my hands and then rub it onto my skin. If using a spray can, I like to recruit help. I find that the farther away you hold the can the more even the application and hence the easier it is to rub in. And last, but certainly not least, make sure you skin is dry before trying to rub in mineral SPF. Trying to rub mineral sunscreen into wet skin is a a recipe for streaks.
Fiction: Sunscreen is heavy and greasy.
Fact: Many mineral SPFs, including Beautycounter’s, are lightweight with no greasy after feel.
Now, for a short-list of my favorite mineral sunscreens:
Beautycounter – I love all these products, from the lotion to the spray to the stick – these are definitely some of the best sunscreens I have ever used. I keep a stick in my make-up drawer and apply it everyday before my make up. The Countersun Mist was the first mineral spray I ever tried and my kids, including Kelly, loved the ease of application and lack of white residue. That said – this stuff isn’t cheap. I justify the expense because I sell these products and I know that by investing in my family’s health today I am saving on medical bills in the future. Also, when I think about all the other incidental expenses that accompany a day at the pool or beach – a round of drinks, a visit to the snack bar, some boardwalk games, ice-cream sundaes . . . I don’t feel so bad about the price of safety. [DISCLOSURE: I am a Beautycounter consultant and therefore I am partial to these products. I do make a commission off of every bottle I sell.] However, while I do love the safety, effectiveness and formulations of Beuatycounter, you don’t have to break the bank to get some good, quality, mineral sunscreen. In fact, I personally buy and use ALL of the products on this list.
Blue Lizard, Sensitive Skin, SPF 30 – This is one of the first products I found that worked on my daughter’s sensitive skin and a favorite to this day. It is chemical-free, fragrance-free and great for sensitive skin. That said, it is still a little bit whiter than some others, and takes a little bit of muscle and patience to rub in. But, it doesn’t feel heavy or greasy and, most importantly, it offers great sun protection. The $18 price tag also can’t be beat. And it comes in bulk bottles as well.
Alba Botanica Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen Fragrance Free SPF 35 – This is another great drugstore option that can be found just about anywhere. It’s fragrance-free, lightweight, fast-absorbing and does not contain any potentially toxic chemicals. This is my go-to sunscreen when I am traveling and forgot to bring along my SPF.
Purely Simple Honest Sunscreen Spray Mineral-Based Protection for Sensitive Skin – This hypoallergenic sunscreen spray is mineral-based and super easy to apply. Non-nano zinc oxide formula offers non-greasy sun protection for all those hard-to-reach places. I’ve only used it once, but I was impressed with the ease of application and the sun protection. You do have to order it online though, so you need to plan ahead. Also, it’s very reasonably priced. Might not be a bad idea to stock up.
Bare Republic Mineral Pina-Coco Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30 – I picked this one up at my local Wal-Mart when I ran out of my Beautycounter Countersun Mist. It sprayed evenly and rubbed in nicely and even Kelly used it without incident. It’s broad spectrum, water resistant and free of active chemicals. Like most sprays it is not as “pure” as lotions – but I firmly believe that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This one checks all the important boxes, including ease of application, and it’s good enough for me.
Goddess Garden Organics Everyday Natural Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 – This one was an impulse buy at TJ Maxx. I was checking out and there was an entire display of Goddess Garden sunscreens. I wasn’t familiar with the brand but I checked out a few of the packages and was comfortable with what I read. Since I am in constant pursuit of the perfect mineral sunscreen at an affordable price I decided to pick up a bottle. I got into Beautycounter because I wanted safer options for my family and friends and I wanted to be able to educate others on safer alternatives to conventional products. Much of the time I do recommend Beautycounter products, but not always. And while I do love our sunscreen, I know it is just too expensive for many people to use everyday. As part of my job I feel obligated to do personal research so that I can recommend quality alternatives to my clients, products that I feel comfortable using on my own kids. This purchase was made in the name of research. and it did not disappoint. This air-powered spray uses naturally occurring minerals and organic, plant-based ingredients to provide powerful sun protection without alcohol or harsh chemical propellants. The continuous spray lotion is lightweight, and the white color helps ensure you don’t miss a spot, although it does have to be rubbed in lightly. This formula is also biodegradable and reef safe.
I know there are other safe and effective alternatives out there. These just happen to be the products that I use regularly in my own home. If you want to see where your favorite sunscreen falls in terms of safety and environmental impact, you can check out the Environmental Working Group‘s official 2018 guide to sunscreen.