Better Goods Baby

We Ranked 40+ Sunscreens To Find The Best Non-Toxic Sunscreen

Better Goods

Feb 21, 2022

non-toxic baby sunscreen

We went deep into the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens to find the absolute best sunscreens on the market.

There are a lot of sunscreens on the market that are full of toxic chemical ingredients. In fact, if you go to your local drugstore and pick a sunscreen, there's a very high chance that it's going to be full to the brim with toxic ingredients.

If you're used to using a chemical sunscreen, now is a great time to switch to a safe, mineral based sunscreen that's not only better for you and your little one, but for our coral reefs as well.

Today we'll be answering questions like:

  • Why chemical sunscreens are no good.
  • How the chemicals in bad sunscreens are destroying our oceans.
  • What goes into an ideal safe and non-toxic sunscreen.

The Problem With Chemical Sunscreens.

There are two main kinds of sunscreen: chemical and mineral (also known as physical.)

Let's start with chemical sunscreens (the nasty stuff.)

Chemical sunscreens use one of the following 6 active ingredients, all of which are toxic to our coral reefs and other aquatic life:

Oxybenzone - This chemical has been linked to endocrine disruption and Hirschsprung's disease. Also results in high rates of skin allergic reactions.

Octinoxate - This chemical is linked with endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, and reproductive organ disruption in both males and females.

Homosalate - Linked to hormone disruption. In one study, this chemical was found in 85.2% of breast milk samples. It's also been shown to increase the amount of pesticides we absorb through our skin.

Octocrylene - Found to be a strong allergen in children, leading to dermatitis.

Avobenzone - This UVA absorber is unstable on its own, needing to be paired with chemicals like homosalate. Also absorbed into the skin with currently unknown effects.

Octisalate - While official information on the dangers of this chemical are hard to find, it is absorbed into the skin and is best to be avoided.

The Scary Findings of a 2020 Study on Chemical Sunscreens.

In early 2020, a study was published in the medical journal JAMA. This study looked at the 6 main active ingredients in chemical sunscreens listed above.

They looked at 48 participants over 21 days. They tested 4 commercially available sunscreens in cream, aerosol spray, non-aerosol spray and pump spray formats. Participants were required to apply the sunscreens to themselves each day.

They found that after just the first day, all 6 of these chemicals were detected in the bloodstream at levels over the safe limits as dictated by the FDA.

This means that not only are all of these chemicals finding their way into our bloodstreams after a single application, but the amount of chemical accumulated over time as well.

The FDA says that these results only mean that more studies are needed to determine if this is dangerous or not, and that we should continue to use sunscreens.

Since it’s easy to find sunscreens that don’t have these ingredients, we strongly recommend doing so and will only recommend products that don’t have these toxic chemicals.

Unsafe Inactive Ingredients To Avoid In Sunscreens.

Besides the 6 toxic active ingredients listed above, there are several other ingredients its best to avoid when looking for a safe and non-toxic sunscreen for your family.

  • Parabens – Chemical preservatives that have been linked to breast cancer. Parabens come in a number of forms, but the most common are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. If you see an ingredient that ends in “paraben” it should be avoided.
  • Fragrance – Beware of anything labeled “fragrance”. This umbrella term can cover hundreds of mystery chemicals, some of which can be quite toxic.
  • Sodium Benzoate – A preservative that is less dangerous than parabens but would ideally be avoided.
  • Phenoxyethenol – Like sodium benzoate, a preservative that would be best to avoid.
  • Retinyl Palmitate – A form of vitamin A. A 2012 study suggested that retinyl palmitate when exposed to sun could cause skin cancer. However, this study was performed only on animals and it’s not known if this also applies to humans.

Why Mineral Sunscreens Are Safer & Better.

Next up we have mineral sunscreens which use titanium dioxide & zinc oxide. These ingredients simply sit on top of the skin and deflect the sun’s rays.

According to the FDA, there’s enough evidence that these sunscreens don’t warrant the same health concerns as chemical sunscreens.Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients:

  • Zinc oxide: The main active ingredient in mineral suncreens. It provides full-spectrum protection from both UVA & UVB rays.
  • Titanium dioxide: You’ll find this as an additive in some sunscreens. Titanium dioxide doesn’t provide full-spectrum UV protection.

Some facts you should know about physical (mineral) sunscreens:

  • Mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after application. Do you remember the old advice that you should apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure? Well, that only applies to chemical sunscreens which need that time to be absorbed into the skin.
  • Not all mineral sunscreens are safe. Some of them also contain nasty chemicals and you really need to read the labels to make sure.
  • Watch out for sunscreens that have nanoparticles. These are microscopically small particles that can be absorbed into the skin and bloodstream. Unfortunately, there are no FDA guidelines on nanoparticles, but it’s always safer to go with a sunscreen that says they don’t use nanoparticles.
  • Mineral sunscreens often don’t apply as transparently as chemical sunscreens do. Expect the possibility of white streaks and more difficulty in application.

Chemical Sunscreen is Toxic To Our Oceans.

The chemicals in non-mineral sunscreens are incredibly toxic to our oceans. When we slather it on and go out into the water, it quickly rinses off and makes its way into the water ecosystem. In fact, every year somewhere between 6000 to 14000 tons of sunscreen makes its way into our coral reefs each year.

It’s only been recently that we’ve become aware that the chemicals in our sunscreens are contributing to unprecedented levels of coral bleaching.

In 2018, Hawaii banned the sale of sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and octinoxate. Hawaii has, in recent years, estimated that 1/5th of their coral reefs have died, and sunscreens are a huge factor in that.

It's also been thought that nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are dangerous to our aquatic life as well, so that's another good reason to avoid such sunscreens.

Beware of The Term “Reef-Safe”— It Doesn’t Mean Anything.

If you look at some popular sunscreen brands, you might see the term “reef-safe” written somewhere on it.

Unfortunately, the term “reef-safe” is unregulated, meaning anyone can claim that their sunscreen is reef safe even if it isn’t. They also don’t have to do any tests to prove that their sunscreen is non-toxic to our aquatic life.

Often, manufacturers will cut out the two main chemical cuplrits: oxybenzone and octinoxate, then claim that their sunscreen is reef-safe.

The problem with this is that although oxybenzone and octinoxate are the most studied chemicals, there are others like octocrylene, which haven been shown in studies to be harmful to our aquatic life.

Your best options for choosing a reef-safe sunscreen.

Finding a truly reef-safe sunscreen is difficult, but there are a few guidelines to go by:

  • Uses non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Generally, sunscreens that use these two main active ingredients are considered to be reef-safe. Nano particles can be ingested by marine life (including coral) causing internal damage.
  • Does not include oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, butylparabens, avobenzone, homosalate.

Your best options for choosing a reef-safe sunscreen.

Finding a truly reef-safe sunscreen is difficult, but there are a few guidelines to go by:

  • Uses non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Generally, sunscreens that use these two main active ingredients are considered to be reef-safe. Nano particles can be ingested by marine life (including coral) causing internal damage.
  • Does not include: oxybenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, butylparabens, avobenzone, homosalate.

Baby Sunscreen vs. Non-Baby Sunscreen.

There’s absolutely no difference between a sunscreen labeled as being “for baby” and a standard sunscreen without this label.

It really just comes down to it being a marketing term. If you’re looking for a sunscreen for your baby and see one labeled “for baby” and one not, you’re probably going to go with the one that’s supposed to be for babies.

In reality, there’s zero difference, and the term “for baby” doesn’t mean anything.

Sun Safety Tips For Babies & Children.

Sunscreen isn’t the first line of defense for sun protection. Here are some must-know tips to have summer fun without worry.

  • Babies under 6 months should avoid the sun. According to the AAP, babies under the age of 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight completely. This is especially important between the hours of 10am and 4pm, when the sun and UV rays are harshest.
  • In a stroller? Use a sun canopy. If your stroller comes with a canopy, take advantage of it. If yours didn’t come with one, there’s a good chance you can buy one that works with yours.
  • Keep them away from reflective surfaces. You might be surprised to learn that water, sand and snow can reflect up to 50% of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Be careful in the car. Ever gotten a sunburn on your arm just from driving? Your little one might be in direct sunlight, so be sure to invest
  • Keep in the shade. The protection of a nice, tall tree or a sun umbrella is a great way to stay out of direct sunlight.
  • Make sure they stay cool & well hydrated. Keep a close eye on them to make sure they’re not getting overheated. If they’re becoming fussy or their skin is getting red, that could be a sign they’re too hot.
  • SPF starts with the clothing. Sun hats, long sleeves and pants are a great way to add some sun protection before even worrying about sunscreen.

Our Criteria: What Makes For An Ideal Baby Sunscreen.

Many parents think that they have to get the strongest, highest SPF, most expensive sunscreen they can find, but that’s really not the best way to go about it.

Here’s our criteria:

  • Physical (mineral) sunscreens. As opposed to a chemical sunscreen. Typically the sunscreens have zinc oxide as the main active ingredient, but some are combined with titanium dioxide.
  • No toxic ingredients. Any good sunscreen will be completely free of any toxic ingredients.
  • Broad spectrum coverage. It’s important that your sunscreen offers both UVA & UVB protection.
  • Use non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. There is some concern that these nano particles can be absorbed into the blood stream.
  • SPF 30-50. A higher SPF isn’t always better, and the sweet spot is somewhere between 30-50.
  • Lotions & sticks only, no sprays. Sprays can be very difficult to apply evenly to a wiggly child, leading to missed spots and sunburns. On top of that the airborne particles can easily be inhaled, and there’s no telling what these chemicals could do. Spray sunscreens are often flammable as well.
  • Hypoallergenic & fragrance free sunscreen is important, especially if your child has sensitive skin.

The Best Sunscreens.

These sunscreens are the best of the best. With simple all non-toxic ingredients, any of these are a great choice to make for a sunscreen you can rely on.

Kabana

Green Screen Sunscreen
Rating: Best🌟
Price: $19.79 ($4.95 per oz)

This excellent sunscreen is made from only 6 ingredients, with many of them being organic. The active ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide, and there are absolutely no harmful or toxic ingredients to be found.

For an easy choice without any questionable ingredients, go with Kabana. This is one of the best sunscreens on the market, period.

Ingredients:

Soleo Organics

Natural Sunscreen
Rating: Best🌟
Price: $31.05 ($5.86 per oz)

Soleo Organics sunscreens are a great choice for a non-toxic, physical sunscreen that’s good for the entire family, including baby.

The ingredients are all natural and there are no toxins to be found.

One thing that seemed questionable to us is the claim of using “organically-sourced” ingredients. It’s not clear what this term means, but after reaching out to the brand, they told us that the ingredients are organic. However, they don’t appear to be certified organic.

Even still, this is a great sunscreen that you can feel safe using.

Ingredients:

Earth Mama

Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Best🌟
Price: $14.99 ($5 per oz)
SPF: 40

Containing all natural ingredients, this zinc oxide based mineral sunscreen is one of the best you can find.

There are no synthetic ingredients to be found, and absolutely nothing in this sunscreen is toxic.

This sunscreen comes highly recommended.

Good Sunscreens.

While any of these sunscreens are a safe choice, they're not quite as good as the ones listed above. They likely have a slightly more complicated ingredients list, but are still non-toxic and safe to use.

3rd Rock Essentials

Sunblock Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Good
Price: $24.95 ($7.56 per oz)

This sunscreen lotion is a zinc oxide based physical sunscreen with fairly good ingredients. Nothing stands out as being toxic or a concern. While some other sunscreens we’ve rated have a more simple ingredients list, this is one of the good ones.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Thinkbaby

Sunscreen SPF 50+
Rating: Good
Price: $12.99 ($4.33 per oz)
SPF: 50

This zinc oxide based sunscreen does have a lot of synthetic ingredients, but nothing stands out as being dangerous.

While there are sunscreens on the market with fewer (and better) ingredients, this one is good enough to recommend.

Ingredients:

Iffy Sunscreens.

These sunscreens are almost good enough, but have issues that make us unable to recommend them.

Beautycounter

Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
Rating: Iffy
Price: $39 ($5.82 per oz)

Beautycounter’s sunscreen is a popular non-nano zinc oxide product, but it contains phenoxyethanol.

Phenoxyethanol is thought to be a safer alternative to parabens (chemical preservatives) but has been linked to allergic reactions and eczema in infants.

While this might be a safe sunscreen for you to use, when it comes to sunscreen for infants, it’s best to avoid those with phenoxyethanol. Because of this, we have to give it an “iffy” rating.

If you like Beautycounter’s sunscreens and want to use one on your infant, consider their sunscreen in stick format—it doesn’t contain phenoxyethanol.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Coppertone

Pure & Simple Baby Tear Free Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Iffy
Price: $12.25 ($2.04 per oz)

While this is a non-nano zinc sunscreen from a huge sunscreen brand, it contains enough questionable synthetic ingredients that we can’t give it a “good” rating.

These ingredients include Cyclopentasiloxane, believed to be a possible endocrine disruptor, and propylene glycol, which has been known to cause dermatitis.

There are simply better sunscreens with better ingredients on the market.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Bad Sunscreens.

These sunscreens are bad. They're filled with toxic ingredients that are bad for us and bad for our oceans.

Kiss My Face

Sun Spray Natural Sunscreen Lotion With Hydresia
Rating: Bad

Not only is this sunscreen a chemical sunscreen but it’s also in spray format which makes it easy to inhale into the lungs.

We recommend avoiding this sunscreen.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Alba Botanica

Sunscreen (Spray & Cream)
Rating: Bad
Price: $15.99 ($2.67 per oz)

Alba Botanica’s sunscreen comes in both spray and cream formats.

Alba Botanica is guilty of greenwashing with their sunscreens. At the bottom of the container you’ll see a green leaf and the claim that there’s “no oxybenzone (or) octinoxate” but it contains avobenzone & octocrylene as main ingredients which are just as bad as oxybenzone.

They also claim that the sunscreen is “reef safe” when it has the above chemicals which are not reef safe.

Since their sunscreens are full of toxic chemicals, we can’t recommend them.

Note: Ingredients listed are for the spray version.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Up & Up (Target)

Sport Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Bad
Price: $5.19 ($0.5 per oz)

Target’s in-house brand of sunscreen might be cheap and easy to find, but as a chemical sunscreen we strongly recommend avoiding it.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Sun Bum

Original SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Bad
Price: $15.99 ($2 per oz)

This sunscreen is misleading customers by advertising it as “reef safe” when it contains ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate and octocrylene, all of which are toxic to our coral reefs.

Because of this and the fact that it’s a chemical sunscreen, we don’t recommend this product.

Ingredients:

Coppertone

Pure & Simple Baby Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
Rating: Bad
Price: $8.99 ($18.35 per oz)

While this sunscreen is called “Pure & Simple”, it’s anything but.

It does include zinc oxide, but that comes along with the chemical sunscreen ingredients octinoxate and octocrylene, which are both toxic to our coral reefs as well as us.

Ingredients:

Babyganics

Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
Rating: Bad
Price: $6.99 ($14.87 per oz)

While this sunscreen stick uses a combination of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, it also includes aluminum.

While there is no concrete evidence that aluminum in sunscreen is bad, there is some proof that the aluminum salts can accumulate in the body, much like the case with antiperspirants. (source).

Because of this reason, we can’t recommend this sunscreen stick.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Blue Lizard

Baby Mineral Sunscreen
Rating: Bad
Price: $28.99 ($3.31 per oz)

Blue LIzard’s mineral sunscreen uses an active ingredient base of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, but also includes a very long list of toxic chemicals.

These chemicals include phenoxyethanol, which has been linked to liver toxicity, nervous system issues and reproductive and developmental health issues.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Aveeno

Continuous Protection Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Lotion
Rating: Bad
Price: $21.99 ($7.33 per oz)

This might be a mineral sunscreen, but it’s full of chemicals that we strongly suggest avoiding.

Phenoxyethanol is a preservative that is safer than parabens, but when it comes to young children, it’s been linked to skin rashes and eczema.

It also contains chlorphenesin which is known to be a skin irritant, especially for those with sensitive skin.

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

In Conclusion...

Sun safety always starts with keeping safe in the first place -- out of the sun, proper clothing, and avoiding the sun at its harshest hours.

But sunscreen is always a good idea!

 
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+ Show Comments (4) - Hide Comments (4)
  • Avatar Vancouver Mama says:

    Thank you so much for this write up and for all the effort you put into the research. I remember Alba being sold at Costco but I felt dubious about it. Happy that thinkbaby is good enough as we have a few leftover from last summer.

  • Avatar Susan says:

    Thanks for your list. I used to use Blue Lizard for years and loved it. I went to order some more and compared the ingredients to an old bottle of mine … they had changed their original formula to include bad ingredients!!! Ugh! I hate when companies start out with something great, and then compromise down the road.
    Thanks for your article, I now will have a new sunscreen based on your info.
    Susan

    • Avatar Staff Guide says:

      Hi Susan, thank you for commenting. Blue Lizard is a company that a lot of people are surprised has ingredients to avoid, because they advertise themselves as being clean and healthy. I’m glad you were able to make the switch to a cleaner sunscreen with our list! 🙂

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