When scanning the dozens of bottles of sunscreen at your local drugstore, claims like "waterproof," "broad spectrum protection," "all-day protection" and "block harmful rays" help you to decide which brand offers the coverage you need not only to protect you from sunburn, but from becoming one of the one million Americans annually diagnosed with skin cancer.
According to the Environmental Working Group's most recent study of the safety and effectiveness of nearly 1,000 sunscreens, the bitter reality is that four out of five sunscreens actually provide inadequate protection from the sun.
Even more frightening is that many of these sunscreens contain potentially toxic ingredients which are absorbed into your skin and bloodstream, potentially releasing skin-damaging free radicals, disrupting your hormone system, causing allergic reactions or building up in your body and contributing to various health issues.
According to EWG's analysis of its Skin Deep database, many leading brands you'd find lining the shelves at your local drugstore fail to meet the advocacy group's overall criteria for safety and effectiveness.
Here, we give you EWG's 10 top-rated products. For more information, see the complete list of 134 recommended products, or see the 589 sunscreens to definitely avoid at your next visit to the drugstore.
For another take on this topic, The Daily Green's Alexandra Zissu, in a recent Ask an Organic Mom blog post, explains her method for choosing a safe sunscreen for her and her daughter.
Soléo Organics All Natural Sunscreen
The best sunscreen as rated by EWG is Soléo Organics ($13.99). It lists organic ingredients and is recommended for both kids and adults, offering broad spectrum protection (both UVA and UVB rays) for the most sensitive of skin using a 100% chemical-free zinc oxide natural ingredient.
As you'll find in the ingredients list of Soléo and in all of the EWG's top 10 sunscreens, for truly effective sun and health protection, zinc oxide (along with titanium oxide) is used to deflect the sun's rays, rather than synthetic chemicals which absorb rays, raising health concerns because they penetrate the skin and enter your bloodstream.
Anywhere from 6% to 25% zinc or titanium oxides are listed in EWG's top sunscreens, which work as the most active sun-deflecting (rather than sun-absorbing) ingredients. Soléo's formula is made from 22.3% zinc oxide, along with natural ingredients like oils, beeswax, green tea and chamomile.
Keys Soap Solar RX Cosmetic Sunblock
Ranked as the second leading brand in safe, natural sunscreen protection by the EWG, Keys Soap Solar RX cosmetic sunblock in SPF 30 ($26.95) will help protect you from rays that burn (UVB rays) and rays that damage and lead to premature aging (UVA rays).
Keys uses zinc oxide to offer broad-spectrum protection in a base of organic ingredients including avocado and blue cumin oils, shea butter, vegetable wax and vegetable-derived ingredients clary sage and citrus sinensis (sweet orange).
California Baby Fragrance-Free Sunblock Stick
California Baby isnt just for kids its made with hypoallergenic ingredients, which means you can relax by the pool irritation and sunburn-free. All of the brands sunscreens are water-resistant and chemical-free.
The EWG ranks the fragrance-free sunblock stick in SPF 30 ($14.99) in its top 3. Free from skin-aggravating essential oils and fragrances, the sunblock stick is recommended for sensitive skin, especially near the nose, cheeks and eyes.
Badger Sunscreen for Face and Body
Badger Balm's SPF 30 natural sunscreen ($16) is formulated to protect and moisturize with FDA-certified organic ingredients.
Zinc oxide provides protection from UVA/UVB rays, while extra virgin olive oil, jojoba oil, cocoa butter and shea butter keep the skin moisturized. Badger sunscreens are water resistant up to 40 minutes, and use natural ingredients without fragrances, preservatives or dyes.
Marie-Véronique Organics Crème Du Jour
Marie-Véronique Organics Crème Du Jour ($34.99) offers the best value for both skincare worlds sun protection and anti-aging.
The non-comedogenic, plant-based sunscreen (made from green tea and jojoba, red raspberry seed and sea buckthorn oils) is recommended for all skin types and provides UVA and UVB sun protection with 20% zinc oxide. Essential fatty acids emu oil (high in omega 3, 6, 7 to break down scar tissue and treat wrinkles) and pearl powder (treats hyper pigmentation/red skin) gives it additional anti-aging properties.
Purple Prairie Sun Stick
Its the easiest way to pack your sun block for your on-the-go life a 2-ounce sun "stick" from Purple Prairie in SPF 30 ($7.49) that's small enough to throw into the pockets of a pair of swim trunks.
Purple Prairie uses 100% natural ingredients for UVA and UVB sun protection, adding cocoa and shea butter to moisturize, too.
Devita Solar Protective Moisturizer
An alternative to using sunblock lotion on your face, which can lead to breakouts and redness if not formulated for sensitive, acne-prone skin, the Devita Solar Protective Moisturizer ($24.95) is best for those with normal to oily skin looking for a daytime lotion with safe, effective SPF protection.
Consisting of 14% micronized (meaning the product uses nanoparticles) zinc oxide, the moisturizer ranks high on the EWG's list. Devita also offers Body Block in SPF 30 for all-over body coverage.
UV Natural Sunscreen
UV Natural's ingredients are made from 24.8% zinc oxide (one of the highest percentages on EWG's list), along with natural ingredients like green tea, grape seed, macadamia oil, natural Vitamin E and colloidal silica.
The sunscreen ($18) offers a flawless finish with no white mineral residue, but be wary of greasiness: User reviews on EWG's Web site complained that the formula left their skin feeling too oily.
True Kid "Sunny Days" Natural Mineral Sunscreen Stick
With the True Kid stick's glide-on formula ($8.99), kids dont have time to dart into the water before giving their tender skin the protection it needs.
Mineral ingredients micronized titanium dioxide and micronized zinc oxide offer broad spectrum protection, along with mostly organic ingredients including soybean oil, sweet almond oil, Vitamin E and other natural plant ingredients to moisturize and soothe.
Tropical Sands Sunscreen Lotion
Tropical Sands Lotion ($16.95) lists both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as its active ingredients (6% each) to offer broad-spectrum protection.
The sunscreen lists all chemical-free ingredients, such as sunflower, coconut, jojoba and eucalyptus oils; deionized water, soy-based lectithin, glyercine, xanthan gum, green tea extract and Vitamin E, Vitamin A and shea butter. Tropical Sands uses micronized zinc, but the brand notes that its formula may still leave a mild white appearance or seem to flake off the skin if applied too liberally.