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How to Choose the Best Sunscreen

Updated: Apr 2, 2023


Sunscreen is an especially important product to buy safer because you aren’t just putting chemicals on your body but also into the environment and when are you at the beach into the ocean. It’s been proven that Oxybenzone and Octinoxate which are two ingredients found in chemical sunscreens are bleaching and killing the coral reefs.

Each year, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen ends up in the ocean. The equivalent of one drop of oxybenzone in 6½ Olympic-sized swimming pools can damage corals, according to research by Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia. That means only a teeny amount can cause mega-damage.

Hawaii and Key West, Florida have both seen firsthand the damage these ingredients are causing and have both banned the sale of sunscreen containing these two ingredients! Note these types of bans take a while to implement and won’t go into effect until 2021.


Let’s understand sunscreen a little better shall we? There are two categories of sunscreen:

Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body. All chemical sunscreens are now required to protect against UVA and UVB rays. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone. As I mentioned above, these chemicals are bad for the environment and also potentially bad for our health. Oxybenzone has been linked to hormonal disruption in men and women and is tied to shorter pregnancies and lower birth weight. Additionally, the other ingredients in found in them are also cause for concern. Fragrance and PEG’s are two popular ones that are known carcinogens aka cancer causing chemicals.

These chemical sunscreens are popular because they go on clear and are what most of us are used to buying. Some other issues with using it include how easy it is to accidentally inhale an aerosol chemical sunscreen when spraying it. Inhaling chemicals makes them much more easily absorbed into your system, which isn’t a good thing. Especially when outdoors, it’s hard to fight with the wind and the same chemicals are spraying everywhere and make their way into the ocean and damage the ocean ecosystem.

Physical sunblock is the other type of sunscreen. Physical sunblock sits on top of the skin and reflects the sun’s rays. The minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the main active ingredients in physical sunblocks. Zinc oxide is the only FDA-approved sunscreen ingredient that protects against all 3 types of UV rays (UVB, UVA2, and UVA1) all by itself. The only downside to these has been that in the past they usually leave a white residue on the skin. Now many brands have made ones that don’t do this anymore so there really are no downsides to physical sunblock.

For the reasons listed above, I will always only buy physical sunblock as it is safer for us and the environment. Not only that but its made to sit on our skin and not be absorbed and we want to minimize any and all ingredients our body is having to absorb.


As I mentioned, companies will slap any ol’ label on a bottle to make it more appealing and seem like a better option than another. When you look at sunscreen you will notice a lot of catchy phrases on them. Some of them are good and some don’t mean much. In terms of ingredient safety, the following don’t affect it at all: Dermatologist recommended, Cruelty Free, Vegan, Gluten Free, Non-comedogenic. Of course some of these are good to support like Cruelty Free but they just don’t make it a safer product.

You might also notice a lot of articles like, “Pregnancy Safe Sunscreen” or “Baby safe sunscreen” which always makes me raise an eyebrow. Why would you want to slather anything on yourself that is “okay” for you but isn’t safe for your baby? Same goes for pregnancy, any product we use should be safe for us to use during pregnancy or not. I buy the same sunscreen for my entire family because we all should be able to do that and not worry about buying a special one for our little ones.

When it comes down to it, reading the label is all the matters when finding a safe product so here is what to look for and what to avoid.

Ingredients to look for:

Zinc Oxide

Titanium Oxide

(Zinc Oxide provides superior protection so you can buy Zinc Oxide alone but don’t buy just Titanium Oxide)

Ingredients to avoid in sunscreen:










Retinyl Palmitate



Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide show up as percentages not SPF 30, 40, 50 like we are used to.

Here is the conversions:

Less Than 15% Zinc Oxide15-20% Zinc OxideMore Than 20% Zinc Oxide

SPF 24 or less

SPF 24 to 32

At least SPF 32


Beautycounter. This one is my favorite. There is a face stick, spray and lotion. From all of the ones I have tried, these water resistant formulas rub quickly leaving no white residue and provide excellent sun protection. They aren’t really scented and my son loves them – and tries to put them on himself all the time. I carry a stick in my purse, in the stroller and in my son’s backpack. You can apply under or over makeup! Cool perk: the mist is air powered so its non-aerosol.

Favorite Spray. Babo Botanicals. I recently got this one and like the spray better than any other I’ve tried.

Brands I tried that have good ingredients but that don’t rub in great (aka white all over): Badger, Bare Republic, Honest, Goddess Garden, Babyganics. Some of these may have been reformulated since I tried them so they rub in better now but frankly I haven’t wanted to spend the money to try them again.

Other popular brands I haven’t tried but the ingredients are good: Suntegrity, Hello Bello, Supergoop


Aveeno, Banana Boat, CeraVe, Coppertone, Elta MD, Neutrogena, La Roche, Sun Bum


Beautycounter Face Suscreen. SPF 25, formulated with non-nano zinc oxide. This lightweight lotion provides protection from UVA, UVB, and HEV blue light rays while leaving no chalky white cast. Antioxidants help protect skin from pollution, while chicory root extract supports skin’s moisture barrier to lock in hydration. Layers under makeup really well, rubs in clear.

Beautycounter After Cooling Gel. This new aloe product smells like Hawaii and I love it.

Tinted Moisturizer with Zinc Oxide. SPF 20 Tinted Moisturizer that leaves you with a dewy glow.


I would be remiss if I didn’t include some general tips about sunscreen. Don’t rely on sunscreen, it should actually be your last resort. Cover up physically as much as possible and choose shade whenever you can!

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