With the growing popularity and importance of natural sunscreens for the environment, many of us are wondering: does natural sunscreen (also known as reef-safe sunscreen) actually work—especially when it comes to protecting kids? We talked to a few experts to find out.
Q: Does reef-safe sunscreen work as well as conventional sunscreen?
A: “In terms of ingredients, there’s reason to believe natural sunscreens are actually more effective than their chemical-based counterparts,” says Adina Mahalli, a skincare expert at Maple Holistics. “The active ingredients in natural sunscreen physically deflect the sun’s UV rays versus chemical sunscreens that absorb the sun’s rays and then transform them into less damaging waves.”
Conventional sunscreens also don’t protect us from skin cancer. “All the conventional ingredients in most sunscreens only protect from burns, not cancer, with the exception of avobenzone,” says Katie Kimball, a sunscreen expert who has tested over 100 natural mineral sunscreens. “That means if your regular sunscreen doesn’t have avobenzone (plus others), you’re not safe from UVA (aging, carcinogenic) rays anyway. And if it does, your clothing actually turns orange in the laundry if sunscreen touches it.”
Q: What ingredients should I look for in natural sunscreen?
A: “Zinc oxide, the best active ingredient in natural sunscreens, is actually the ONLY ingredient that provides broad spectrum coverage by itself,” says Kimball. “For families with young children, consider this: zinc oxide is also the active ingredient in diaper cream. It is the ONLY sunscreen active ingredient that’s approved for babies under 6 months, so it’s literally the safest.”
9 Best Natural Sunscreens for Kids and Families
Fortunately, more and more reef-safe sunscreens are hitting the market—but that makes it harder for consumers to choose what’s best. “Beware of ‘greenwashing,’ when brands slap a ‘mineral-based’ label on the front, but still include all the conventional actives, along with a paltry 3 percent zinc oxide,” says Kimball. Based on expert advice, these are the best reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens.
3. Kokua Sun Care
Kokua Sun Care is safe for coral reef and humans—babies included. It’s also formulated with 23 antioxidant ingredients, seven of which are grown in Hawaii.
4. Tropical Sands
“For beach outings, I recommend the All Natural Mineral Sunscreen by Tropical Sands,” says Sheila Rae, a licensed medical aesthetician and a writer for MedHelpAlert.org. “I like this one because it has SPF 50, is fragrance-free, and has a thick consistency, meaning it won’t wash out as easily when you go swimming. Of course, because it’s all-natural, it is also reef-friendly.”
5. Hello Bello
Dax Shepard and Kristin Bell’s baby line includes an SPF 50 natural mineral sunscreen that’s effective for both babies and adults.
6. Kabana Green Screen
There are only eight ingredients in Kabana Green Screen, including 25-percent non-nano zinc oxide. The sunscreen is safe for babies and children, as well as the environment; in fact, it’s biodegradable! Kabana Green Screen also makes sunscreens that are formulated for different skin types: Neutral (light Mediterranean, Asian, Caucasian); Bronze (Mediterranean, East Indian, Native American, and those who get a deeper tan in general); and Nude, which blends with your natural skin tone.
7. Raw Elements
Raw Elements sunscreen is good for the whole family, and you don’t have to worry about it stinging anyone’s eyes. Also, this sunscreen is provided to guests at Aqua-Aston Hotels in Hawaii, so you know it’s a trusted product.
8. Adorable Baby
Adorable Baby is an all-around good natural sunscreen for babies, with very few ingredients.
9. Trader Joes Mineral Stick
We love that this mineral sunscreen moisturizes skin with coconut oil and avocado oil, and that it glides on so easily! Take note—other Trader Joe’s sunscreens are NOT mineral-based, so this is the only one you’ll want to buy.