April 11, 2016

The Safest Sunscreens (That Actually Work)

Since I am currently on vacation in Florida I figured now would be the perfect time to talk about sun protection and safe sunscreens. As a blond haired, blue eyed girl with pale skin, sun protection is extremely important to me. I have had a few bad sunburns in my life and am now a huge SPF advocate. That being said, some sun exposure is important to health, especially when it comes to vitamin D production. However, avoiding overexposure is also crucial. And during those warm spring and summer days most of us want to be able to stay outside longer than our skin would naturally allow without getting sun burned. Hence the need for sun protection with physical barriers (ie. clothing) and SPF.

And while I am an SPF advocate, that definitely doesn't mean that all sunscreens are created equal. In fact, most brands on the market contain ingredients that are known to be harmful to your health. It wasn't until I started using EWG's Skin Deep Guide that I really learned how dangerous the sunscreen that I loved was for me. Not familiar with the Skin Deep Guide? It is my go-to website when it comes to determining safe skin care products. EWG has analyzed thousands of products and their ingredients and rated them in terms of their safety. Products with a rating of 1 are the safest, and 10 the most harmful. I recommend keeping all your products to a 1-2 rating if possible. EWG even has an app that is super handy! You can scan the barcodes of your favourite products and find out just how safe or unsafe they are. I highly recommend downloading it for your day-to-day use.

Avoiding sun over-exposure is especially important for those with acne-prone skin (like myself) and for avoiding photo damage (which can lead to skin cancer). Getting too much sun can actually damage the skin's fragile oils and make photo damage, acne and skin irritation much worse. So even if you are a sunscreen hater, I would at least recommend getting some for your face.

When it comes to sunblock, you really have two options: toxic chemical filled sunscreens and physical blocks or barriers such as clothing or zinc based products. Initially, sun "screens" only protected against UVA radiation, but they are now required to offer both UVA and UVB protection. This is where the term "broad-spectrum" originated.  Most chemical based sunscreens (ie. anything without zinc oxide as the active ingredient) rely on ingredients ending in "benzone" like avobenzone or oxybenzone that are known to be dangerous to human health and I strongly suggest avoiding. Like. The. Plaque. Brands like Neutrogena, Coppertone and Banana Boat all use these ingredients so make sure you are reading those labels! What's even scarier, and something I just learned, is that some of those ingredients in the chemical based sunscreens actually become even more dangerous when they are exposed to UV radiation. Without getting too sciencey on you, they form free radicals when exposed to UV light, which can cause significant damage within the body. Yikes!

The safest types of sunscreen you can find are those that use zinc oxide, which acts as a physical barrier protecting the skin. Just make sure you avoid any with titanium dioxide, because even though this ingredient is generally considered safe, it is also one of those ingredients that can undergo changes when exposed to UV light. So stick with zinc oxide only please!

Now, even when it comes to sunscreens with zinc oxide, not all are created equal. It's actually very difficult to tell when the ingredients in zinc based sunscreens have separated, so you may actually be applying sunblock with little to no sun protection! Scary right? This is where zinc based sunscreen sticks come in. The suspension ingredients in sticks are more solid, often more nourishing, and highly unlikely to separate. So you always know that your skin is being protected. Always.

So, what are the best brand of zinc-oxide based sunscreen sticks out there? Now, I clearly haven't tried all of them on the market, but of the ones I have tried these are my favourites:

1. Beautycounter Protect Stick Sunscreen
As you guys might have heard, I just recently partnered with Beautycounter, and the more products I try from this brand, the more I fall in love with this company. This is by far the best (safe) sunscreen stick I have tried. Why is it so good? It doesn't leave nearly the same white residue that most zinc sticks leave, so it's much easier to use on those areas like your face that are exposed to the world. It is also rated 1 (the safest) on the EWG Skin Deep Guide. And if you are a fan of Liz Anne from Real Food Liz (also the author of one of my favourite books, Eat the Yolks) you will be interested to know that she recently gave her endorsement for this product as well. And as you may know, she only endorses the safest of skin care products!

2. Badger SPF 35 Face Stick

Another extremely effective face stick is the Badger SPF 35 Face Stick. What's also great about this product is that besides zinc oxide, it only contains 5 other ingredients! Talk about safe. This one also has a 1 rating on EWG's Skin Deep Guide so you really can feel good about putting this one on that delicate skin on your face.

3. Babo Botanicals SPF 30 Sunscreen Stick

This brand makes a couple sunscreen sticks. An unscented one, and scented one. I highly recommend the unscented version. The apple scent of the scented version is strong, and anyone sensitive to smells (like myself) will likely have a hard time using it. But, both of this brand's sunscreen sticks rate a 1 on EWG's Skin Deep Guide, meaning they are both extremely safe.

Now, if the idea of using a sunscreen stick for your whole body doesn't sound very fun to you, here are a few creams that I would recommend, that again only use zinc oxide and are all rated 1 on EWG's Skin Deep Guide.

1. Beautycounter's Protect All Over Sunscreen SPF 30

2. Badger Sport Sunscreen SPF 35

3. Badger Unscented Sunscreen SPF 30

4. Badger Baby Sunscreen SPF 30

5. Babo Botanicals Fragrance Free SPF 30 Sunscreen

Well there you have it. My favourite safe sunscreens! So lather up and get outdoors and play!

And if you are interested in doing some extra reading, here are a few references regarding the information I presented in this post:
1. The Trouble With Sunscreen Chemicals
2. The Dangers of Vitamin A
3. Reactive Oxygen Species Produced from Titanium Dioxide Sunscreen

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DISCLAIMER: The statements made on this website have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. You assume full responsibility for how you use this information. Always consult with your physician or other health professionals before making any diet or lifestyle changes. 


  1. I was really curious about the beautycounter one after seeing it on Liz's site, but I can't find it on the Canadian version. :'(

    1. ya the sunscreen won't be available in Canada until 2017. I ordered some while I'm in Florida so I could try it because I didn't want to wait that long!

    2. Aw dang! Nathan is so white - I definitely need to find a good natural one here. I've used the Green Beaver ones from Community, but the sticks sound a lot better since they won't separate. Why can't we have nice things NOW in Canada?! haha