Picking Safe and Effective Sunscreen for the Family

Everyone agrees that protecting your skin from sun damage is important, but with all the toxic chemicals in sunscreen today, it is really hard for a parent to choose the right sunscreen for their kids and themselves.

8 green sunscreen options to choose from

How do you pick the right sunscreen?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts together their sunscreen guide each year carefully comparing the listed ingredients in over 1,500 different sunscreens with known health risks from published scientific literature.  But even narrowing it down to the “best” sunscreens, that is, those with scores of 1 or 2 (lower is better), we still have over 200 to choose from, making the task of picking the right sunscreen overwhelming.  What is a father to do?

This year, I decided to do a mini-survey of my family to see which safe sunscreen they liked best.  We usually have three or four brands of sunscreen floating around the house.  As most of the bottles were getting low, we needed to replenish our sunscreen stock.  I ordered 4 different suncreens from Amazon.com and purchased a couple more on sale at Whole Foods.  In the end we compared 4 brands and 8 different sunscreens.

I lined up all 8 tubes on a couple pieces of wax paper, printed up a list with different categories to rank and had my wife and kids try a bit of each one and write down their opinion.  I was surprised by how divergent the responses were.  We compared

  • how easy it was to rub in
  • how pasty it looked after rubbing in
  • how was the consistency
  • how did it feel
  • did you like the smell

I also did some cost and EWG score comparison.  You can see the summary of results in the table at the end of the post.

bottle of alba botanica mineral protection spf30

Ellie’s Pick

Alba Botanica very emollient sunscreen fragrance free mineral protection

My daughter’s favorite was the Alba Botanica very emollient sunscreen fragrance free mineral protection.  She liked the smell, though I would describe it as “zincy” and Alicia didn’t think it had a smell.

EWG Score: 2
Cost per ounce: $2.22
SPF 30
Reapply Time: 80 minutes

The Alba Botanic Mineral Protection was the most preferred based on how it felt and was pretty good in terms of rubbing in and the appearance afterwards.  We appreciate that it does not have a strong smell and that it has the longest reapplication time when in the water at 80 minutes.  At the time of our little test, it also happened to be the least expensive of the sunscreens we tested.

Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Lotion Sunscreen with Hydresia

Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Lotion Sunscreen SPF 40 with Hydresia

Jon’s pick

Jon’s favorite was the Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Lotion Sunscreen with Hydresia, though others in the family had mixed reactions.  The smell ranged from “none” to “bad.” and it was a little harder to rub in and a little greasierthan the others.

EWG Score: 2
Cost per ounce: $4.50
SPF 40
Reapply Time: 40 minutes

All in all a great sunscreen.

I wish it was as easy as saying that picking one of these two brands will get you an effective and non-toxic sunscreen, but it isn’t true.  Alba Botanica makes sunscreens in the  beach and sports category that are scored by EWG in the 2-6 range while Kiss My Face ranges from 1-6 on EWG.  Avoid the very nice sounding Alba Botanica Natural Hawaiin Sunscreen that scored a 6 from EWG.  One thing to note is that some of the research on the health risks with the various ingredients is limited or may not be of concern to you.  Thankfully EWG is open about their process and you can see how each product scores and which ingredients are the concern.

The next two sunscreens scored very well along the different criteria, except they have higher EWG Scores.

Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunblock Fragrance Free 

Easiest sunscreen to rub in that we tested

Easiest sunscreen to rub in that we tested

The Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunblock Fragrance Free  scored very well across the board and was the easiest to rub in and rubbed in completely.  The smell was so mild it was barely noticed.  If you don’t mind the EWG score of 4, this is a great all around sunscreen.  Being able to rub it in quickly and easily is priceless some mornings as I am dropping Timmy off at daycare.

EWG Score: 4
Cost per ounce: $2.50
SPF 30
Reapply Time: 40 minutes

I’ve seen this Alba Botanica sunblock on sale at Whole Foods a few times and if we are anywhere near low when I do, I’ll usually buy a tube or two.

Kiss My Face Sun Screen with Oat Protein Complex

kiss my face with oatmeal complex sunscreen bottle with dab of sunscreen on wax paper

Alicia and I liked it more than the kids did

The last sunscreen I recommend is another with a slightly higher EWG score of 3, but is still a great sunscreen.  The Kiss My Face Sun Screen with Oat Protein Complex was liked by Alicia and I, but less so by the kids.  The consistency and appearance after rubbed in were great, but it did take a little more effort to work in than the Alba Botanica sunscreens recommended above.

EWG Score: 3
Cost per ounce: $2.59
SPF 40
Reapply Time: 40 minutes

The other four sunscreens we tested are fine, but I think you’ll be happier with the four we recommended.  The CVS brand with Zinc Oxide did surprisingly well, but it was not possible to determine the EWG score with any confidence as they change the ingredients every year.

In the chart below, lower numbers are better for EWG Score, Ease of Rubbing In, Pasty, Consistency and Feeling.  The Smell responses are actual quotes responses listed in order from me, Alicia and Ellie. Water Resistance is how often you should reapply the sunscreen when playing in the water.  All prices were based on early summer 2013 prices on Amazon.

Suncscreen make and version
GLC Pick
SPF
EWG Score
$/oz
Ease of Rubbing In
Pasty
Consistency
Feeling
Smell
Water Resis (min)
Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunblock – fragrance free
Yes
30
4
$2.50
1.0
1.0
1.3
2.7
none, nice, so-so
40
Alba Botanica – Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen – Kids
30
2
$2.29
2.7
2.7
4.0
3.7
zincy, yuck, so-so
40
Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen – fragrance free mineral protection
Yes
30
2
$2.22
2.0
2.3
1.0
1.7
zincy, none, good
80
Aubrey Natural Sun – Green Tea
30
1
$3.87
2.0
1.7
1.3
2.3
pleasant, yuck, horrible
40
CVS Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide
45
N/A 4?
2.0
2.0
1.0
2.0
ok, ok, awesome
80
Kiss My Face – Oat Protein Complext
Yes
30
3
$2.59
2.7
1.3
1.3
2.0
pleasant, none, so-so
40
Kiss My Facem – Mineral Formula
Yes
40
2
$4.50
3.0
2.3
2.7
2.3
none, —, bad
40
Kiss My Face – Obsessively Natural Kids
30
2
$2.75
3.0
2.7
2.0
2.7
none, none, ok
30
our healthy sunscreen picks

Listed on the chart in order from left to right

Regardless of which sunscreen you choose for your family, be sure to reapply throughout the day and more often if you are playing in water.  Most of the sunscreen we recommend advise that they be reapplied every 40 minutes when playing in the water. Protective clothing like rash guard shirts and hats can save you time applying sunscreen and provide great protection from the sun and don’t forget that you can still get burned on a cloudy day.

Happy Playing in the Sun!

Jon

 

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Comments

  1. I love that you had a family survey! I have seen most of these brands at Whole Foods but since they are expensive, I am more hesitant to try them out. I recently tried the Alba one for kids and seems to work ok. I am actually a big fan of TruKid sunscreen! Thanks for sharing your findings!

    • Brittney, I should have mentioned that I limited our trial to the single “$” products on the EWG Beach & Sports list. There are way more expensive sunscreens out there, though it can be challenging to compare given a 4oz tube at $12 is a better deal than a 3oz tube for $10. I hate how much sunscreens cost, but in the long scheme of things I’m happy to shell out the money for the protection. Also, compared to the big brands that score much worse on the EWG evaluations, these sunscreens are about the same price per ounce. Thanks for suggesting TruKid.

  2. Wow! Excellent post! Thanks! I will be referencing this again!

  3. I love Alba Botanica products. I use so much from them, including the sunscreen.

  4. Very thorough! I honestly haven’t used any of those brands but I’m so glad you focused on those of lesser expense! No one REALLY wants to pay so much for skincare 😉 I agree about TruKid. Love it. My all-time fav is Episencial, though.

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