Sunscreen–wow. What a loaded subject, amiright?
We all know it’s important, so why is it SO difficult to find a decent sunscreen you want to put on your face everyday, that doesn’t smell weird, make your face greasy or sticky, and isn’t made of a ton of toxic crap? YIKES.
So, there’s the struggle to find a good sunscreen, and then there’s the other thing, it’s been in the news a lot lately.
The safety of most sunscreen ingredients has never been widely tested.
For awhile now, the Environmental Working Group has been lobbying the FDA to do further studies of the chemicals found in most common sunscreens. Oxybenzone, being named the worst offender–has been banned from many coastal areas (bans going into effect as soon as 2021)–most recently in places like Hawaii and Florida, as it’s been linked to coral bleaching in preliminary studies. (USA Today ran an interesting article on arguments for and against these bans, according to environmental scientists and dermatologists, which is a good read, if you want to know more.)
The scary truth of the matter is that in the US today, the FDA has very little power to regulate any of the ingredients that go into personal care products, including sunscreens. Even if there were harmful ingredients found in them, the FDA does not have the power to pull any of them from the shelves.
(Remember a couple weeks back when it came out that there is Asbestos in Claire’s and Justice makeup but the FDA couldn’t do anything about it? Or when it came out that Johnson and Johnson has knowingly had Asbestos in their baby powder for generations, causing Ovarian Cancer in many women–and nothing happened?)
It’s up to us as the consumers, to do our own research.
According to the Environmental Working Group (a non-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment):
“The Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed evidence of potential hazards of sunscreen filters – instead it grandfathered in ingredients used in the late 1970s when it began to consider sunscreen safety. The Danish EPA recently reviewed the safety of active ingredients in sunscreen and concluded that most ingredients lacked information to ensure their safety (Danish EPA 2015). Sixteen of the 19 ingredients studied had no information about their potential to cause cancer. And while the published studies suggest that several chemical filters interact with human sex or thyroid hormones, none of the ingredients had sufficient information to determine the potential risks to humans from hormone disruption.”
Additionally, while there is still relatively little information out there, the studies that HAVE been done have found Oxybenzone (the most worrisome type of chemical sunscreen, and also the most common) to affect infant gestation and birth weight, and that it penetrates so deep that it is detected in mothers’ breast milk. ?(Read more in this article.)
BUT–there’s good news.
Recently the FDA proposed a change in regulation–if passed, it would drastically change the U.S. Sunscreen market as we know it today.
To break it down, I chatted with GG reader, Erin, who is an attorney at a law firm representing the FDA. (Thank you, Erin!!) She gave us a helpful, top-line overview:
What is the FDA Proposing to Change when it comes to regulating sunscreen?
Currently, FDA allows OTC drugs, including sunscreens, to be sold without prior approval, so long as they comply with the requirements of FDA’s monograph for the product (i.e., a specification setting requirements for active ingredients, labeling, and in some instances testing ). FDA’s current monograph for sunscreen was published in 1999, but has actually yet to be finalized! These new proposed rules are one step towards updating and finalizing the FDA’s sunscreen monograph.
The science behind sunscreen active ingredients has continued to evolve in the past 20 years. FDA’s proposals take into account this new information, as well growing concerns with skin cancer and long term use of sunscreens.
Key changes in the proposed rule include what active ingredients would be allowed and in what dosages and new requirements for labelled SPF levels.
Just a few of these proposed changes include:
- Essentially, FDA is proposing that only the active ingredients Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide would be eligible for OTC sunscreen sale.
- FDA is proposing to reclassify 12 commonly used sunscreen ingredients as having insufficient safety data and, therefore, make them not eligible for OTC sale without an approved new drug application. FDA is requesting additional safety information about the following active ingredients which, if adequate, would allow the ingredients to remain on the market: cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.
- Additionally, FDA is proposing to classify 2 ingredients as not safe: aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate.
- The allowed dosage forms would be: oils, lotions, creams, gels, butters, pates, ointments, and sticks.
- FDA is also proposing to subject sprays to testing necessary to minimize potential risks from unintended inhalation and flammability.
- Powders would be not be allowed due to insufficient safety data.
- Any other dosage form – e.g., wipes, towelettes, body washes, and shampoos – would require a new drug application to be sold.
- FDA is proposing that ANY sunscreen with a SPF factor over 15 would be required to be “broad spectrum” (that is, protect from both UVA and UVB rays) and FDA is even considering whether low SPF sunscreens should even be allowed on the market.
- The maximum labeled SPF allowed would be “60+” because FDA believes there is no meaningful additional clinical benefit above that level.
The biggest takeaways for me, personally:
I like to preface this with–these are MY takeaways and how I choose to adjust my purchasing habits based on this information. Only you can decide what’s best for you!
Right now, only mineral sunscreens (Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide) are deemed to be 100% safe for human and environmental use by the FDA. The FDA has acknowledged that not enough testing has been done on other types of sunscreens (chemical sunscreens) to determine whether they are “safe” or “unsafe.” (Which is why I went on a quest to find a good everyday mineral sunscreen–more on that below).
This may mean that a type of sunscreen on the “questionable” list could go through testing and come back marked as relatively worry free–but it could also mean it could come back with results that support the preliminary testing to what has already been done–linking chemical sunscreens to hormone disruption, diseases like cancer, as well as environmental damage.
That’s the thing–we just don’t know.
My philosophy with this is always “better safe than sorry.” If I can find a great product that I love that doesn’t have questionable ingredients in it–great, that’s what I’m going to do, and that’s something I feel good about! I think any reduction in exposure to these ingredients is a good thing, and a step in the right direction.
I also understand the argument that there is such a small percentage of each chemical in a product, and you put such a small amount of these products on your body, you’d have to use SO MUCH for it to disrupt your hormones, or to cause cancer, right?
But that’s not necessarily true, because you put SO MANY products on your body each day–each with dozens of chemicals in them–these all add up quickly. Especially when so many of them are known to permeate deep into the body. Pair that with pollution in the air–the chemicals in the food we eat (even if it IS organic)–it adds up!
Personally, I think that the more I can minimize, the better. Why not? What’s the downside? So, I decided to dive into some personal research, on a quest to find safer sunscreens that don’t compromise product performance!
Again, this is not me telling you what to do. You are in charge of your own body and purchase behavior. I simply want to shed light on a subject that many people know so little about, so everyone can make the most informed decision that works for them!
Overall, I’d definitely recommend familiarizing yourself with the EWG’s sunscreen ingredient chart. It’s super helpful to refer back to as you’re searching for the best products for you and your family.
Best clean mineral face sunscreens for everyday wear:
As I mentioned, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the best safe sunscreens for everyday use. Personally, I think it’s a lot harder to find an everyday sunscreen that you can wear with makeup than it is to find a body sunscreen you’d typically use on vacation, for example. After a ton of research, I decided to purchase these three to test out.
Good news–I loved ALL of them. I was planning to only keep the one I liked best and return the others, but honestly, I love them all so much, I kept all three!
*Update: Getting some questions on sensitive skin/breakouts. I do have acne prone skin (as you know) and I did not have issues with any of these breaking me out. I’ve been testing out all three over the past few weeks. I also want to note that all three of these come from retailers with amazing return policies, so if something doesn’t work out for you-you can get free, no questions asked returns!*
Here’s what I tested, and who I think each product is best for:
Supergoop’s Matte Screen SPF 40:
So, I was using Supergoop’s Unseen for a long time (and I’m kind of annoyed by this because they are a “cleaner” brand, but Unseen is actually one of the few Supergoop products that *doesn’t* get the Sephora Clean seal ?) It does contain Octinoxate (which is a chemical sunscreen that isn’t as bad as Oxybenzone, but it still is considered to be linked to hormone disruption). Ideally, something I’d like to avoid if there’s a just-as-good alternative for something I’m applying to my body every day.)
Then, I tried their Matte Screen, which does not contain it and is a mineral sunscreen. I LOVE IT!
I would highly recommend this product for all skin types, but especially those with oily skin because it does have a nice mattifying effect. (Not so much that it’s drying, though–it feels like a makeup primer!) I think that out of all of them, this is the product that is the best makeup primer and helps protect and keep your makeup in place all at once.
Beautycounter Dew Skin SPF 20:
I’ve heard so much hype about this product and I finally pulled the trigger to test it for myself!
This is a very hydrating tinted moisturizer that gives a super dewy glow, and has vitamin C to help promote brighter skin over time. I haven’t tried Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturizer that everyone loves, but many people say this product is very similar. It’s very minimal coverage, but it does provide SOME coverage if you apply it with a foundation brush vs. your fingers! It’s a great base to keep you hydrated and wear under makeup.
Anyone who wants an all-in-one product that gives them a dewy glow, especially those with combination and dry skin. However, I do think this might be too much for those with super oily skin!
If you have really good skin but just want a tiny bit more coverage to even out skin tone, this will be the only product you need. People who hate foundation love this product. Oily peeps, I’d probably recommend to go with the above Supergoop Matte Skin.
Another bonus: Right now if you spend $125+ on Beautycounter.com, you’ll get a free Brightening Facial Oil! ??I just started using it and I love mixing it with my moisturizer–it smells like a juicy orange and has Vitamin C to brighten skin and it absorbs really easily without being greasy!
Farmacy Green Screen SPF 30:
I love love this product too! Like dew skin, it leaves your skin super soft, but it does take a LITTLE longer to rub in than the others. (It is white–whereas the others are tinted, but it still rubs in very easily and sinks in after a minute or two. I would definitely say this is one where you need a mirror to apply it to ensure you’re rubbing everything in/don’t end up with white residue.)
It also is full of antioxidants that provide environmental protection against pollution as well as the sun. This is a really cool brand and all the ingredients are grown on the Farmacy farm in upstate New York! I really want to try more of their products!
All skin types, those who want an SPF that also provides environmental protection, and those who don’t mind an extra step that is a sunscreen-only (vs sunscreen and tinted moisturizer or sunscreen and primer) and those who don’t mind taking the extra 15 seconds to really ensure it rubs in properly.
How to apply your face sunscreen:
You will always want to apply your sunscreen after your moisturizer. (BTW, this is my favorite daily moisturizer. It’s the best I’ve ever found to keep your skin hydrated throughout the day!) and the last step before putting on your makeup!)
Also, always make sure you are applying an adequate amount–about the size of a nickel is the recommended amount to cover your face and neck! Additionally, make sure to apply it to the backs of your hands as well! (We always forget about the backs of our hands, but they’re often the first thing to show major signs of aging!)
I will preface this by saying that covering yourself and staying out of the sun is by far the best method of sun protection–far better than any sunscreen will provide. However, obviously, if you want to live a little, you’ll want to enjoy the rays when you’re on vacation. I get that–which is why I’m reviewing two spray sunscreens below.
Why spray sunscreens? This probably doesn’t come as a big shock to you ?but I’m very lazy, so I really prefer spray sunscreens. Yes, I know you go through them WAY faster than you do with a traditional sunscreen, but–that’s just me. ??♀️
Both of these body sunscreens are “safer” (one cleaner than the other, but I figured it was important to show both options) and don’t leave a thick white residue that is impossible to rub in like a lot of sunscreens do.
100% Clean: Beautycounter’s Countermatch spray sunscreen
(I finally got around to testing it out and it did not disappoint!) This one is a 100% mineral sunscreen. It’s a spray, but not an aerosol (aerosols are also thought to have toxic effects due to inhalation–add that to the never ending list of harmful things right? ?) It’s super easy to apply, although it comes out a white mist (it’s Zinc) but it rubs in easily (you will have to rub in in after it sprays on your body).
One thing to keep in mind though, is that unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens aren’t totally waterproof. They’re water resistant. So make sure you’re re-applying often. (Granted, you should always be re-applying often, even if your sunscreen is waterproof!)
Whatever the number of your sunscreen is correlates to how many times more effective it is at protecting you vs. not having sunscreen on at all. Personally, I kind of use the number as the amount of minutes I go in between applying more sunscreen if I’m in full sun/sweating/etc because I burn so easily. (I.E. If I’m laying by the pool wearing SPF 50, I apply it about every hour. If you burn less easily, say after 10 minutes with no sunscreen, you would do 10 x 50=500 minutes of protection. Allegedly. In a very controlled lab situation. But you aren’t in a lab, you are sweating and swimming and toweling. So just apply it a lot because better safe than sorry. ?)
Better than most: Supergoop’s spray sunscreen
For those who hate mineral sunscreens and prefer the product experience of a chemical sunscreen (i.e. no rubbing in required, sprays on clear, more water resistant). I get it. I did not find a mineral body sunscreen I liked until I tried Beautycounter’s (due to the impossible to rub in white residue thing), and still, the product experience is not entirely the same. AND, that being said, I still have not been able to test Beautycounter’s in a true vacation environment (vs an everyday environment). I will report back on that!
Basically, if you’re going to use a chemical sunscreen, it’s far better to use one from a cleaner brand with no added crap in it than one that is loaded with chemicals made by P&G.
I’ve been using this Supergoop sunscreen for a few years now, and while it’s a chemical sunscreen, at least does not contain Oxybenzone or any other added chemicals like parabens or synthetic fragrance, like most mainstream sunscreens do, and it’s also not an aerosol (for reasons mentioned above). So that’s a huge plus. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, has a light citrus scent powered by 100 percent natural oils, and also contains lot’s of antioxidants.
It does, however, contain Octinoxate (albeit a smaller percentage), so it’s certainly not perfect. But it’s leaps and bounds ahead of many sunscreens you’d find at the drugstore. Every little step toward cleaner products helps.
Personally, I’m more concerned about finding a 100% clean everyday product for everyday use than I am about finding a product I only use on vacation a few times per year, if that helps.
Again, this is still not going to be the product for those who are looking for something 100% clean, but if you’re one who isn’t willing to compromise with a mineral sunscreen, this is still so much better than grabbing your average bottle of Banana Boat off the shelves!
Other reader favorite clean sunscreens:
COOLA is a brand that you guys rave about! I haven’t tried their products, but I do like that this spray sunscreen is a lower-risk chemical sunscreen and doesn’t contain Octinoxate! I just haven’t tried it personally, so can’t comment on that.
Juice Beauty: Another clean brand who makes a very popular mineral based sunscreen. Again, I haven’t tried it yet, but definitely plan to! It’s a great price point and water resistant up to 80 minutes!