Natural Sunscreen Review, Part 1

In connection with my recent series, Natural vs. Chemical Sunscreen, I tested five popular, over-the-counter, natural sunscreens on the market. I wore each one for at least an hour, and at least half of that time involved vigorous exercise and/or water immersion.

Our Beef with Sunscreen: A Sensory Issue

One of the primary, perhaps the main, reason that people do not use sunscreen is that they dislike how they feel – from lightweight and imperceptible to greasy and streaky. Consumer Reports calls this the “yuck” factor. Another important consideration for many is scent. While some prefer unscented or fragrance-free, others prefer varied scents. According to Consumer Reports, favored aromas include: beachy; mild floral bouquet; tropical fruit, particuluarly coconut; citrus; herbal; and outdoorsy. This sensory concern – the degree of sticky and stinky – is such a key issue that Consumer Reports actually includes scent and feel in its rating system, using human sensory testers.

Generally, people prefer a lightweight sunscreen, that being one that does not cake all over them and linger. Unfortunately, mineral or sun-blocking ingredients and higher SPF sunscreens are regarded as sunscreen heavyweights. I can totally appreciate the complaint of feeling, what I like to call, gooped up, but I cannot justify it as a reason to put oneself at risk by avoiding sunscreen. Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find a sunscreen that works well for you.

I typically do not wear mineral sunscreen. My introduction to it came with the birth of my son, Liam. I followed the American Academy of Pediatrics advice and did use sunscreen on him sparingly from 0-6 months. We live in 75 degree weather pretty much all year long, so I felt it safer to protect him with clothing, shade, sunglasses, and small amounts of sunscreen. I used California Baby – and since it was my first, it holds a special place and serves as a natural (ding! pun intended) jumping off point for this review.

California Baby Lotion


Woo Hoo Factors

  • Contains organic and sustainably grown ingredients
  • UVA/UVB broad-spectrum protection
  • Meets claim for water resistance up to 80 minutes
  • Micro-titanium dioxide 11%
  • No Octyl Methoxycinnamate
  • PABA free
  • Japanese Green Tea (anti-oxidant)
  • Non-invasive formula, hypoallergenic
  • Non-comedogenic (non-acne forming), thus meant for body AND face
  • Non-staining, washes out of clothing
  • Vegan-based, no gluten, soy, oat, or dairy, which limits risk for allergy
  • SPF 30+ (for me, 30+ means 30)
  • Meets claim after water immersion, per Consumer Reports
  • Non-irritating to the eyes
  • Highly rated by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), scoring a 2 out of 10 (1 being the best, which the Super Sensitive version scored)
  • The Super Sensitive version rated “good” by Consumer Reports, and is its top-rated mineral-based sunscreen
  • Able to apply make-up over
  • Pro/Con: leaves a white residue, which makes it easy to identify where it has been applied and results in improved coverage but may be aesthetically displeasing for some

Boo Hoo Factors

  • Thick, which means it takes more time than most to rub in and is particularly tricky to apply to a squirming toddler’s face (!)
  • Nice texture but feels heavy and slightly sticky, particularly on the face; in other words, you are aware that it is on; thus, I would recommend using a separate product on the adult face
  • While it does not stain, it does cause a draggy white residue on the skin, even after 30 seconds or more of rubbing in, and on clothing
  • White residue particularly evident when perspiring or swimming; you will drip white and feel greasy when wet
  • Claims fragrance free but has subtle plastic smell (very mild)
  • Price – $19.99 for 2.9 oz. or $6.90 per oz. on website
  • Not favorably reviewed by Consumer Reports; the Super Sensitive version only scored 44 out of 100
  • Consumer Reports found it does have nanoparticles of titanium dioxide
  • Questionable whether it is as effective as a sunscreen containing a chemical ingredient(s), as Consumer Reports suggests (This applies to all of the natural sunscreens.)

A Word to the Wise

To reduce white streaking on clothing, apply natural sunscreen with clothes off and allow it to dry thoroughly before dressing. And for the residual on the palms after application, I have found that baby wipes work well if water is unavailable.

Watch for Part 2 of this post that discusses four more natural sunscreen brands.

Categories: Children's Skincare, Product Reviews, Skin Cancer, Sun Protection


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