"Natural" Sunscreen Roundup

06/26/2009 at 03:00 PM ET

If you’re looking for a more natural sunblock or sunscreen for your family, chances are you’ll come across a growing number of brands whose packaging tout natural ingredients but do they make a difference? Whether you opt for a sunblock that block the sun’s rays physically, a sunscreen that absorbs ultraviolet light or a sunscreen that combines both blocking and screening agents, you’re bound to be find yourself scratching your head in the aisle as natural doesn’t mean all ingredients are natural nor does organic mean 100% organic. We took a close look at three of the “natural” sunscreens and sunblocks on the market from Earth’s Best, Aubrey Organics and Nature’s Gate.

Active ingredients in sunblock physically blocks both UVA and UVB rays using ingredients like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, while sunscreen protects by absorbing UVA rays using ingredients like Octinoxate, but ingredients like Aveobenzone, Oxybenzone, and Octocrylene absorb UVA rays too.

All prices are approximate and will vary by location/retailer. We’ve included scores from Environmental Working Group’s Cosmetic Safety Database to compare relative safety (ranked from 1-10, with 1 being the safest).

Earth’s Best Organic Mineral Based Sunblock SPF30+ ($12)
Very thick and very hard to rub in — your baby will definitely have the “white” look common to all who use lotion that doesn’t rub in well. I feel like there are people who don’t feel protected unless there is that white coating, and if you are one of these types, this is probably a good lotion for you and your baby. It has a fairly neutral smell — like many of the Earth’s Best hygiene products, it is fragrance and allergen-free.

  • Paraben-free, PABA-free
  • Contains physical sunblocks Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide
  • Contains Organic Calendula Extract to fight sun damage, containing Vitamin A and EFAs, plus Oat Oil and Organic Marigold Extract which soothe skin
  • Fragrance-free
  • Does not contain Mineral Oil, Petrolatum
  • Vegetarian
  • EWG CSD Score: 2, more info

Aubrey Organics Natural Sun, SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen ($8.50)
Not your typical sunscreen. I popped open the top of this one and squirted a big line down my arm… without paying particular attention to the “green tea” aspect of the packaging. Be aware that Green Tea clearly plays a dominant role in this product. It does not go on white and lotion-y, like most sunscreens.  t has a definite “liquidy green” makeup that had me wondering if sunscreen had an expiration date before I re-examined the container and learned that green tea, aloe, and carrot do indeed makeup this lotion, which also comes with a faint green tea fragrance. Rubs in okay (not as great as Nature’s Gate, not as poorly as Earth’s Best) but definitely is not for someone looking for a traditional sunblock.

  • Contains both physical sunblock Titanium Dioxide and chemical sunscreen Padimate O
  • Organic Shea Butter & Jojoba Butter to moisturize, Organic Green Tea, an antioxidant that prevents free radical damage
  • EWG CSD Score: 3, more info

Nature’s Gate Kids Block SPF 30 Sunscreen, Giggleberry Scent ($9)
I’m not sure exactly what a “giggleberry” looks like, but it sure smells nice! This new sunscreen for kids from Nature’s Gate provides an alternative to the typical sunscreen scent that usually results from slathering on, well, typical sunscreen. Another plus is that the lotion rubs in easily to the skin — no “kneading” necessary, and no sticky or oily residue left on my hands (which means it doesn’t get all over their clothing — yet another plus!).

  • In addition to the physical sunblock Titanium Dioxide, it also contains the chemical sunscreens Octinoxate, Octocrylene and Oxybenzone
  • Paraben-free
  • Contains Aloe Vera, Kola Nut Extract which has anti-inflammatory properties, and Bisabalol, the key ingredient in Chamomile, for its soothing benefits
  • Vegan
  • EWG CSD Score: not scored

— Lisa and Danielle

Do you have a favorite “natural” or organic sunscreen or sunblock? Tell us about it.

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Michelle on

I have tried several sunscreens that are “mineral based” organic sunscreens and they do NOT work! Every time I use them I get very sunburned! Also don’t waste $20 on the California baby because the aubrey and also a brand called Jasons are just as good!

j on

I’ve purchased Aubrey, but it doesn’t absorb well – sticks to everything. I got it all over the car seats just after a hand wash and my husband was livid. Now we all use All Terrain “TerraSport.” Its PABA and paraben-free, has a pleasant texture and absorbs well … great stuff. The company also offers ‘natural’ bug spray, hand sanitizer, etc. …

Michelle on

We use Kinesys spray. It’s rated “low hazard” in Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic safety database. It sprays on (pump spray) like water and disappears into the skin within a minute or two. It leaves absolutely NO reside or oily feeling behind. My son is very fair, and he’s never burned (or gotten any color) when we use this. We use the unscented.

We also have a California Baby sunblock stick (which is titanium dioxide) for his face and ears. It does leave his face looking white, but we call it his “war paint” and he even asks for it now (“Mom! Don’t forget my war paint!”).

I tried coppertone waterbabies on his face when we were on vacation (I forgot the CB stick and couldn’t find a natural alternative at the tiny store where we were staying) and my son actually got acne all over his sweet face.

Nona on

I like the Kiss My Face brand “hot spots” spf 30 stick I have. I bought it for a scar, but it’s great for your face. It does go on sticky, though. I am meaning to try other sun protection products from them. They have quite a few.

I have pretty sensitive skin… a lotion I found that didn’t irritate me was by Alba Organics.

Cece on

Another great natural sunscreen is Blue Lizard SPF 30+ – it is chemical and fragrance free, and our whole family uses the “baby” formula. It’s active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Theryn on

The Nature’s Gate broke me out in hives. The non green tree version of Aubrey rubs in well but takes a little effort. It has little scent and is a nice sunscreen but I prefer a higher SPF.

I went to skindeep.com and looked at relative safety of sunscreens. I ended up buying a Walgreens brand Clear Zinc for faces and Walgreens SPF 70 lotion that were ranked low for danger. Go figure.

Ali on

California Baby is by far the best of all the non toxic sunscreens!

UggaMugga.com on

I started using Supergoop organic suncreen last summer for my whole family and LOVE it! All 5 of us hit the pool yesterday and it was a piece of cake…goes on smoothly, absorbs quickly, doesn’t smell, and stays put! We all woke up this morning ready to go back to the pool today! Here’s a link: http://bit.ly/rioZR

Sherri on

My dermatological recommended Blue Lizard …. but my little ones are allergic to just about anything. Aveeno caused a bad case of eczema for our daughter.

So think of other ways to protect your skin … for instance you can buy a box of Rit Sun Guard Laundry Treatment and wash protection into entire load of clothes for less than $5. A great, easy solution for young children.

tannit on

I liked Burt’s Bees, they tint it yellow (with carrot I think) so it doesn’t look so ghostly. If they’d just stop using buckets of fragrance, their products would be almost perfect!
When I tried a chemical sunblock on my son (Coppertone Babies), he broke out in a rash.

Stephanie on

I love Mexitan! It absorbs really well compared to most other physical sunscreens and it’s not sticky or stinky!

Monique on

California Baby’s sunscreen lotion is great! It goes on white, but when rubbed in the color fades significantly. It is super-waterproof and is chemical-free, as well as free of many allergy causing ingredients such as gluten, nut oils, soy, dairy and oat. It is also made of organic and sustainable ingredients. A big plus for me: it does not irritate eyes, so when my 7 year-old insists on putting in on all by herself I don’t have to worry about stinging eyes, like I did with Banana Boat! I definitely think California Baby’s SPF 30+ sunscreen is awesome!!

Nicola on

We love the Aubrey sunscreen. It does go on thick and it is a bit messy, but it protects us all day long out in the sun. We’ve never had a burn while wearing it. It is super affordable and all natural. And this year’s new lighter scent is more pleasing than the old version.

Benigna Marko on

Here in the mountains you have to make sure you wear sunscreen. The best I have found is by Murad. There are others out there and for us ladies, our make up with sunscreen makes it nice on our face, neck etc.
Benigna Marko