Organic and all-natural segments of the beauty industry have grown in leaps and bounds in the last decade, as consumers demand alternatives to chemical skin-care ingredients. Sunscreen is no exception and may be among the most controversial products in this realm. The reason: Although one set of consumer-advocates say many sunscreens may be harmful, other experts say sunscreen is absolutely essential to limit sun damage.
In a report on sunscreens by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), only about 15 percent of products they reviewed were found to be safe and effective -- and most of those are not mainstream formulas. Two chemicals are of particular concern, the report says. Retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A, may accelerate skin damage and elevate skin cancer risk. Oxybenzone, a sunscreen ingredient, is a hormone-disrupting compound that is capable of penetrating the skin and entering the blood stream, the report notes. The EWG report also cites other chemicals and preservatives that the group says are unsafe or have unknown side effects.
In response to the EWG's report, Zoe Draelos, consulting professor at the Duke University School of Medicine and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology, says there is no consensus that oxybenzone is damaging in any way and that the EWG is making unfair "sweeping generalizations." The Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association for cosmetic and personal care products and an advocate for consumer safety, is another voice of dissent. The chairman of the group, John Bailey, says the EWG's method of testing sunscreen protection is "based on very questionable scientific methodology … proven to be inaccurate and unreliable by sunscreen experts around the world."
Experts on both sides of the debate agree that the risk from unprotected sun exposure outweighs other possible risks associated with sunscreen use. Furthermore, natural sunscreen products that contain the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide -- rather than chemical sunscreens -- are considered a safe and effective alternative. These physical sunscreens form a protective layer on the skin that blocks the sun's harmful rays.
If you prefer to avoid chemicals and preservatives in your personal care products, experts and consumers say you can't go wrong with Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30 (Est. $15 for 5 oz.) and Kiss My Face Natural Mineral Sunscreen SPF 40 (Est. $17 for 3 oz.) . Both formulas use minerals -- zinc oxide and titanium dioxide -- to block broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays.
Blue Lizard is a favorite among users at Amazon.com and Drugstore.com. They repeatedly praise this sunscreen, saying it provides excellent sun protection for long periods of time and doesn't irritate sensitive skin. Reviewers are also pleased with Kiss My Face Natural Mineral and say that the formula effectively protects their skin and is water resistant for 40 minutes. Blue Lizard Sensitive hasn't been tested for water resistance – it is encouraged that people reapply every two hours.
The downside to mineral sunscreens is that they are generally thick and take a long time to rub into skin. These two formulas are no different, although reviewers say they're not as bad as other mineral sunscreens on the market. Paula Begoun says Blue Lizard has a smooth texture and goes on evenly. Reviewers say that it tends to leave a whitish film on users' skin, however, especially as they begin to sweat. Most say that it blends in better than similarly formulated sunscreens though.
Kiss My Face gets similar reviews about its consistency. One at Amazon.com says, "Overall, for this type of sunscreen, it is not greasy and spreads well." Another says, "It has a good consistency, not wax-like but not too liquidy, spreads easily and feels much less oily than other sunscreens..." Both sunscreens are fragrance free but reviewers say that Kiss My Face has a pleasant, nutty scent -- likely due to the plant oils and extracts it contains.
Kiss My Face is loaded with lots of good-for-skin ingredients like safflower oil and vitamins C, D and E -- all of which have antioxidant properties and can help to boost the protection level of sunscreen. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen doesn't have as many beneficial extras but it does contain several moisturizing ingredients and a small amount of vitamin E. Both formulas are paraben-free.
Overall, both Kiss My Face Natural Mineral and Blue Lizard Australian are excellent natural options and both provide reliable sun protection. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive as tops our list because it's reviewed much more often by both experts and users and it's a better value, ounce for ounce.