Chemicals — they serve a purpose (see: dry cleaning). But sometimes there are perfectly good (even better!) natural alternatives.
Consider sunscreen, which generally comes in two varieties — mineral or chemical — and sometimes in a blend between the two. Chemical sunscreens usually rely on oxybenzone, which works by being absorbed into your skin to block harmful rays. In contrast, mineral creams don’t penetrate your skin; they just sit there, nice and pretty, absorbing harmful UV rays so they don’t reach your precious epidermis.
While studies on the topic vary, there has been research indicating that chemical sunscreens, which need 15 minutes to be absorbed, can possibly irritate skin or disrupt hormones. Not to mention, they start to break down sooner in the heat than the mineral varieties do.
“The current recommendation is to re-apply every four hours, but that’s not realistic,” says New York dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka, who advocates mineral sunscreens. “None of my patients does that.”
So if you’re one to get lazy at the beach (we're with ya), take the safe route and consider long-lasting sunscreens that rely on physical sun filters, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They “act like little mirrors, reflecting off light,” says Buka, who recommends a hearty SPF 30 for serious play out in the sun.
For full protection on a normal non-beach day, folks should use one full ounce (about a shot glass) of sunscreen. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, most people use only a quarter of that. It can be a hassle, but any bit of protection helps, from your hand cream to your tinted moisturizer. “It’s one less step for patients to remember,” says Buka.
So why don’t more sun-lovers use mineral sunscreen — and more of it? Well, for years, the few available products were associated with heavy, Casper the Friendly Ghost-like white film and a sticky consistency. But now, they now come in a variety of smell-good creams and advanced beauty products. It’s a new era, folks!
In honor of Melanoma Awareness Month, take a look at some of our favorite buys for safe summer play, which were chosen based on a mix of criteria: user reviews on shopping and beauty sites and our own home lab (aka my skin).
Alba Botanica Natural Very Emollient Sunscreen Mineral Broad Spectrum SPF 30
$10.99, Alba Botanica
Ideal for swimming or sweat-inducing activities, this moisturizing and waterproof sunscreen — recommended by the Environmental Working Group — boasts sunflower seed oil, vitamin E and aloe vera to help hydrate your parched summer skin. Sniffing around for a scented option? It also comes in lightly fragranced vanilla.
Note: This affordable buy does go on a bit thick (as a hard-working body sunscreen should), so it's not highly recommended for use on your face.
Soleil Organique Environmental Defense Hand Cream SPF 15
We ladies love to stash hand creams in our bags, but do we ever think of updating them come summertime? Soleil Organique makes a seamless transition: a UV protection-packed cream powered by titanium dioxide, with star ingredients like red algae (which helps boost SPF naturally), vitamin C, vitamin E (a rock star anti-ager), chamomile and shea butter. You can rest assured your hands won’t start looking their age.
Tip: Be sure to keep this product in tow while driving or before hitting up a nail salon, as UV lamps can emit long-term cell damage!
Lavanila The Healthy Lip Screen SPF 30
A SPF-friendly lip treatment sounds like a bad, yucky-tasting idea. But Lavanila’s ultra-creamy shea butter pot manages to be both be lip-smacking good (thanks to a refreshing boost from peppermint oil) and packed with zinc oxide. Read my lips, sun: This mouth won’t chap.
Cor Silver Soap SPF 15
If you’re serious about SPF, you’ll want to layer it every which way. Cor takes it to the next level with this multitasking facial soap infused with collagen, silver (an antibacterial to prevent breakouts) and sericin, a protein isolated from silk that provides a thin physical layer against UVA/UVB rays while also helping prevent dehydration. Fancy! If you’re in this for the long haul, get lathering.
bareMinerals Advanced Protection SPF 20 Moisturizer
Combine your a.m. moisturizer and SPF application routine with this creamy, skin-brightening protector, thanks to jujube and hydrating plant extracts. It’s available in both original and sheer tint for normal to dry and combination skin (four varieties total). “The consistency is thin, more like a lotion, so it spreads easily and evenly across the skin,” writes beauty blogger Christine Mielke. “It feels lightweight, not greasy ... my face never felt dry at the end of the day.”
ColorescienceSkin Brightening Line Tamer Primer SPF 20
Layering your primer over your sunscreen just too complicated and messy? Colorescience relieves you of one step with its mineral-based multitasker: It brightens (oat extracts), nourishes (vitamin E), soothes (green tea antioxidants) and, best of all — protects. Best for sensitive or misbehaving skin, it comes out as a light, lemon-yellow mousse and rubs in softy, helping blur fine lines for a clean palette.
Similarly, the Hourglass Veil Mineral primer ($18, sephora.com) is a beauty-addict favorite, with many reviewers fawning over its ability to quickly absorb into one’s skin and help makeup stay put. It’s not only mineral-based with an SPF 15, but water-resistant and free or fragrance, oil and gluten. Doesn’t hurt that it also helps to reduce redness and shrink pores. “My skin has never felt so smooth,” said one Sephora reviewer. “I don't want to stop touching my face when I use this product!”
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50
Disclaimer: I’m obsessed with this product, which has snagged the top honor as my desert island necessity (a title previously held by Sour Patch Kids). This sheer, slightly tinted sunscreen goes on smooth and really adds that extra bit of luminosity when sleep just didn’t cut it. The end result is a silky canvas — just enough coverage to help even out skin tone and reflect light away from imperfections. With a strong amount of protection, you can feel free to embrace the bright daytime outdoors.
Jane Iredale Dream Tint SPF 15
Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, the oil-free, all-natural tinted moisturizer helps hydrate your skin, with aid from soothing sea minerals and white tea leaf extract. Available in five shades, it’s also a good, lightweight option to be also used as a primer (especially if your skin despises silicone-based ones).
Josie Maran Argan Matchmaker Powder Foundation SPF 20
If you’re heavy on touch-ups (some of us do it on the hour), then start feeling better about it: Josie Maran’s new self-adjusting powder foundation is paraben-free and infused with 100 percent argan oil, a cult favorite beauty ingredient. Better yet, if you’re not one to slather on gooey sunscreen, this skin mattifier protects you with SPF 20, all while seamlessly providing a buildable, velvety finish.
Note: Just be sure to find your right color! Though it is somewhat self-adjusting, pick the right shade (there are three), as it can go on a bit thick if you’re a perpetual swiper.
Smashbox Cosmetics Photo Set Finishing Powder SPF 15
Makeup artists swear by these snow-white finishing powders, known for providing a bright, shine-free look (after one’s done dousing oneself in primer/foundation). And now, you can be as flawless in the sun. Smashbox’s silica-based Photo Set powder does all the hard work of helping mask fine lines and fluff up dull skin, with the added benefit of 11 percent zinc oxide. Don’t leave home without it.
Rina Raphael is a TODAY.com editor who actually puts on sunscreen before visiting a nail salon. Her goal is to have nice hands by age 40.