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5 Clean Sunscreens, Reviewed: The Best for Everyday + Vacation

clean sunscreens

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 bunch of unnecessary questionable ingredients. 

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 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, so it’s up to consumers to do their own research! 

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 show they are harmful to human health as well as the environment. 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 has less-risky ingredients in it–great, that’s what I’m going to do, and if I can’t find an alternative I like, that’s okay too–I’m not going to lose sleep over it. Do what you can with what you have. I think any reduction in exposure to questionable ingredients is something I like to aim for, but it’s not something you should have guilt or lose sleep over, either. Also, if “cleaner” products aren’t a priority for you–that’s also perfectly fine! To each their own! 

If finding a good safer sunscreen is, in fact, on your list of to-do’s, and you want to familiarize yourself with different sunscreen ingredients, you can see the EWG’s sunscreen ingredient chart but take the EWG ratings with a grain of salt. It’s not an end-all-be-all because I think sometimes the way they classify things can be misleading or make an ingredient that they don’t have a lot of information on look automatically “dangerous” which is frustrating. BUT, it’s a good place to start. 

That being said, in this post, we’re focusing on products containing mineral sunscreens AND products containing what are considered to be the “cleaner” chemical sunscreens! 

Best clean mineral face sunscreens for everyday wear:

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: 

Supergoop’s Matte Screen, is a purely mineral sunscreen (unlike their popular Unseen which is a chemical sunscreen–again, for everyday face, I’d just prefer to have a mineral-based sunscreen product!) I LOVE IT!

Best for:

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. Update: I tested all these products in the summer, and I do not use this in the winter because my skin needs so much hydration, so if you have dry skin and need hydration, I would use one of the below! 

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. 

Best for:

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! (Granted, when I said this on stories, some of you with oilier skin said you still love the product, you just dust a powder over the top!) 

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: It’s available as part of Beautycounter’s Flawless in Five set, which is everything you need for a quick everyday makeup routine–a discounted set that includes foundation or tinted moisturizer, brow gel or pencil, blush, mascara, and lip gloss for $150! 

Farmacy Green Screen SPF 30: 

I LOVE this product and think this is my favorite all-around, for every skin type sunscreen.  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 rubbing for a few seconds). 

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! 

Best for:

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 10 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, right before putting on your makeup. 

Also, always make sure you are applying an adequate amountabout 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!)

For application over makeup: 

It’s important to remember that if you are wanting all day protection, you need to be reapplying your sunscreen. Applying it once in the morning won’t last you all day–for reapplication OVER your makeup, I love this little sun stick! (More on that below!) It goes on clear, and isn’t “wet”–so it doesn’t ruin your makeup! (Of course, you can totally just use this as your sole method of sunscreen, too!) 

Body sunscreens: 

The Best Body Sunscreens

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, especially when you’re on vacation! 

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.

Best mineral sunscreen: Beautycounter’s Countersun Sunscreen Lotion + Spray 

This one is a 100% mineral sunscreen. It comes in a lotion, stick, and spray (spray is 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?) Update: I’ve added some additional review details in after having some time to test all of them in heavy use/heavy sun situations!  

Spray Vs Lotion: 

After using both the spray and lotion HEAVILY through 6+ applications, in full sun all day, I think the sunscreen lotion is the superior long wear product performance––I hate sunscreen lotions and I have grown to really love this one–it rubs in easily, has a great citrus scent and is very moisturizing! 

For all-day protection, the spray will get chalky on your skin after multiple applications–whereas the lotion does not have the same chalky/white residue issue! However, if you aren’t going to be in the sun that long and just need one application and you want to apply fast, the spray will be your bestie!! 

Sun stick: I LOVE THIS LITTLE THING!  It’s perfect for stashing in your purse, beach tote, or even your jacket on a winter ski trip–it can go everywhere, applies in two seconds, doesn’t need much rubbing, and goes on totally clear. Ideal for kids, and also for applying over your makeup–since it isn’t “wet” it doesn’t mess it all up and cause the need for reapplication! 

*One thing to keep in mind about mineral sunscreen, 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!) 

Tip: Mineral sunscreens can also be harder to wash off at the end of the day, but are easily dissolved with any type of oil! (Jojoba, coconut, etc). 

Best cleaner chemical sunscreen: Supergoop’s Play sunscreen

Not considered AS safe as mineral sunscreen, but for those who prefer the product experience of a chemical sunscreen (i.e. no rubbing in required, sprays on clear, more water-resistant), I highly recommend this sunscreen!

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––so if that’s you, no shame––use this!!

(This Supergoop sunscreen is what I bring on trips to spray on my friends who refuse to use mineral sunscreen. I have been known to snatch Banana Boat spray out of my pregnant friends’ hands and attack them with this. ????) 

I’ve been using this Supergoop sunscreen for a few years now, and it’s AMAZING.

Again, while chemical sunscreens are not considered AS clean as mineral sunscreens, this product does not contain any of the known very bad chemical sunscreens like 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. 

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! 

Was this helpful? I hope so! Would love to know if you have a clean sunscreen that you absolutely love! 

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