5 Conscious Sunscreens to Protect Your Skin and the Environment

March 13, 2023

Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, use natural mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to create a non-absorptive barrier on your skin that reflects UV light. In contrast, chemical sunscreens use synthetic chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone to absorb and disperse UV rays. The key difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens is how they work to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.1 Other physical characteristics of mineral vs. chemical sunscreens may help consumers understand the differences. For example, mineral sunscreens tend to leave a white cast on skin due to their ingredients primarily containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are white in color.

What does it mean when sunscreens are marketed as safe?

Often, mineral sunscreens will be marketed as being safer for humans and the environment (e.g., “reef-safe”) because they do not contain synthetic chemicals. The proposed order for over-the-counter sunscreen products, which sets the latest scientific standards, posted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in September 2021 states that “because the public record does not currently contain sufficient data to support positive GRASE determinations for cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, or avobenzone, we are proposing that these ingredients are not GRASE [generally regarded as safe and effective] due to insufficient data.” However, that is not to say that these ingredients are deemed unsafe. It simply means that more scientific studies on the long-term effects of these ingredients need to be conducted to determine GRASE status. In fact, the FDA approves these ingredients up to a certain concentration (Figure below).

Figure 1: GRASE status of common sunscreen ingredients Source: Over-the-Counter Monograph M020: Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use (FDA 2021) Graphic by ConsiderBeyond

What is “reef-safe” sunscreen?

The reality is that no sunscreen is “reef-safe” including mineral sunscreens. Any number of ingredients may end up in our waterways and cause harm to marine life. Generally, sunscreens that are labeled as “reef-safe” are those that do not contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are the two most common chemical ingredients in sunscreen that have been proven to cause coral bleaching.2 In addition, it is recommended to avoid products that contain nanoparticles or “nano-sized” zinc or titanium (nano particles are smaller than 100 nanometers meaning they can be absorbed by coral). Here are some of our recommendations of mineral sunscreens that are formulated without the ingredients are proven to cause harm to humans and the environment.

1. Olita

Instagram | @olita_shop
Based in | United States
Shipping | United States
Certifications | EWG Verified, Leaping Bunny

Shop OLITA Organic Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide 20%

Inactive Ingredients: Sunflower Seed Oil, Beeswax, Castor Seed Oil, Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Jojoba Seed Oil, Shea Butter, Tocopherol

Photo by Olita

2. Solara Suncare

Instagram | solarasuncare
Based in | United States
Shipping | United States
Certifications | EWG Verified, Leaping Bunny, 1% of the Planet, 100%

Shop Clean Freak Nutrient Boosted Body Moisturizer, SPF 30 (Sport)

Active Ingredients: Non-Nano, Non-Coated Zinc Oxide: 20%

Inactive Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Glycerin, C13-14 Alkane, Polyglyceryl-4 Diisostearate/Polyhydroxystearate/Sebacate, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Coco-Caprylate, Propanediol, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Magnesium Sulfate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Wax, Squalane, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Tocopherol, Withania Somnifera (Ashwagandha) Root Extract, Perilla Frutescens Leaf Extract, Punica Granatum Flower Extract, Avena Sativa (Oat) Kernel Extract, Gardenia Taitensis (Tahitian Gardenia) Flower Extract, Rubus Idaeus Leaf Extract, Terminalia Ferdinandiana Fruit Extract, Polyglyceryl-3 Polyricinoleate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Cetyl Palmitate, Sorbitan Palmitate, Caprylyl Glycol, Phenylpropanol, Sorbitan Olivate, Isostearic Acid, Lecithin, Fructose

Photo by Solara Sunscreen

3. Kinfield

Instagram | Kinfield
Based in | United States
Shipping | United States
Certifications | Leaping Bunny, 1% of the Planet

Shop Daily Dew SPF 35

Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide (20.0%)

Inactive Ingredients: Water, Caprylyl Caprylate/Caprate, Glycerin, Coco-Caprylate, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride, Polyglyceryl-2 Oleate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Polyglyceryl-2 Stearate, Magnesium Sulfate, Hydrogenated Methyl Abietate, Galactoarabinan, Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Diheptyl Succinate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glyceryl Caprylate, Laminaria Digitata (Sea Kelp) Extract, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Propanediol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Extract, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Extract, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Tocopherol, Natural Fragrance*

Photo by Kinfiel

4. Unsun Cosmetics

Instagram | Unsun Cosmetics
Based in | United States
Shipping | Worldwide
Certifications | Leaping Bunny


Active Ingredients: Zinc  6.5%, Titanium Dioxide 5.5% 

Inactive Ingredients *:Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Alpha-Tocopherol, Alumina, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Citric Acid, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glycerin, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Isoamyl laurate, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Oil, Magnesium Sulfate, Phenoxyethanol, Polyglyceryl-2 Sesquioleate, Polyglyceryl-3 Ricinoleate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sodium Chloride, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Stearic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Water.

Photo by Unsun Cosmetics

5. Thinksun

Instagram | Thinksun
Based in | United States
Shipping | United States

Shop Thinksport Kids Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ (6oz) - Family Size

Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide 20% (non-nano) 

Inactive Ingredients: purified water, caprylic /capric triglyceride, polyglyceryl-4 isostearate, cetyl dimethicone, hexyl laurate, glycerin, hydrogenated methyl abietate (pine wood resin), magnesium sulfate, caprylhydroxamic acid, glyceryl caprylate, sorbitan sesquioleate, papaya, helianthus annuus (sunflower) oil, simmondsia chinensis (jojoba) seed oil, tocopherol, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, hyaluronic acid (plant based)

Photo by Thinksun

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