Kris Carr

Blog Post

Find the Best Natural Sunscreen for You

Hi Sweet Friends,

I love summer. Bare feet. Swimming holes. Veggie gardening. And the soul-warming sun. In my earlier days, I had a dangerous love affair with those radiant rays. Sunscreen? Yeah, right. Nothing was going to stand between me, my baby oil, a Body Glove surfer bikini and a golden tan (or rather, a lobster-red sunburn!).

Today, I’m much wiser, but not just about the importance of wearing sunscreen. I’m also aware that we all need to be savvy consumers when choosing a safe, natural sunscreen.

When it comes to sun exposure and protection, there are a lot of questions to answer. How much basking in the sun is too much? Are there benefits to not wearing sunscreen sometimes? What kind of protection does sunscreen provide? Which ingredients should I avoid? It can be downright mind-boggling to choose a safe, natural sunscreen that feels good AND gets the job done.

That’s why I rely on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Sunscreens. Every year they do the hard work of analyzing hundreds of sunscreens to uncover health and environmental concerns—and help you choose the best product for you.

Today, I’m digging into EWG’s latest findings, sharing some of their top-rated sunscreen choices and giving you my five essential tips for having a safe relationship with the sun. Hold onto your sun hats, folks, let’s dive in!

Some sun IS good for you!

Vitamin D is an essential hormone for healthy bones, immune function and blood cell formation. Luckily, your body produces vitamin D every time you step into the sunlight. Easy, right? Just keep in mind that you don’t need much unprotected sun exposure to meet your needs. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5-15 minutes a few times a week is sufficient to maintain healthy vitamin D levels.

Getting some sunshine and fresh air is also great for your mood. There’s nothing quite like soaking up some good old-fashioned rays to turn that frown upside down. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe to sit out and bake sans sunscreen for hours on end. That’s where a great natural sunscreen comes in (stay tuned—I’ll help you find one later on in this article!).

The risks of sun exposure

The truth is, the sun can have some serious damaging effects (no matter how beautiful it is!). Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) are the two types of sun rays that travel through the earth’s atmosphere and shine down on your glorious skin. They’re responsible for the golden tan so many of us try to attain each year. But if you think that this sun-kissed tone is healthy, think again. When your skin darkens, it’s actually a warning sign that your body is trying to prevent further DNA damage. (Pssst… Don’t worry if you can’t bare to ditch that glow—check out my guide to safe self-tanner here.)

This is just one example of the ways UVA and UVB impact your health. Now let’s explore the difference between the two so that we know why it’s important to protect our skin from both.

UVA rays penetrate the top layer of your skin. They’re often to blame for wrinkles, leathery skin, sagging and sun spots. They can bust through clouds on a gloomy day, seep through your car windows and even sneak through some clothing. Although UVA rays are less likely to give you a sunburn, they’re still linked to increasing your risk of skin cancer because they can damage your basal and squamous skin cells.

UVB rays impact the top layer of your skin. They’re one of the major causes of skin cancer and your worst enemy when it comes to sunburns. UVB rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., especially during the summer months.

Now that we’ve learned about UVA and UVB rays, let’s chat about how find to the perfect natural sunscreen for you!

Decoding the bottle

What do all of those letters and numbers mean, anyway? First things first: Let’s get to the bottom of those often confusing sunscreen labels.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

SPF (short for “sun protection factor”) measures how long the sunscreen protects your skin from sunburn caused by UVB rays. So, for example, if your skin would typically burn after 10 minutes in the sun, a sunscreen with SPF 15 should allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer (150 minutes) before your skin would start to burn.

Keep in mind that SPF doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to the effectiveness of your sunscreen. Higher SPF is not always better—in fact, it can be misleading (source). Also, sweating, swimming and other physical activities can reduce the potency of the SPF, which means you may need to apply it more often. This resource from the Cleveland Clinic has some great application tips to help you get maximum protection!

UVA and UVB Protection

Your sunscreen may be protecting you from sunburn by blocking UVB rays (if you’re re-applying it often enough and using a sufficient amount), but you’re still vulnerable to skin damage if you’re not protected from UVA rays as well. I suggest looking for a sunscreen that has protection from both so you’re totally covered! And that shouldn’t be too hard to find—EWG reported that 99.3% of the products that appear in their 2018 Sunscreen have UVA filters, which is an 18% increase since 2007 (source). Wahoo!

Mineral vs. Synthetic

EWG also noted the rise of mineral-only sunscreens in this year’s Sunscreen Guide. They rate these products more favorably than their non-mineral alternatives because they’re less likely to contain oxybenzone (a harmful chemical we’ll chat more about later). They’re also stable in sunlight and have a good balance of UVA and UVB protection.

Mineral sunscreens aren’t always free and clear, though—we still have to be aware of the potential challenges they present. So, let’s chat about how to choose a natural sunscreen that feels great and keeps your incredible epidermis out of harm’s way!

How to select a safer natural sunscreen.

When it comes to choosing any personal care product, it’s important to be your own health advocate. Knowledge is power, so you’ve taken a great first step just by reading this post (don’t forget to bookmark it so you can refer back later!).

Here’s what you’ve gotta keep in mind: There are chemicals in many personal care products, sunscreen included, that have been linked with cancer, birth defects and a variety of other health issues. And it doesn’t stop there—some of the ingredients are harmful not only to us, but to the environment, too.

I know you want to protect yourself, your family and the environment. So, here are a few red flags to look out for:

Vitamin A (retinyl palmitate or “retinol”)

This ingredient has been linked to the faster growth of skin tumors when applied and exposed to sunlight. And guess where it’s found? That’s right, in sunscreen! It may also lead to vitamin A toxicity. Yes, even though it’s good for you, there’s still such a thing as too much. Luckily, EWG does report that the number of sunscreens containing this problematic ingredient has dropped by more than half since 2010. That said, I still suggest keeping an eye out for it until companies stop using it or can prove it’s safe. You can read more about Vitamin A in sunscreen here.


This toxic chemical, which EWG found in almost 65 percent of non-mineral products it evaluated this year, is perhaps the most troubling sunscreen ingredient. It comes with a whole host of environmental and health concerns, including hormone disruption (source) and coral reef damage. The good news is, there are plenty of companies that don’t use oxybenzone!

Powder or spray sunscreens

As convenient as these products are, they pose a couple of challenges. First, the coverage you get is not always as consistent—it’s much easier to miss a spot. Second, you’re more likely to inhale them than you are a lotion. Needless to say, the chemicals we’ve been chatting about are not edible. Until companies can do more to assure as that sprays and powders are safe, keep this information in mind when you’re buying and applying.


Remember what I said before about mineral sunscreens? They’re a great choice, but they’re not perfect. Here’s the deal: Old-school mineral sunscreens were often known for their white, chalky look (SO not cute!). To remedy this, many brands have started using nanoparticles. The problem is, these babies are not well-regulated and vary greatly in their size, shape and so on—all factors that may impact the protection power of the sunscreen. Their effect on the environment is also not well understood. EWG goes into more detail about nanoparticles here, but the short story is that more research needs to be done to make sure they’re totally safe.

Your perfect natural sunscreen

222 products met EWG’s criteria for their Best Beach and Sport Sunscreens category this year. Here are some that stand out to me (all brands listed are cruelty-free, but make sure to do your research if you’re looking for a 100% vegan product!):

  • Alba Botanica (multiple recommended, including non-mineral options*)
  • Beautycounter (multiple options)
  • Goddess Garden (multiple options)
  • Badger (multiple options)
  • COOLA (multiple recommended, including non-mineral options*)
  • JASON Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30 (plus four non-mineral options*)
  • Juice Beauty Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30

*Approximately two-thirds of the non-mineral sunscreens EWG analyzed contain oxybenzone. These recommendations are among the 23 oxybenzone-free non-mineral sunscreens that EWG is able to recommend.

And here are some of the products featured in the Best Moisturizers with SPF category:

  • Andalou Naturals Daily Defense Facial Lotion, SPF 18
  • Drunk Elephant Umbra (both Sheer and Tinte) Physical Daily Defense, SPF 30
  • MyChelle (multiple options)
  • W3LL PEOPLE (multiple options)

How to have a healthy relationship with the sun

Applying natural sunscreen regularly when you’re out in the sun is important, but it’s not the answer to complete sun protection. You also need healthy sun habits!

Here are five ways to stay safe while you’re enjoying those radical rays.

1. Get your D. Spend 5-15 minutes in the sun (sans sunscreen) a few times per week to meet your vitamin D needs.

2. Buy safer sunscreen. Check labels for toxic chemicals and use EWG’s guide to choose the best natural sunscreen for you. Look for broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) coverage and a SPF of 15-50.

3. Use sunscreen responsibly. Apply the recommended amount (usually 1.5 oz) 30 minutes before sun exposure. Re-apply according to the SPF or more often if you’re sweating or swimming.

4. Cover up! The best protection from the sun is complete protection. Cover up with a hat, long sleeves, a shady tree or an umbrella to give yourself a break from those rays. And don’t forget sunglasses—your eyes need protection, too!

5. Always be prepared. Carry sun protection and sunscreen with you at all times. You never know when you or someone you’re with will need it!

Here’s the bottom line: Sunscreen and sun protection are still imperfect sciences. Some companies are making progress, and some have work to do. And when it comes to choosing the best possible protection for you, your family and the environment—a little awareness (check—you got that from this article!) and common sense go a long way.

Now, go have a blast this summer, sweetheart—you deserve it!

Your turn: What are your tips for safe fun in the sun? Do you have a favorite natural sunscreen? Let me know in the comments below!

Peace & fun in the sun,

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  1. This article is very timely, thanks so much. My hubby is in the sun almost every day for hours on end with his work and we have be struggling to find the most effective sunscreen – we found sorting through the information very confusing as well there seems to be much controversy over the different sun screens. It’s been very difficult for us to sort through what really is good/effective vs. not so much so. Your insight and the EWG guide are wonderful, finally we can sort through the rubble 😉 Thanks so much Kris! xox

  2. Evlayne says:

    Benedetta, a wonderful organic, farm-sourced company out of San Francisco has a lovely sunscreen oil! Check out their website at

  3. Mia says:

    Thank you! I just bought not the right sun screen, but have not opened it yet. With kids those spray bottles are just so tempting…. it’s going back though! 🙂

  4. Erin says:

    As a very pale person I pray at the alter of covering up, wearing hats and lots of sunscreen when in the sun for long periods of time. I was told last year that I was low in vitamin d and now make sure to enjoy timeach week uncovered in the sun.
    But I have not known much on the chemicals are in all the creams I use. Thanks for sharing! I’m definitley going to look deeper into this and thanks for the product recomendations too.

  5. I wanted to thank you for your article,, as I have been asking around and looking for a safe sunscreen. I do have one comment to add. My son got a horrible sunburn in the spring and as it turned out.. the sunscreen was expired. With the little research I did, it appears it is not required for labeling in the U.S. I went to a local store with a new display for summer. I pulled out 3 bottles of the same sunscreen and 1, bottle was expired, 1 had no date and the 3rd was not yet expired. According to the pharmacist the sunscreen acts as a attractant from the sun if it is expired. He advised to never leave your sunscreen in the car, where the heat will destroy its effectiveness. He also advised after any vacation where your sunscreen had been sitting in the sun on a beach to throw it away. If you have any real facts,, as this is all information from the pharmacist at local store. Thank you for your informative article. Michelle

  6. I discovered the best product EVER from Jane Iredale: an SPF 30 translucent powder that is just magnificent! It gives you nice healthy glow AND protects from the sun.

  7. Renee Baude says:

    I can’t share via FB! bummer–I wanted all my friends to have this info!

    Be Blessed.

  8. Deb H says:

    Excellant article, thank you…..I’ll be looking for the recommended sunscreens!!

  9. Laura says:

    Before thinking you get enough Vit D I suggest having it tested. As a Dietitian I have seen countless patients who test low especially in northern states. It’s function with Calcium absorption, Mood/depression and normal sleep patterns and as well asmany other functions with hormones. Know your own body.

    • Lori Curran says:

      Yes, Laura, I agree, regarding the Vitamin D issue, and yes, Chris, I believe it is best to use a safe sunscreen or cover up with light clothing/hat, etc. when you have had enough sun. I do live in the north and was very surprised when I was tested, that I was NOT in optimal range for vitamin D, even though I was supplementing with 5000 IU per day. I did some research, and in the part of the country I live in, the sun is only at an angle that allows our skin to make vitamin D between April 21 and August 19, and only for 10 minutes in the middle of the day on those days. Then each day after April 21 to half way to August 19, more “D making time” is added, when it starts decreasing again. You also need a good portion of your skin exposed during this time, I understand. It also stands to reason that even people that live closer to the equator, but work inside during the day could also be low and why our ancestors from the north consumed diets rich in vitamin D….oily cold water fish, etc.

    • Jo says:

      I agree. I spent 4wks in France in the summer plus 1 week in Thailand & came home feeling pretty average. I went to the doctors who said that he would test me for a Vit D deficiency but it would be unlikely as I had been in so much sun. I had a vit D deficiency! I probably had it for years as I used to slather on yucky chemical ridden sunscreen & completely cover up the rest of my body. My skin is quite youthful for my age but I decided to let go of the vanity & get some rays (& maybe some wrinkles!) my internal health is much more important!

  10. Cindy says:

    Two other great sunscreens are from Mexitan and Mercola – essentially the same sunscreens under different labels. They are water resistant and truly protect for the time indicated. These sunscreens don’t have the wax and oils that can clog the pores and cause itchy, burning, skin rashes. Tried everything until found these that protect the skin and have had no trouble with rashes. Apply sparingly – you don’t need to slather it on!!!!

    • Mattie says:

      Mexitan, aka Tropical Sands, is also coral reef safe, for those of us who like a nice tropical vacation, complete with scuba or snorkeling. It’s also approved for for usage at Xcaret, Xel Ha, or any other of Mexico’s beautiful marine parks. Unfortunately, in Cozumel, and any other area in Mexico that has marine tourism, the police will confiscate any sunscreen that is not biodegradable. (Awesome start to your vacation, right?)

  11. Helena says:

    I agree with all the above information especially the tips on not just to rely on your sunscreen. Yes put it on like you would moisturizer and make it a daily routine. Slipping on a hat and slapping on a shirt after you slop on some sunscreen as well as finding some shade during the hotter hours of the day are all part of smart sun protection! You can do it people, we don’t want to turn into lobsters and melt away instead we want to enjoy the sun and play away.

  12. Jonathan says:

    A young woman of my acquaintance is on her second bout of melanoma. Although she says her dematologist caught it early and it was entirely removed by surgery, she still does not cover up and does not have a hat. I wonder how many more times she will continue to be so lucky.

  13. Amanda says:

    Goddess Garden is a lovely Organics brand, with a great baby sunscreen I use on my son. Their website lists all of the ingredients. I never considered sun protection until I had my son as I do not burn easily, but tan very easily. I’ve hardly ever worn sunscreen before. Now I’m much more aware….although I must say it would be nice to get a little colour on these scary white Canadian legs this summer! Not worth it though – not with my boy to consider!

  14. Kirsten Hagelund says: is a great site 🙂 but my take on sunscreen is this:
    The best protection you can get is NOT sunscreen – it is antioxidants – which we can get by juicing every day WITH carrots and beets (unfortunately they have been more or less banned because of the “sugar” content, but these have very important healing agents too and are great in detoxifying the liver and protecting from sun-damage) but of course it is a good idea to mix with all the leafy greens, so the sugar gets balanced out (you can skip the fruit in the juices instead).
    I NEVER use sunscreen EVER, not even so-called nontoxic organic – and when I sunbath it is for 1-2 hours in THE MIDDLE of the day (YES !), getting my D-vitamin naturally, when I can in the summer time here in Scandinavia or when I visit California. I start out slow and build up and I see to it, that I do not get sunburned, but sunscreen is NOT advisable in any form – because THERE’S ANOTHER ADVERSE SIDE TO SUNSCREEN THAT MOST PEOPLE HAVE NO IDEA ABOUT:
    Elizabeth Plourde has written this important and very overlooked book about how sunscreen destroys the coral reefs and our eco-system, yes also organic – because the SPF factors are a problem.

    and here a short interview:

    and Andreas Moritz has written this very important book; HEAL YOURSELF WITH SUNSHINE:
    and even though Andreas transitioned last year – way to early as many of us would think, but we never know a Souls path and Andreas was not ill in anyway, but obviously his work and mission here was done, and his great insight, wisdom and books live on.

    This is just my take with the knowledge and info that I have along with my own experience (I am 59) and intuitive feeling, we all have got to use common sense, find our own way and follow what our inner guidance tells us 🙂 and what feels right and NOT trust blindly, what comes from so-called official authorities (about anything) – NOT A GOOD SOURCE OF INFO – many lies and deceptions coming from those … always make your own investigations.

    Thank you Kris for your great inspiration – will be getting your latest cook-book soon I hope 🙂 look forward to that even though I am not totally vegetarian 😉

    Abundant blessings
    Kirsten, Copenhagen

    • Kirsten,

      Yes, there are superfoods that can boost your body’s SPF and help repair cell damage, but it isn’t safe to say that they can completely deter UVA/B damage 100% nor reverse sun damage 100%. It is the sunburns in our early years that can make us susceptible to skin cancer.

      Having lost my father to melanoma, I practice and preach an antioxidant rich diet with daily SPF low/non-toxic protection, with biannual skin checks (because of my history).

  15. I sit in the sun without sunscreen a couple of times a week for about an hour. I am Italian with olive skin. I get a nice tan without burning and hopefully my vitamin D. I do use some protection of on a vacation when I’ll be in the sun longer. I will check out some of the products you recommend. Most of the natural ones are so heavy and thick. Can you recommend one that is like a tanning oil consistency?

  16. Sasha Stone says:

    Thanks for this Kris. Lately I’ve been leaving out the SPF and after just a few weeks already have sun spots on my face. Will now be weaving it back into my routine.

  17. Leana Colletta says:

    Do you know of any good oil free sunscreen for the face that won’t make me break out???


  18. Alexandra says:

    I was aware of this before, but refreshing information will never hurt 😉 Thanks for that!

    I have one more question that I don’t have answer to. Is the sunscreen good to use the next year, if it officially didn’t expire? I heard that it doesn’t have so strong effect, if you keep the bottle open for the whole year.

    I will appreciate any comments.

  19. Stephanie says:

    Thanks Kris! It’s so awesome to finally hear your view point on this!

  20. Shelley Madsen says:

    I use a scarf all spring and summer to cover the décolleté which is where I am most sun sensitive after a particularly damaging burn when I was 17 years old.

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