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Eco-Friendly Sunscreens Demystified: Your Go-To Guide for Green SPF

Woman applying eco-friendly sunscreen to her face

With summer fast approaching, many people are heading out in search of the perfect sunscreen. But did you know that packing on the SPF is the best way to protect your skin year-round? That's right, each year, over 5.4 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, making sunscreen one of the most important self-care steps you can take. While there's no denying you should apply sun protection daily, not all products are created equal. Let's explore the best eco-friendly sunscreens that'll keep your skin healthy and happy all year long.

What is SPF and Why Does it Matter?

SPF, or sun protection factor, is a measurement showing how effectively sunscreen can stop harmful UV rays from penetrating skin cells. UV, or ultraviolet rays, are invisible light wavelengths emitted by the sun that are harmful with repeat exposure. Pretty much everyone is familiar with seeing a SPF number on sunscreen bottles, but how many of us really know what it means. The SPF number indicates how much UV rays the product allows to get into your skin. So, for example, an SPF 50 lets 2% (or half) of UV rays penetrate into your skin cells.

Virtually all dermatologists agree that a SPF under 30 doesn't do much of anything to protect the skin from these harmful rays. For maximum defense, you'll want to stick with products offering at least SPF 30, but 50 or higher is ideal. While the SPF is one of the most important factors for an effective sunscreen, it's not the only thing to look for.

You'll also want to pick a product that is broad spectrum and water-resistant. Broad spectrum refers to the ability to block not only UVA rays but UVB as well. These two ultraviolet rays cause harm in different ways. UVB are what cause sunburns, while UVA penetrates deeply and are responsible for making your skin look older. Both contribute to skin cancer development, so choosing a sunscreen that protects from all UV rays is essential.

You'll also want to choose a sunscreen that's water-resistant, even if you're not using it while swimming. Being in the sun causes the body to sweat, and if your sunscreen isn't able to withstand moisture, it'll wear off quickly and leave you defenseless.

Which Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreen

Understanding how sunscreen works is the first step, but knowing which ingredients to avoid is just as important. Many companies pack their sunscreen full of fancy-sounding chemicals that work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into energy. These ingredients are popular because they're inexpensive, lightweight, and apply easily. However, while they're good at blocking UV rays from penetrating the skin, they have some pretty nasty side effects. Let's take a look at the top culprits and why you shouldn't use them.


Avobenzone is used for its broad spectrum abilities, but it breaks down quickly when exposed to the sun. Along with not being photostable, it's also a known endocrine disrupter and can irritate sensitive skin.


Oxybenzone or Benzophenone-3 is one of the most common chemical additives in sunscreen. It's also found in a ton of personal care items. Unlike Avobenzone, Oxybenzone is photostable and blocks both UVA and UVB rays. However, it's also shown to be a hormone disruptor and cause allergic reactions and skin irritation. Additionally, it can be detrimental to coral reefs and ocean life when worn in water, which is why many countries have banned or restricted it.


Aluminum is one of the worst chemicals you can apply to your skin, which is why we're seeing many deodorant companies removing it from their products. Since it's a toxic substance, sunscreens with aluminum can block pores and damage skin cells, so you'll want to avoid using any product containing aluminum.


Octinoxate or Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (EHMC) is another chemical commonly found in sunscreen. Companies use it for its photostability and UVB protection, but it can disrupt endocrine function and hormonal activity.

Other ingredients to avoid in sunscreen include:

  • PPG/ PEG Emulsifiers
  • Mineral Oil
  • Perfumes

Along with the many health concerns chemical ingredients cause, they can also wreak havoc on the environment. Studies show that they have a direct link to coral mortality and bleaching and can disrupt the reproduction and development of countless marine organisms.

What Ingredients to Look for in Sunscreen

While there's a ton of harmful additives in sunscreens, the good news is there's also many companies dedicated to producing safe and effective alternatives. Look for the following ingredients that protect the skin without hurting you or the environment.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc Oxide is one of the most potent sunscreen ingredients since it offers powerful broad spectrum protection. The zinc particles adhere to the skin's outer layer and block and absorb UV rays. The result? Your skin is protected without hormonal or endocrine disruption.

Titanium Oxide

Titanium Oxide is another good ingredient, but it's not as effective at stopping UVA rays as zinc oxide. While you may need to reapply it more often, it's still a great alternative to harmful chemical-laden products.

A black woman applying eco-friendly sunscreen on a child

The Top Eco-Friendly Sunscreens

Now that you know the ingredients to look for in your sunscreen, you'll want to check out these earth-loving products.

Raw Elements Natural Moisturizing Sunscreen

Say goodbye to greasy sunscreens and hello to the body-nourishing ingredients in Raw Elements Natural Moisturizing Sunscreen. Packed with antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins, it leaves your skin moisturized and glowing. It features Non-Nano Zinc Oxide, Vitamin E, Sunflower Oil, and Cocoa Butter, is water-resistant, safe for all ages, and comes in a 100% recyclable package.

Baby + Kids Natural Sunscreen

The perfect sunscreen for little ones, the Baby + Kids Natural Sunscreen has all the ingredients you want and none you don't. It's hypoallergenic and uses Non-Nano Zinc Oxide as the only active ingredient. It's organic and non-GMO certified, reef-safe, and so much more!

Discover the full line of eco-friendly lifestyle products at Earth Ahead. Whether you're pursuing a zero-waste lifestyle or looking to incorporate more clean products into your life, we've got everything you need to care for the planet and yourself! Discover the green difference at Earth Ahead.


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