Sunscreen–How to Choose One That’s Right for You

The babies are all sunscreened up and ready to play

I first got the idea for doing a sunscreen review about a month ago. I was at the park with Breezy Mama‘s Jen and Linnea when we started the “sunscreen discussion”. I don’t know if you’ve ever had it, but since we’re in sunny Southern California, I have it a lot. It goes something like this:

Friend One: “So, I found a new sunscreen.”
Friend Two: “Really? What is it?”
Friend One: “It’s (insert name here).”
Friend Two: “Does it have parabens?”
Friend One: “No!”
Friend Two: “Sweet! How much zinc does it have?”

So there we were, discussing the latest find, when Jen said that she found out that Coppertone’s Pure & Simple, which had been my Go-To for the past year, had parabens. Neither Linnea nor I could believe it. But then we got into wondering what parabens were, really? And why were they bad, again? Obviously, Breezy Mama had to step in and answer some questions. So, we turned to two experts in the field–Nic Martens from SCAPE Athlete Sunblock, and Pete Stirling from Waterman’s Applied Science sunscreen. Both answer my questions on what to look for and what to avoid–some of which may surprise you, they did me! Based off this, I’ve complied a list of sunscreens, personally tested by moi, that fit into their criteria. Happy lubing! –Alex

From Nic Martens, founder and lead product developer, SCAPE Athlete Sunblock:

When we are at the store, staring at the shelves and shelves of sunscreen, it can be mind numbing on what to purchase. What are the main things to look for in a sunscreen?
I agree it can be very confusing. First I would always suggest to use a high protection factor above SPF 30. Obviously water and sweat proofing as well as UVA protection are the next thing to look for. Unfortunately every product claims to be waterproof and sweatproof. This is because they pass the FDA testing which is frankly, a very low bar. We have tested our product to much stricter standards.

One would think that the higher the SPF the better, but I’ve read that after a SPF of 30, it really wasn’t doing much more protecting. Is this true?
It is true that as you move up the SPF ladder you get a diminishing rate of additional protection. The science shows that an SPF 50 is the maximum, which makes sense. I would add that in general, consumers don’t put on enough sunscreen and by using a higher SPF you buy insurance for not putting on enough.

I’ve heard that the higher the zinc oxide, the better. What’s the minimum percentage of zinc we should look for?
Zinc oxide and Titanium Dioxide are physical blockers which need to be used in concentrations above 15% to achieve a high SPF. The disadvantage is that at that concentration these products leave a white residue on the skin which consumers obviously don’t like.

Lately, it seems as if “parabens” are getting a bad rap–what exactly are they and is it something we should avoid?
Parabens are a large group of ingredients used as preservatives. When formulated correctly (Methylparaben and Propylparaben) they are a extremely safe and have been used for decades without any negative side effects.

One of the newest ingredients I’ve heard of is helioplex–what is this?
It is a technology which stabilizes Avobenzone, the most powerful UVA protectant, allowed in the US. Our products contain a similar technology which delivers equal UVA protection.

There are sunscreens especially designed for children, and then regular sunscreen–what is the difference? Can the whole family just use one kind?
There is not really a big difference between the two products.

Do we need one sunscreen for the face and another for the body?
Some sunscreens contain a lot of oils which I would not recommend to use on your face.

Anything I’ve missed or that you would like to add?
Our products [SCAPE Athlete Sunblock] are obviously targeted to athletes and sport enthusiasts and have been tested under some of the most demanding conditions on the planet. Arguably, a sunscreen for children needs to hold up to the same kind of conditions, in and out of the pool, playing on the beach, etc. So what works for the best athletes is also great a great sunscreen for kids.

From Pete Stirling, Partner / Sales and Marketing from Waterman’s Applied Science:

What are the top 3 things one, when shopping for a sunscreen for the family, should look for?
It is important to remember that all sunscreens are over the counter (OTC) drug products.  Although that might sound a bit scary, the important thing to remember is that the benefits of using sunscreen far outweigh any potential harm. UV radiation is extremely harmful to the human body and for the most part the damage is preventable if the proper precautions are taken. The following are some guidelines that will help you pick the proper sunscreen for your family.

1.  Watch your SPF:  Parents concerned about what they are exposing their children to should first and foremost pay attention to the SPF on the label. As the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of a sunscreen increases the level of active drug ingredients in a product increase at an exponential rate. However, the protection delivered by the SPF is non-linear, leading to diminishing returns at higher SPF. A product in the SPF 30 range will usually provide the best protection / drug ratio.

2.  Limit the time you are in the sun:  Despite some marketing claims, there is no such thing as Sunblock. All sunscreens are just that, screens. Some UV radiation will get through no matter what SPF is provided. Limiting sun exposure is the best protection method and sunscreen should always be viewed as the last line of defense.

3.  Look for Very Water-Resistant:  There are many brands on the market that may claim to be Waterproof.  However, this is not a technical term recognized by the FDA and is a false claim. Nothing is waterproof. When choosing a sunscreen always look for the term “very water-resistant” on the packaging.  This indicates that the product will maintain the SPF level provided on the label for a minimum of 80-minutes in the water. Similarly, “water-resistant” indicates a 40-minute period of optimal efficiency.

4.  Find a good broad-spectrum blocker:  Many products claim ‘broad-spectrum,’ but the rules for making this claim are weak and insufficient at this time. The SPF label on the packaging is an indicator of how well the product will protect against UVB radiation, not UVA. Always look for a mineral sunscreen, such as Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide, on the ingredient deck. These are the only two true broad spectrum ingredients approved by the FDA. However, mineral sunscreens are insoluble and can be wiped off during use rendering them ineffective. As a result it is important to make sure the product you choose also includes additional ingredients. These include Ensulizole, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Octisalate and Octinoxate for UVB and Avobenzone or Oxybenzone for UVA protection.

Some sunscreens say that they are “mineral based”–what does this mean?
It means that they use Titanium or Zinc Oxide as their primary sunscreen ingredients.

I’ve noticed some sunscreens don’t have zinc, instead they have titanium dioxide–what’s the difference? And, if there’s no zinc, what percentage of titanium dioxide should we look for?
Both are broad spectrum mineral sunscreens, both in soluble and suspended in the base lotion and both absorb and scatter UV radiation. Both are available in micronized form, which helps to prevent the whitening previously associated with the mineral sunscreens. However, titanium dioxide’s effectiveness is largely dependent on particle size and in inferior to zinc in micronized form. With both Zinc and Titanium Dioxide you should be looking for 5% or higher depending on what other ingredients are included in the product. Again, these are great broad spectrum sunscreens, but should not be solely relied upon for protection since they must be physically present on the surface of the skin to function properly.

So, I took the advice of these two pros and started testing sunscreens that fit their criteria–here are the gems:

Little Twig Mineral Sunscreen
SPF: 30+
Zinc Oxide: 10%
Parabens: No
Water Resistant
Other interesting information: Soy, Wheat and Nut free
Notes: Made with kids in mind, Little Twig contains Micronized Titanium Dioxide as well as Zinc Oxide. This had a nice, easy to rub in formula that I used on our faces as well as bodies.
Little Twig Mineral Sunscreen, $17.99. To order, click here.

SCAPE Athlete Sunblock
SPF: 30+ and 50+
Zinc Oxide: None. Randy Bruce, SCAPE marketing manager had this to say, “We don’t use Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide because they clog pores and don’t let the skin breathe so your body won’t thermoregulate naturally. . . this is important for athletes, especially endurance athletes because they don’t want their core temperature to rise artificially. We opted to use four prescription-grade chemical blockers that are not “physical” blockers like Zinc and Titanium Dioxide . . . they absorb rather than reflect. They are: Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Homosalate and Octocrylene.”
Parabens: Yes
Waterproof: Yes
Other interesting information: Sweatproof and does not run in eyes.
Notes: This sunscreen rubs in with almost a powdery feel, which I loved. It dries immediately, and there’s no white residue. I used it on the entire family.
SCAPE Athlete Sunblock, $14.00. To order, click here.

Arbonne Baby Care Sunscreen
SPF: 30+
Zinc Oxide: 10%
Parabens: No
Waterproof: No
Other interesting information: Vegan
Notes: Arbonne sunscreen has a thick formula that is easy to rub in. The lotion does leave a white residue, but it lets you know where the kiddos are covered. I tested it for a morning of strawberry picking and there wasn’t a hint of sunburn after. Since it’s not waterproof, this would be a great sunscreen for a day at the park.
Arbonne Baby Care Sunscreen, $20.00 (price includes sales tax). Arbonne is available only through an Arbonne Independent Consultant. Don’t have one? Contact Jenni Hornbuckle at 949-584-5366 or via email at buckle_J@yahoo.com. To order on her website, click here.

Waterman’s Applied Science
SPF: Lotion: 18, 33 and 55. Face Stick: 33 and 55
Zinc Oxide: Lotion: 10%
Titanium Dioxide: Face Stick: 10.5%
Parabens: No
Very Water Resistant
Other interesting information: Very sweat resistant and does not run in eyes.
Notes: I tested both the lotion and the face stick from Waterman’s Applied Science. The first thing I noticed about the lotion was that it was sticky to put on, which I thought was weird, but then I proceeded to play tennis and realized that the racket was not slipping from my grip. I later went back and read the Waterman’s catalog and saw that they do this on purpose–so, for example, those who are paddling can hold on to the paddle. Despite the stickiness, it was still easy to put on the children. But what really stood out was the face stick–I LOVED it. It glides on the skin effortlessly and though it was “skin tone” (white is also available) I felt like I was using a sheer foundation and that it gave me a dewy glow–something that I could definitely use.
Waterman’s Applied Science Lotion, $19.99 and Face stick, $15.99. To order, click here.

Yes to Carrots Hydrating Body Lotion
SPF: 30+
Zinc Oxide: 10%
Parabens: No
Waterproof: No
Other interesting information: Contains organic carrots, aloe and zinc oxide as well as 26 detoxifying Dead Sea minerals.
Notes: Since this was a body lotion, I was fascinated by testing it out to see if it really kept me from getting sunburned. And guess what? It did! More than a body lotion, it’s a thick moisturizer. Perfect to use every day to make sure you don’t forget to lather yourself up in a SPF.
Yes to Carrots Hydrating Body Lotion, $14.99. To order, click here.

Win It!! SCAPE Athlete Sunblock is giving away a suncare pack, which includes a 4 oz. Bottle of SPF 50 Lotion, 1.25 oz. Bottle of SPF 50 lotion w/Clean Foam Hands-Free Applicator, SPF 50 Face Stick and a SPF 50 Lip Balm to one lucky subscriber! Just tell us what your current sunscreen is in the comments below. Not a subscriber? Don’t worry, click here to become one, it’s free!

This contest is over, but keep checking back for more subscriber giveaways!

Did you know that Breezy Mama has a store? Click here to order the majority of the great things you see on the site!

Nic Martens (right) with 2-time Ironman world champ, Craig Alexander.

About Nic Martens: Nic Martens, Ph.D., has held key leadership positions throughout his 12 years with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in Research and Development for Fast Moving Consumer Goods.  Highlights include:
·    Launched several “market-disrupting” products with significantly superior features and benefits relative to competing products, including the biggest launch in Neutrogena’s history.
·    Developed a breakthrough sun protection technology that delivers superior protection against harmful UVA rays.
·    Led and managed an organization of 25 R&D professionals.
·    Structured and led a critical strategic product development alliance with a key supplier.
·    Educational background includes a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge (UK), and a BS degree from the University of Munich (Germany).

Most recently, Nic was Franchise Director of Product Development at the Neutrogena Corporation, a Johnson & Johnson company.  In this role, Nic led worldwide skincare product development for Neutrogena, J&J’s largest skin care franchise.  Under Nic’s leadership, Neutrogena developed several “market-disrupting” products and technologies, including the Advanced Solutions At Home MicroDermabrasion System, a breakthrough product which brings professional, dermatologist-level skin rejuvenation treatments into the home.

Pete Stirling testing sunscreen.

About Pete Stirling: Pete Stirling is a surfer, paddler and avid beach goer currently residing in San Clemente, California.  He works as the Sales and Marketing manager for Watermans Applied Science sunscreen. Pete has a passion for sunscreen science and strongly believes in the importance of it’s use.

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Comments

  1. Rebecca Dienger says

    Sometimes I buy Coppertone but more often I stock up on store brands after comparing ingredients to the higher-priced name brands.

  2. Rebecca Laughery says

    We use coppertone for my son, and coppertone sport for my husband and myself. Thank You for this article it has wonderful information! I have been wondering about sunscreen.

  3. Lisa Burry says

    We are using Loving Naturals SPF 30+ Sunscreen.

  4. Neutrogena Waterguard Kids for Adella. Straight up oil for me ;o)

  5. we use alba botanica kid’s sunscreen spf 30. it smells good and isn’t so greasy. i have trader joe’s as a back up.

  6. we use Aveeno Baby….. but i am be re-evaluating……

  7. I was told by my dernmatologist that for the kids there is nothing better than Blue Lizard Sunscreen. Especially if you forgot to apply to your kids 30 minutes before sun exposure. She told me that this is the only sunscreen that protects as soon as it is applied!

  8. We currently use Alba, but I’m going to try some of these ones – thanks Alex!

  9. Carolyn Swaney says

    I use Neutrogena sport face and Coppertone for body…for me and the kids. I use Lubriderm lotion with SPF 15 everyday too. I can’t wait to go home and see if they are to Breezy Mama standards!!!

  10. We use everything from Coppertone, Cailfornia Baby to Arbonne. Great article! Where can I get Yes to Carrots?

  11. Lois Berkeley says

    it is so hard to make sure you are using something that is ok to use on your childs skin!!! i’ve used the waterbabies, & coppertone.

  12. Maryanne says

    I usually use Neutrogena but just recently bought some ‘Super Goop’… it was extremely expensive but I heard great things about it so I’m trying it for my little ones.

  13. alison Lakoff says

    I try to use anything in the 0-3 rated range on
    http://www.cosmeticsdatabase.com/
    under sun protection. This gives a detailed breakdown for a lot of sunscreens and rates them 0-10, 0 being best. Unfortunately none of the ones listed in this article are on there yet.

    Their top sunscreen list: http://www.ewg.org/files/2009sunscreenguide.pdf

    I am going to try the CVS Sports Sunstick next as I have liked their other zinc products.

    FYI: I didn’t think that Badger was a very pleasant lotion to wear.

    Thanks for the great article!

  14. Great and informative article Alex! I use Neutrogena sunscreen/block for myself and my girls for our face SPF 40/55. We use Coppertone products for arms legs and bodies for a day at the pool or park. I have used the children’s line of Arbonne products and I think they’re wonderful too! As always, thanks for sharing.

  15. Mary-Frances C. says

    I use Coppertone Water Babies on my 3 girls.

  16. My daughter has just been diagnosed with a severe case of eczema which causes her to cry at the thought of having to put on sunscreen. We live on the Florida coast and are in the pool everyday. I feel like I have the buffet line of sunscreen trying to find “the one” that will not cause her to cry. So far, Coppertone Baby Pure & Simple is the winner.

    For me, I use Neutrogena. My husband is a soccer ref, and he swears by Coppertone sun & sport.

  17. I use coppertone, but have heard FANTASTIC things about Scape. I’m trying to order at scapelabs.com, but can’t figure out where on the site to buy it!

  18. Hey Tabatha,
    You can find our products at your local retailer by using our “dealer locator” on the SCAPE website or you can purchase through one of our online retailers (TriSports.com, RoadRunner.com, or Nytro.com) which are located on the “dealer locator” section as well. Thanks

  19. Michelle says

    Great and timely article. Right now we are using the Neutrogena Helioplex from Costco. I love the spray cans. Good for quick and easy application on arms/legs/backs.

  20. If the skin can get burned, so too can the eyes. PLEASE don’t forget to protect their little eyes with high quality sunglasses.

  21. Another article to consider from the LA Times:

    http://www.latimes.com/news/health/sns-health-spf-numbers,0,199213.story

  22. Hello to everyone who is concerned about what the sun does to you. We just formed a company called PersonalBest Products and we supply all-natural cosmetic products to endurance athletes. One of our main products is an all natural, chemical free sun barrier called ‘zealios.’ It is a micronized zinc oxide (20%) based sun block that dries on clear, doesn’t clog your pores, sting your eyes when sweating and doesn’t wash off in the water and contaminate our oceans. I have provided my email for anyone who is interested in finding out more about sunscreens and what is good and bad. I can tell you that you don’t want to use any products with Oxybenzone or Avobenzone, these are not good for you. Our product is so new that we don’t even have it in tubes yet. Due to so many people asking for it, we are currently selling small packets while we get everything with the tubes sorted out. Please feel free to visit our website and email us with any questions you may have, http://www.whereitcounts.com. Even if you don’t want to use our sun barrier, I would at least like to help educate people on what they should use.

    Cheers, Kevin

  23. m.s.wright says

    Parabens are certainly dangerous. Over eighty percent of breast turmors were found to contain high concentations of parabens. You should get your facts right before you encourage anyone to buy products with these ingredients.

  24. I used to use Blue Lizard for kids exclusively until I realized they contain two different parabens. An ingredient to be avoided that hasn’t been mentioned here is Vitamin A or retinyl palmitate. It “may speed the development of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin.” See the link to the environmental working group report that was released in June of this year.

    http://www.ewg.org/report/what-scientists-say-about-vitamin-sunscreen
    We recently switched to Badger and Alba Sunscreen available on line and also at Henry’s. My daughter thinks the unscented Badger smells like chocolate:)

  25. I use Badgers, it has very good coverage but a little heavy. More recently I have used Earth’s Best (@ toys-r-us). It is light weight, SPF 45 and we never get a burn. I am very happy with these products.

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