How many ways can you screw up a sunscreen formula? There’s the consistency, for starters. Too thick and skin will feel suffocated. Too thin and skin will be left to fend for itself against the sun. If the formula is drying, it might aggravate the skin and might not play nicely with other products. Some sunscreens don’t blend well, while others reek of that tell-tale odor evocative of sand and chlorine. A greasy sheen or chalky cast are not necessarily deal-breakers, but they leave much to be desired in the aesthetics department. In short, a perfect sunscreen is a tall order.It all boils down to the ingredients. What components go into a sunscreen can make or break its performance. Their safety profile is also critical since they often get past the skin and enter the bloodstream. It’s a tough balancing act to build a sunscreen with ingredients that are safe from harmful side effects and effective against the sun. On top of a serum, moisturizer, and makeup, who wants an added layer of goop coating skin with empty fillers and toxic chemicals? But virtuous sunscreens loaded with botanicals and anti-aging benefits are more rare than you might think. Knowing how elusive perfection is among sunscreens, I approached Mango Madness Protect Me Broad Spectrum Sunblock SPF 30 with an open mind.

The last thing my skin craves in the dog days of summer is a heavy, creamy product. Thanks to the sticky heat, my skin has endured chronic breakouts over the past few months. I couldn’t pinpoint the culprit at first, but I am now convinced that my regular moisturizer with SPF has been periodically clogging my pores. Once I switched to Protect Me and relinquished a moisturizer base altogether, my skin cleared up quickly. Though the consistency of Protect Me is very lightweight, it sufficiently hydrates my combination-dry skin. After spreading on, it feels and smells invisible. A few squirts of the sunscreen go a long way, and even overambitious sweat glands can’t make it melt away.

My one complaint in terms of performance is that quite a bit of rubbing is necessary to fully blend in the milky emulsion, and even then, traces of white residue can get trapped in the hairline. Once it finally absorbs, the lotion leaves a noticeable shine - not greasy, but definitely in need of some oil-absorbing powder or blotting paper. My solution has been to dust ColoreScience Sunforgettable powder sunscreen on top to soak up the shine and contribute another layer of protection. As Marta explains in this video, ColoreScience is very versatile as both a mineral sunscreen and finishing powder. For my daily sunscreen ritual, it comes with the added bonus of covering up Protect Me’s slight pallor with a tan tint. Thanks to this dynamic duo, I can take my dog for a long walk every sunny morning without fretting that my face is collecting freckles.

Mango Madness is a skin care company based in Florida, so I imagine that the formulators know a thing or two about sun protection. Born and raised in Florida myself, I learned the dangers of the sun at an early age, when my fair skin burned to a crisp almost instantly and sprouted brown spots over time. I have tested more than the average person’s share of sunscreens, from buttery face sticks to oil-free body sprays. Protect Me Sunblock is certainly a cut above the rest, which didn’t surprise me since I gave the brand’s face cleanser and anti-aging creams top marks.

Protect Me takes moisturizing seriously with its combination of plant oils and synthetic emollients. While oils from safflower and sunflower nourish the skin, octyl stearate (extracted from cascarilla bark) softens the skin and acts as a barrier from the elements. Tocopheryl acetate, a form of vitamin E, naturally conditions and protects the skin with antioxidants. There’s also aloe extract, renowned for its healing and soothing powers, which would be a boon for skin that is already sunburned. The trio of silicone derivatives - cyclomethicone, dimethicone copolyol, and cetyl dimethicone - temporarily condition and fill in fine lines. The formula’s other primary emollient - isopropyl palmitate (derived from synthetic alcohol and a fatty acid from palm oil) - has been shown to have comedogenic properties.

Considering my skin’s penchant for acne these days, I would rather not see a potential acne-promoting ingredient in my sunscreen. For the same reason, I am bummed about the presence of silicone derivatives. Though these occlusive moisturizers might lend a nice silky feeling, they can trap bacteria, sebum, and grime under the top layer, potentially suffocating skin and triggering a breakout or allergic reaction. Protect Me’s preservative of choice - iodopropynyl butylcarbamate - is a gentler alternative to parabens but has been implicated in rare reports of contact allergies, as described in a 2002 medical report and 2006 Danish study. Likewise, DMDM hydantoin functions as a preservative by releasing formaldehyde and can irritate sensitive skin. Despite these little red flags, I have been using Protect Me for weeks on my typically hyper-sensitive skin without incident. In fact, my skin condition seems to have improved.

Within the cosmetics industry, sunscreens are probably guilty of the most flagrant chemical abuse. At least half of the blame, however, should go to the FDA. The only natural ingredients that the FDA permits to be classified as sunscreen agents are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. All other ingredients derived from nature, no matter how effectively they shield skin from the sun, cannot be used as actives in a product labeled “sunscreen.” As a result, manufacturers find it easier to create products that feel and look the way they want using chemicals such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, and octycrylene.

Octinoxate, used by Protect Me in conjunction with titanium dioxide, is one such sunscreen chemical. As the most widely used UVB-blocking agent in the skincare industry, octinoxate has been proven to boost the SPF of sunscreen products. On the downside, octinoxate can produce estrogen-like effects and lead to developmental toxicity in large amounts. Because its concentration in Protect Me is only 3% (far below the FDA’s recommended maximum), I’m giving it a green flag here. The same goes for titanium dioxide, which can mimic chemical sunscreens and act as a photosensitizer if absorbed by the skin. But because it is micronized in Protect Me, the titanium dioxide particles are too big to be absorbed. Octinoxate and titanium dioxide both have the ability to protect the skin against not only sunburn but also UV light-induced DNA alterations.

What do you do when you’re happy with a product’s performance but not so enamored of its ingredients? I always do a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether something is worthy of long-term use. In this case, my satisfied experience with the sunscreen outweighs my purist side. Protect Me may not have the most natural of formulas, but it is by no means the chemical dump that makes up so many of today’s sunscreens. The chances that I would get skin cancer without sunscreen are higher than the chances that the formula's less desirable ingredients would have serious health consequences. I’m going to keep relying on Mango Madness to protect me this summer. Sometimes, superior protection trumps perfection.

ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Titanium Dioxide Micronized 4%, Octinoxate 3%.

INACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Deionized Water (Aqua), Dimethicone Copolyol, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil, Octyl Stearate, Isopropyl Palmitate, Cyclomethicone, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Microcrystalline Wax, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract, Hydrogenated Castor Oil, Cetyl Dimethicone, Sodium Chloride, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Silica, DMDM Hydantoin.