Sunscreens uncovered

I am constantly trying to find new sunscreens to recommend to the Truth In Aging community and (with the notable exception of Dr Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense SPF50, $42) this is an extremely frustrating process. The vast majority of sunscreens are awful, ranging from poisonous concoctions whose only benefit is they cost no more than a few dollars to grossly over-priced and mediocre. In order to get to just a handful of potential sunscreens to test, I have been kissing an awful lot of frogs.

Since many of you have probably been looking at some of the same sunscreens as we plunge into summer, I thought it would be useful to take you with me on my voyage of SPF discovery and how I uncover the good from the not so bad from the dreadful (including things that are sexual attractants for moths - Skinceuticals, how could you).


If this was a $5.99 drugstore product, it wouldn’t seem so bad, but for $34 I’d expect more from a sunscreen than petrolatum as the second ingredient. Elta MD UV Lotion Broad Spectrum 30 Plus (7oz) uses octinoxate (developmental and reproductive toxicity concerns) and zinc oxide as the sunscreen actives. Then there’s 10 synthetics with no skin benefits before getting to the only two ingredients that have any, sodium hyaluronate and vitamin E.

There are ceramides, which can help build the epidermal barrier, in CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF30, giving it a nice little punch above its $13.99 price point. Plus there’s niacinamide, a powerful form of vitamin B. I’m passing on the basis of the sunscreen actives – although there is mineral zinc oxide, there’s also homosalate (a hormone distrupter), octocrylene (increases the production of free radicals) and octinoxate (developmental and reproductive toxicity). There are also two parabens, which are controversial preservatives.

Still, whatever you say about CeraVe, it has a little more to offer than similarly priced Solbar Fifty ($14.38). Solbar has octyl methoxycinnamate (estrogenic effects) as one of three chemical sunscreens. Synthetic ingredients with no skin benefits make up the rest of the ingredients and include irritants such as PVP/eicosene copolymer.

I was surprised at how disappointing Skinceuticals’ Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen SPF50 ($34) is. The good news is that it is a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, rather than chemical actives. Beyond this there is no merit to this product – unless you want to attract moths. Amongst the ingredients (none of which have any benefits for the skin) is undecane, used as a “mild sex attractant” for moths and cockroaches (source). It is regarded as a hazardous substance in New Jersey.

COOLA Sport SPF 50 Fresh Mango Moisturizer ($32/5oz). The COOLA strategy is to leverage every eco-friendly symbol known to humankind. There are cruelty-free bunnies, save-our-seas dolphins, organic this and that. They have even appropriated the American Lifeguard Association’s badge. Not so cool, however, are the actual sunscreen actives – four chemical and highly controversial ingredients: avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and octocrylene. See this article for more on these toxic sunscreen ingredients. No amount of organic agave and beeswax would make me pick this COOLA sunscreen.

The problem with super natural sunscreens is that tend to be low-tech when it comes to dispersing the zinc oxide through the product, meaning that they use a high concentration and a ghostly cast is inevitable. Although zinc oxide-based Raw Elements ($18.99) has nice ingredients (such as green tea) and no nasties, reviewers report that it leaves a thick, white coating on the skin. Plus it comes in a tin (recyclable, but otherwise impractical).

Other natural sunscreens rejected for their unacceptable white cast are Kabana Screen Green, Episencial, Devita (pilling) and Celtic Complexion.

Selected for testing

A sunscreen with apple stem cells will get my attention. Soleil Toujours Daily Moisturizer for Face SPF20 ($55) also has a plethora of botanical oils – from various citrus fruits, through peppermint, rose and grape seed. There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about the use of essential oils (especially citrus) oils and I will doing a deep dive into this issue in the coming weeks. While there’s aluminum here, as well as phenoxyethanol, the good more than outweighs the bad in this mineral sunscreen.

iS Clinical is a brand that I am becoming very interested in. I have an upcoming review of their fabulous mist with copper peptides and I am also testing a most intriguing vitamin C product. They have two sunscreens and although neither are squeaky clean, they look worth testing. Extreme Protect SPF30 ($68/3.5oz) has zinc oxide, a mineral sunscreen, and octinoxate, about which there are toxicity concerns. However, it does have a unique ingredient based on enzymes that are supposed to repair DNA. iS Clinical Eclipse SPF 50 Plus ($38) is a mineral sunscreen with some vitamin E. There isn’t much else to recommend it without trying it (it promises to be sheer and non-greasy) and the downsides are synthetics, silicone and alumina.

Radical Skincare Skin Perfecting Screen SPF30 ($55) is a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Radical has kindly added some diamond powder to deflect bright sunlight away from your wrinkles. Other useful ingredients include vitamins C and E, niacinamide (a form of vitamin B) and even more antioxidants in the form of superoxide dismutase, coffee and green tea extracts.

Goddess Garden Everyday Natural Sunscreen SPF30 ($19.99/6oz) has titanium dioxide and zinc oxide totally about 12%. Good things include shea butter, green tea and raspberry seed oil. The preservative is radish root ferment.

Trufora Titanium Day Cream SPF30 ($45). Truth Aesthetics (good name) is behind the Trufora brand and we are just making its aquaintance. The sunscreen has 12.1% titanium dioxide and is backed up by rice bran extract, apple extract, chicory, rosemary and jojoba. 

The hunt continues, if you have found a good mineral sunscreen with additional benefits (or any frogs to be avoided, for that matter), do let us know.