With summer just around the corner, what better time to find out about sunscreens? For those looking to pick up a safe, natural, mineral-based sunscreen, we tried four organic sunscreens at various prices to reveal which is most effective, which smells most fragrant, which is the best bang for your buck, and which is the overall best product. But first, let's go over a couple of basics about organic sunscreens.
Although these products may be called "organic" or "certified organic," that doesn't mean they contain only natural, organically grown ingredients like cucumber, aloe, and coconut. While they may contain those ingredients, they also contain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which is why they're considered "mineral-based." Such ingredients don't grow in gardens, but they do provide the bulk of the sun protection and are generally regarded as safe. All the sunscreens we tested are broad spectrum -- so they block both UVA rays, which cause aging and wrinkles, and UVB rays, which cause sunburn. All four products are SPF 30 or above.
Price: $13 for 3.4 ounces
Active Ingredients: Titanium dioxide (6.4 percent) and zinc oxide (6 percent)
Water Resistant: Yes. Reapply after 80 minutes of swimming.
Scent: Medicinal lavender
Ease of Application: Goes on smooth with a slight residue
Where to Purchase: Whole Foods, CVS, Goddess Garden Organics
Oily Factor: Slight oily residue
This is a relatively inexpensive item for your beach bag. Its scent is a bit like lavender -- though slightly medicinal. It goes on smooth, without separating, and contains titanium dioxide, which is highly refractive and absorbs UV light. And, on an environmental note, when titanium dioxide is combined with zinc oxide, it's believed to cause less damage to coral reefs.
Goddess Garden, the least expensive of the four, is touted as a sunscreen that doesn't leave a greasy residue, but that isn't exactly the case. It is a rather thick cream that goes on sticky and leaves a slightly chalky residue. Once you apply it, be prepared to spend a few minutes rubbing it in. Even with all that effort, the product still casts a whitish-blue zinc tinge on the skin for up to a half hour.
Price: $16 for 3 ounces
Active Ingredients: Zinc oxide (20 percent)
Water Resistant: Yes. Reapply after 40 minutes of swimming.
Scent: Lemon cough drops
Where to Purchase: Ulta, Bloomingdales, Juice Beauty
Ease of Application: Goes on sticky and leaves a greasy residue all day long
Oily Factor: Pretty greasy
This is a mid-priced, water-resistant sunscreen that you can toss in your car or throw in a beach bag and go. The packaging is sturdy and, unlike the others sampled here, Juice Beauty Sport lasts a long time, providing up to 80 minutes of water-resistant sun protection. It's also moderately priced, so if you have children and you're going to be slathering sunscreen on them all day, you might prefer this option. To combat the ultra-white residue of the zinc, Juice Beauty Sport has a slight beige tint.
Like Garden Goddess, Juice Beauty sunscreen takes a while to absorb. It's an oddly thick cream, so be prepared to rub furiously. If you have dark skin, the tint won't help -- you'll still have a white cast to your skin for several hours. And even after a half hour, you'll be left with a greasy residue on your body. But these are minor issues. The main problem with this product is its smell. It contains organic aloe, coconut oil, apple juice, white grape juice, jojoba seed oil, castor seed oil, lemon extract, and mandarin extract. Those are a lot of scents jockeying for attention. Any one of these would be great either on its own or perhaps blended with one additional scent, but mixed together, the resulting fragrance is something akin to a cactus garden and a lemon cough drop.
Price: $36 for 1.7 ounces
Active Ingredients: Titanium dioxide (3.2 percent) and zinc oxide (1.8 percent)
Water Resistant: Yes. Reapply after 40 minutes of swimming
Scent: Fresh garden cucumbers
Where to Purchase: Ulta, beauty supply stores, and Coola
Ease of Application: Goes on smooth and silky
Oily Factor: Slightly oily
Effectiveness: Very Good
The first thing you notice about Coola Mineral Sunscreen is that it smells fantastic. Infused with natural cucumber, rose hip seed oil, shea butter, plankton extract, and evening primrose oil, it is a refreshing change from the heavier Juice Beauty and Goddess Garden, which have a chalkiness to them. Coola glides onto easily and does not leave a white cast on your skin from the zinc. Like Goddess Garden, Coola adds titanium dioxide to its blend, making it reef-safe and more environmentally friendly.
It's pricey. It comes to about $18 an ounce -- not exactly a bargain. While application is easy, the product is slightly oily in texture and leaves a bit of a residue. It also tends to separate if it sits on the shelf for too long. Tip: Give it a good shake before each use.
Price: $68 for 2 ounces
Active Ingredients: Octinoxate (6 percent) and zinc oxide (5 percent)
Water Resistant: No. Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming. Reapply every 2 hours.
Scent: Tahitian vanilla
Where to Purchase: Beauty supply stores and Eminence
Ease of Application: Smooth
Oily Factor: You can't even tell this is on your skin
Eminence Organic Skin Care has been in business since 1958 -- plenty of time to figure out how to make an organic sunscreen that doesn't feel tacky. Of the four sunscreens we tried, this is the only one that comes in a jar with a small plastic scooper. A very little bit goes a long way. Less than a dime-size dollop covers the face and décolleté, and another will cover both arms. Results: pretty amazing. Not only does Eminence smell delicious, with its Tahitian vanilla scent, it also feels fresh and clean. And because it absorbs quickly, it doesn't leave a white cast on the skin like the other products. If all that isn't enough to make you want to run right out and buy it, each purchase helps to plant a tree in a developing country, provide an organic meal to a sick child, and support the global organic farming community.
Best Bang for Your Buck: Goddess Garden
Most Effective: Coola Cucumber Mineral Sunscreen
Best Scent: Eminence's Tahitian Vanilla
Best Overall Product: Coola Cucumber Mineral Sunscreen. Coola with its reef-safe, organic ingredients, its delicious fragrance, and its midline price is the clear winner.