Six Sunscreens Safe For Humans And The Environment



According to the CDC, most skin cancers are caused by invisible ultraviolet light, which is a type of radiation that the sun, in addition to other man made sources emit. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer with over 5 million cases reported each year in the United States alone, but it is also one of the most preventable ones.

With May being Skin Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a fitting time to round up some environmentally and health-conscious sunscreen products for the face and body—several of which have been created by doctors. I also wanted to get some medical opinions about what seems to be a persistent stream of articles related to sunscreens over the years, particularly about cancer-causing ingredients included in many leading sunscreen brands.

“Several years ago, there was significant concern when it was clinically shown that certain organic filters (also known as chemical filters, different from the mineral/physical ones like Zinc oxide) such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene—along with newer ones like homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate—reached blood concentrations exceeding the FDA’s safety testing threshold after just one application.” Dr. Elsa Jungman, who holds a PhD in Skin Barrier and is the lead science adviser to Freaks of Nature, tells me over email.

“Over time, these concentrations continued to increase. We still don’t clearly understand the health impact of those findings. Despite these findings, dermatologists recommend choosing a sunscreen that you will consistently use, as regular application is crucial,” continues Jungman. She goes on to tell me that sunscreen should be viewed as part of one’s entire photoprotection system including selecting the proper sunscreen formulation for sweat, water resistance in addition to using physical barriers like clothing and hats.

Dr. Elizabeth Hale, Board Certified Dermatologist, SVP of the Skin Cancer Foundation and Chief Medical Advisor to the Vacation® Brand firmly believes that sunscreen is a critical tool in protecting against skin cancer and premature aging. “As with all things, it’s essential to differentiate between fact and speculation; while some studies have raised questions about certain ingredients, the overwhelming body of scientific evidence supports the safety and efficacy of sunscreen when used as directed. The FDA rigorously evaluates sunscreen ingredients for safety before they are approved for use, and ongoing research continues to monitor their impact on health.”

So, what should consumers be on the lookout for when selecting a sunscreen that is safe for humans and the environment?

Hale tells me that one should choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. “Check for certain ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone, which have raised concerns about potential health and environmental impacts. If you prefer a mineral sunscreen, opt for one with a non-nano zinc oxide formula, which can be a good option for sensitive skin.” Ultimately Hale believes people should find a formula that protects and that they like to use regularly.

Jungman agrees with Hale when it comes to mineral sunscreens that non-nano zinc oxide formulas are safer for consumers since they are less likely to penetrate the skin yet offer broad-spectrum protection. If consumers are looking for formulas that offer less impact to the environment, she suggests looking for formulas that include ingredients developed through biotechnology. “It is critical to ensure that these ingredients are reliably sourced or can be sustainably grown,” she explains. Jungman also say that how these UV filters affect aquatic systems should be considered. “These components can be washed off in water bodies during activities such as swimming or through wastewater from bathing, accumulating in water, sediment, and animal tissues, and impacting aquatic life.

With that said, below are six brands that offer broad-spectrum sunscreens that perform, are considered safe for humans, and are environmentally conscious.

Agent Nateur

Ingredient-conscious brand, Agent Nateur offers two sun care products for the face with SPF 50 protection—one that is tinted (holi (sun) and one that is tint-free (holi (soleil) that includes added skin plumping and firming ingredients that doesn’t leave a white cast. “Free radicals are enemy #1 when it comes to keeping the skin young and healthy,” founder Jena Novello tells me. “Consumers can prevent free radical formation and avoid therapeutic anti-aging treatments later on by following the number one beauty imperative: the regular application of strong environmental defense products to keep collagen and elastic fibers protected from oxidative stress.”

Both sun care products utilize non-nano zinc oxide to shield against UVA, UVB, pollution, and blue light, while also boosting antioxidants. When my skin needs a little more moisture, I opt for holi (soleil) and when I want a little coverage, holi (sun) offers just the right amount as base for my makeup. “Our all-mineral formulas are skin and reef friendly and absorb up to 99% of UV radiation, with a PFA that is 25-100% more than leading mineral sunscreens for improved protection against photo-aging,” continues Covello. “The biggest thing that sets our SPF apart is the encapsulated technology allows us to achieve an SPF 50 with only 12% zinc.”

Dr. Few Skincare

Dr. Julius Few, dubbed as the “Holistic Plastic Surgeon” by Gwyneth Paltrow and known for his achievements in oculoplastic surgery recently launched his own skincare line that includes clean, mineral blockers to shield the skin, including one specifically for the eyes. “Our Tinted Mineral Sunscreen is formulated with 25% Zinc Oxide, and our Rejuvenating Eye + SPF 15 uses a blend of Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide,” he explains to me over email. “Unlike many other sunscreens on the market, we do not combine any chemical components. This is especially important for the Rejuvenating Eye, as harsh chemicals can irritate the eye area. Both products also provide a sheer, natural finish without leaving a white cast.

Few’s Rejuvenating Eye + SPF 15 is the first of its kind. “It combines topical actives, which revitalize the skin around the eye, with a sun protection factor. Given my background as a specialist in oculoplastic surgery, this was specifically designed with the needs of both the surgical and non-surgical patient in mind, and to work for all skin types. Our eye SPF combines a peptide-rich botanical base with sun protection. It also improves fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, dark circles, and puffiness.” The reflective formula also gives the eyes a more refreshed appearance.

Freaks of Nature

If you are an athlete or active outdoors, the newly launched brand, Freaks of Nature was developed with the protection of your skin barrier in mind. “Athletes, through exposure to the elements and strenuous activity, put their skin barrier under significant strain and our products are uniquely formulated, in partnership with HelloBiome, to support the microbiome,” Julia Nimocks, CEO of Freaks of Nature tells me over email in response to me asking what makes the brand unique. “Our formulas are all 100% non-nano mineral sunscreens and include ingredients like vegan spider silk protein to take on environmental stressors by creating a powerful biofilm on the skin and Hydroseal a plant-based water resistance ingredient that we’ve formulated with in place of synthetic silicones (plastic polymers) often found in sunscreen products.”

With the brand being so new, I haven’t had the opportunity to try the products yet. But I am excited to, especially since they are approaching clean in a different way with the use of biotechnology and a focus on the skin microbiome. Nimocks continues, “At Freaks of Nature we have a very high standard for clean. Our sunscreens are 100% non-nano mineral sunscreens and free of synthetic chemicals and silicones. We’ve formulated with USDA, EWG and leaping bunny requirements in mind and are awaiting our final certification in 2-4 weeks.”


I have been using several of OneSkin’s products for a while now including their body cream and the brand’s tinted sunscreen for the face. I have seen a huge difference in the health of the skin on my body and I love how the tinted sunscreen absorbs quickly into my skin and doesn’t leave a greasy film, like some tinted mineral sunscreens that provide coverage.

OneSkin Co-founder and CEO, Carolina Reis Oliveira, PhD tells me that the brand’s sunscreen goes beyond simply offering sun protection and preventing future skin damage. “Thanks to OS-01, our proprietary peptide, OS-01 FACE SPF (formerly OS-01 SHIELD) offers triple action to prevent, halt and undo sun damage. OS-01 is the only peptide scientifically proven to reverse aging at the cellular level* which helps repair existing UV damage.” The product also includes five antioxidants that help prevent UV damage by scavenging free radicals, which Oliveira explains would cause further cellular damage. “So, you can spend more time in the sun protected, less time on your AM routine.”

When it comes to offering products that are clean, she tells me, “Our rigorous R&D platform prioritizes in-house testing in the lab, onto consumer testing and then clinical validation with our esteemed dermatology partners. OS-01 FACE SPF earned a Good for Sensitive Skin seal by SkinSAFE Trusted Choice™ and is in the process of being certified as ReefSafe and Eczema Foundation safe. “Our products are considered ‘clean’ by most measures, but they’re also scientifically proven to be ‘safe’, a term which carries far more weight when it comes to ensuring your skin’s longevity.” The brand is launching a body SPF soon, which I am looking forward to trying.

The Secret Skincare

I have been using The Secret Skincare, a customizable and prescription-based line for years that has done wonders for addressing hyperpigmentation in my skin. I recently took a break to give my skin a rest. But I am about to go back to it. But the brand has a wonderful tinted sunscreen in its base product range that doesn’t require speaking with the brand’s medical team to purchase it.

Co-founder Dr. Clara Hurst tells me that their Solar Serum SPF50 has been a cult favorite. “It is unlike your standard SPF formula, with many other skincare benefits to the skin. It provides advanced UVA & UVB protection while boosting the skin with long-lasting hydration and luminosity. Its universal peach undertone provides a natural coverage to the skin and is suitable for all skin types.” The formula utilizes both chemical and physical UVA and UVB protection in addition to hyaluronic acid for added hydration benefits. “Our Solar Serum SPF50 is vegan, contains no parabens, sulfates or artificial fragrances, is non-comedogenic and TGA approved.”

I love the way this sunscreen looks and feels on my skin. It offers the perfect amount of coverage to even out my skin with ample protection from the sun’s rays. Hurst tells me the brand is about to launch this product in new and improved packaging that will offer easier application and less spillage. “Our new pump lid is more hygienic as it no longer makes any contact with your hand and is much easier to take on-the-go. It is also recyclable along with the rest of our product range.”


If you were around in the 70s, Vacation will strike a chord with you—particularly the packaging in addition to the fragrance of the products. The brand is on a mission to make sunscreen fun. “This starts with imaginative, ‘leisure-enhancing’ products that people have never seen on the sunscreen shelf before – we like to think of it as the Willy Wonka section of the sunscreen aisle. Along with this, we’ve created the brand to be immersive and nostalgic, with products that help you look, feel, and smell like you’ve been to paradise and back,” Dakota Green, Founding Partner of Vacation® tells me. “But all that being said, we take protection as seriously as we do leisure. Alongside our goal to make sunscreen fun comes a commitment to protecting as many people as possible from the risk of skin cancer by formulating to the highest standards, and by creating products our customers will happily apply (and reapply).”

The brand offers many formulas for the face and body including mineral-based options. “Our products are formulated with our CleanClassic™ process, combining everything you love about sunscreens of the past with the best of modern skincare science. As part of this commitment, we are constantly evaluating the latest studies and adhering to all relevant guidelines,” continues Green. All of Vacation’s products are octinoxate and oxybenzone free, vegan, cruelty-free, paraben and PEG free, dermatologist tested, toxicologist reviewed, and Leaping Bunny and Ulta Conscious Beauty certified.

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