Confused About Organic Sunscreens & Ingredients?

Please note: In May 2010 the EWG strengthened their safe sunscreen requirements so the top list has now changed in the EWG sunscreen database. To read more on these new recommendations, please read the latest Mommy Footprint article called EWG Sunscreen Guide & Surprising Truths Parents Need To Read.

The toughest product to truly understand and learn about from a safety and organic standpoint has been sunscreen. I recently noticed that two of the top sunscreens rated for safety and UV protection from the EWG (Environmental Working Group) market themselves for being so effective because they do or don’t contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the core active ingredient. Confused?  To give you an example, the #1 rated Soleo Organics sunscreen has in bold letters on the box NO titanium dioxide. The only active ingredient listed on the back of Soleo is Zinc Oxide with 22.3% concentrate. The also very highly ranked (via EWG) California Baby sunscreen has only one ingredient listed within its active ingredients ~ titanium dioxide.  Isn’t this the same ingredient that Soleo proudly boasts about not using ~ yet both are ranked super high?

Since parents are so ingredient savvy these days, I’m sure the watchdogs at Environmental Working Group have received questions on this interesting debate regarding which active ingredients to look for when choosing a safe sunscreen for your family. They are doing their best to clear up some of the confusion starting with a 6 part series (the first was published Monday July 27th called About Those Mineral Sunscreens) in an effort to transfer all product knowledge and make us all sunscreen experts. Lisa Frack is a very smart, informative and well written analyst that is writing for this series.  I’ve been a big fan of Lisa’s and she is the perfect person to make this tough subject easier to understand.

The EWG have also posted a very handy 2009 sunscreen report that is 1-page and easy to read.  My favorite part of the guide is the condensed listing for ‘best easy-to-find sunscreens’ because we all know sourcing organic sunscreens on the fly is no easy task. Well worth a quick glance and something you can print and carry if purchasing sunscreen in a retail store if you don’t have this information in an electronic form.  This has arrived in the knick of time as I’ve finished my bottle of Soleo and California Baby sunscreens and to be honest, I won’t be a repeat customer on the zinc oxide Soleo sunscreen. I cannot justify spending over $30 for a bottle. The 2.8 oz bottle that I paid $32 only lasted my beautiful 4 children 1 week and with the heat wave the West Coast is experiencing, it’s not a practical solution for my family. I don’t think it’s fair that certain brands of sunscreens are targeting safety for families and children and then set their price point that high.  I think even paying $15-$20 is high, but is a way more affordable option for families wanting the safety and solid ratings from sunscreens listed within the EWG sunscreen database.

Trying to figure out the titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and nano particle debate has my head spinning. Until I’m properly educated by an analyst or chemist, here is information from the Soleo and California Baby websites explaining why they’ve chosen either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide ingredients in their products:

Why don’t you use titanium dioxide? from the Soleo website:

Titanium dioxide is absorbed very easily into the body and into the bloodstream. We have chosen not to use chemical UV-absorbers in our formula due to international medical research articles that have shown that titanium dioxide has the potential to cause health problems. There is a medical research website that you might like to visit called http://www.sunscreenresearch.com/ – this outlines various research paper abstracts that have been published in medical journals about the concerns of common sunscreen chemical UV-absorbers.


Here are some answers from the California Baby site in their Ingredients FAQ.

Are California Baby SPF products non-chemical?
All of our suncare products are PABA free and we never use chemical sunscreens such as Oxybenzone, Octyl Methoxycinnamate, Octyl Salicylate, etc., which are UV absorbers that penetrate the skin and can break down under UV conditions undermining any SPF effectiveness. California Baby® sunscreens create a protective layer (like a band-aid) that blocks out the UVA/UVB rays. Our non-chemical sunscreens are non-invasive and do their job by sitting on top of the skin scattering and reflecting dangerous UV rays.

How do California Baby sunscreens work?
California Baby® utilizes coated micronized titanium dioxide (TiO2 for short) as the active ingredient for our sunscreens. In its raw state, our TiO2 particles are first coated using a proprietary process and then suspended into a base that further encapsulates the particles, keeping the size uniform, even and stable. California Baby then adds this stable solution into a natural wax base, which further encapsulates, suspends and helps to make the product water resistant. This process ensures that our products provide high SPF broad-spectrum protection, without the telltale whiteness of regular non-chemical sunscreens. Our non-penetrating formula is topical (non-migrating) and sits on top of the outermost layer of the skin, the Stratum Corneum. This is the layer that is constantly being sloughed off by the body. Many sunscreens (chemical) need to be absorbed by the skin in order to be effective—ours does not.

Last note on sunscreen prices, for US residents only, EWG has an affiliate program with Amazon, so if you purchase Amazon products, bookmark this page, and then scroll to the bottom and use the link to access the Amazon site. Amazon will give EWG a portion of the proceeds to assist them in finding safer products to keep us safe. What a great concept! And for customers that are fans of Zinc Oxide sunscreens, wow – check out the price of Soleo sunscreen on Amazon!

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3 Responses to Confused About Organic Sunscreens & Ingredients?

  1. Carolyn August 1, 2009 at 2:23 pm #

    Keys Care CTO Bob Root has an excellent post about this subject on his blog, in his open letter to the industry entitled, “What some sunscreens are hiding..”. You can find it at
    http://keys-soap.com/keysblog/?p=359

  2. Nadine August 2, 2009 at 12:38 pm #

    Hello Suzanne and great work on your blog! I always appreciate reading up on your research. I wanted to let you and your readers know about another affordable option for a natural sunscreen. Substance (by Matter – a Canadian company!) makes a great zinc oxide sunscreen – it’s available at Jack and Lola (in North Vancouver) for $18 for a 4 oz bottle – much more reasonable than Soleo.

  3. Freeze Dried and Frozen Fruit August 26, 2009 at 4:07 am #

    Thanks for sharing such a nice post.
    Freeze Dried and Frozen Fruit

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