The first thing you need to know is that the world of SPF products is tangled, and you should do a little sunscreen research on your own. As a general rule, I try to go by the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Database, which ranks products on a scale of one (the best) to ten (the worst).
It’s surprising what you’ll find on this list: Some products I assumed would do well based on their prominent displays at natural foods stores rank much worse than over-the-counter brands. The good news is that the FDA is finally getting into the game, and will begin vetting sunscreens next year.
Marie Veronique Organics Moisturizing Face Screen No Tint SPF 30 ($40; mvorganics.com) is one of the few products with a number-one ranking, largely thanks to its 20.6 percent non-micronized zinc oxide, which doesn’t release cancer-causing free radicals. It also contains the moisturizing properties of red raspberry, sea buckthorn, and emu oils, plus anti-oxidants. If your budget can take the $40 hit for a two-ounce bottle, it’s ideal.
If not, Neutrogena’s Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50 with Pure Screen ($13; Neutrogena.com) gets a ranking of four, which isn't bad compared to a lot of other mass-market brands. The active ingredients are 5 percent titanium dioxide, 3 percent zinc oxide, and octinoxate, all of which may have some downsides— allergies, irritation, and immunotoxicity—if used in abundance. On the other hand, it also provides “excellent” UVB protection and “good” sunscreen stability. For the sake of your budget, this 1.4-ounce bottle might be worth the risk. Plus, it absorbs quickly, feels good on your skin, and comes in a convenient size for travel.