sunscreen update: the 2014 crop

More important news first:


Because there are things that are more important than sunscreen. There are follies that are on a whole other scale from the more everyday follies usually reported on here, dangerous and anti-feminist as they may be. And these important follies are everyday life for too much of the world’s population.

Bring Back Our Girls (FaceBook)
#bringbackourgirls (Twitter)
Bring Back Our Girls (Tumblr with Amnesty International)

(Cross-posted on MUA. UPDATED: 2014-05-22, 2014-05-28, 2014-06-28, 2014-09-01)

Rapidly and roughly…

Situation: I have to wear sunscreen every day for medical reasons: redhead, flammable, Thing removed a long time ago. I’ve been wearing sunscreen most of my life, and regularly for 20-odd years. Skin also dry + variously sensitive (thin, allergic, eczema) which restricts options.

I apply sunscreen to all body parts that will be exposed during the day, plus parts that are covers by clothes but get hit by sun a lot: shoulders, top of back, upper arms, basically torso down to elbows. I apply two layers first thing in the morning: a first thinner layer evenly all over (1/4 teaspoonful for face, same for neck and ears and bosom, etc…); then some point between 15 minutes later and just before I leave home, I apply a second layer to face, neck, hands, arms, feet (if wearing sandals) and any other exposed parts. It’s rare that anyone actually applies a perfectly even coat properly, even with a really good sunscreen with evenly-dispersed small particles. You’re much more likely to get a more even distribution, proper coverage, and something close to the labelled SPF, by applying two coats.

I also use other protective measures, because using them as well as sunscreen increases protection. Indeed, these other measure are actually more important than sunscreen: clothing, sunglasses, a hat, seeking shade, avoiding peak hours, and using antioxidants to boost sun protection.

Clothing: in dark (usually black) tight-woven fabrics. A lot of super-fine (ethical) merino wool, ex. from Ibex, Icebreaker, Smartwool. Hemp. Bamboo and veg-sourced rayon. Synthetics like Patagonia’s recycled materials. My only remaining cotton is old, mainly organic stuff from Etsy and the Mountain Equipment Coop.

Sunglasses: prescription ones from optician. If you don’t need prescription sunglasses, the world’s your oyster. If you do: see an optician and get a good classic chic frame you love and that’s sturdy and comfy. Prescription shades are an investment, especially if like me you have a high prescription and the lenses are fiendishly expensive. Here in Vancouver, recommend Della Optique and Eyes on Twelfth / Eyes on Burrard.

Hats: from,, and Eddie’s Hats at Granville Island Market here in Vancouver. Current main like: the UPF 50+ palm hats by Tula.

Seeking shade: trees (like in our local forests here), cafés, and if on patios insist on being under a big sun umbrella.

Avoiding peak hours: work tends to cover that, but otherwise this is a good reason for a siesta. Or other form of afternoon nap.

Antioxidants: I use topical ones from time to time, though usually forgetting in the morning. Garden of Wisdom witch-hazel hydrosol, their matcha green tea hyaluronic acid serum, or Silk Naturals awesome sauce vitamin C serum. I’ve also been taking asthaxanthin as an oral supplement, with the morning glass of orange juice. Other oral supplements worth considering would be pycnogenol, thujaplycin, and possibly green or white tea (inc in the form of actual tea to drink), though careful as too much ECGC can have side-effects. I chose the asthaxanthin as it was cheaper than the pyc or thuja; I drink a fair amount of green tea, and when I tried taking the more concentrated supplement form, I had indigestion. So I stopped.


Early 2014: started out with leftover supplies of BurnOut from before their reformulations of last year. I then used new supplies of reformulated BurnOut. Fail. So I tested out some things in stores here in Vancouver and when in US cities on work travel (alas, my work is not testing sunscreens). And I bought some online.

—at least SPF 30
—physical, and preferably ZnO-only; prefer microfine clear sort (I’m also cool with coated nano or mixed-size), and (like zincsunscreens, see her great MUA notepad) at least 12-15%
—untinted as PPP NW05 approx.
—without various individual irritants: this includes too much shea butter (which is in many otherwise decent sunscreens, which are therefore not on this list)
—not tested on animals, but properly formulated and tested on human volunteer subjects

The following sunscreens might or might not work on anyone else, YMMV.
If your skin is not dry, these will probably feel oily, greasy, etc. on you.
If your skin is another shade, these may be whitening.
Your own selection criteria may differ: organic ingredients, balanced chakras, pretty packaging, nice scent, higher PPD (in which case you are going to have to go chemical, no all-physical sunscreen does that).


Alba Botanica very emollient fragrance-free mineral SPF 30: YES
14.5% ZnO + 2% TiO2
Testing still in progress on face re. clogging, mainly using this as a body sunscreen. Preliminary testing: good. A little thick but spreadable. Almost identical to Jason mineral (see further down); unsurprising, as both are brands with the same parent company, Hain.
And cheap: $9 approx for 4 oz

Babo Botanicals fragrance-free clear zinc lotion: YES
22.5% ZnO
This is very like Elemental Herbs in formulation, but without grape juice or olive oil, and a little more expensive (around $16 for 4 oz). Slightly mousse-y texture out the tube, nice feel and finish on skin, pretty clear, no irritation. A little sticky but settles in well and fast.

FULLER REVIEW COMING SOON: this is very new and I’ve only just started testing it out. It’s too early to make any statements on sun protection and medium-to-long-term clogging and low-grade irritation. On behaviour with sun allergies, I’ll also be reporting back after split-self testing in full strong sun (compared to Vanicream SPF 50 as my control).

UPDATE: 2014-06-28: OK on face, though some slight clogging around nose if I use this for about a week. Manageable, though. Nicely moist.

Great on body: as noted, sinks in better than Elemental Herbs. Applies smoothly, then there’s a moment of stickiness (slight, though, compared to other sunscreens), then it dries to a smooth invisible finish. Because it’s not too dry, you don’t end up with sunscreen drying streaky (which you do get if the stuff dries too fast).

Pretty waterproof: a food way to test this is to try applying it to damp skin. It beads up and doesn’t play nice. Second way, of course: apply then wet skin. I’ve not tested this fully for waterproofness and sweatproofness: just paddling in the ocean and if breaking a sweat when exercising outdoors. It passed both tests. Further testing in Southern Europe in July.

Babo Botanicals fragrance-free clear zinc oxide sport stick: YES
20% ZnO
Very like the Elemental Herbs version, see further down.

UPDATE 2014-06-28: better, actually. The Elemental Herbs is gritty in comparison, and smells more of shea butter. The Babo Botanicals applies more smoothly, which is useful when using it around the eyes and then applying makeup on top. Both sticks are perfectly usable though: I would rebuy either of them, with a preference for whichever was cheaper at the time.

Badger SPF 35 Sport: NO.
22.5% ZnO
No irritation, but sunburn. This was the least offensive of the Badger formulations in terms of my known skin issues, ingredient intolerances, etc. I have now officially had 0 success with any Badger sunscreens. Though I love some of their other stuff, like the basic balm in the tin…

BurnOut Eco-Sensitive (regular since 2013 and before): REFORMULATION FAIL (see earlier posts on present blog for more, round about March this year)
BurnOut Ocean Tested (regular since 2013 and before): REFORMULATION FAIL (ditto)
18.6% ZnO

Derma E clear zinc oxide body SPF 30: YES
16% ZnO
Nice texture, feel, finish: quite fluid. They also have a face one twice the price but with no oil: might be good for less-dry people, I tested it out and it’s drying on me (immediately) so I didn’t buy it and just bought the Body one.

These two sunscreens are very new. They are available in the US from some etailers (and, apparently, in some shops). Not yet available in Canada. I’ve written to and a couple of others to ask. Both the Face and Body versions also have added antioxidants: green tea extract, vitamin C (SAP). and vitamin E.

Currently in testing stages (face and body).
Preliminary findings (2014-05-28): light, very easy to apply and to spread before it dries without streakiness (the opposite is a frequent issue with very fluid sunscreens). No irritation. A better, smoother feel and finish than my other main ZnO-only regular, the Babo Botanicals above.

FULLER REVIEW COMING SOON: this is very new and I’ve only just started testing it out. It’s too early to make any statements on sun protection and medium-to-long-term clogging and low-grade irritation. On behaviour with sun allergies, I’ll also be reporting back after split-self testing in full strong sun (compared to Vanicream SPF 50 as my control). For more information in the meantime see:
derma e antioxidant natural sunscreen SPF 30 – face / oil-free
derma e antioxidant natural sunscreen SPF 30 – body
2014-03-03 launch press release
2014-04-22 press release on winning an award which is kinda dodgy given that
(a) the stuff was so new that barely anyone had tried it: first stock arrived in shops not long before, and not stocked in that many places;
(b) anyone using the stuff after buying it in a regular fashion barely had time to do preliminary patch-testing before giving verdicts;
(c) even someone getting press release samples at the beginning of March had just barely time to test the stuff out for a full month (and not the proper minimum of 6 weeks or 12 weeks / 90 days) before pronouncing edicts.

Moral of the story: as with all awards, take with a generous pinch of salt. Based on advertising and other fictions? marketing, pulling strings behind the scenes, schmoozing, lobbying, politicking? hearsay, hand-waving, ten-second press-pack sample testing? skewed surveys (“is this the best sunscreen you tested in the last minute?”)?

At any rate, NOT the result of proper testing. You know, the scientific kind, test-to-counter-hypothesis, double-blind, peer-reviewed, proper population sample sizes and selection (from the hypersensitive to the tough-skinned), longitudinal studies, metadata analyses years and decades down the road,… Mind you, to be fair, I know of no sunscreen on the market that has that much data behind it. Though there are good big studies in, for example, Australia. But that’s no reason to dress up marketing as any more than that.

UPDATE 2014-06-28: a resounding YES so far. I’m using this on face, ears, neck, throat, shoulders, upper arms. Also on hands and any other exposed body parts on days with less intense sun. It’s fine, in terms of performance. I haven’t burned. It’s lovely on face. Applies very smoothly, easy to distribute evenly. Applied, as with all sunscreens, on DRY moisturised skin: dampness = streaking, uneven distribution, chalky patches, and other calamities. No clogging, no irritation, and neither greasiness nor drying out.

A little water-resistant, though not as much as BABO BOTANICALS and nowhere near as much as VANICREAM 50 or, indeed, any of the many silicone- or oil-based sunscreens out there (ex. CoTZ, Badgerlikes). Seems to jive well with sweating so far. But I’m not a very sweaty person: if you’re very sweaty, or sweating due to activity, suggest Vanicream SPF 50 or Replenix sheer physical spray SPF 50. Easy to remove (precleanse with oil, then use regular facial cleanser).

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE 2014-08-18: ditched the Derma E, went back to the Vanicream. Reasons:
1. the Derma E got a bit streaky and sort of crumbly on skin. Tricky to reapply evenly.
2. on one occasion, I went out wearing only it and forgot my hat. I know, stupid. It was a cloudy day. Then the weather changed. Anyway: forehead and nose started to exhibit some pinkness after about an hour.
3. after return to the Vanicream, I repeated the experience, deliberately this time. Skin was fine. Conclusion: Vanicream is a better and more protective sunscreen. (Also, no streaking etc.)

YET ANOTHER UPDATE (2014-09-01): back to Derma E, with a top-up layer of Vanicream or Replenix. Reasons:
1. Derma E applies fine. Don’t know what I changed in application technique, or what other factors were involved, but the streakiness issue is no more.
2. Issue 2 above: resolved by applying a second layer of something else before leaving the house. Skin feels better with Derma E as the first layer rather than, say, Vanicream. Just more comfortable; moist without feeling anything there. And it’s quicker to apply.
3. The sun is less strong now. In stronger sun, back to Vanicream.
4. Derma E plays well with either Vanicream or Replenix in top. Replenix is good for rapidity of application, ex. first thing in the morning before work. An advantage over Vanicream.

Elemental Herbs sport/kids: YES
22.5% ZnO
A decent everyday regular body sunscreen. Cheap, can be used liberally…

Elemental Herbs Unscented Sunstick: YES
20% ZnO
Great on lips and around the eyes, very moist. NB not to be confused with their other lip sunscreen, which is not all-physical.

Green Beaver SPF 30: OK
21% ZnO
Usable even though it’s thick; takes nearly an hour to dry though! My main worry with this one is that it doesn’t seem to have a preservative, even though it’s a part-water formula. My tube started to smell funky after a month or so and I threw it out.

Jason mineral sunscreen: YES
14.5% ZnO + 2% TiO2
Almost identical to the Alba Botanica one above, except slightly more expensive (like $1 or 2) and it also contains glycerin isostearate and green tea extract.
Same caveats as Alba Botanica.

MyChelle Sun Shield SPF 28: OK
11.6% ZnO (zinclear) + 0.67% TiO2
Nice, but overpriced for what it is (should be a higher SPF for that price…). On the other hand, if you’re looking for a zinclear sunscreen, it’s a very good deal compared to the main others on the market (DermaQuest, for example). Lovely feel. Make sure to get the unscented version; coconut is sneezy. Would rebuy for winter / darker rainy season.

Replenix Sheer Physical Spray SPF 50: OK
12% ZnO
Not actually a new one this year; I’m including here as it’s one I bought this year and that is being used this summer as a household staple, though by The Other much more than for me. Lovely light elegant sunscreen, with extra antioxidants. Easy to apply, but recommend applying twice, to ensure even coverage, and applying each time by spraying into hand and applying using other hand from there, rather than spraying directly to skin. Because if you do that, the stuff tends to go everywhere. Stays on well, pretty waterproof. Stays on very well in places where you didn’t mean it to, such as bathroom mirrors. Not moist enough on me.

UPDATE (2014-09-01): I’ve been coming back round to Replenix. It’s great as a second layer (face and body) applied right before leaving home; though still too drying alone. Fine over a first layer of a moister sunscreen, like the current Derma E.

Vanicream SPF 50: YES
7% ZnO + 5% TiO2 (Z-cote + Ti-silc)
The trusty old workhorse. Successor to the old SPF 60, which was the previous trusty old workhorse. This one always works on my skin, no matter what, even in tropical sun. I also have fewer and lower-grade photosensitive reactions with this, hence it’s what I always use at the most allergy-prone time of year.

It’s my main regular one right now (being that time of year), and the standard of comparison for other sunscreens: the key test areas are insides of wrists and behind ears (for plain skin irritation), then neck and throat for photosensitivity reactions (one sunscreen on one side, the control–Vanicream–on the other). Contains coated micro and some nano, which might perturb some people.

UPDATE (2014-08-18): aaaand back to the good old Vanicream.


Another two tested recently (thanks to kind donors) are Bioderma Photoderm Mineral SPF 50, in the Fluid and Spray versions. While I have reservations about them and their home company, I think they are worth mentioning here in case you (whoever you might be, O Gentle Reader) might medically need a sunscreen, require it to be all-physical, and also require it to be very highly protective. Besides offering high UVB protection as they are SPF 50, these two sunscreens also offer high UVA protection: PPD 22 and 26, respectively.

I should mention right away that there are concerns on the company and parent group animal testing policies, though under current EU legislation these should, in theory, no longer be concerns. But until I have got around to corresponding with them (which won’t be for a while due to work), or hear back from anyone else with further information / hard actual evidence, I’m not buying and would not advocate buying Bioderma products (or A-Derma, Avène, Ducray, Klorane, and others from the Pierre Fabre group).



On my skin, comparable to Vanicream for protection against sun and irritation. Lighter very fluid texture–runny–without any scent/fragrance, easy to apply, sinks in fast but no so fast you can’t apply it (I’ve had that issue with super-thin highly alcoholic and siliconey sunscreens), smooth even silken invisible finish. Feels more like there’s something on your skin, a thin layer, compared to the Vanicream and the others above; that’s silicones for you (Vanicream has them too, but differently; there may be a comparative review in the works, depending on what happens next with that CAVEAT above). A little dry compared to, well, moist sunscreens. Moist enough on moisturised (even dry) skin. Way moister than, say, Replenix sheer physical spray SPF 50. Comfortable, nice stuff.


Both have ZnO + TiO2 as their main actives; coated microfine including a mix of sizes (this works better), including nano, like the Vanicream, but NB for those of a paranoid and/or ignorant disposition, still within legal size; and yes, being legal counts for something… in most countries, even the USA with its FDA and pressure-group weird politics.

Both are unscented and apply nicely.

Both are in 100g bottles, which is handy for everyday portability and for keeping a bottle or two or several in your 3-1-1 carry-on plastic bag of goodies when traveling by air.

Tested out on arms and hands, including insides of wrists (to test for irritation). Also behind ears (yes, like on bunny-rabbit unwilling test-objects). Later tested briefly on face.

The Fluid uses a siliconey base, including The Cyclopean Monsters. Also contains liquorice-root extract and other useful soothers and antioxidants. SPF 50 and PPD 22. Slightly cheaper (around €10.00) than the Spray, and slightly older; this Fluid is a total redesign of the old Bioderma Mineral sunscreen in a tube, which was a horror. Along the lines of the horrible Avène mineral sunscreen.

The Fluid sinks in faster than the Spray and has a more velvety matte finish, but without drying skin out. It felt nice and comfortable on body skin and some parts of face. But on forehead, sides of nose, and the “A” area from nostrils to chin: itchiness, and irritation and clogging breakouts. Champion zits on nose appeared within the day (and left the premises the next, on return to Derma E; tested split-face for a couple of days until I could tolerate the zit-side no more, though I’d been planning on doing a full seven days).

All over–but most obviously on the nose, and if you look closely at arms–while it does spread well and easily, and doesn’t leave a white cast (but NB I am so pale you wouldn’t notice anyway), the Fluid leaves white grainy deposits sitting in pores and crevices. This settles down on body parts, but may remain noticeable on areas like the nose. Something similar happens with body hair. Not entirely satisfactory.

The more recently released Spray is based on non-silicone emollients (but with silicone coating on the active physical filters). Slightly more expensive (around €12.00) than the Fluid; SPF 50 and PPD 26. Which is I think the highest UVA protection of any current all-physical sunscreen, with the Fluid version (PPD 22) a close second.

I applied it much like the Replenix spray: shake bottle well, spray into palm of hand, apply to skin from there. Applies as well as the Replenix. Doesn’t dry down as well or as fast. A positive: less drying than Replenix, actually leaves skin feeling fairly moist (NB as with all sunscreen, I’m applying it to moisturised skin; otherwise, with dry skin, the zinc oxide will dry you out). A negative: takes longer to dry, leaving skin slightly greasy to the touch. It comes off even some time later: as demonstrated by white smears on phone.

I didn’t get any is situation or clogging with this, even in the “A”-zone on face. Nor did I get the white deposits in pores on nose (and the rest). I’d deem this a better option than the Fluid.

Care to reply?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s