My Favorite Clean Sunscreens.

My Favorite Clean Sunscreens.

I talked about this a bit last month but I have such a love hate relationship with sunscreen. I mean, obviously – you need it. The sun is dangerous and nobody wants wrinkles or skin cancer. But the more I read, the more I realize how bad traditional sunscreen can be both for the earth and for our bodies. At the same time, mineral sunscreen can be really uncomfortable on your skin. The whole thing would make me want to just spend my whole summer indoors to be honest!

Enter Beautycounter, which makes the best clean sunscreens I’ve tried so far. Below, I’m going to get into the science behind sunscreen (both physical and chemical) and why it’s so important to choose a safe sunscreen. I really like all of Beautycounter’s mineral sunscreens (especially the new tinted ones!) and am going to talk more about them but don’t take my word for it – they also made Goop’s list of the 8 best clean sunscreens. Whether you’re a fan of Gwyneth or not (I am personally a huge fan!) I think we can all agree that she//Goop is someone we can trust when it comes to safer beauty products.

Clean Sunscreens & BeautyCounter

Let’s back up a little bit because I want to get a little bit nerdy with you and talk about the science behind sunscreen. Understanding a few key things (+ bad/good ingredients) has made all the world of difference for me.

Sunscreens are either chemical or physical. Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin and then absorbs UV rays, converts them into heat, and releases them from the body. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone. Physical sunscreen is made from zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and sits ON TOP of the skin, creating a physical barrier and reflecting the sun’s rays. 

The biggest culprit is oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor which can interfere with everything from our metabolism to our reproductive system, but it’s also terrible for the environment. Even in tiny doses, it can kill coral. (It’s also especially bad for children, whose bodies are developing quickly. Oxybenzone is an ingredient you want to always, always avoid.  It scores an 8 from the EWG.

So then the easier solution is to try a physical sunscreen, right?

Easier said than done. A lot of the clean/physical sunscreens I’ve tried just won’t come off. Last summer I tried a brand that will not be named that basically turned my skin completely white for an entire family vacation. It feels like you can’t win!

Clean Sunscreens & BeautyCounter

My Favorite Clean Sunscreens

As I mentioned above, Beautycounter makes the best clean sunscreen I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a LOT. Besides being very effective, they’re also very hydrating, feel good on the skin (love the light citrus scent!), water resistant, and leave less of a white cast than other mineral sunscreens.

I use the cream (and stick) on my face, and the mists on my body – always in SPF 30. Like with any mineral sunscreen, it does take a little getting used to because again, you are putting a physical barrier on your skin so you need to really rub it in to make sure there’s no white cast. I tend to spend some time in the bathroom before the beach/sun/pool really prepping and rubbing it in, but it’s worth it as the sunscreen is really effective – I’ve never gotten a burn.

For the mists, shake them well and hold 4-6 inches away from your body when spraying. I generally apply before putting on my swimsuit, standing on a towel (because they can be a little messy, especially if you go with the tinted ones!) Just spray and blend in like you would blend in lotion. The formula blends in quickly and dries down without any chalkiness. I have the three sprays and I have a rule for which I use.

Another important thing to note is that when I’m home, and out of the sun, I always exfoliate afterward!!! Spend some time exfoliating – like a good 3-4 minutes in the shower. Because it’s a physical layer, and because it’s water-resistant, this step is really is important. Beautycounter has some great scrubs – love this one for body (mmmm lemongrass)!

In the photo above I’m applying the light-medium. You can see it has a tint to it – as I’d had a spray tan, it’s a bit light for me.

On days where I have a spray tan, the medium-deep is perfect for me. You can see in the above photo that it’s a perfect match.

stick sunscreen

And as I mentioned above, the stick is great too! It’s totally sheer and perfect for on the go.

Grace Atwood for BeautyCounter Grace Atwood for BeautyCounter

created in partnership with BeautyCounter // photography by Carter Fish.

Leave a Comment

Leave a Comment


  1. Been wanting to try out Beautycounter’s products for so long! I swear I keep hearing about them. Thanks for the review, Grace! 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

    7.9.19 Reply
  2. The sunscreen is what got me hooked on Beautycounter. The little stick is a lifesaver for summers with little kiddos. I always have one in my bag and they love to put it on themselves!

    7.9.19 Reply
  3. Abby:

    Grace, I really enjoyed this deep dive into sunscreens! The note, however, about Goop being a source we can trust for safe beauty products churns my stomach. Her recommendations for supplements, cleanses have endangered peoples’ health and her claims are not vetted by science. I’d also encourage you to look more closely at the EWG’s background.

    We all are looking for safer, effective products. To do so, I think we need to be very careful about the difference between science and marketing.

    7.9.19 Reply
    • Thanks for sharing your perspective!

      7.9.19 Reply
    • Miranda:

      So if I want to use a clean chemical sunscreen am I SOL? I don’t want to deal with the physical ones.

      7.9.19 Reply
  4. Mrs. P:

    Your outfit is fantastic! Where did you get it?

    7.9.19 Reply
    • Hey! My sandals are Tretorn and my caftan is from Katie Sturino’s collection for Stitchfix!

      7.9.19 Reply
      • Mrs. P:

        That’s the second post in a row where I’ve loved what you’re wearing from Katie Sturuno’s Stitchfix line. I tried Stitchfix years ago and wasn’t a huge fan but this does it for me. Placing an order today. Thank you!

        7.9.19 Reply
        • Aw good! Let me know how you like it!!! I was gifted a few items from her and liked them so much that I paid for a fix on my own! x

          7.9.19 Reply
  5. You just made me grab the sunscreen I got a couple weeks ago and check the ingredient list (no oxybenzone but still, doesn’t mean it’s great) and those seem amazing, I had no idea physical sunscreens were a thing until recently and they seem awesome! I’m definitely tempted to try those, if you say they’re good, I believe you.

    7.9.19 Reply
  6. Olivia:

    I still remember you recommending last year’s ‘best EVERRR sunscreen’. Le sigh… new year, new marketing campaign.

    7.9.19 Reply
    • Hey Olivia! I went back and searched “best sunscreen” on my blog to see what I’d said – thinking it probably wasn’t a clean sunscreen as this is the first clean sunscreen I’ve tried and actually really liked. I couldn’t find one!

      I know it’s easy to snark on bloggers and sponsored posts, and I know I say over and over again that I only bring on sponsors that I really love and use. I have to make a living and will always have sponsored content but I also constantly turn down work if the partnership isn’t a fit as reader trust is the most important thing. If I wouldn’t write about it for free, I don’t feature it. Luckily I am at a point with my blog where brands I already love and use organically want to work with me… probably because I’ve always prioritized reader trust above all else.

      And even if I did have a favorite sunscreen last year, would it be so wrong to have a new favorite? I am constantly testing and trying new products… it’s a part of my job!

      At the end of the day there will always be readers who just don’t trust bloggers + their sponsored posts and that’s okay… I don’t really know what else to say other than that I really do love this sunscreen; it’s been incredibly hard to find a good mineral sunscreen, and these are the best I’ve tried. Sorry for the essay response but this comment struck a nerve… and I really don’t remember what last year’s “best EVERR sunscreen was!”


      7.9.19 Reply
  7. Lauren:

    Since you titled this post ” my favorite clean sunscreens” and only mentioned BeautyCounter I’d be curious to know what other brands you compared their sunscreen with and how those products worked for you. I’ve been using the same clean sunscreens for several years but I try to keep my eye out for anything new that comes along.

    7.9.19 Reply
    • Hey Lauren!
      Of course – the other brands I’ve tried are Amavara (didn’t like it, despite it getting so many great reviews), Kopari (it’s good for face but more for everyday and not the beach!), Suntegrity, Koola and Babo! Oh and a spray that I bought at Trader Joe’s (can’t remember the brand for the life of me), which did not go well – I was white for days and could not get it off. That’s just off the top of my head – will think back if there’s anything else.

      The plural was on there because it’s several different sunscreens from Beautycounter.

      7.9.19 Reply
      • Lauren:

        Thank you! I had a similar experience with Goddess Garden lotion, it looked like white paint on my body!

        7.9.19 Reply
  8. Tara:

    Hi Grace! Curious if you’ve found it frustrating to have to exfoliate the sunscreen off your body, particularly on a vacation if you have a spray tan? I’d hate to buff off a $60 spray tan after one day of sunscreen use…

    7.9.19 Reply
    • I agree but honestly haven’t found a better, safe solution (vs. just staying out of the sun altogether!!!!)

      7.9.19 Reply
      • FWIW my spray tans have held tight but yeah, it’s a pain. You could always just not exfoliate but I like my skin to feel clean and residue free!

        7.9.19 Reply
        • Tara:

          Hmmm, good to know! Maybe a cleansing oil would be slightly better than exfoliating. As you can tell, I’m attached to my spray tans 🙂

          7.9.19 Reply
          • I hear you!!!! Also bringing along some self-tanner to touch up your spray tan could help as well.

            (Just make sure you are getting an organic/clean spray tan BTW – if you’re in NY/Brooklyn I really love Sweetheart!!!)

  9. Laura:

    When I saw sunscreens I was hoping to see different brands. Have you tried Supergoop? It’s rated clean at Sephora and they have SO many different formulas.

    7.9.19 Reply
    • I have! My understanding is that Supergoop is “clean-ish” and that the safety/clean factor really depends on the formula (if you go that route, definitely do the mineral ones, those are fine!)… so just be careful! Many of their formulas still contain Octinoxate which is not as bad as Oxybenzone but it’s still bad.

      I personally prefer Beautycounter to Supergoop’s mineral sunscreen. I love the other formulas and while they are definitely MUCH better than a lot of chemical sunscreens, they still have some chemicals in them (not the really bad ones but still chemicals) so I don’t use them anymore.

      Everyone is different; I’d say just familiarize yourself with this list, and make sure whatever sunscreen you choose doesn’t have any of the bad ingredients:

      7.9.19 Reply
      • Laura:

        Thanks for responding! I am definitely going to check out the list you linked.

        7.9.19 Reply
        • of course; I hope it’s helpful. Sunscreen is so tricky and there are so many ingredients to avoid. I trust Sephora’s clean rating but have been told by several people that Supergoop is more “clean-ish” which is a big improvement from so many brands on the market.

          7.9.19 Reply
  10. Rebecca:

    Grace. Have you explored Caudalie?

    7.9.19 Reply
    • I love the brand but actually wasn’t even aware that they made sunscreen – thanks for the tip!

      7.9.19 Reply
  11. Morgan:

    I’m also really loving the tinted spray! I also got the tinted moisturizer with spf and am very happy with it. It’s hard to find a tinted moisturizer with only physical spf in it.

    7.9.19 Reply
  12. Kristin F.:

    So I had a baby last year and bought the Babyganics sunscreen for her. It’s fantastic! I first tried the liquid spray and it blends in the best of anything I have tried – no white residue. The lotion is thicker and def shows a bit of white – but in defense, I probably tend to put more on with the lotion. Both rinse clean off with soap in my experience. I live in Florida and we spend a lot of time in the pool, at the beach, etc. and the Babyganics line has offered great protection. I’ve converted from old sunscreens to this brand and it’s very affordable and I find the product lasts way longer since it’s mineral and a little goes a long way. So many baby products are amazing – I’ve snagged quite a few things from my daughter’s stash and they’ve become staples in my beauty routine. Even if you don’t have kids, you should swing by the baby aisle in someplace like Whole Foods to check out cool products that are gentler and often times cheaper than adult counterparts.

    7.9.19 Reply
    • Morgan:

      I agree – I’ve swiped lots of baby products from my kiddos! You might want to check the ingredients on the Babyganics. I discovered last summer that my spray also had chemical ingredients with the zinc. Not sure if they’ve changed that formula. Lucie’s List does a great round up of kids’ and adult sun products.

      7.10.19 Reply
  13. Sarah:

    If anyone is looking for a physical sunscreen that won’t break the bank, Pacifica (at Target) has good options. I love their spray mineral sunscreen and the body butter sunscreen. Sun Bum now makes a mineral sunscreen and has a great face stick too! Always on a mission to find non-chemical sunscreens that don’t cost a ton.

    7.11.19 Reply
  14. Lisa Autumn:

    Just ordered all of these! THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    x Lisa |

    7.13.19 Reply
  15. Annette:

    Like you, this is my new favorite sunscreen. I switched to clean sunscreens last year and so many of them turn my fair skin a weird whitish purple color. Not a flattering look needless to say. While this still has a white cast to it, it is so much better than other brands. I feel much better putting this on my face too, no breakouts. I need to try the tinted sprays next.

    7.13.19 Reply
    • Could not agree more!!!! It’s really good. Think you’ll love the tinted sprays too.

      7.13.19 Reply
  16. Katie Kubitskey:

    Hi Grace!! Revisiting this before a beach vacation coming up. Do you find that Beauty Counter is a good spray for re-applying when you’re outside a lot of the day? Since it takes some rubbing in, did you notice that it was a huge burden when trying to re-apply in public? hahaha Thank you!

    3.19.21 Reply
    • Honestly, yes. The tinted and white ones are a big burden to rub in. I do it in the morning before the beach etc. I would do a clear sunscreen like Coola for reapplying. Not mineral but still pretty clean.

      3.19.21 Reply