My Favorite Little Sunscreen Brands With Big Benefits

If you have sensitive skin and buy cruelty-free, keep it here.
Publish date:
August 28, 2014
sunscreen, Beauty Counter, Consonant, skin health, spf, Sun Bum

I’ve pretty much always been a failure when it comes to sunscreen. My mom and I both tan easily and never burn, so growing up I was told to wear sunscreen, but it was never totally crucial.

When I moved away for university and started paying for things myself, there was no chance I was going to spend any of my hard-earned cash on practical things like sunscreen. Instead, my shoe collection grew ridiculously fast.

Then my 16-year-old sister had a pre-cancerous spot removed from her nose. Now my sister is a champion of the tanning bed, it’s true, but I was still pretty shocked. It was scary--really scary--and it made me become more thoughtful about protecting my own skin. The problem is, I don’t really like sunscreen.

I struggle constantly with back and arm breakouts, and those areas react really badly to thick lotions and creams, especially sunscreen. There’s also the issue of animal testing and creepy ingredients, which are pretty hard to avoid in mainstream drugstore products. Like I do with most things, I ended up turning to small batch, indie products.

Sunscreen is one of those things that people often avoid buying from smaller brands. But in general, an SPF rating is an SPF rating. The UVA protecting active ingredients in sunscreen are usually titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or mexoryl SX, so as long as a product contains one or two of those, you should be covered. With that in mind, here are three great lesser-known sunscreen brands that I recommend.

Sun Bum

A thick formula with a scent that reminds me of family vacations spent in Hawaii, Sun Bum is pure pineapple-coconut goodness. It's also 100 percent cruelty-, paraben-, PABA-, and oil-free. The formula is enriched with nourishing vitamin E and is waterproof for up to 80 minutes. You can get it in aerosol or lotion form with SPF ratings from 15 to 70+.

Beauty Counter

Beauty Counter is one of my new favorite natural companies. Though both the face and all-over formula are all-natural, cruelty free, safe for all ages, water resistant, and SPF 30, there are a few important differences between them.

The all-over sunscreen contains only non-nano zinc oxide and has aloe for moisture and green tea and blood orange extracts for antioxidants. The face formula--which can be used as a daily moisturizer and sunscreen--contains titanium dioxide for added protection, as well as hyaluronic acid and safflower oleosomes. My only complaint is the sweet lemon scent, which seems to attract bugs when I wear it to the lake or forest.


Handmade in Toronto, this sunscreen is water resistant and contains micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for optimal sun protection. It's expensive, but it's a good bet if you have sensitive skin and/or allergies. In addition to being all-natural and free of fragrance and essential oil, it's lightly tinted with mica to promote a more even skin tone. The formula contains aloe vera, grape seed oil, and rice bran oil for hydration. It definitely absorbs faster and easier than other natural formulas I've tried.

What are your go-to sunscreen brands? What do you look for on sunscreen labels?