Remember back in the day when we used to head to the beach footloose and fancy free, slathered in suntan oil? That was crazy. The seductive scent of coconut that pervaded oils and lotions designed to enhance the sun rays throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s still jolts me back to simpler days… when getting skin cancer was as easy as building a sand castle. Those days are long gone. With sunscreen now not only recommended, but as mandatory as a bathing suit itself, we still can’t shake the cancer threat: Vitamin A has been shown in some studies as a cancer accelerator, and don’t even get me started on oxybenzone. That stuff is pure evil absorbed by the blood, leading to allergic dermatitis, hormone system disruption and all manner of cell damage. Both are loaded in many commercially available sunscreens. Best to go natural, sticking with sunscreens that call on titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to do the job. Some even smell nice. Not that nice, though.
Topping my list by a landslide is Josie Maran’s Argan Sun Protection for Body 30+ for one simple reason: Unlike many natural and organic sunscreens, rubbing it in is a non-event. This stuff is light, nongreasy and disappearing it into my epidermis doesn’t remind me of a peanut butter body masque like many natural and organic sunscreens do. UVA/UVB protection here is all titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, but the key ingredient otherwise is organic argan oil, a nifty little juice from the semi-deserts of Morocco that helps to repair and reverse previous sun damage as well as ward off future wrinkles. The scent is best described as Sweet Apricot Paradise Love, but nothing too in your face. No petrochemicals, no parabens, no toxins. Josie Maran calls its “Chic-logical.” I like that.
Of their new line of reformulated suncreens, Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 30+ Green Tea is obviously my favorite, both because I love the idea of overloading my skin with the antioxidant power of organic matcha green tea, but also because I love the attention and looks I get when I slather on this green-tinted gunk, which looks more like day-old split pea soup than any kind of sun protection. Plant-based emollients like organic shea butter, jojoba and sunflower oils give the skin a hydration boost and zinc oxide and titanium dioxide block the sun’s harmful rays— exactly what you want in a sunscreen if cancer is not on your to do list. I assume it’s not.
Boasting a spicy scent not commonly seen in a sunscreen, Pratima’s Neem Vetiver Body Sunscreen SPF 30 is what I imagine myself using on an Indian beach, if there was an Indian beach nice enough to warrant sunbathing. The Ayurvedic company was founded by Dr. Pratima Raichur, a visionary in Ayurvedic skincare, and uses nothing but sustainable and organic essential oils— in this case, neem, licorice and vetiver, which lend its unique scent. Rays are warded off by non-nano micronized zinc oxide and beats down not only UVA/UVB but UVC— who knew there was a UVC? It is also Sattvic, which is pretty much Hindu for as noncontaminated, non-evil, non-harmful— noneverything!— that something can possibly be. I’m not even sure I should be allowed to wear this sunscreen at all. But when I do, I feel like a better person, if only while I lounge by the pool in the hot sun. (I take what I can get.)
The French love to toot their own horn (hey, so do I, so I sympathize), so it should come as no surprise that L’Occitane’s Angelica UV Shield SPF 40 plays up a liberal use of organic angelica from the Drôme region of France. Legend has it Archangel Raphael brought angelica root to Charlemagne, Emperor of the West, to save his plague-stricken army— from what, I can’t say, but I hope it was from sunburn. Of course, I prefer to call angelica root by one of its nicknames: wild celery (I mean, how wild can celery be? Hilarious.), but that’s not important. What is important is that angelica root has been touted throughout the years as a cure for pretty much everything, so take its miracle curative powers with a grain of salt. Though L’Occitane is cryptic about it, the sunblocker here is acceptably titanium dioxide. A little goes on a long way, so use sparingly; and forget about it if you have oily skin. This one is a little greasy, just like an order of French fries.
Kevin Raub is a travel and entertainment journalist and a contributing writer at Organic Spa. His work appears regularly in Travel+Leisure, Town & Country, Robb Report, American Way, and Lonely Planet, among others. You can find him at www.kevinraub.net.