I recently posted about the annual EWG safe sunscreen guide. In said post, I noted that I would make a list of some of the more affordable sunscreens from said guide, but frankly, after some research, I’m at my wit’s end. What I’ve found is that just one year’s worth of typically priced safe sunscreen can cost more than an entire eco-friendly car (no joke).
That said, let’s have a little discussion about safe and AFFORDABLE sunscreen.
Each summer a bunch of safe sunscreen lists are released:
The most well known sunscreen guide, is probably the annual EWG safe sunscreen guide, which I like, although it has some issue. For example, the EWG list has an oddball scoring system and the list always seems to feature a slew of organic fakers too. On the plus side, it’s a good list because it does get people thinking about product ingredients and keeps on making sure that consumers know about FDA failures as they relate to sunscreen regulations. A list like this, with so much buzz, leaves folks less apt to blindly pull products off the drugstore shelf, then slather on said products.
In terms of a more in-depth list, Safe Mama offers an excellent Sunscreen Cheat Sheet. The Safe Mama list is more useful than the EWG list, in that WAY more of the actual thought process is explained during said list. If you’re a newbie to safe body care and less toxic sunscreen, this is the perfect list for you. Plus, it’s not as obnoxious to comb through as the EWG list – i.e. much smaller.
Most other eco-minded or safety-minded blogs and websites also release annual recommendations for safe sunscreen.
My issue with all these safe sunscreen guides
I LOVE that so many people create these safe sunscreen guides. However, I’ve noticed that most of the safest sunscreens included on said guides, are also totally unrealistic price-wise for most families.
Safe sunscreen, IF used correctly, is almost impossible for the average family to afford. If you can afford one of these safer sunscreens, my guess is that you’re most likely not using sunscreen correctly OR you’re rich.
“To ensure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply 1 oz – about a shot glass full [of sunscreen]. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around one half to one quarter of an 8 oz. bottle. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours. Sunscreens should be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal.“
My first thought when I read this, while considering how much actual sunscreen I’d need to buy, was…. “Holy crap!” Seriously?!
American Melanoma Foundation says, “Sunscreens should be used daily if you are going to be in the sun for more than 20 minutes. Don’t reserve the use of these products for only sunny summer days. Even on a cloudy day 80 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays pass through the clouds.”
Mayo Clinic states, “Liberal use of sunscreen is a key part of any program to protect yourself from the sun… Reapply sunscreen every two hours — more often if you’re perspiring. Since UVA rays penetrate glass and clouds, use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy or you’re indoors but in rooms with lots of windows.”
Almost all the other health organizations I checked noted much the same – wear lots of sunscreen – all the flipping time – and reapply often. If you follow what all these health organizations say, how much, exactly, will sunscreen cost you?
Sunscreen cost calculations…
- One adult needs to wear sunscreen every day (365 days a year), rain or shine.
- A proper application of sunscreen for an adult is about 1 oz (think one shot glass).
- On an average day, you most likely go outside or sit by a window or drive in a car, oh, three times a day. Based on that, let’s say you need three applications of sunscreen. An active, nature-minded person might need more applications per day, but for now, we’ll stick with 3 applications of sunscreen per day. In total, that’s about 1,074 applications a year – I took off 21 applications (a week’s worth of sick days).
Now we need some safe sunscreen. I’m listing some of the safest sunscreen choices from the Safe Mamas Cheat Sheet so we can gather some prices. I’ve listed each sunscreen’s price per oz.
- $2.10 per oz. Purple Prairie Botanicals SunStuff, SPF 30
- $5.50 per oz. Badger All Natural Sunscreen
- $3.50 per oz. All Terrain KidSport SPF30 Natural Sunscreen Spray- Phineas and Ferb
- $4.70 per oz. eco logical skin care Sunscreen
- $5.00 per oz. thinkbaby sunscreen SPF30+
- $3 per oz. Loving Naturals SPF 30 Sunscreen Zinc Oxide UVA/UVB Vegan
- $5.60 per oz. Elemental Herbs Sunscreen Kids SPF 20
- $6.30 per oz. UV Natural Sunscreen for Baby (SPF 30+)
- $7.50 per oz. Soleo Organics Sunscreen
As you can see the least expensive price per oz. is Purple Prairie Botanicals SunStuff, SPF 30 at $2.10 per oz. while the most expensive is Soleo Organics Sunscreen at $7.50 per oz. By the way, just so you don’t think, “Hey, maybe Safe Mama is just rich,” know that price-wise, the Safe Mama guide is very comparable to the EWG guide and other safe sunscreen guides.
How much will it cost to buy and wear SAFE sunscreen?!
Assuming you apply sunscreen correctly, and assuming you purchase the least expensive sunscreen on the Safe Mama list, sunscreen will cost you $6.30 per day. That’s $189 per month or about $2,268 annually. But hang on, because if you have a partner and two younger kids, that’s an additional $9.45 per day, or a sunscreen tab of $15.75 daily. Annually, safe sunscreen will run you around $5,700.
Now, safe sunscreen for $2 an oz is EXTREMELY rare. I’ve seen safe sunscreens this year run as high as $35 per oz. (not kidding) but the average seems to be around $6 per oz. At $6 per oz., that’s $18 per day for one person’s sunscreen, or $6,570 a year. $6 per oz. sunscreen will run a family of four $54 a day; $1,620 per month; $19,440 annually. There are eco-friendly cars that cost less (new) than a yearly safe sunscreen habit.
Sunscreen may cost you less if you’re using it incorrectly. It also may cost you less if you’re a major couch potato or really bundle up year-round. For example, some people don’t have much exposed skin in the winter due to weather. Here in Oregon, we have mild winters, so more skin showing. Plus, I’ve got one of those kids who wears shorts year round – snow or sun.
The bottom line
If you’ve got more than one person at your house, you are sufficiently screwed with these calculations. I know sun protection is a big deal. Skin cancer runs in my son’s dad’s side of the family. I also know chemical body care safety is a huge deal. Obviously, I want my son safe. Still, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have this sort of money laying around to spend on sunscreen.
This makes me start thinking about all kinds of stuff…
- Do we really need sunscreen, because it’s CRAZY expensive?
- Can I make some sort of homemade sunscreen – that actually works and that’s affordable?
- Why on earth would sunscreen companies sell this stuff like it’s gold doubloons, if they’re really serious about protecting families? Seriously, companies cannot think people can truly afford $6 + per oz. sunscreen, unless sunscreen is nothing more than a novelty.
- Sunscreen really isn’t very eco-friendly is it? All these companies make super tiny bottles of sunscreen – the vast majority are 1 to 3 ounces. If people need 3 oz. of sunscreen a day, why aren’t companies making HUGE bulk bottles. I’ve seen very few companies selling sunscreen in bulk. There’s a lot of plastic waste involved here.
- Is there ANY safe and affordable sunscreen on this planet – a sunscreen than the average green family can afford?
To be honest, I don’t have any super answers to the above (yet), but I did come up with some starter ideas about how to save some cash.
How to save money on safe sunscreen
The best course of action is to limit your sun exposure when possible. Obviously, I’m not saying stay inside and sit on the couch, but try the following to save money on safe sunscreen and protect your skin…
- Wear protective clothing, such as tightly woven but loose-fitting and lightweight clothing.
- Wear a sun hat.
- Babies and smaller kids don’t need a whole ounce of sunscreen per application – use less!
- Carry an umbrella. If you’re just lounging around, sit under said umbrella or look for a shady spot, such as under a tree or a covered picnic area.
- Avoid the harshest sun, which tends to be midday sun. If you love to get outside, head out during the early morning or late afternoon.
- It’s fun to go outside at night. We go on a nighttime walk almost every night after dinner and I’ve even gone on night runs.
- My son and I hike a lot. However, we know where the sunny trails vs. shady trails are. During the most intensely sunny days, you should stick to a shaded hike if you can.
- Get sunscreen, not moisturizers with SPF. In almost all case, moisturizers with SPF cost a lot more than a sunscreen only variety. I do once in a while buy FACE-only moisturizers with SPF, but never, as a rule, whole body lotions with SPF.
- Waterproof protection often costs more, so skip waterproof sunscreen, unless you’re actually in the water.
- Buy in bulk if possible and buy the largest containers you can find.
- Get “adult” fragrance-free sunscreens if you can. As soon as a company smacks the term “baby safe” on a product, the price goes up. Adult sun protection products are usually cheaper.
- Shop around. The ways to save above can help, but you never know when a sale will pop up. Always shop around.
A final idea: Give the safest sunscreen to the youngest members of the family…
Really, I think ALL people should have access to safe, non-toxic sunscreen – hear that sunscreen manufacturers! The reality though, is that safe sunscreen is almost always VERY expensive. Because kids are still developing, and because chemicals and toxins affect them more than adults, kids, in my opinion should get the less toxic stuff, before adults.
If I’m strapped for cash, I’ll choose a bottle of sunscreen that scores very safe (i.e. less toxic) for my son, and a less good, but still okay sunscreen for me.
My final word on this issue for now
My family will do some of the above in order to save money on sunscreen. However, my son and I love to hike often – usually starting in the morning and going until afternoon. We play basketball and take long walks almost every day. During the summer we swim a lot too. We’re not giving all of this up just to stay super hyper safe from the sun. So, we do need some sunscreen.
Trust me though, we cannot afford $6+ per application sunscreen either, so, I’m going to try my best to use some of the 2011 sunscreen guides to locate some less expensive, but still safe sunscreens. Hopefully, I can get an affordable list up soon.
Oh, and one more thing – if you feel like it, why not write or email one or two of these “safe” sunscreen companies and ask them why they’re selling sunscreens for $6, $10 and even $30+ an oz.? Maybe if they realize how nuts these prices are they’ll lower them.
What do you think?
What do you think about these outrageous sunscreen prices? Am I being totally insane to expect safe sunscreen for less than $35 a tube? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Money image via sxc. – all other images ©Jennifer Chait