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When it comes to sunscreen, the absolute most important thing is that you’re using one. And so, to that point, when shopping for sunscreen, it’s imperative that you find a formula you like and are actually going to use. (That is after you make sure it’s a broad-spectrum formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has at least an SPF 30.)
But it’s worth knowing that sunscreens fall into two different camps—chemical options, which absorb UV rays, and mineral (AKA physical) options, which deflect the rays away from the skin. The former has come under some scrutiny as of late, thanks to recent findings concerning the efficacy of chemical ingredients and how much of them penetrate into the bloodstream. The two most commonly used mineral ingredients, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, on the other hand, are two sunscreen ingredients the FDA has deemed to be generally safe and effective. Not to mention that mineral formulas also have the benefit of being much less irritating, especially if your skin skews towards sensitive. Again, we’ll leave the ultimate call up to you since—say it with us—the most important thing is to wear sunscreen every day.
Here, we consulted board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick about what makes a good (and, of course, efficacious) mineral sunscreen and rounded up our top picks.
Best Overall: EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50
Often recommended by dermatologists, this should be your new go-to. This formula—featuring 9% clear zinc oxide—is meant to protect you even through the most grueling outdoor workouts, so you can be sure it will do the job even if you're just out for a walk. “This is a great option for those looking for a mineral sunscreen,” says Garshick. “It’s easy to apply and especially good for those who are active, as it won’t sting or drip when you sweat. Plus, it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and provides broad-spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB rays. It’s also non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores and rubs in easily without leaving a greasy finish or white cast.”
Best Budget: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
This trusty drugstore find offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection against UVA and UVB rays thanks to naturally-sourced 100% zinc oxide. Even better, it uses a special dry-touch technology that ensures you won’t be left feeling greasy after application. Skin on the sensitive side? Fear not. “It’s especially great for those with sensitive skin, as it’s free of fragrance, parabens, phthalates, and dyes and has been awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance,” says Garshick.
Best Drugstore: Pacifica Sun and Skincare Mineral Face Shade Coconut Probiotic SPF 30
Another budget-friendly drugstore find is this sunscreen-skincare hybrid from Pacifica. The clean and vegan formula offers mineral SPF 30 protection from the sun while probiotics and caffeine provide anti-inflammatory and protective benefits. Plus, it’s water-resistant up to 80 minutes, so it makes a great beach companion—just be sure to reapply after you towel off.
Best Splurge: Dr. Brandt Skincare Liquid Sun Shield Daily Brightening Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
When it comes to sunscreen that doubles as skincare, this luxe serum from Dr. Brandt Skincare can’t be beat. Not only does it offer broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection against UVA and UVB rays via non-nano zinc oxide, but it's infused with plankton extract to protect against hyperpigmentation and clary sage ferment to brighten and even out your complexion. It leaves behind an invisible finish, so there’s no need to worry about a pesky white cast, and it also makes an excellent base for makeup.
Best Face: Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
Zinc is an essential mineral that is needed for numerous healthy bodily functions, including boosting the immune system, healing wounds, and assisting in DNA/protein synthesis and growth. Applied topically, it's shown to aid in wound healing and regeneration, as well as protect the skin by deflecting UV rays.
Despite an impressive 20% concentration of zinc oxide, this never leaves your complexion white or chalky (no matter your skin tone), and has a sheer texture that melts beautifully into the skin. “It’s a great option for the face, as it’s also rich in antioxidants like raspberry seed oil, astaxanthin-rich algae extract, and sunflower seed extract to help protect against free radical damage,” says Garshick. Think of sunscreen and antioxidants as peanut butter and jelly—each is good on their own, but even better when combined.
Best Body: BeautyCounter CounterSun Tinted Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30
For body protection purposes, we much prefer sprays over creams—they just make it so much easier to get widespread coverage. The only problem? Up until recently, most sprays were chemical formulas. Happily, there are now a few mineral options available, including this one from BeautyCounter. Plus, it's a tinted option that comes in two shades. And because the can is powered by air rather than an aerosol, you’re minimizing your impact on the environment, too. Just keep in mind that spray formulas can make it difficult to get the thick, uniform coating your skin needs for full protection, so be sure to spray an ample amount each time you apply to ensure you're fully covered.
Best Tinted: EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41
Yet another favorite from EltaMD, this formula is lightweight and silky. It has just enough tint to counteract any possible white cast, but still blends in with any skin tone and won’t compete with any makeup you put on over it.
Best for Under Makeup: Unsun Cosmetics Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
This chemical-free sunscreen from Unsun Cosmetics provides SPF 30 protection and a subtle tint that imparts a healthy glow on all skin tones. It’s also chock full of skincare benefits, formulated with shea butter, plankton extract, green tea leaf extract, and vitamin E to hydrate the skin and offer additional protection from UV rays, infrared radiation, and pollution. All in all, it makes for a perfect base under makeup since it blends so magically into the skin, but it’s also a great choice for the days you want to go sans makeup (but still give your skin a little something).
Best for On-the-Go: Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Shield SPF 50
Stash one of these in your purse, your desk drawer, your car…you get the picture. This powder protector is not only perfect for travel (no spills here) but also makes reapplication easier than ever. (FYI, You really should be reapplying your sunscreen every two hours, which we know seems like a lofty goal, but trust us, this makes it surprisingly attainable.) “This is a great option, as it can be easily applied over makeup and can be used on-the-go,” says Garshick. “It contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and incorporates Enviroscreen technology to provide protection not only against UVA and UVB rays, but also pollution, blue light, and infrared radiation.” It also comes in four different shades that blend into a wide range of skin tones, so it's guaranteed you'll find a perfect match.
Best for Dark Skin: ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50+
Don’t worry, we won’t ask you to say that three times fast. One of our perennial go-to's, this formula uses straight-up zinc oxide for powerful protection and also contains DNA repairsomes, ingredients that also help reverse previous sun damage (ideal if you maybe haven’t been so on your sunscreen game in the past). It’s also a favorite of Garshick, who loves it for its absorbency. “This ultralight zinc sunscreen absorbs so well it's often hard to believe it contains zinc,” she says. That said, you can trust it won’t leave behind any kind of tell-tale residue, even on darker skin tones. Give it a good shake before applying, then prepare to be amazed by how quickly and easily it disappears.
Best for Sensitive Skin: EleVen by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35
By definition, any mineral sunscreen is going to be a better bet for the easily-irritated set, since minerals are more inert and less likely to cause any kind of allergy or reaction than chemicals. That being said, if you really want to up the ante, this guy has the added benefit of being infused with calming (and hydrating and firming) prickly pear stem extract and protective safflower oleosomes. Plus, it’s clean, vegan, and reef-safe, so you can feel good using it, too.
Best for Dry Skin: C'est Moi Sunshine Mineral Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 45 Water Resistant
Cocoa butter comes from the cacao bean, which is found inside the cocoa pod, which grows on the cacao tree. Because it's rich with fatty acids and antioxidants, it makes for a great moisturizer.
Despite how light and silky this feels, it packs a hydrating punch, thanks to the addition of both shea and cocoa butter. Also nice: The clean formula is free of a long list of potentially questionable chemicals (so much so that the Environmental Working Group, an organization that keeps tabs on ingredient safety, gave it top honors) and it’s hypoallergenic.
Best for Oily Skin: Ren Clean Skincare Screen Mineral Mattifying Face Screen SPF 30
Sorry, but that ‘sunscreen leaves my face greasy’ excuse just isn’t going to fly anymore. This mattifier-sunscreen hybrid uses natural rice starch to absorb oil, control shine and minimize the look of pores. The ingredient also soothes irritation too, ideal if blemishes pop up. Zinc oxide delivers your daily dose of sun protection, and we also like that the packaging is made to be fully recyclable, a nice touch.
Best for Enlarged Pores: Supergoop! Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40
When your pores look large and in charge, the last thing you want is for a thick, oily sunscreen to accentuate their appearance. That's what makes this ultra-light, translucent SPF such a great pick. In addition to being a 100% mineral sunscreen with SPF 40, it dries to a blurring matte finish that helps smooth the skin's appearance and reduce the look of problem pores. “It also protects against blue light, as it contains butterfly bush extract, and contains white mulberry root which helps to brighten the skin and improve tone,” adds Garshick. Wear it under your foundation as a skin-protecting primer or on its own for a no-makeup makeup look sans grease.
Best for Kids: Bare Republic Mineral Neon Sunscreen Sticks SPF 50
Even the most sunscreen-averse kids will love these brightly hued sticks that make sun protection more fun (and colorful) than ever. Available in a variety of rainbow shades, they still deliver serious sun protection. And kiddos aside, it’s also a suitable option for adults.
When it comes to mineral sunscreens, we’re giving top honors to the EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50. A dermatologist favorite, it’s formulated with 9% clear zinc oxide for broad-spectrum protection that’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Plus, it’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog pores, and can be used on both the body and face. Reapplying sunscreen is just as important as applying it in the first place, which is why we love the Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Shield SPF 50 for touching up throughout the day. The powder formula contains broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays and can easily be applied over your makeup on-the-go. And finally, ample sun protection shouldn’t break the bank, which is why we love the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion. This trusty drugstore favorite offers non-greasy broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection thanks to naturally-sourced zinc oxide, plus it’s a great pick for those with sensitive skin since it omits common irritants like fragrance and dyes.
What to Look for in a Mineral Sunscreen
At Least SPF 30 Protection
When it comes to the SPF protection of a sunscreen, Garshick stresses the importance of using a formula that offers SPF 30 or higher. “When applied and reapplied correctly, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays, while SPF 15 is thought to block just 93%,” she says. However, there’s also no need to shop for products with a super high SPF amount, either. According to a recent report by EWG, sunscreens offering SPF protection above 50 may not necessarily provide stronger protection against UV rays, so there’s no need to look for anything higher than that.
In addition to high enough SPF protection, Garshick says that broad-spectrum protection is also just as important. “This indicates coverage against both UVA and UVB rays,” she says. “While it’s thought that UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and UVA rays are responsible for skin aging, both types of rays can contribute to skin cancer.”
If you’ll be swimming and/or sweating a lot, you should also be using a formula that’s water-resistant. “No matter what type of sunscreen you’re using, it’s important to understand the label and be aware of whether it’s water-resistant, and if so, for how long,” says Garshick. “This is important because you should reapply sunscreen if exposed to water after 40 or 80 minutes, based on what’s indicated on the label.”
Purely Mineral Formulas
Garshick points out that some sunscreens can contain a combination of mineral and chemical ingredients, so be sure check the label to see if it’s a purely mineral formula versus a mix of mineral blockers and chemical filters. “Mixed formulas aren’t a big problem unless you’re specifically trying to avoid chemical sunscreen ingredients,” says Garshick. “Always make sure to read the label and look at the active ingredients so you understand what you’re using.”
How can you tell if a sunscreen is mineral or chemical?
Not sure if your sunscreen is mineral or chemical? Read into its ingredient list. “Mineral sunscreens contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, while chemical sunscreens use chemical filters including avobenzone and octinoxate,” says Garshick.
Is mineral sunscreen better than chemical sunscreen?
When it comes to choosing between mineral or chemical sunscreen, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. “The best sunscreen is the one you will use, regardless if it’s mineral or chemical,” says Garshick. However, as she explains, mineral sunscreens are thought to be better options for those with sensitive skin as some chemical ingredients can be irritating.
Some prefer to use mineral over chemical, as chemical sunscreens have been shown to absorb into the bloodstream and are thought to potentially lead to health risks—however, Garshick stresses that they are still considered safe to use. “Although some studies have shown that they can be absorbed into the bloodstream, it doesn’t necessarily mean these ingredients are unsafe or that the amount that is absorbed is enough to cause problems or concerns, so further research is needed,” she says. “For this reason, the FDA recommends either type of sunscreen in conjunction with other sun protective measures.” That said, whether you choose chemical or mineral, be sure to still wear protective clothing and accessories whenever possible and limit exposure to midday sun.
Does mineral sunscreen expire?
All sunscreens—mineral included—will eventually expire. Most sunscreens typically last for up to three years after the date of purchase unless otherwise noted on the packaging. Garshick says it’s important to both check the product’s expiration date and keep track of how long you’ve had it for, as expired sunscreens aren't effective in protecting against harmful sun rays.
Are mineral sunscreens water-resistant?
Planning on going for a swim? Not all mineral sunscreens are created equal, and some products may be water-resistant while others won’t be. “It depends on the specific formulation, so it’s always important to check the label,” says Garshick.
Are mineral sunscreens reef-safe?
Based on current research, Garshick says that mineral sunscreens are considered to be reef-safe. “That said, the term ‘reef-safe’ doesn’t have an official definition, so more research and formal testing requirements would be needed to truly determine what is considered to be reef-safe,” she says.
Meet the Expert
Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS: Medical Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers and is the Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Cornell University.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough mineral sunscreens from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.