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Sunscreen is ESSENTIAL, and natural formulations are here to stay — but how do you decide which one to slather on?
When Baz Luhrmann stressed the importance of wearing sunscreen back in ’99, he wasn’t wrong: Ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage from the sun’s rays is responsible for around 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and 80 percent of signs associated with skin aging.
While we’ve long relied on chemical-based formulations to help protect our skin, mineral-based sunscreens have risen in popularity recently — and for good reason. We’re covering all the whats and whys in this guide, including:
- how chemical and mineral formulations differ
- the benefits of mineral sunscreens
- key ingredients to note
- how much a mineral sunscreen will run you, plus a pricing guide
- 9 of the best mineral sunscreens
Popular FDA-approved substances like octinoxate, avobenzone, oxybenzone, and homosalate work by sinking into your skin so they can absorb the sun’s rays and transform them into heat to be dissipated back out.
But while chemical-based sunscreens are highly effective, people are wising up to their negative aspects. “Chemical ingredients are absorbed by the skin, and their presence in the bloodstream can lead to hormonal imbalance,” explains Dr. Vikram Rajkomar, consultant dermatologist at Pall Mall Medical.
These chemicals are also wreaking havoc on marine life, which led Hawaii to become the first U.S. state to ban the use of some chemical sunscreens starting in 2021.
Fortunately, doing what’s best for ourselves and the planet doesn’t have to mean ditching sunscreen altogether. Mineral (aka “physical”) formulations are also FDA-approved and offer highly effectiveUVA and UVB protection — plus, they’re far more environmentally friendly.
This type of sunscreen revolves around two key ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Rather than sink into the skin, they sit on top of it, deflecting rays away.
Mineral sunscreens have other benefits too. They “provide immediate coverage, whereas chemical blockers take about 15 minutes to stabilize — during which time skin is not protected against harmful UV rays,” says Rajkomar.
But, like all things in life, they’re not quite perfect. Because mineral sunscreen isn’t absorbed, it “needs to be applied more frequently and after getting wet,” Rajkomar says.
Although some mineral sunscreens can leave chalky white marks, many brands are now actively creating formulas that leave no residue. Hurrah!
Experts recommend applying at least an SPF 30. Up that to SPF 50 if you have very fair skin.
Sometimes it feels like reading product labels requires a whole new dictionary, but that’s not the case with mineral sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are the only key words to look out for, since they’re the active ingredients that offer protection.
“Zinc oxide has a wider spectrum of coverage compared to titanium dioxide,” says Rajkomar. “If the latter is chosen, ensure it is in combination with other sunscreen ingredients [such as zinc] to ensure adequate protection.”
He also says to look for marigold, which “can protect against blue light.” And, although mineral sunscreens are known to be gentler anyway, “if you suffer from redness or rosacea, look for a noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic, and paraben-free mineral sunscreen.”
Lotions, sticks, and sprays — oh, my!
Mineral sunscreens come in a variety of forms, all of which can provide effective protection when applied correctly.
While lotions and sticks are more targeted, sprays can be a bit tricky. Spraying directly onto your body will likely mean missing some areas. To get the best coverage, spritz it into your palm and then rub it onto your skin.
We dove into the world of mineral sunscreens and looked at a few key criteria to determine the best on the market: ingredients, reviews, price, and advantages.
Putting our rose-tinted sunglasses firmly to one side, we’ve also included any negatives that could be important in your buying decision.
- $ = under $15
- $$ = $15–30
- $$$ = over $30
Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
This award-winning lotion contains 19 percent zinc oxide for effective protection and absorbs easily without leaving the dreaded white sheen.
It’s water-resistant for 40 minutes (hello, pool time!), and hundreds of reviewers note how soft and moisturized their skin feels after they apply it. While it’s fairly pricey, the tube contains a decent amount of product.
Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
High SPF coverage and 20 percent zinc oxide content at a drugstore price? Sign. Us. Up.
Reviewers love this lotion for its coconut scent, its lightweight consistency, and the fact that it doesn’t leave a greasy shine. Plus, it’s vegan, hypoallergenic, reef-friendly, and dermatologist-tested.
Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen, SPF 50
A hypoallergenic, noncomedogenic, and sensitive skin-friendly formula makes this lotion ideal for use on a variety of skin types. The dry-touch technology ensures there’s no greasiness, so this one’s perfect for applying to your face and wearing under makeup.
Some users note that it has a thicker consistency but soon appears clear if rubbed in well.
Bare Republic Mineral Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Providing high broad-spectrum coverage, this lotion is ideal for your whole body, whether you’re poolside or on the move.
It’s water-resistant for 80 minutes, and multiple users comment on how well it stays on during activities. The hypoallergenic formulation is great for sensitive skin and has a pleasant coconut scent.
Australian Gold Tinted Face Mineral Lotion, SPF 50
Available in several shades, this lotion is ideal for giving an array of skin tones a sun-kissed glow without the damage of a tan. Boasting an impressive SPF level, it also contains antioxidant-rich botanical extracts for added skin protection.
Some users note that it can worsen patches of dry skin, so consider using a moisturizer beforehand if your skin is on the dry side.
Farmacy Green Defense Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen, SPF 30
While this sunscreen is white, it appears invisible once blended — a perfect choice for those with darker skin. Users love that it’s lightweight and nongreasy, can be easily worn under makeup, and also contains marigold for blue light protection.
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 50
This dermatologist-designed lotion contains 10 percent zinc oxide and 5 percent titanium oxide for generous protection plus vitamin E to condition skin. Users say it’s fairly thick, so it takes a bit more effort to rub in.
Bonus point: The bottle turns blue in UV light to remind you to reapply.
Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
Patches of dryness indicate that your skin is crying out for a good drink o’ water. This sunscreen’s squalane and glycerin content will help lock in moisture while water lily extract calms irritation.
No chance of ghostly goings-on, either: The brand guarantees no white residue.
REN Clean Skincare Clean Screen Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 30
Featuring rice starch to help absorb oil and reduce pore size, this sunscreen is perfect for those who want to banish shine while protecting skin from sun damage. And stay protected they will, because this product packs a 22 percent zinc oxide punch.
The only downer? Some users say the thick consistency means it takes a bit more rubbing in to avoid the dreaded chalky residue.
Offering effective protection against UVA and UVB damage, mineral sunscreens are a great alternative to traditional chemical-based options. They sit on your skin rather than soak in, and they contain natural ingredients that are far more friendly to both human and marine life.
While the mineral components can cause a chalky-white residue, many brands have taken steps to create sunscreens that avoid this issue. With an increasing array of blends available to suit all skin types and tones, there’s no denying mineral sunscreens have earned their place in the sun.