Dermatologists are always talking about how crucial sunscreen is, but have you given much thought to how it protects you? Sunscreen can work one of two ways: It can use chemical filters to absorb harmful UV rays so that your skin doesn’t, or it can literally block the light from getting to your skin at all. Mineral (a.k.a. physical) sunscreen is the latter, the type that sits on top of your skin, almost like a layer of armor—and derms love it.
Because of how mineral sunscreen works, you may associate it with a thick white cast—like lifeguards with their bright-white noses. But many of today’s formulas are pretty close to sheer, even if you have darker skin and have struggled to blend your SPF in. Plus, experts say mineral sunscreens are great for sensitive skin since they tend to cause less irritation.
Many experts also feel that mineral sunscreens are safer than chemical formulations, says Angela Casey, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and skin cancer specialist at the Center for Surgical Dermatology in Ohio. Both types are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but last year, the FDA called for more research on specific chemical sunscreen ingredients. Mineral sunscreens don’t come with that same baggage.
How to choose the best mineral sunscreen
To ensure you are protected from harmful sunbeams at all times, choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and then keep these things in mind when you’re specifically looking for a mineral-based formula in the sunscreen aisle.
✔️ Check the ingredients. “A good place to start is by looking for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active ingredients,” says Jennifer David, D.O., founder of Skin & Scripts Virtual Dermatology in Pennsylvania. Those ingredients, specifically found in mineral sunscreen, protect the skin against sun damage and skin cancer by acting as a shield. If there are other ingredients, like aloe vera or hyaluronic acid, those are for moisturizing purposes—they’re not part of the product’s sun protection.
Some sunscreens combine physical and chemical ingredients, so if you’re trying to avoid chemical formulas, look out for active ingredients like avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone, which indicate a chemical filter.
✔️ Consider technology-based or micro-sized formulas. Many people, especially those with darker skin tones, are turned off by the white cast that some mineral sunscreens leave behind. However, there’s a method you can use to gauge a sunscreen’s blending ability. Under a sunscreen’s formula, look for words like “technology” or “micro-sized,” Dr. David says. They mean the ingredients have been turned into “ultra-fine nanoparticles that make the sunscreen less opaque but are just as effective,” she explains. “These formulas blend into the skin much better and don’t leave behind a chalky look.”
✔️ Opt for a water-resistant formula. If you plan on getting sweaty or being in or around water, you’re going to want a water-resistant mineral sunscreen that will lock into the skin longer. “Since mineral sunscreen sits on the surface of the skin, it can easily be removed with sweat or water if it is not water-resistant,” says Janiene Luke, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Loma Linda University’s Faculty Medical Group in California.
Ready to find a safe, effective sunblock you’ll love to reapply all summer? Ahead, dermatologists share the best mineral sunscreens for both your face and body.
Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+
This mineral sunscreen “contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in particle sizes that are too large to penetrate the skin, so it won’t cause irritation,” Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery (MDCS) in New York previously told us. “It provides SPF 30 broad spectrum coverage and the bottle changes color when you are exposed to UV light so you have a reminder when you need to apply.”
Zinka Clear Zinc Oxide Face Sunscreen Stick SPF 50+
“This is a stick formulation that swipes on clear and is super easy to apply when you’re on the run. I keep one in my purse,” Dr. Casey says. It’s also packed with moisturizing ingredients to keep skin hydrated, including soothing aloe and nourishing cocoa seed butter.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Light Fluid Sunscreen SPF 50
Highly recommended by several dermatologists we’ve talked to, this liquid mineral sunscreen has a lightweight formula that sinks right into the skin, blending in seamlessly. It’s also noncomedogenic and fragrance-free, so it won’t clog the pores or cause unnecessary irritation. The higher SPF and water-resistant properties are another bonus, too.
Neutrogena SheerZinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Neutrogena’s SheerZinc sunscreen features the brand’s dry-touch technology, which keeps your face from looking and feeling greasy. It is water-resistant, fragrance-free, and has a lightweight finish, too. Using just zinc oxide as its main UV protector, you can feel good about this one for sensitive skin.
Coppertone Pure & Simple Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
High in SPF and relatively low in price, Coppertone’s mineral sunscreen lotion is great for your poolside days. Its formula contains zinc oxide and skin-boosting botanicals, including tea leaf, sea kelp, and lotus extracts to keep your face and body feeling hydrated and happy under the sun’s harsh rays.
CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Face Sunscreen SPF 50
This mineral sunscreen contains ceramides, which help the skin retain moisture—and that’s why Meghan Feely, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City who serves as a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai, gives it her stamp of approval. The oil-free, noncomedogenic, non-greasy formula also contains niacinamide to soothe redness.
Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 50
“Powder sunscreens are beneficial to those who wear makeup in the summer but don’t want the greasy feeling of a lotion,” Ellen Marmur M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist and founder of Marmur Metamorphosis Skincare previously told us. She likes this one because it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and comes in a variety of shades, so you can find one that suits your skin tone best. (Just note that these are best for reapplying throughout the day, not as the only source of protection.)
EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Facial Sunscreen SPF 44
This option makes a great everyday SPF. “Its universal tint is ideal for most skin types and provides the sheerest amount of coverage to blend into all skin tones,” Dr. Casey says. It also boasts hyaluronic acid to help hydrate and antioxidants to offer additional protection against skin-damaging environmental factors.
Sun Bum Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
For a reliable, everyday SPF, reach for Sun Bum’s mineral sunscreen lotion, which is conveniently water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. If you prefer to go for a certified vegan and cruelty-free pick, you can feel confident using this formula—which is also fragrance-free, mattifying, and slightly tinted to offset the white cast.
Thinkbaby Water-Resistant Sunscreen SPF 50+
It may say baby on the bottle, but anybody can—and should!—use this sweet-papaya-smelling pick. This sunscreen contains zinc oxide, aloe, and hyaluronic acid, which will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth. It is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
Even though it boasts 20% zinc oxide, Drunk Elephant’s mineral sunscreen never leaves the skin looking dry or chalky. While there is a slight white cast, taking your time to blend this one in helps it melt into the skin. It’s also extra nourishing, as it contains tons of hydrating botanical oils, like sunflower extract and raspberry seed, to leave a healthy (never greasy) glow.
ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion Sunscreen SPF 50+
This zinc oxide sunscreen “is beloved by women and men, as it rubs in beautifully without leaving a white film on the skin, and is a physical sunscreen so it’s great for those with sensitive skin,” says Shari Marchbein, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. It also contains additional ingredients, including DNA repairsomes and vitamin E, for added protection.
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