First off, it’s important to understand the distinction between the different types of sunscreen.
“There are two main types of sunscreen ingredients: physical (otherwise known as mineral) and chemical,” says Dr. Elizabeth Hale, a board certified dermatologist and vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The big difference is in how the two kinds of sunscreen block the sun’s rays:
- Mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of the skin and physically block rays like a shield.
- Chemical sunscreens sink into the skin, where they absorb rays with any of six active ingredients.
If we’re being completely honest, the latter is typically recognized for its nicer texture. But it might come at a cost.
“There are six types of chemical UV filters commonly used in sunscreens: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate,” Hale says.
If you’re side-eyeing some of those ingredients, you aren’t alone.
In February 2019, the
Nothing is finalized, even now, but the FDA reported on a
That’s a red flag, because the FDA doesn’t have enough information about if these lingering chemicals are causing harm.
Until we know more, just two active ingredients currently used in sunscreens are generally recognized as safe and effective: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
As it happens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the main ingredients in most mineral sunscreens.
“Zinc oxide sunscreens are often recommended for people with skin sensitivities (including acne), and they’re gentle enough to use on children,” Hale explains.
She also says they offer broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, and they work to prevent UVA-related skin damage, like wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.
Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, there are downsides to mineral sunscreens.
Criticisms of mineral sunscreens
Early versions of mineral sunscreens — and even some formulations floating around today — were chalky and hard to spread, and they left a noticeable white cast on skin. This was particularly noticeable on darker complexions.
Mineral sunscreens also tend to be less water-resistant than chemical formulas, which means you may need to apply them more frequently, especially after swimming or sweating.
“For that reason, many of my patients prefer chemical sunscreens, because they’re easier to apply and wear,” Hale says.
Troublesome ingredients aren’t the only debate in the physical versus chemical sunscreen decision. There’s also a serious environmental consideration at play.
Some of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens — looking at you, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate — have been
This doesn’t mean mineral sunscreens are automatically a better environmental choice. But it’s not because of their ingredients — it actually has to do with particle size.
Coral reefs can absorb nano-particles, or excessively small particle sizes, from sunscreens — no matter what ingredients they contain.
If your goal is an eco-friendly option, a mineral sunscreen in a cream or lotion form is typically a better option than a mist or spray, and it’s certainly a better option than a chemical sunscreen.
Just to make things trickier, keep in mind that the FDA doesn’t regulate the terms “reef-safe” or “reef-friendly.” That means you need to check labels for two things — no oxybenzone, octocrylene, or octinoxate, and no nano-particles.
Read on for 11 that fit the bill.
- $ = under $25
- $$ = $25–$40
- $$$ = over $40
Best overall facial mineral sunscreen
EleVen by Venus Williams On-The-Defense Sunscreen and Unrivaled Sun Serum
Leave it to Venus Williams to hit a grand slam in the mineral sunscreen world. She partnered with Credo and The Sunscreen Company to create a collection of clean SPF products that balance the invisible finish and lightweight feel of traditional chemical SPFs with safer ingredients.
Both the On-The-Defense Sunscreen and the Unrivaled Sun Serum are reef-safe formulas, because they offer physical protection from UVA and UVB rays.
Plus, both options earn an impressive best score on the EWG’s sunscreen list.
But the real test is how they feel, right? Good news. The Unrivaled Sun Serum in particular is incredible — I think it feels more like skin care than sunscreen. This is likely due to the reparative and nourishing ingredients, like safflower oleosomes and prickly pear stem extract.
The latter is also a serum, so it goes on like a liquid. It works as a primer under makeup with zero chalkiness, and it’s generally well-rated by people with a range of skin tones.
Both products are easy to spread and dry to a soft matte (bordering on velvety) finish — impressive for sunscreen! I also love that they meet the Credo Clean Standard.
Best daily facial mineral sunscreen
BeautyCounter is another clean beauty brand with its own, lengthy Never List — a rundown of all the questionable or harmful ingredients you won’t find in its products. Reassuring, right?
This product makes daily sunscreen a no-brainer. Lightweight and sheer, it’s formulated with non-nano zinc oxide to protect against UVA, UVB, and high-energy visible (HEV) blue light rays.
This is where skin care truly meets sun protection, as evidenced by the addition of chicory root extract and squalane for hydration as well as vitamin E for antioxidant benefits.
I love the mild scent, the ease of application, and the sheer finish. And I really love the fact that this is EWG verified.
While this formula makes a good daily sunscreen, keep in mind that it’s SPF 25. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, dermatologists recommend a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 for daily use.
Best moisturizing facial mineral sunscreen
This ultra-rich organic sunscreen cream is packed with ingredients known for anti-inflammatory and illuminating properties — think lotus, white peony, and jasmine.
Meanwhile, the sunscreen’s proprietary antioxidant blend offers full-spectrum protection against UVA and UVA rays. According to COOLA, this helps mitigate damage from digital and environmental stressors.
Don’t let the creamy formula deceive you — it feels incredibly lightweight, smooths on easily, and leaves skin silky soft and moisturized without a white cast.
The sunscreen is also non-nano, Hawaiian reef-compliant, and designed for all skin types. In fact, all of COOLA’s facial sunscreens are formulated with sensitive skin in mind, and they’re all dermatologist tested.
Best mineral sunscreen primer
Love goat milk skin care? I get it. With this product, you can enjoy goat milk in your sunscreen.
This silky formula is designed to protect and prime the skin for makeup, but I like its velvety finish alone. You can probably chalk this up to the inclusion of safflower oil and shea butter esters, both of which impart a silky smoothness.
Plus, this option is another EWG verified sunscreen.
One quibble I have: It’s billed as a fragrance-free sunscreen primer, but there’s a noticeable scent. It’s fresh, light, and fades quickly, but it’s definitely there.
Also, some reviewers note that it can leave a white cast on some skin tones.
Best mineral sunscreen for blemish-prone skin
Kinship Self Reflect is a moisturizing probiotic mineral sunscreen for blemish-prone skin. The brand says it offers a matte finish that’s smoothing and blurring, leaving you moisturized, protected, and with a bare canvas.
I’m happy to confirm it all! I find this non-nano sunscreen lightweight and non-greasy.
It’s reef-safe and formulated with turmeric to support a healthy microbiome for clearer skin. If you’re regularly battling breakouts, this one might be worth trying.
One note is that this sunscreen is lightly tinted and only comes in one shade. Some reviewers say it leaves a white cast on dark skin tones.
Best sheer facial mineral sunscreen
If “barely-there” is your go-to for skin products, you’ll love the Evereden Sheer Botanical Facial Sunscreen.
“Typically, for mineral sunscreens, this sheerness is only achievable with nano-sized (or extremely tiny) zinc oxide particles, which allows the formula to sheer out,” says Sarina Elmariah, MD, PhD, a board certified dermatologist.
That’s not the case with this formula. The brand managed to nail the ultra-sheer, non-nano conundrum. It might be due to the addition of skin-nourishing botanical ingredients, like rose extract, sunflower seed oil, jojoba oil, and ginger root.
Evereden’s broad-spectrum, non-nano formula goes on easily, blends beautifully, and has a delicate fragrance of rose — all while delivering protection against UVA and UVB rays and blue light.
Best tinted mineral sunscreen
I don’t wear foundation, or anything tinted, so I was a little skeptical when I first tried Block Star. It’s creamy and reminiscent of a true tinted moisturizer, and I was worried it would turn my face into a matte canvas.
But this lightweight sunscreen is surprisingly silky, and it blends in. Within a few minutes, I forgot it was even there. If you’re the tinted moisturizer or foundation type, this could very well be your new one-step fave.
Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are blended with blueberry, acai, and green tea extracts to protect against free radicals, as well as rose canina fruit oil to help control excess oil.
There’s also lavender oil for a light, pleasing aroma. Though lavender oil sensitivity is uncommon, some people with sensitive skin may experience irritation.
Keep in mind that this sunscreen only comes in one shade, which might not work with all skin tones.
Best mineral sunscreen with probiotics
This is another facial sunscreen that toes the line between skin care and sun care. It’s formulated with coconut oil and caffeine along with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for UVA and UVB protection.
I particularly like the fragrance — it has a kind of old-school sunscreen note. However, since it has added fragrance, it’s best to do a patch test before using it widely, especially if you have sensitive skin. Additionally, it’s not safe for use while pregnant.
Don’t be weirded out by the color, which is a very off-white shade, veering on greige. It blends nicely and dries to a soft, smooth, lightly matte texture.
Best mineral sunscreen for the body
BeautyCounter made the list twice. This lotion is meant to be used all over.
It’s also available in a non-nano mist form. Yes, I said mist. But get this: It’s actually a non-aerosol spray that uses only compressed air instead of propellant chemicals.
So, if you’re a fan of the spray-and-rub technique (ahem, parents of squirrelly children), you’re in luck.
I found both the lotion and the mist lightweight for a mineral sunscreen. These non-nano sunscreens go on smoothly and the faint white tint fades quickly, leaving a subtle, sheer luminosity.
One thing to note is that this sunscreen contains essential oils, which may be irritating to people with sensitive skin.
Best mineral sunscreen for kids
Reef-friendly and water-resistant, this sunscreen uses non-nano zinc oxide for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
Hello Bello blends this active ingredient with cocoa seed butter, avocado, cucumber, and chamomile. The result is a creamy sunscreen that spreads easily, dries quickly to a smooth finish, and even smells nice. The ingredient list does include citrus oil, which can cause irritation for some people.
It may be marketed for kids, but I regularly use this one on my body from the neck down.
Best performance mineral sunscreen
As a professional snowboarder, Nima Jalali was exposed to the elements all over the world— and he was no stranger to sunscreen. Now, his company SALT & STONE provides mineral-based, reef-safe SPF formulations, and other products that are ready for action.
Lightweight, non-greasy, water-resistant, and sweat-resistant, this sunscreen spreads well. Plus, the addition of ashwagandha, hyaluronic acid, and green tea give it bonus hydration and antioxidant properties.
Check it out in stick form, too. It’s ideal for extra protection on high-risk spots, like the nose and under the eyes.
SALT & STONE also has an SPF 30 lip balm. It’s white in the tube, but not on your lips. Instead, it leaves them hydrated, soft, and protected.