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Too much sun is not good for your skin, and thankfully humans have invented sun-blocking lotions, creams, and sprays to help protect against those harmful rays. Doctors recommend that you wear sunscreen as often as possible to avoid sunburns and damage that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.
However, at least seven countries, vacation spots, and destinations have banned the sale of sunscreens that damage the environment because they contain the chemicals oxybenzone or octinoxate. The problem is that those chemicals can be found in most options you’ll find in the sunscreen section at the drugstore.
But the dangers of sun exposure remain, which presents a bit of a conundrum. Experts say that the solution to this and many other sun-related issues is simple: Opt for a mineral sunscreen instead of chemical sunscreens if you will be swimming in areas with coral reefs or other wildlife that can be damaged by these compounds.
What is mineral sunscreen?
“Mineral sunscreens are typically sunscreens where their main or only ingredients are zinc oxide, titanium oxide, or iron oxide,” said Dr. Sonya Kenkare, a board-certified dermatologist based in Chicago.
Those metals are broken down into very small particles that sit on the skin and physically block some portion of UV rays from penetrating them.
In contrast to chemical sunscreens, which absorb into the skin before soaking up and dissipating those UV rays, mineral or physical sunscreens are designed to reflect, scatter, and also absorb solar radiation before it seeps through.
Are chemical sunscreens bad for you?
Recent studies have found that you can absorb the chemicals in sunscreens into your bloodstream. One randomized controlled trial showed that people who applied a lot (covering 75% of their body four times a day for four days) had blood concentrations of sunscreen chemicals that exceeded the FDA toxicology threshold.
There's some concern over whether those chemicals can act as endocrine disruptors, meaning they could interfere with hormones, especially in pregnant people or young children, said Dr. Lindsey Bordone, a board-certified dermatologist at Columbia University Medical Center.
However, an analysis of 29 different studies of sunscreen chemicals suggested that there is no strong evidence that this has an impact on thyroid or reproductive hormones or other aspects of human health, although more research is needed. (Preventing sunburns and sun damage, however, can help lower your skin cancer risk, so they have a clear benefit there.)
The greater health risk of these chemicals seems to be to marine ecosystems.
Craig Downs, a forensic ecotoxicologist with Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, led a team of marine scientists in specifically analyzing the toxicity of high concentrations of oxybenzone to corals and coral reefs.
They found that it did act as an endocrine disruptor and induce coral bleaching, which can lead to the death of corals, the marine invertebrates that make up coral reefs. It also damaged coral DNA, preventing them from reproducing or leading to deformed offspring.
Findings like these contributed to the banning of chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate in places like Hawaii; Key West, Florida; and Aruba in efforts to protect their marine ecosystems.
Opting for a mineral sunscreen may also be a better way to protect your skin too, although there are some pros and cons.
Is mineral sunscreen better?
Since mineral sunscreens prevent some of the UV light from being absorbed into the skin, Kenkare said that it lowers long-term cumulative UV radiation damage, including the development of skin cancer and collagen breakdown, which can result in premature aging or wrinkles. They can also help minimize pigment changes that you see in things like sunspots, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, scarring, or melasma, Kenkare said.
Melasma is a condition caused by an overproduction of the cells that make the color of your skin, often resulting in brown or blue-gray patches. Heat can exacerbate the condition, according to Bordone.
“Chemical sunscreens convert UVB light to heat,” she said. “Physical sunscreens are better for people with melasma because they reflect the UVB light rather than converting it to heat.”
In general, both doctors agree that mineral sunscreens tend to be less irritating for many people, especially those with sensitive skin.
The downside of mineral sunscreens
Some of the potential downsides of mineral sunscreen is that it may not last as long on the skin and wash off easily (so you need to reapply more frequently) and the texture, which can sometimes be thicker and harder to rub into your skin.
Also, mineral sunscreens, because they sit on top of the skin rather than be absorbed, may cause acne breakouts or leave a white cast on your skin, though it’s cosmetic rather than a health problem.
Kenkare said that an early solution was to make them tinted, like the one that she uses every day as someone with brown skin who doesn’t want to “look like a ghost.” While there are some great tinted mineral sunscreens, not everyone wants the addition of color to their sunscreen.
“A more modern approach is to actually have micronized mineral particles,” Kenkare said. “Those micronized mineral particles can blend a little bit better, so there are formulas of mineral sunscreen available now that can actually dry clear, and that's ideal for somebody who's not trying to look like a ghost.”
Kenkare also noted that the SPF for mineral sunscreens usually maxes out at 50, which should be fine for the majority of people. She said most people can get by with SPF 30, but since the SPF on a sunscreen bottle is related to the amount of sunscreen applied, you may need to apply more than you’d typically use. Therefore, choosing an SPF 50 may be safer if you are using a relatively thin layer.
The right mineral sunscreen for you may depend on your skin tone and how you’re using it, and there are now tons of great options on the market to keep your skin and the coral reefs safe.
Keep in mind that just because a label says it’s reef-safe or non-toxic doesn’t mean they’re completely chemical-free. Make sure to read the fine print if you’re looking for something strictly mineral (including all of the products below). If you see it contains oxybenzone or octinoxate, it’s not a 100% mineral sunscreen.
You may have seen this brand on TikTok after Hailey Bieber used its tinted SPF daily moisturizer in her morning routine, or heard about it from your dermatologist, since EltaMD is known for its high-quality skincare. Its SPF products are formulated with transparent zinc oxide and are also fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores), and safe for sensitive skin. While Bieber’s beloved tinted moisturizer is a great everyday option for SPF coverage, this sunscreen is better for beach days or any serious sun exposure since it’s water-resistant and has a slightly higher SPF. It may not be quite as moisturizing since it’s oil-free, but that means it’s less likely to cause breakouts for anyone with oily skin, and it still has hyaluronic acid for a hydrating boost.
Promising review: “This is by far my favorite facial sunscreen!! It really creates a perfect canvas for makeup, but oftentimes I feel like it gives skin a very healthy, dewy look w/o anything else needed!” —Kally via Dermstore
What else to consider: This is a tinted mineral sunscreen that only comes in one shade, so there is always a chance that it won’t match your skin tone, though it should blend into most. It is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, so make sure to reapply as necessary.
Best for: normal skin types (not overly dry or oily) seeking chemical-free sun protection with a tint.
You can buy EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 from Amazon for around $39.
I am a huge fan of Biossance products, so I was thrilled to see that the company came out with a sheer mineral sunscreen. It’s fragrance-free, paraben-free, nontoxic, and vegan. The primary ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide (meaning that the particles are large enough to sit on your skin rather than penetrate it) with no chemical SPF. The squalane provides weightless moisture and water lily cools and calms skin, which can be particularly necessary after UV exposure and heat stress. It also promises to be completely invisible on any skin tone.
Promising Review: “I’ve tried a number of mineral sunscreens and this is my favorite by far. It doesn’t leave a white sheen, absorbs well, and best of all it does not dry out my already dry skin. Great for daily use under makeup.” —Anonymous via Biossance
What else to consider: Since this is only SPF 30, make sure you’re using plenty per Kenkare’s recommendation to ensure that you’re getting the coverage you need.
Best for: sheerly shielding normal to dry skin from sun damage with a light, calming, untinted burst of hydration.
You can buy Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen from Amazon for around $30.
This is a physical sunscreen that is an interesting midpoint between sheer and tinted, offering a bit of a blurring, pearlescent glow without much actual color or coverage. Basically, it looks like it has a bit of a tint coming out of the bottle but blends in to be virtually unseen with a slight complexion boost. Kinship uses a plant-based probiotic blend to support a clear, strong skin barrier with gentle, purely mineral UVA/UVB protection. The primary protective ingredient is non-nano zinc oxide with some turmeric for moisturizing and soothing. There’s also a rose-infused option if you prefer more of a floral vibe.
Promising review: “If you’re like me and have super oily skin as soon as you step outside then this is for you. I use this sunscreen along with the ordinary niacinamide serum. Doesn’t make you look dry, smallest amount of glow but not oil and my pores look smaller. Love this so much. Will be using forever.” —Tiffany C.
What else to consider: Though this sunscreen promises to be safe for blemish- and acne-prone skin (as well as dry, oily, normal, or combination), it can make you look a bit shiny thanks to the hydrating shimmer effect. While it doesn’t offer foundation-like coverage, it does shed some color if you were to, say, wipe your face with a napkin. The SPF is also on the lower side for a physical sunscreen.
Best for: achieving that dewy glow with a technically untinted mineral sunscreen.
You can buy Kinship Self Reflect SPF 32 from Amazon for around $26.
La Roche-Posay is a big name in the skincare and sunscreen category thanks to being one of the first (and still only) high-end brands to sell their products at your local drugstore. This product was my first experience with mineral sunscreen. Though it’s not my personal go-to thanks to my perpetually dry skin, it’s a favorite for so many of my friends and acquaintances. It literally looks like milk coming out of the bottle (or slightly chocolatey milk in the case of this tinted option), so it’s seriously lightweight and absorbs in seconds. It’s rare to find a high SPF mineral sunscreen that rubs in so quickly and flawlessly. Other perks include that it’s non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, oil-free, and safe for sensitive skin. Kenkare also specifically recommended La Roche-Posay for its mineral sunscreens.
Promising review: “I really like this product! Love that it’s SPF 50. I was a little confused when I first used the product because I’m used to thicker creams and lotions but this comes out as a liquid formula. But I’ve grown to like that actually because you can easily integrate it into your skincare routine in the morning after moisturizing and it's super easy to apply. It doesn’t leave a super white cast at all and doesn’t have a scent. My skin is pretty sensitive and this doesn’t bother it at all.” —beatriceg17 via Ulta
What else to consider: The tinted version does have a significant color, and though it claims to be universal, some (including myself) find it to be too dark and orange-toned. Other reviewers noted that the untinted version leaves them with a bit of a white cast, though it doesn’t seem to be too noticeable for most.
Best for: the most lightweight, liquid, high SPF mineral sunscreen for maximum protection without any thick or oily feel.
You can buy La Roche-Posay Anthelios 50 Mineral Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid from Amazon for around $35.
Another brand recommended by Kenkare for tinted mineral sunscreen, this SkinCeuticals option protects with broad-spectrum 50 SPF while evening skin tone and boosting radiance with a universal tint. The micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide reflect UVA and UVB rays with translucent color spheres. It’s paraben-free, fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, and includes plankton extract, which the company says will help boost your skin’s natural defenses.
Promising review: “I am really pleased with this tinted sunscreen. It has a very thin, watery texture that works great for my oily skin. I am very fair-skinned and the color looks like it would be a bit dark for me but it goes on totally invisible. If I’m going to be outside a lot, I do put on another sunscreen underneath because this stuff is so thin and I want to make sure I have sufficient coverage, and I haven’t had any issues with pilling. I also haven’t experienced any pilling when wearing makeup over it, and it doesn’t seem to rub off and leave pigment on my clothes like other tinted sunscreens can. It doesn’t provide much coverage but it also doesn’t settle into my fine lines so I don’t have to worry about touching it up.” —Emily via Dermstore
What else to consider: This is another great high SPF option that won’t leave a white cast, thanks to the tint. Unlike some other tinted options, reviewers say that it’s suitable for cool-toned skin and doesn’t have that unfortunate orange effect. They also say it’s super lightweight, fast absorbing, and dewy, though that has made it feel greasy for some.
Best for: light coverage in high SPF tinted liquid mineral sunscreen.
You can buy SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 from Dermstore for around $35.
Unfortunately, most sunscreens are quite expensive, especially for a good-quality, chemical-free formula that won’t leave your face ghostly and sticky. But Neutrogena comes in clutch with a broad spectrum SPF 50 mineral sunscreen that’s non-greasy, non-comedogenic, and free of parabens and fragrances like so many of the other pricier formulas on this list. It’s also one of the most water resistant. The active ingredient is zinc oxide, yet it promises to rub in invisibly so that you can layer it under makeup and avoid any white cast when worn alone. It’s a gentle lotion that should be safe for all skin types, even sensitive skin, which is why Bordone called it out as one of the best drugstore brands to try.
Promising review: “As I was preparing for a recent trip to Florida, I was concerned about sunburn on my face so I ordered Neutrogena Sheer Zinc sun protection for my face. While in Florida, I was in the sun for at least part of each day. This sunblock prevented sunburn completely. It was not greasy and blended in nicely and did not have a “suntan lotion smell.” I was able to put makeup on over it without it being noticeable. I would highly recommend this for use on face and neck to prevent sunburn. I’ve now made this part of my daily routine.” —Sheri B.
What else to consider: This product claims to be sheer, but many reviewers, particularly those with darker skin tones, felt that it never fully absorbed and left that dreaded white cast. It is 100% mineral, affordable, and effective at protecting from sunburn, so if you prioritize those things, it’s still a good option. Just be aware that it may be thick and harder to spread than some other brands and may leave you with a white tint.
Best for: reliable mineral sun protection ideally for fairer skin unless you don’t mind a ghostly face.
You can buy Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Oxide Dry-Touch Face Sunscreen from Amazon for around $11
No sunscreen roundup would be complete without Supergoop! The company makes The Glow Screen and Unseen Sunscreen, which are both great, but Mineral Sheerscreen and the tinted Mineral Mattescreen are the only options that are fully mineral. That also means they’re slightly thicker than the other Supergoop sunscreens, and though this untinted one has “sheer” in the name, it may leave a minimal white cast, according to reviewers. That being said, it’s still a nice texture and consistency that’s safe for sensitive skin with good sun protection, and it layers well under makeup.
Promising review: “I have very fair, sensitive skin and suffer from melasma. Having melasma, it is not advised to use chemical sunscreens so I had to find a mineral. This one is by far the best!! No white cast, no shine. It’s very ideal for beach days or everyday use.” —Denise P. via Supergoop!
What else to consider: If you like the brand and want to go with a mineral option without risking a white cast, the tinted Mineral Mattescreen may be the way to go.
Best for: Supergoop! stans looking for a reef-safe mineral option that works just as well to protect your skin and smooth imperfections as the company’s other offerings, particularly as a primer under makeup.
You can buy Supergoop! Mineral Sheerscreen SPF 30 from Anthropologie for around $38.
Saie is a newer skincare and beauty brand that has taken the industry by storm. I have its tinted daily moisturizer with SPF in a shade that’s a bit too dark for my winter skin, but I love using it in the summer for subtle, smoothing sun protection (it comes in a wide variety of shades that should match any skin tone). This sunscreen has a similarly lightweight, silky texture and glowy finish without the tint, though like the Kinship Self Reflect, there is a bit of color to it. It promises to hydrate with ingredients like grapeseed oil, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E and also absorbs easily on all skin tones with non-nano zinc oxide to provide SPF 35 UV protection.
Promising review: “I have finally found the sunscreen-coverage cream that I can use without reacting at all! The finish gives me a nice glow and I often blend it with the foundation just because it is so light to layer.” —Patricia O. via Verishop
What else to consider: Saie offers its own honest disclaimer (which I love) that this product may not be best for those with oily skin since it does contain a fair amount of base oils for hydration.
Best for: normal to dry skin in need of dewy SPF with a luminous finish bordering on tint.
You can buy Saie Sunvisor from Verishop for around $37.
Dr. Jart makes tons of great products for sensitive skin, and this mineral sunscreen is no exception. Granted, you are paying a hefty price for the quality, but it may be worth it if you’re struggling with redness, allergies, or easily irritated skin. This weightless waterproof mineral formula is hypoallergenic, sulfate- and fragrance-free, and promises a matte finish. It’s safe for all skin types, even those prone to acne and blemishes, and highly protective against UV rays with SPF 50+.
Promising review: “This is the best mineral sunscreen I’ve ever used. It’s lightweight (for a mineral sunscreen), gives great protection, and doesn’t interfere with my makeup. Will purchase again.” —Ollypops19 via Kohl’s
What else to consider: While it’s more lightweight than some other mineral sunscreens, this one may not feel as smooth or moisturizing since it’s oil-free, making it more comfortable on oily skin. It’s also untinted and leaves some with a bit of a white cast, especially those with darker skin tones.
Best for: layering a non-greasy mineral SPF under makeup or alone on lighter, sensitive skin.
You can buy Dr. Jart Every Sun Day SPF 50+ from Kohl’s for around $40.
Paula’s Choice products account for the majority of my skincare regimen. I love almost everything the company makes, including this mineral moisturizer with SPF that’s part of its CALM line for redness-prone skin (which I have). It’s a rich, hydrating lotion that fully rubs in with no white cast. It also moisturizes even super sensitive skin without irritation. It has broad-spectrum SPF 30 so it’s a great everyday option, especially since it layers well under makeup and is free of fragrances, parabens, and other things that may irritate your skin.
Promising review: “This is the best product I have found for redness. I have rosacea and saw positive results in a week. The cream blends in quickly and makeup goes on smoothly over it. I have used this product for several months and I haven’t had a rosacea flare up since. It’s very calming to skin.” —Joan Kaczmarek
What else to consider: My one con with this lotion is that it does smell like sunscreen, although it’s not overwhelming and becomes less noticeable over time. It also isn’t waterproof, so if you’re swimming or sweating, you may need to reapply with something more suitable.
Best for: dry, sensitive, or redness-prone skin that needs hydrating mineral SPF protection without a tint or white cast.
You can buy Paula’s Choice CALM SPF 30 Mineral Moisturizer from Amazon for around $30.
This organic, nontoxic, reef-safe sunscreen with mineral zinc oxide, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and aloe vera is fresh and hydrating for the face and body. The natural ingredients mean that it should be safer for skin types that are sensitive to chemicals and can be used from head to toe. It’s the only mineral sunscreen on this list that’s labeled as a sport sunscreen, meaning that it’ll stay put while you sweat (or swim) for up to 80 minutes, after which you should probably reapply. It’s also more affordable than many of the other best-reviewed mineral sunscreens, so it’s a great option to have on hand for the whole family.
Promising review: “As a former lifeguard, I’ve used dozens and dozens of sunscreens over the years, and this one quickly became a new fave. There is a bit of a white cast--so I'll say it’s perhaps not ideal for darker skin tones, but what I love about it is that it goes on dryyyy. It feels light and is not sticky at all, even with reapplying. Love it.” —asm via Credo Beauty
What else to consider: Reviewers note that it is harder to blend than other non-mineral options, which is to be expected, and can leave a white cast if you’re not willing to rub it in quite thoroughly. Those with medium skin tones noted that even fully rubbed in, it makes them look a shade paler, but since it’s tricky to find a mineral and sport formula in one that’s protective and feels nice on skin, people seem willing to tolerate the color change.
Best for: beach days where you need something sweat- and water-resistant that feels light, protective, and skin-safe no matter where you apply it.
You can buy Juice Beauty SPF 30 Sport Sunscreen from Amazon for around $18.