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By now, you are well aware that sunscreen is important. And if you aren’t, consider this yet another friendly reminder that you should be wearing it every day from head to toe through all seasons. That includes those dark and gloomy winters when the sun tends to hide and trigger the seasonal depression many of us fall victim to. Beyond simply remembering to slather on the SPF, deciding the type of sunscreen you use is also essential. For many, mineral sunscreen is the clear winner.
In response to an obvious roadblock to people getting ample protection and the growing interest in clean beauty, mineral-based sunscreen has become the SPF du jour for many. Unlike their chemical counterparts, mineral formulas use natural ingredients that sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays away from the skin instead of absorbing them. They’re so popular in fact, that beauty junkies like us reference the EWG’s sunscreen list every year for the latest and greatest options.
Besides mineral sunscreens for the face, there are chemical ones. But what sets each apart? We spoke to double board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brendan Camp to understand the differences between the two, as well as each one’s pros and cons. We know that ultimately, your choice comes down to personal preference. To help you decide, here is some must-know information to keep in your back pocket as you search for your go-to formula, along with the best mineral sunscreen options on the market.
“Mineral sunscreens protect skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation by reflecting them off the skin surface,” according to Dr. Camp. On the other hand, “Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation and turn it into heat energy that is released from the skin surface,” per Dr. Camp. The key words here that emphasize the difference between the two are “reflect” (for mineral sunscreens) and “absorb” (for chemical sunscreens).
Mineral sunscreens sit on top of your skin instead of absorbing into your skin. This makes the former option great for those who worry about soaking up active ingredients into their body, per Dr. Camp. “They are less likely to cause skin sensitization, which can cause a rash that presents with red, scaly, itchy patches,” he says. Not only that, but the active ingredients in mineral sunscreens tend to be safer for the environment than those of chemical formulas (we’re talking about you, oxybenzone and octanoate). You additionally don’t have to wait for mineral sunscreens to start working; they’re effective immediately, as they simply sit on top of the skin. Chemical sunscreens, in contrast, should be applied 20 minutes before going out in the sun, since it requires time to absorb into the skin, according to Dr. Camp.
One big reason why some people steer clear of mineral sunscreens is that they can oftentimes leave behind a white cast or residue on the skin. Whether you wear sunscreen alone or with makeup on top, this can certainly be an annoyance that might call for a chemical sunscreen instead.
As its name would suggest, the active ingredients in the best mineral sunscreens for the face are, well, minerals. These typically include zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. On the contrary, you’ll often notice some or all of the following active ingredients on your chemical sunscreen’s ingredient list: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
Mineral sunscreen work with any and all skin types, though they’re especially great for those with sensitive skin (since they’re less likely to cause irritation).
Now that you know how mineral sunscreens work and how they vary from chemical formulas, it’s time to get to the fun part: picking one! Keep reading for the best mineral sunscreens on the market.
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“In addition to using only mineral-based active ingredients, this sunscreen , which is suitable for use in children and adults, offers broad-spectrum coverage and is water-resistant (80 minutes),” Dr. Camp notes.
One Amazon shopper raved, “I’m in awe of this sunscreen. It’s NOT greasy,” adding, “It absorbs in without a trace. It’s so lightweight you don’t even know you’re wearing it.”
Dr. Camp recommends this mineral sunscreen stick because it’s suitable for sensitive skin, but also because of its ingredients. Prebiotics are gentle on the skin microbiome, while vitamin E shields the skin from oxidative stress.
“I have had sensitive skin my whole life (eczema). I cannot put chemical sunscreens on my face especially. This mineral sunscreen is lightweight, melts into your skin it doesn’t leave a white cast like some do,” wrote on Amazon five-star reviewer. “Also, it does well with wearing under makeup. No pilling or weird build-up. I love that it makes my skin feel really soft and I have never had a bad reaction while using it.”
Grab a tube of this Dr. Camp-approved mineral sunscreen for the face because it contains zinc oxide alongside antioxidant-rich barberry, sea buckthorn and lingonberry.
With an impressive 4.4-star overall rating on Amazon, one shopper wrote, “This sunscreen is lightweight and absorbs quickly. It does not leave a white cast on my face. It layers well with other skincare products and makeup. I use this every morning to help protect my skin from the sun’s damaging effects.”
Just because you’ve got your face covered in mineral-based sunscreen, doesn’t mean you can or should neglect your lips. “This SPF 30 mineral sunscreen lip balm is fragrance-free and contains soothing shea butter and vitamin E,” says Dr. Camp. A product that keeps your pout moisturized and protected against UV radiation? Sounds like a keeper!
One Amazon shopper raved, “This product is [a] great base for all lip products. Clean ingredients and provides great moisture along with having SPF.”
This mineral sunscreen has earned Dr. Camp’s stamp of approval because it’s sweat and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and it doesn’t contain any potentially irritating chemical sunscreen ingredients or fragrances.
“This is a great sunscreen. It doesn’t burn my eyes like other sunscreens do,” explained an Amazon reviewer. “This sunscreen doesn’t burn my eyes when it’s applied near my eyes!!! It works very well at protecting my skin from the sun. My entire face can be covered with the amount equal to half of a dime. It is thin and lightweight. “
For broad-spectrum UV protection and a touch of color, try Avène’s tinted mineral sunscreen. It calms skin while giving you a glowing complexion. What more could you want in a sunscreen?
If you’re on the hunt for the best mineral sunscreen for the face (and body), Supergoop!’s PLAY 100% Mineral Lotion is your answer. It’s made with sensitive skin in mind, so its clean ingredients shouldn’t cause any irritation. Green algae extract shields your skin from infrared radiation (and of course, UVA and UVB rays, too) and helps reduce the visible effects of free radicals, per the brand.
This luxe pick is packed with antioxidants to further protect the face from sun damage and has a subtle tint that compliments all skin types.
Don’t sleep on this ultra-sheer, unique gel formula made with rose oil and calendula oil to help calm and soothe your complexion.
This sunscreen-moisturizer crossover provides sheer protection against broad-spectrum UVA and UVB rays thanks to zinc oxide. It also offers hydration with vitamin B3+ peptides.
Made with sensitive skin types in mind, this fragrance-free sunscreen lotion is also safe to wear in the water, though you’ll want to reapply about 40 minutes after you dry off.
This easy-peasy sunscreen spray is infused with green tea and vitamin E to provide a soothing effect to the skin as it’s being applied.
This coral-safe, zinc oxide sunscreen will feel like a dream thanks to an infusion of essential oils and aloe.
This SPF product is truly one of a kind. In addition to being made with a reef-safe (aka safe for ocean water) zinc formula, its packaging is also biodegradable. Another key ingredient, chocolate (!!), provides deep hydration to the skin.