- Mineral sunscreens are ideal for sensitive skin types and protect the skin against UV rays.
- We talked with two dermatologists about what to look for in an effective mineral sunscreens.
- CeraVe is a standout skin-sensitive brand, and its Hydrating Sunscreen Face Lotion is our top pick.
Sunscreen is a must anytime you’re going to be in the sun, but it’s important to pick the right type for your skin and your lifestyle. While most traditional bottles are chemical-based sunscreens, these can sometimes irritate sensitive skin. Enter mineral sunscreen – a safe and effective alternative to typical tubes that is especially recommended for this skin type.
Mineral sunscreens physically block UV rays by reflecting them away from the skin, while chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays, Marisa Garshick, MD, an NYC-based board-certified dermatologist told Insider.
Jeanine Downie, MD, board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey, pointed out that mineral sunscreens aren’t necessarily “healthier” for your skin than chemical sunscreens – if you choose a chemical option with gentle ingredients, it shouldn’t irritate sensitive skin and you won’t deal with any white residue. But some people do prefer an always-gentle mineral sunscreen or want to err on the side of caution until we understand exactly how the chemical ingredients absorbed into our bloodstream interact with human hormones.
Mineral sunscreen’s biggest downside is that it’s traditionally been hard to rub in, leaving your arms and legs with a white sheen. But newer formulas rub in just as well as chemical sunscreens, and many brands have formulated options specifically for those with a darker skin tone.
Whichever sunscreen you’re using, it’s important to always use SPF 30 or above and to reapply the formula every two hours if you’re in the Northeast, every hour if you’re closer to the equator, Dr. Downie said. You should apply sunscreen more often if you have fairer skin, too.
With dermatologist-backed perspectives, research, and testing, we rounded up the best mineral sunscreens – and a complementary FAQ on sunscreen use and efficacy – below.
Here are the best mineral sunscreens of 2021:
- Best mineral sunscreen overall: CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF 50
- Best budget mineral sunscreen: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion
- Best spray-on mineral sunscreen: Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray
- Best mineral sunscreen for darker skin: SkinMedica Total Defense Repair SPF 34 Tinted Sunscreen
- Best water-resistant mineral sunscreen: EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion
- Best mineral sunscreen for your face: La-Roche Posay Anthelios Tinted Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50
CeraVe’s Hydrating Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF 50 is lightweight, developed by dermatologists, and contains niacinamide, a known ingredient to brighten and hydrate the skin.
Pros: Developed by dermatologists; contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide; oil-free, recognized by the National Eczema Association and the Skin Cancer Foundation; contains ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide; won’t clog pores; fragrance- and paraben-free; allergen-tested
Cons: May be slightly chalky on darker skin tones
Recommended use: Apply a small amount to one part of your body at a time, preferably 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours, or less than that if you have fairer skin.
CeraVe is a brand well known for its use on sensitive skin, and its Hydrating Sunscreen Face Lotion SPF 50 is no different. Containing both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays, it’s also oil-free, was awarded the National Eczema Association Seal of Acceptance and the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Daily Use Seal of Approval.
CeraVe was developed by dermatologists to contain three essential ceramides, a type of lipid that locks in moisture and protects your skin’s barrier from the elements. The moisture-retaining ingredient hyaluronic acid, along with niacinamide, is also found in the formula. These two ingredients, according to NYC-based dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD, brightens and hydrates your skin, which she explained in our best eye creams and serums guide.
This formula does leave a slight chalky residue, but it rubs in well enough for the majority of lighter skin tones; however, it is probably not ideal for darker skin if you don’t want that white overlay (see our specific pick below).
What’s more, CeraVe is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores. It’s also fragrance- and paraben-free and allergen-tested. You can use it on your body, too.
The best budget mineral sunscreen
For budget-friendly skin protection, Neutrogena’s Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 is a wonderful and accessible option.
Pros: Made with 100% zinc oxide, water-resistant, hypoallergenic, affordable
Cons: Doesn’t contain titanium dioxide
Recommended use: Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure, reapply two hours after (or 80 minutes after swimming or sweating), and immediately after towel drying
The Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 is made with 100% zinc oxide and is water-resistant, so it’s great for water activities in the pool or at the beach.
It’s also hypoallergenic and, according to Dr. Peredo, this distinction means it’s likely void of parabens and fragrances. For an option you can swing at a drugstore at an affordable price, it’s a quality mineral sunscreen to stow away in your beach tote.
The best spray-on mineral sunscreen
The Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray is a hassle-free sun protectant that’s dermatologist-tested and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Pros: Easy application, water-resistant, dermatologist-tested, lightweight, vegan, gluten- and paraben-free
Cons: Doesn’t contain titanium dioxide
Recommended use: Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray until your skin glistens. Then, rub it in thoroughly. Also, note that this 6 oz. bottle contains six applications, according to spray sunscreen guidance from the American Academy of Dermatology.
Sometimes, applying lotion-based sunscreen can take too long, especially when you’re in a hurry to hit the beach or jump in the water. The Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray allows you to quickly and evenly apply your much-needed protectant, which contains zinc oxide as its active ingredient.
The vegan spray-on sunscreen is also gluten- and paraben-free. Though the spray comes out white, it applies more transparently.
The best mineral sunscreen for darker skin
SkinMedica’s Total Defense Repair SPF 34 Tinted Sunscreen is truly a blessing, as its sheer coverage doesn’t leave a white paste that’s noticeable on darker skin tones.
Pros: Doesn’t leave a noticeable white cast, contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, helps treat signs of aging with antioxidants
Recommended use: Apply to face, neck, and body and reapply after sweating, swimming, and towel drying.
As a BIPOC expert, Dr. Downie isn’t a big fan of mineral sunscreens because they often leave a white tint on dark skin. That said, she recommends the SkinMedica Total Defense Repair SPF 34 Tinted Sunscreen, which absorbs well, contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and even helps to treat signs of aging with its antioxidant ingredient blend.
“We, as human beings, react to indoor and outdoor lighting and the blue light from the phone, computer, and tablets,” Dr. Downie said. “Therefore, all races need protection from sunlight and indoor light daily with reapplication.”
For a sunscreen that will protect against UVA and UVB rays, helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and works well for dark skin, SkinMedia is dermatologist-approved.
The best water-resistant mineral sunscreen
The EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion is wonderfully formulated for an active lifestyle because it’s oil-free and water-resistant, so it won’t drip off when you sweat.
Pros: Contains zinc oxide, oil-free, water-resistant, won’t clog pores, contains antioxidants for protecting against aging and sun damage
Cons: Doesn’t contain titanium dioxide
Recommended use: Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours.
With the EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion, you won’t have to worry about your sun protectant sliding off. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and oil-free, so it won’t rinse off in water or clog your pores.
“Surfers, swimmers, and anyone partaking in water activities should read the sunscreen label which will indicate if the product is water-resistant and if so, for how long — generally 40 to 80 minutes,” Dr. Garshick said. “Those who partake in water activities should also be encouraged to wear UPF clothing for additional protection.”
You’ll also be protected from UVA and UVB rays since it contains zinc oxide and, with antioxidant protection, its SPF formula will help protect against aging and skin damage.
The best mineral sunscreen for your face
The La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50 won’t make you look shiny and can conveniently be applied with or without makeup.
Pros: Contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, tested on sensitive skin, fragrance-free, water-resistant, dermatologist-tested
Cons: Isn’t water-resistant for more than one hour, like some of our other picks
Recommended use: Shake well and apply 15 minutes before sun exposure and 40 minutes after water activity.
Sunscreen isn’t just for your body — you have to apply some on your face, too. This will ensure protection from UVA and UVB rays to prevent sun damage.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Tinted Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50 will effectively blend into your skin and can be applied with or without makeup. It contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, too, so it will properly protect against the sun’s rays. It’s also our top pick in our best facial sunscreens guide.
What’s more, its antioxidant complex — called senna alata — will help to protect against environmental damage. If you’re nervous about applying facial products on delicate skin, it was dermatologist-tested specifically for sensitive skin and is also fragrance-free.
La Roche-Posay’s water resistance will last for up to 40 minutes. And, if tinted sunscreens aren’t your thing, the brand has a non-tinted version that has a thicker consistency.
FAQs on sunscreen
Below, our dermatologist experts answered some common questions on sunscreen use and ingredients to look for, based on your skin type.
What is the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?
“Mineral sunscreens typically contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and physically block UV rays by reflecting them away from the skin, while chemical sunscreens, containing ingredients such as avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene, work by absorbing UV rays, converting them into heat, and then releasing the heat from the skin,” Dr. Garshick explained.
But both are considered safe and effective options for protecting the skin against UV rays, she added.
The other major difference between the two is that chemical sunscreens can be absorbed into the bloodstream. However, it does not necessarily mean these ingredients are unsafe or that the absorbed quantity is enough to cause any problems or concerns, Dr. Garshick pointed out. The FDA is continuing to look into this, but until we have research that shows these ingredients in this amount are harmful to humans, the FDA (and all our experts here) still recommend using whichever type of sunscreen you like most.
What consistency is best for a mineral sunscreen?
“The best sunscreen consistency is the one that feels good on your skin,” Dr. Garshick said. “Those with oily or acne-prone skin may opt for a gel consistency, while those with dry or sensitive skin may prefer a lotion or cream. Those with darker skin types may prefer a lightweight lotion that absorbs easily without leaving a white cast.”
How do I know if a sunscreen is “reef safe?”
According to the National Ocean Service, some sunscreen chemicals threaten marine life, ocean reefs, and the overall ecosystem, simply because humans engage in water-related activities.
“The term reef-safe doesn’t actually have an agreed-upon definition and more research and formal testing requirements would be needed to truly determine what is considered reef safe,” Dr. Garshick said.
Typically, sunscreens formulated without oxybenzone or octinoxate are labeled as reef-safe, she added.
How do I know if sunscreen is vegan?
“Vegan sunscreens refer to sunscreens that don’t contain animal products and aren’t tested on animals,” Dr. Garshick said. “Some ingredients that may be found in non-vegan sunscreens include beeswax, lanolin, stearic acid, and more.”
What sunscreen should I look for if I have acne-prone skin?
Dr. Garshick recommends looking for a non-comedogenic sunscreen to ensure that the formula won’t clog your pores, thus worsening the condition.
Can I use mineral sunscreen with prescribed acne or facial medications?
“It is especially important for those with acne to wear sunscreen,” Dr. Garshick said. Some acne treatments can make you more sensitive to the sun, plus sunscreen can help to prevent and reduce the dark marks or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that can go along with breakouts, she added.
Moreover, some sunscreens may also be formulated with calming or soothing ingredients, like niacinamide which can help to reduce redness and blemishes.
What sunscreen should I look for if I have dry skin?
For dry skin, Dr. Garshick recommends looking for hyaluronic acid, an ingredient known for its hydrating properties. This will nourish and protect your skin from the sun.
What sunscreen should I look for if I have oily skin?
For oily skin, Dr. Garshick recommends looking for an oil-skin sunscreen to prevent clogged pores.
Jeanine Downie, MD is a board-certified dermatologist licensed in California, New Jersey, and New York. Currently, she practices at Image Dermatology P.C. in New Jersey and specializes in cosmetic dermatology, laser and dermatologic surgery, and laser treatments, among other areas.
Marisa Garshick, MD is an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist who practices at MDCS Dermatology: Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery. She specializes in cosmetic and medical procedures, including treatments for acne, eczema, and skin cancer. She’s also an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell-New York Presbyterian Medical Center.
Marina Peredo, MD is an NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skinfluence, a practice offering a customized approach to cosmetic surgery. Previously, she served as a primary investigator in several FDA clinical trials.
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