While most chemical sunscreens on the market have been cleared for safe use by the FDA, it makes perfect sense as to why people would rather opt for mineral / physical options. A mineral sunscreen sits atop your skin and reflects harmful UVA and UVB rays, and their natural active sunscreen ingredients (typically zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) don’t raise red flags like some chemical ingredients.
Those chemical counterparts work by absorbing into your skin, and then absorbing any UV rays that hit the dermis. They neutralize the UV rays in order to prevent burn and the sun’s photo-aging effects on skin (think wrinkles, fine lines, sun spots, rough texture, etc, not to mention skin cancer). They protect just as aptly as mineral sunscreens when applied thoroughly and correctly, and every two hours (or after a swim/sweat).
So when people have the debate about which is better, it’s rarely one about efficacy. And the biggest red flag of chemical ingredients, oxybenzone (which is known to disrupt hormones), has more or less been banished. Still, those chemical ingredients absorb into the bloodstream, and their presence can sometimes be measured weeks later. That is why the debate is usually won by mineral options.
The key challenge facing mineral sunscreens, though, is creating something that blends fully into the skin, without leaving a chalky white cast. (You know when someone is wearing a poorly engineered mineral/physical sunscreen, even if their skin is pearly white. There’s that matte, chalky layer all over the skin.)
In picking the best mineral sunscreens from the hundreds in orbit, we chose the following baseline: Each has to be pure mineral/physical UV shields (and not a combination of mineral and chemical); each must have a minimum of broad-spectrum SPF 30 (the recommendation of the ADA, FDA, Skin Cancer Institute, and every dermatologist everywhere); and it must not leave an egregious white cast in its wake.
Some of the below are dedicated face sunscreens, some are for the body, and a couple will cover you head to toe. Pay close attention when shopping, because some body sunscreen formulas contain comedogenic ingredients that will clog the pores on the face. Hence the separation between the two.
Best Overall Mineral Sunscreen: Svens Everyday Sunscreen SPF 33 (Face and Body)
Svens’ is a curious brand: They have this single SPF 33 product, and they do it so well. It is a full-body, reef-friendly, mineral-defense sunscreen. You get a few bonus SPF levels than the baseline (33 total in this case) for a dash of extra defense. And at $14, for a generous but travel-friend 3.4 oz., it’s one of the most cost-effective options on the roster.
But when I say that there is no white cast in its wake on this one, I mean there is truly no debate, and no extra rubbing in just to make it so. A few people might prefer to designate it to the body (some of my friends have, though I’m oily skinned and still find it feels light on my face). Either way, Svens is the name to remember in sunscreen, which is a relief for them, as they’ve bet all their chips on the category.
Best High-End: Supergoop! Mineral Sheerscreen Lotion SPF 30 (Face)
Supergoop! is one of the key players in the nuanced SPF game, offering everyday sun-shielding products that fit a range of needs. This zinc-oxide-powered lightweight face lotion goes on sheer (er, clear), and wears light atop (or below) your favorite non-SPF moisturizer. Many people rely on this product as a primer for makeup, since they don’t want to apply SPF after the makeup itself. It works wonderfully under small spot-check cover-ups, too, if you’re using a concealer to mask a single unsightly pimple.
Best Affordable: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 (Body)
Sure, we applaud any full-body sunscreen that is non-comedogenic for the face but also high-volume enough to justify slathering on the body… but, we also celebrate the dedicated sunscreens that cover their bases effectively and at an affordable cost. This 5-oz. body-dedicated bottle uses a zinc-oxide shield and deploys three types of ceramides to preserve the skin’s moisture levels against oppressors like heat, saltwater, chlorine, and more. It’s devised for sensitive skin, making it family-friendly, too. (Though, the same can be said for most unscented mineral-based sunscreens.)
Salt & Stone Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30 (Face and Body)
There’s a lot of love to share here: Founded by professional snowboarder Nima Jalali, Salt & Stone makes products that suit the outdoor extremists (we’re talking surfers, skaters, boarders) but that also accommodate all consumers. This reef-safe recipe utilizes zinc oxide to bounce rays but also contains hyaluronic acid for hydration, green tea to combat inflammation and bacteria, as well as ashwagandha for defense against toxins. It’s as much a moisturizer as it is a sunscreen, it covers you head to toe, and at $18 for 3 ounces, it’s also a bargain. Oh, and it’s water- and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes — because the sunscreen demands for athletes and enthusiasts should be the baseline for us all.
Ghost Democracy Invisible Lightweight Daily Sunscreen SPF 33 (Face)
An oil-free face-friendly formula combines zinc oxide with niacinamide, the latter of which helps improve the surface texture of your skin. (And prevent some of the sun’s damage, like fine lines, discoloration, etc.) It uses turmeric to combat inflammation, as well as artichoke leaf extract to neutralize skin-aging free radicals. It’s so good on skin that it’s practically a moisturizer.
Hawthorne Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 (Face)
This face sunscreen is a multitasker: It utilizes hydrating coconut alkanes, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory green tea extract, as well as a zinc-oxide-and-titanium-dioxide UV defense to keep your face looking firm, fed and photo-ready. (Not to mention, nice and matte, too, for the oily-skinned among us.)
Bare Republic Mineral Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 (Body)
This sport sunscreen for the body takes things up a notch to SPF 50 (meaning it blocks 98% of the sun’s UVB rays, as opposed to the 97% that SPF 30 blocks). It’s a better baseline for fairer skin, but also a prime choice for athletes and splashmakers since it is resistant to sweat and water for up to 80 minutes. It takes a little extra rubbing than others on this list, but it’s a terrific price point, and a lightweight pick for sweaty bodies.