Most skin care experts say wearing sunscreen every day is essential to help reduce the potential for sunburns and skin cancer as well as wrinkles and other signs of aging. And warmer weather often means more exposure to the sun, which could put you at greater risk for sun damage if you’re not slathering on the sunscreen.
However, not all sunscreens are created equal — some dermatologists favor mineral sunscreen over chemical sunscreen. The reason: Unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens are naturally broad spectrum, meaning they offer protection against UVA and UVB rays as a baseline, no matter which brand or variation you buy, says Dr. Anthony Rossi, a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“Both UVA and UVB rays come from the sun and cause DNA mutations that are signatures in skin cancers and skin aging,” says Rossi.
Mineral vs. chemical sunscreen
While mineral and chemical sunscreens are both proven to be “safe and effective in reducing short- and long-term sun damage and skin cancer,” the difference is how they protect you, says Dr. Deborah Spey, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group. Below are some more details about the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens:
- Mineral sunscreen, sometimes referred to as a physical blocker or physical sunscreen, contains either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (and sometimes both). The sunscreen sits on top of the skin and physically shields it from harmful UV rays, says Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist. Depending on the concentration of the zinc oxide as well as the particle size of the mineral, some of these sunscreens can leave behind a white cast on your skin, says Rossi.
- Chemical sunscreen typically contains a combination of as many as six chemicals — oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and homosalate — that penetrate the skin to absorb UV rays like a sponge, according to our experts.
Mineral-based sunscreens, like Blue Lizard Sport Mineral-Based Sunscreen Lotion, is a third type on the market. Mineral-based sunscreens contain both mineral and chemical active ingredients.
To help you choose the best mineral sunscreens on the market, we consulted board-certified dermatologists to get their top choices. They recommend a variety of options, including ones that are lightweight, tinted and hydrating, as well as ones to avoid if you have acne-prone skin.
Our top picks
- Best lightweight: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense
- Best tinted: Alastin Hydratint Pro Mineral Sunscreen
- Best hydrating: Sheer Genius Brush on Block Mineral Sunscreen
- Best for acne-prone skin: Skinbetter Science Sunbetter Sheer SPF 70
- Best for darker skin tones: Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen
How we picked the best mineral sunscreens
You can find mineral sunscreens in lotion, oil, stick, spray and brush form—all contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide that shield skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. But that’s where the similarity ends. Depending on the brand you choose, some can be drying or leave a white cast on your skin, while others may clog your pores because they contain mineral oil or petroleum-based products, according to the dermatologists we spoke to. To choose the best mineral sunscreen options on the market today, our experts recommend looking for the following features:
- SPF of at least 30
- Contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients
- Water resistant for 40 minutes or more
Best mineral sunscreens in 2023
Below, we rounded up dermatologist-recommended mineral sunscreens, plus popular ones from our extensive skin care coverage. We also included some highly rated options that align with our experts’ guidance.
Unsun is one of the best sunscreens for darker skin tones because it contains iron oxides, which help minimize a white cast, says King. This tinted sunscreen is a primer and color corrector in one, and the combination of vitamin E, vitamin C, olive oil, aloe vera and lactic acid helps hydrate the skin, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 30 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 80 minutes
Isdin’s sunscreen products are some of Spey’s favorites because they have an “innovative ingredient called DNA Repairsomes, an enzyme derived from plankton that repairs existing sun damage that is in the cells of your DNA,” she says. The ultralight SPF uses peptides and antioxidants to minimize signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, says Spey. It also contains vitamin E to moisturize the skin, according to the brand.
Active ingredient: Zinc oxide | SPF: 50+ | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
This mineral sunscreen contains antioxidants to help protect the skin from pollution, infrared radiation and blue light, says King, who says she wears it daily because it’s lightweight, hydrating and doesn’t leave behind any white residue. It also contains a hyaluronic acid booster for hydration and is ideal for all skin types and tones, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 36 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
Brush-on sunscreens are ideal because they give you a smooth matte finish and are easy to reapply throughout the day (even over makeup), says Spey. This one from Isdin has an applicator that dispenses “a silky fine powder” that contains mica and iron oxides, which together offer protection from UV rays, blue light and infrared radiation, she says. It’s suitable for most skin tones and works best on normal and combination skin, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 50 | Hydrating: No | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: N/A
This sunscreen’s lightweight formula goes on sheer and is hydrating enough to replace your daily moisturizer, according to the brand. It also protects the skin from free radicals and blue light and helps improve the appearance of fine lines thanks to ingredients like aloe, jojoba, apple extract, squalene and glycerin, according to Brush On Block. King suggests following up throughout the day with the brand’s mineral powder sunscreen, which you can apply right over your makeup and leaves you with a matte finish, she says.
Active ingredient: Zinc oxide | SPF: 50 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 80 minutes
This tinted mineral sunscreen from reader-favorite brand SkinCeuticals is “weightless, almost watery,” says Spey. This sunscreen is her favorite because of its “invisible protection,” she says. It’s made of antioxidant-rich plankton, which Spey says can enhance the skin’s natural defenses against the sun, and it’s noncomedogenic, meaning it’s free of any oils that can clog pores or aggravate acne, according to the brand. SkinCeuticals also has a mineral SPF for the delicate eyelid area.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 50 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
This mineral sunscreen is a great option for those with sensitive skin since it’s oil free, says King. It protects against blue light, pollution and infrared radiation, and you can use it as a primer under makeup or in place of a light foundation, according to the brand. This sunscreen also contains niacinamide to help maintain and improve your skin’s moisture barrier and help with inflammation, says Rossi.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 70 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 80 minutes
This moisturizing mineral sunscreen is best suited for normal to dry skin and has ingredients like glycerin, green tea extract, vitamin C and peptides to hydrate and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, according to the brand. Additionally, the iron oxides found in this formula offer a “self‐adjusting universal tint” that should match most skin tones, according to the brand.
Active ingredient: Zinc oxide | SPF: 45 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
Featured in our guide to the best reef-safe sunscreens, Blue Lizard's cream lotion is free of skin-irritating fragrances and parabens, according to the company, which dermatologists say is helpful to those with sensitive skin. It has hyaluronic acid for hydration, along with antioxidants like green tea extract and caffeine to improve your skin’s texture and appearance. Blue Lizard products come with patented bottles and caps that turn blue in sunlight to remind you to put on sunscreen, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 50+ | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: No | Water resistance: 80 minutes
Like many other options on our list, this mineral sunscreen has niacinamide, which helps to improve skin tone and texture, according to the brand. It also protects against infrared radiation, which can lead to hyperpigmentation, says King. The brand also makes a stick version, which is convenient if you’re exercising outdoors since it is less likely to run into your eyes, she says. With a lightweight and sheer formula, this sunscreen works for all skin types and tones, too, according to the brand.
Active ingredient: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide50 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
This mineral SPF is designed for all skin types and doesn’t leave behind a chalky residue, says King. It’s formulated with antioxidants like artichoke leaf and turmeric extracts, which reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and help brighten the skin, she says. It also contains niacinamide, which helps strengthen the skin's natural moisture barrier, soothes skin and minimizes the appearance of pores, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | SPF: 33 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 40 minutes
This lavender-scented, non-greasy sunscreen blends in easily and doesn’t leave behind a white cast, says King. It’s ideal for all skin types and is noncomedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores. Ingredients include antioxidants like blueberry, acai and green tea extracts to help brighten the skin and prevent fine lines, wrinkles and dark spots, along with Rosa canina fruit oil to help control excess oil and minimize the appearance of pores, according to the brand.
Active ingredients: Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide | SPF: 30 | Hydrating: Yes | Sheer: Yes | Water resistance: 80 minutes
How to shop for a mineral sunscreen
When shopping for a mineral sunscreen, you should first know your skin type, as some products are specifically suited for a particular type, according to our experts. Below are some additional factors to consider when shopping:
- Be sure the label says “mineral sunscreen” and not “mineral-based,” which means it’s a combination of mineral and chemical ingredients.
- Opt for a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, which protects against 97% of the sun’s damaging rays, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Make sure that the only active ingredients are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, which are two naturally occurring minerals that sit on top of your skin to create a barrier to deflect the sun's UVA and UVB rays.
- Opt for products that have a minimal amount of parabens such as methylparaben and propylparaben, which can cause irritation and allergies.
- Look for “noncomedogenic” on the label, especially if you’re acne-prone. Noncomedogenic formulas have no mineral oil or petroleum-containing products that tend to clog or block pores.
- Look for moisturizing ingredients, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, olive oil, aloe vera and hyaluronic acidto keep your skin hydrated.
- Opt for a sunscreen that has a water resistance of at least 40 minutes if you will be working outdoors or plan to swim.
- Look for a sheer formula that won’t leave a white chalky residue on your skin.
What are the damaging effects of UVB and UVA rays?
UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns and are thought to cause most skin cancers, according to Rossi. These rays vary in intensity depending on the weather and time of day and primarily damage the skin’s outermost layers, he says. People are exposed to the most harmful UVB radiation between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., even on a cloudy day, says Rossi.
UVA rays penetrate much deeper into the skin and cause premature aging and wrinkles, says Rossi. Unlike UVB rays, UVA rays are equally intense all day long, he says.
What is the best way to apply mineral sunscreen?
Although the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends applying sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure (no matter the type of sunscreen) and reapplying approximately every two hours, Spey says that mineral sunscreens “offer immediate protection, so there is no need to apply them in advance and wait for them to be absorbed.”
While mineral sunscreens can rub-, sweat- and/or rinse-off, they last longer in direct sunlight, meaning they require less frequent reapplication compared to chemical sunscreens, according to Spey. She also suggests pairing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Anthony Rossi is a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. He specializes in Mohs micrographic surgery and other dermatologic surgeries for the treatment of skin cancers.
- Dr. Hadley King is a board-certified dermatologist at Dr. Hadley King Dermatology and a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.
- Dr. Deborah Spey is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Livingston, NJ.
Why trust Select?
Barbara Booth is an editor at Select who has published several guides on self care and beauty products, including best under-eye patches, best sleep products and the best Amazon fitness products. For this piece, Barbara interviewed three dermatologists to get expert-recommended mineral sunscreens and researched dozens of top-rated options on the market that align with expert guidance.