Select is editorially independent. Our editors selected these deals and items because we think you will enjoy them at these prices. If you purchase something through our links, we may earn a commission. Pricing and availability are accurate as of publish time.
By now, you’ve likely heard skin care experts say sunscreen is essential to help reduce the potential of sunburns, skin cancer and wrinkles. And for most people, warmer weather means more exposure to the sun, which could pose greater risk for sun damage. However, not all sunscreens are created equal — many dermatologists argue in favor of mineral sunscreen over chemical sunscreen. But what is a chemical sunscreen? And why would a mineral sunscreen be better?
To help inform you of the best sunscreens on the market, we consulted board-certified dermatologists on the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreens and got their top choices, from those that are tinted and hydrating to those with anti-aging properties.
What is mineral sunscreen and how is it different from chemical sunscreen?
The biggest difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens is how they protect you, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Deborah Spey of Schweiger Dermatology Group. Both types of SPF are proven to be “safe and effective in reducing short- and long-term sun damage and skin cancer,” she said, though dermatologists typically prefer mineral sunscreen because, unlike chemical sunscreens, mineral sunscreens “are naturally broad-spectrum,” meaning they offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays as a baseline, no matter which brand or variation you buy. There are a few other differences between the two 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 helps physically shield it from harmful UV rays, explained board-certified dermatologist Dr. Hadley King.
- Chemical sunscreen typically contains a combination of as many as six chemicals — oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and homosalate. These sunscreens absorb UV rays like a sponge through a chemical reaction that transforms them into heat that is then “released from the skin,” King explained.
You may also come across mineral-based sunscreens, like the popular Blue Lizard Mineral-Based Face Sunscreen. Mineral-based sunscreens are not actual mineral SPFs since they contain both mineral and chemical active ingredients.
Best mineral sunscreens
Shopping for mineral sunscreens is a relatively simple process. Some bottles will directly say “mineral sunscreen” on the front, and other times you’ll need to read the label and look for active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Mineral sunscreens are available in various formulas, ranging from lotion and sticks to sprays and brushes. Spey is a fan of spray mineral sunscreens from Sun Bum, BeautyCounter and Elta MD, among other brands.
Below, we rounded up dermatologist-recommended mineral sunblocks, plus other popular mineral sunscreens from our extensive skin care coverage. And since some physical sunblocks can leave behind a white cast, we also included a couple of mineral sunscreens made for those with darker skin tones in mind.
King said that Unsun is one of the best sunscreens for darker skin tones. She noted that the mineral SPF contains iron oxides, which shouldn’t leave behind a white cast. The combination of shea butter and coconut, olive oil and safflower seed oils also helps hydrate the skin, according to the brand.
Spey said that ISDIN’s sunscreen products are some of her favorites. “This is the only sunscreen line in the country that has a truly innovative ingredient called DNA Repairsomes, an enzyme derived from plankton that repairs existing sun damage that is in the cells of your DNA,” she explained. Spey described the Eryfotona Ageless tinted mineral sunscreen as “ultralight” and highlighted that it utilizes peptides and antioxidants to offer UV protection and minimize signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles. Its sister product, Eryfotona Actinia, offers the same protection, Spey noted, and its ultralight non-greasy formula makes it a great everyday sunscreen to wear under makeup.
ISDIN’s brush applicator dispenses “a silky fine powder” featuring mica and iron oxides, which together offer protection from UV rays, blue light and infrared radiation, according to Spey. “Take it with you for thorough protection and easy reapplication, even over makeup,” she said.
One of Spey’s favorite mineral sunscreens for “light, invisible protection” is this “weightless, almost watery” SPF from SkinCeuticals. It boasts antioxidant-rich plankton, which Spey said can enhance skin’s natural defenses against the sun. This tinted sunscreen also shouldn’t clog pores or aggravate acne, Spey noted. SkinCeuticals also has a mineral SPF for the delicate eyelid area.
This mineral sunscreen is oil-free, which King noted is helpful for those with oily or acne-prone skin. She also said that the formula is creamy and “dries sheer,” meaning it shouldn’t leave any white residue on your skin. Skinbetter Science says you can also utilize this SPF as a makeup primer to wear under your foundation and concealer.
King said this mineral sunscreen offers “lightweight consistency and coverage.” According to Revision Skincare, the iron oxides found in this formula offer a “self‐adjusting, universal tint” that should match most skin tones.
The Revision line is another one of Spey’s favorites. Blue Lizard's cream sunscreen is free of skin-irritating fragrances and parabens, according to the company, which experts have told us is helpful for those with sensitive skin.
According to King, this mineral sunscreen is rich in antioxidants and features niacinamide, a popular skin care ingredient that can help improve skin tone and texture. Another selling point for King is that this Colorscience sunscreen offers protection from infrared radiation, which can lead to hyperpigmentation. The brand also makes a stick version of Total Protection, which King noted is convenient for outdoor exercises and is “less likely to run into the eyes.”
King recommended Ghost Democracy’s oil-free and non-greasy SPF, noting that it does not leave behind a chalky residue.The sunscreen is formulated with artichoke leaf and turmeric extracts, both of which have antioxidant properties, according to King.
One of the best sunscreens for acne-prone skin, King previously noted this SPF can be dusted on the face and body as a setting powder to help extend the wear of your makeup. It utilizes a combination of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide and antioxidants to offer sun protection and protect from free radicals.
One of King’s favorites, this sunscreen is a great daily option that offers protection against UVA and UVB rays. It contains iron oxides that protect against visible light, and it also contains antioxidants that further protect the skin’s surface against sun damage. “It blends in easily, is non-greasy and doesn’t leave a white cast,” King noted.
Mineral sunscreen benefits
King said that mineral sunscreens are suitable for everyone since they offer full-spectrum coverage and are “easy to apply and look great.” Spey also noted that mineral sunscreens are gentle enough for children and those with sensitive skin and offer “unquestionable safety and efficacy.”
Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, has been shown to partially absorb into skin — in its January 2020 study on the matter, however, the FDA noted that “absorption does not equal risk” and said that more research needs to be done before any conclusions are drawn.
Spey said that while she prefers mineral sunscreen, she would use chemical sunscreen over no sunscreen at all. “People are constantly on the internet, which is one of the greatest sources of info and the greatest source of disinformation,” she said. “People say, ‘I read that sunscreen causes cancer,’ but none of the studies have proved this to be true. What we do know is that UV is unsafe, and that’s a known risk.” She recommended using broad-spectrum sunscreens paired with protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
Mineral sunscreens “offer immediate protection, so there is no need to apply them in advance and wait for them to be absorbed,” Spey said. The nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation typically recommends applying sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure (no matter the type of sunscreen) and reapplying approximately every two hours. Although mineral sunscreens “can definitely” rub off, sweat off and rinse off, they last longer in direct sunlight, meaning they require less frequent reapplication compared to chemical sunscreens, Spey explained.
Mineral sunscreen limitations
The dermatologists we consulted noted there are some things that a mineral sunscreen can’t do, as well as some inconveniences around using it.
Spey noted that spray mineral sunscreens tend to be “a little sticky” when applied but typically “become invisible” after you rub them into the skin. Mineral sunscreen might feel heavy on the skin, too. King advised testing out mineral SPFs before fully applying to help ensure they don’t leave behind a white cast on the skin.
CORRECTION (June 7, 2021, 12:25 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article mistakenly included a Blue Lizard mineral-based sunscreen, not a mineral-only sunscreen.