17 Best Mineral Sunscreens
Medical experts agree that daily sunscreen use is your best defense against skin cancer and premature skin aging. HGTV editors roadtested a number of mineral sunscreens to find the ones that feel best on the skin while providing solid protection from the sun.
Most of us now know that sunscreen is a critical part of not only our beauty — but our good health — routine. And if you’ve ever had the scary experience of having skin cancer removed, then you know sunscreen is not an elective but an essential part of your daily skincare routine.
Experts agree that serums and neck creams for the face can play a part in skincare and combatting aging, but no beauty routine works as well at fighting both aging and skin damage that can lead to skin cancer as daily application of a high SPF sunscreen, with mineral versus chemical sunscreens (or physical, versus chemical, barriers) often recommended by doctors.
Mineral sunscreens provide a physical barrier against damaging ultraviolet radiation and if they are broad-spectrum protect against ultraviolet (UV) rays which are composed of both UVB and UVA rays. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb UV light and penetrate the skin, which has led to some concerns about their long-term effects. The Food and Drug Administration has determined that the most common chemicals in those sunscreens: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate stay in the body for days or more with results that are not entirely understood. And the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate can damage coral reefs, prompting Hawaii to begin banning sunscreens containing those chemicals beginning in 2021.
Mineral sunscreens have become an important part of skin cancer prevention and have been embraced by the beauty industry with an array of products meant to make using them more appealing to consumers.
Dr. Amy Kim, a dermatologist with MetroDerm in Atlanta recommends consumers look for mineral sunscreens with broad-spectrum coverage to address UV rays (both UVB and UVA) that can penetrate glass at home and in the car and can also expose you to dangerous rays even when the day is overcast. That broad-spectrum coverage should be combined, says Dr. Kim, with a sunscreen that has "at least an SPF of 30+ which means you are covering at least 95% of UVB rays."
"The best coverage for both UVA and UVB are the mineral sunscreens which act as physical blockers," says Dr. Kim.
"The other big positive is that there is less irritation and allergic reactions to the mineral versus the chemical sunscreens as well," says Dr. Kim, especially important for babies or people with sensitive skin. Though spray sunscreens are often preferred because they are easy to use with fidgety kids, she recommends those for additional, touch-up applications but not the very first application of sunscreen. "You're going to miss areas," she cautions, if you begin with a spray sunscreen application.
Dr. Kim often recommends mineral sunscreens for children and tennis players or those who tend to sweat off their sunscreen, because mineral sunscreens don't come with the burn that chemical sunscreens can often cause when they get into the eyes. She likes EltaMD and Revision Intellishade (a broad-spectrum combination of mineral and chemical sunscreens) but says there are also good over-the-counter mineral sunscreens available from brands like Anthelios, Aveeno and Neutrogena. The key, says Dr. Kim, is to "use something you like to put on ... one that feels good to you."
"The other practical thing I tell my patients is the effectiveness really wears off after an hour-and-a-half or two hours," so they need to reapply after two hours, no matter what SPF they are using.
Another advantage of mineral sunscreens is they provide immediate protection, says Dr. Kim, while chemical sunscreens generally take 20 minutes to be absorbed.
I am a longtime user of chemical sunscreens because they tend to not feel heavy on the skin. One of my longtime favorite chemical sunscreens is a drugstore daily moisturizer that contains SPF 30, but I am trying to swap that out with a daily habit of mineral sunscreen use. What's been stopping me? Some mineral sunscreens can feel heavy on the skin and leave a chalky residue.
Great strides have been made in mineral sunscreen, however, and sunscreen makers are doing more to make mineral sunscreens for the face that are pleasant to use, often adding a tint to mask the chalkiness. The consistency of mineral sunscreens has also improved and many are so light you will forget you are wearing them. And while wearing sunscreen had previously often felt like taking your vitamins —necessary, but not fun — clever companies like Larkly have created packaging and easy-to-use powder applicators to make using sunscreen more enjoyable.
But whether you choose mineral or chemical sunscreens the bottom line is to choose something! As Dr. Kim notes, it is important to find a product you like that you will wear consistently to protect your skin from the sun's damaging rays.
Because the greatest sun damage occurs between ages 0-20 says Dr. Kim, preventing sunburns and protecting the skin of your children and preventing damage in the first place is critical.
"Cumulative sun exposure over time," says Dr. Kim in addition to that early 0-20 sun exposure is what leads to the common skin cancers like basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas. "It's going to impact you in your later years," she says, which is why using sunscreen to prevent more sun damage is important.
You can find more advice about how to protect yourself from the sun at the American Cancer Society.
HGTV managing editor Kayla Kitts and I have both had scary brushes with skin cancer, so we felt well-equipped to road-test a variety of mineral sunscreens to offer up our favorites (and those our dermatologists would also be happy with).
"This is my favorite of all the mineral sunscreens I tried. Friends, family and even my dermatologist recommend EltaMD, and they are right – it’s great! I typically prefer wearing at least a base foundation to even out my skin tone and hide my 'imperfections,' but this tinted sunscreen does the job well. Two pumps give me full coverage that actually masks the subtle melasma around my eyes. My combination skin tends to get oily by the early afternoon, but this sunscreen leaves me with a slight glow minus the T-zone shine I normally have. It’s super lightweight and moisturizing, so I don’t even have to pile on the morning moisturizers." — Kayla Kitts
"Part of my ongoing sunscreen education is realizing that lips need sunscreen too. But finding a mineral sunscreen with a good consistency is not easy. Coola to the rescue with their combo of tinted mineral lips balms with organic cupuaçu butter and mongongo oil in a wide variety of colors (I am a fan of Summer Crush and Skinny Dip). Added bonus: it's easy to remember to reapply your sunscreen when it has a pretty, subtle, flattering tint." — Felicia Feaster
"With a subtle tint that does double duty hiding skin imperfections, this silky, light mineral sunscreen has the consistency of a BB cream. It leaves a matte finish and has a non-greasy feel. Though it can be a little drying, the coverage and weightless feel make this a great choice. Though the tint is defined as "universal" people of color have commented on the need for a greater variety of shades to truly be universal." — Felicia Feaster
"At first I thought this tiny stick sunscreen would be too thick: it goes on more like makeup than some of the more watery, tinted mineral sunscreens and does require some blending into the skin. But this sunscreen has a gorgeous matte, nongreasy texture once applied and feels absolutely weightless on the skin. I don't wear foundation and can't stand the feel of it on my skin, so Salt & Stone's light texture, high SPF and affordable price point were a major plus for me. This will become a constant in my sunscreen repertoire. Many tinted sunscreens use the tint to mask the white residue of mineral sunscreen, but this one feels like makeup whose coverage actually makes my skin look great. I also like how tiny this sunscreen is, easy to stash in your purse, pocket or travel bag. It’s also reef safe." — Felicia Feaster
"For a sunscreen to wear alone or under your makeup, this primer/sunscreen hybrid is a winner. The tinted mineral sunscreen offers sun protection with a matte finish that layers invisibly under makeup to replace traditional foundation primer. I personally like to layer Tizo on top of EltaMD in places I want a little extra tint and coverage. I know it doesn’t double-up the sun-protection factor, but it feels and looks good — win-win." — Kayla Kitts
"I am a late arrival to the mineral powder sunscreen bandwagon. So finding a product that allows you to reapply sunscreen throughout the day without rubbing more lotion into your (in my case already oily) skin is nothing short of a miracle in my book. This adorably packaged and refillable mineral powder sunscreen contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and the innovative formula also includes a powerful trio of antioxidants including resveratrol, green tea and licorice root extracts, which help protect the skin from environmental damage. This powder is light, mostly just mattifies your skin and feels great. It's also super easy to apply to places like your ears, neck, eyebrows and other places you might overlook — a feature that makes this good for kids. For people like me with oily skin, Larkly has the added vantage of mattifying skin that tends to get oily over the course of the day. As an added bonus, the container closes tightly to avoid purse spillage." — Felicia Feaster
"Another favorite – and one my dermatologist recommends – is SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion. It provides broad-spectrum sun protection and offers a universal tint that helps hide imperfections and even out skin tones without leaving behind a white residue. This lightweight sunscreen is super smooth with an almost-matte texture. It doesn’t provide the amount of tint and coverage that I prefer on its own, so I like to use this one on days I’m behind a computer or don’t plan on leaving the house. Plus, the increased SPF is a plus!" — Kayla Kitts
"One of my absolute faves, this ultra-light, non-greasy mineral lotion is silky and easy to apply with no strange cast. As soon as it's applied, you forget you are even wearing it. This sunscreen features zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for broad-spectrum SPF 45 protection and also features Vitamins A, C and E and safflower extract to provide antioxidant benefits. The manufacturer says this sunscreen layers well over moisturizers (which is true) and under makeup — but the subtle tint that provides a moderate amount of coverage may allow you to skip the makeup altogether." — Felicia Feaster
"This 30 SPF sunscreen from a woman-owned company took some getting used to at first. It initially felt heavy and greasy when applied but once it was completely rubbed in, I couldn't feel it on my skin. You do need to shake the product very well before applying to avoid separation. It is also not tinted, so it's a great option if you don't need that kind of coverage or if you plan on wearing makeup on top of your sunscreen. Many sunscreen companies are recognizing the value of multitasking products and so Solara's Clean Freak also contains botanical extracts for a dose of antioxidants and vitamins that enhance skin health. I felt like my skin looked better after a day of using this." — Felicia Feaster
"Instead of just lasting two hours, this is supposed to last four hours," says Dr. Kim of this good sunscreen available in drug stores.
"I almost use it as my makeup," says Dr. Kim of this sunscreen because it works as a daily moisturizer and contains broad-spectrum SPF. "It's not heavy or greasy" on the face she says.
"I initially had some trepidation about using this sunscreen which felt greasy coming out of the tube. But after a good shake, I applied this light, almost whipped-feeling mineral sunscreen that features Vitamin C to fight free radicals and was very pleasantly surprised. I felt absolutely nothing on my skin and, as promised, this Coola sunscreen delivered a nice completely matte finish. For anyone looking for a great-feeling, unscented daily sunscreen without a tint, this one is a definite winner." — Felicia Feaster
"This fancy French sunscreen delivers high SPF 50 broad-spectrum protection and has a lovely tint that makes it a great replacement for a light foundation or BB cream. It blends beautifully and feels light on the skin. It does come in a tiny and expensive container but that also makes it ideal for travel or just toting in your purse." — Felicia Feaster
"I am a relative newcomer to the dry sunscreen phenomenon and I am not exaggerating when I say it has changed my life. Powder mineral sunscreen allows you to reapply sunscreen throughout the day and also to hit hard-to-reach spots like the scalp, ears, hairline, etc. without getting gooey, greasy lotion in your hair. This powder has a light tint that provides a bit of coverage so you can wear it over makeup or on its own. It is also refillable and the brush head comes off for cleaning. Yes, it's spendy, but I can justify the price when a product is this easy to use and might prevent another skin cancer surgery. It's also great for sensitive and acne-prone skin." — Felicia Feaster
"This ultra-lightweight mineral sunscreen offers SPF 50 with a virtually weightless feel that sinks quickly into your skin. I don't feel like I'm wearing makeup, just a really good moisturizer and the price point at $24 can't be beat. This is a fantastic product and one of my favorites of all the sunscreens I tried." — Felicia Feaster
"This one is a game changer, a 70 SPF mineral sunscreen that feels weightless and leaves a matte finish. Anyone who has ever recoiled from the idea of a mineral suncreen because of how it feels should try this lightweight, affordable sunscreen loaded with good-for-you ingredients like kakadu plum (which offers a high Vitamin C content and has been used by Australian indigenous people for centuries), eucalyptus and red algae."—Felicia Feaster
"It's a challenge to find a brush-on mineral sunscreen with an SPF as high as 50. Even more challenging, is finding one that feels good on your skin without too much drying, obvious buildup. This Colorscience powder sunscreen is not only lightweight, it is super easy to use on the road, at the office, anywhere where rubbing on another layer of sunscreen isn't convenient. It is pricey for sure, but it pays for itself in convenience and the advantage of being able to tote your sunscreen anywhere."—Felicia Feaster