The Best Mineral Sunscreens for Your Face (and We Tested Them All)
by Jess Preciado
Image Credits: Drunk Elephant
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SPF is non-negotiable, and we’re here to help you find the best mineral sunscreen for your face.
At this point, we all know (or should know) that sunscreen is the number one non-negotiable when it comes to skincare, and experts agree. Board-certified dermatologist and Director of Mohs Micrographic and Dermatologic Surgery at Rhode Island’s Brown Dermatology Dr. Tiffany Libby says sunscreen is a must, “rain or shine, winter or summer.” She tells More, “a lot of people don’t know that UVA penetrates glass windows, so even while inside you are getting some level of exposure.” If you’re like me and you tend to forget to apply SPF, you probably now have little friends on your face like hyper-pigmentation and crow’s feet to remind you of your mistakes.
According to Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, a board-certified dermatologist at Park View Laser Dermatology in NYC, “UV exposure is the reason behind 80 percent of your skin’s aging in the first place.”
“UV light causes DNA mutations,” she adds, essentially accelerating photo-aging. Cosmetic Dermatologist Dr. Michele Green agrees, saying too much sun exposure is the “number-one cause of brown spots, wrinkles, and skin cancer.” So there you have it, SPF is non-negotiable, and it’s quite hard to dispute experts on this. However, there has been some dispute over what kind of sunscreens are safeest — and lately, the topic has a lot of people talking.
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Surprisingly, all sunscreen is not created equal. The active ingredients found in sunscreen fall into one of two categories — chemical or mineral — and sometimes a combination of the two. According to Dr. Gmyrek, “Mineral based sunscreens include the active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. They are not absorbed by the skin and work by reflecting the ultraviolet light away from the skin.” She goes on, “Chemical sunscreens utilize active ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate, which are absorbed by the skin and work by absorbing the ultraviolet rays.”
Dr. Green explains that with chemical sunscreens, “chemicals convert the UV rays into heat, which the body then releases.” She adds that mineral sunscreens act more as a “physical” blocker. Interesting, right? Despite both protecting your precious skin from harmful rays, recent studies published by the FDA have a lot of people retiring their chemical SPFs. Upon investigating the topic further, the FDA found that the ingredients in chemical sunscreens get absorbed into the body after just one single use (crazy!). Experts simply don’t know the biological effects these chemicals could have on our bodies, which is enough to have people searching for another option, and luckily we have one.
The Benefits of Mineral SPF
Charlotte Pienaar, founder of Everyday Humans, says you might already be reaching for a mineral option “if you’re someone who cares about clean ingredients, the health of the environment, and minimal skin absorption.” Organizations like the Environmental Working Group have highlighted research that suggests mineral sunscreens tend to be safer for us than their chemical counterparts because their active ingredients are hardly absorbed into the body. In addition to the personal considerations, the chemicals in chemical SPFs have been found in water sources around the world and in lab settings, making them a contributing factor to coral reef bleaching, according to Dr. Gmyrek.
And if being cautious and environmentally friendly isn’t enough, mineral SPFs may also be better for people with rosacea or hyper-pigmentation. Skin conditions like these are “sensitive to heat and may be exacerbated by chemical sunscreens because they work to convert the sun’s rays and release them as heat,” Dr. Libby explains.
For me, zinc has always been synonymous with lifeguards from the 80s with perpetually white noses. Fortunately, since mineral SPFs are having more than just a moment, brands are perfecting their mineral formulations to absorb into skin better. Pienaar says, “you want an elegant experience when you’re using sunscreen every day” — and she’s totally right. In her brand Everyday Human's case, the sunscreen has a balanced mixture of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and other emulsives (water-based moisturizing ingredients) that makes the mineral formula so pliable.
Another issue people can run into with mineral sunscreen formulas is the fact that “zinc and titanium dioxide tend to be bigger particles,” Dr. Libby says, “which is what causes the white cast.” This is why skincare companies like Glytone, for instance, have found ways to make these particles nearly nano-sized to ensure no white cast, according to Dr. Libby. Plenty of formulas are also crafted in ways that make non-nano zinc feel weightless and invisible.
Being equal parts skeptic and beauty junkie, I just had to see mineral sunscreen in action to believe the hype. I’m also Latina with olive-toned skin, so you can’t hide a white cast from me. I tested as many purely mineral SPFs as I could so I could find the very best formulas for your face.
Look no further: These are 10 of the very best mineral face sunscreens that are white-cast free and, with a range of matte to dewy finishes, feel elegant enough for every day wear.
- Maelove Sun Protector SPF30, $19.95; maelove.com
- Coola Full Spectrum 360° Mineral Sun Silk Moisturizer SPF30, $42; ulta.com
- Farmacy Green Defense Daily Mineral Sunscreen SPF30, $26; sephora.com
- Drunk Elephant
- Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense Sunscreen SPF30, $54; sephora.com
- Glytone Hydra Lipid UV Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF40+, $36; lovelyskin.com
- Everyday Humans Rosé S’Il Vous Plait SPF30 Gentle Mineral Sunscreen, $25; ulta.com
- iS Clinical Eclipse SPF50+, $45; amazon.com
- Nuori Mineral Defense Sunscreen SPF30, $59; verishop.com
- Biossance Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral SPF30 PA+++, $30; sephora.com
Each product we feature has been independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.