There’s no debate that sunscreen is one of the most crucial products for your skin—and overall health. But when you haven’t found one that works with your skin type or tone, sits well underneath the makeup you might be wearing, or is simply a pain to apply, it’s easy to get frustrated and skip it altogether. (Trust us, we’ve been there too.)
In the past, many mineral sunscreens were dry, spread like paste, and might’ve left you looking like Casper on your beach day. These days, they have more blendable formulas—many of which claim to leave minimal or no white cast at all. Before we get into our favorites, we tapped a handful of dermatologists to give you the low-down on mineral SPF.
What’s the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?
There are two types of sunscreen: mineral and chemical. What makes them different from each other comes down to how they protect the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. “The key difference involves the active ingredient that’s actually screening the sun,” board-certified dermatologist Jerome Potozkin, MD, founder of PotozkinMD Skincare & Laser Center in California, tells SELF. “Mineral sunscreens typically have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide [or both]. With the mineral SPF, the sunscreen actually sits on the skin’s surface and reflects the light hitting the skin.” That’s why you’ll sometimes hear mineral sunscreens referred to as “physical” sunscreens—they form a physical barrier between the skin and the UV rays.
Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients like avobenzone and octisalate, among others, David Kim, MD, a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology in New York City, tells SELF. “They absorb the heat from the UV rays and dissipate it. The chemical filters don’t physically block the UV rays from penetrating the skin, but rather absorb the damage caused by the UV rays.”
Mineral and chemical sunscreens each have pros and cons, depending on your skin type and tone, but remember the general rule of thumb: Applying any sunscreen to protect your skin is better than using no sunscreen at all.
What should you look for when shopping for mineral sunscreen?
Look for a sunscreen that has “broad-spectrum” on the label; this means it protects against UVA and UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, both UVA and UVB rays are harmful and can lead to skin cancer; UVA rays are associated with skin aging, while UVB rays are associated with skin burning. You should also pick a sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. “The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and dermatologists, in general, recommend SPF 30 and higher because that provides 97% of the UVB protection,” Dr. Kim says. “SPF 50 covers 98%, so there’s actually only a 1% difference between 30 and 50.”
If you’re worried about mineral sunscreen blending into your skin tone, Dr. Kim recommends looking for one that contains vitamin E. “Vitamin E could be helpful because SPF, in general, is a little on the oilier side, and vitamin E can help it blend really well in that formulation,” he says.