Your summer vacations are drawing near, and while your first inclination might be to ready your bathing suits, we encourage you to first arm yourself with the best mineral sunscreens ahead of your travels. Bathing suit trends come and go, but preventative skin-care never goes out of style!
Now, you’re probably aware of mineral sunscreens. Maybe you tried one years ago that spread like paste and left you looking like a ghost, or maybe you’re just looking for a new favorite to fend off sun damage. We tapped Dr. Jerome Potozkin, MD, founder and practitioner at PotozkinMD Skincare & Laser Center in California, and Dr. David Kim, MD MS, cosmetic dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology in New York City, to give you the low-down on mineral SPF, plus the picks to reach for.
What’s the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?
There are two types of sunscreens: Mineral and chemical. What makes them different from each other all comes down to the way they block UV rays. “The key difference is referring to the active ingredient that’s actually screening the sun,” Dr. Potozkin tells SELF. “Mineral sunscreens typically have either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the two key ingredients. So with the mineral SPF, the sunscreen actually sits on the skin’s surface and reflects the the light hitting the skin.” That’s why you’ll sometimes hear people call them physical sunscreens, because they form a physical barrier between the skin and UV rays.
“Chemical sunscreens are the ones that have more difficult to pronounce ingredients, like avobenzone and octinoxate,” says Dr. Kim. “They absorb the heat from the UV and dissipate it. So the chemical filters don’t physically block the UV from penetrating the skin, but rather absorb the damage caused by the UV.” And if you read the JAMA study regarding chemical sunscreens absorbing into the blood, here’s everything you should know about sunscreen absorption.
What’s more, mineral sunscreens are generally known as reef-safe options, since they don’t include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octocrylene. (The FDA notes that those chemicals are safe for human use, but keep those sunscreens for poolside or day-to-day use only.) Generally, any sunscreen to protect your skin is better than no sunscreen.
What should you look for when shopping for mineral sunscreens?
In general, both derms say to look for a sunscreen that’s broad-spectrum, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays. You should pick something with SPF 30 or above. “The American Academy of Dermatology and dermatologists, in general, recommend SPF 30 and higher because that provides 97% of the UVB protection,” Dr. Kim tells SELF. “SPF 50 covers 98%, so there’s actually only a 1% difference between 30 and 50.” If you’re worried about mineral sunscreen blending in, he recommends looking for one with vitamin E. “Vitamin E could be helpful because SPF, in general, is little on the oilier side, and vitamin E can blend really well in that formulation,” he tells SELF.
For face sunscreens, added ingredients like soothing niacinamide or hydrating hyaluronic acid are nice, but they’re not imperative—especially if you already have an AM serum and face moisturizer regimen. If you have rosacea or eczema-prone skin, Dr. Kim actually encourages mineral over chemical sunscreens, as they’re naturally less irritating. Folks with sensitive skin should also avoid dyes and parabens and opt for fragrance-free choices.
A reminder, though, that the best mineral sunscreen is the one that you’re actually going to use—not always the most expensive, and not always the one with the prettiest bottle. “Sunscreen is the best anti-aging product, as there’s nothing that damages the skin as much as the sun,” says Dr. Kim. “You could be using very expensive moisturizer, and very expensive vitamin C serums, but if you’re constantly getting UV exposure and your skin is constantly getting damaged, you’re not fully benefiting from your other skin-care products.”
With these dermatologist guidelines, we pulled together 25 mineral formulas for your face and body, from trusted brands like EltaMD, Supergoop!, La Roche-Posay, Cetaphil, and more. Find your next SPF superstar right here.