under the sun

The 13 Best Natural and Mineral Sunscreens

Photo: Heather Hazzan

Last month, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that certain chemical sunscreen ingredients may be absorbed through skin at higher levels than previously believed. The study, which was conducted by the FDA, found that using one ounce of sunscreen and reapplying every two hours when out in the sun — you know, like you’re supposed to — increased the amount of avobenzone, ecamsule, octocrylene, and oxybenzone in the bloodstream to levels the agency says triggers the need for more testing, potentially raising concerns.

“We have always known there is some absorption to things we put onto the skin,” New York dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum is quick to point out. “We need to know how much remains in the bloodstream, and if there are any adverse effects from these levels. Just because something enters the bloodstream does not mean it has harmful effects.”

The consensus is that more studies need to be done to find out if there are genuine medical implications, and the FDA was quick to add that this news does not mean that the ingredients are unsafe and that individuals should not stop using sunscreen. Still, this might be a good time to consider more options, such as mineral sunscreens. Unlike sunscreens that use chemicals to absorb UV rays, mineral-based sunscreens block the rays physically (which is why they’re also known as “physical sunscreens”) and don’t get absorbed into the skin.

Below, the Cut’s beauty editor-at-large, Jane Larkworthy, lists some of her favorites — all of which come approved by Cut staffers with a range of different skin tones.

The Best One for Oily Skin

This whipped, tinted formula helps curb shine. It also contains something called “butterfly bush extract” to help protect against the blue light emitted from electronic devices, which, some experts believe, can cause pigmentation and redness in skin with prolonged use (and who doesn’t use their phone in prolonged fashion??). It takes some blending, but the whipped texture also feels kind of spongy and absorbent, which is what oily skin appreciates.

The Best One for Dry Skin

If your face is really, really dry, then here is the sunscreen for you. Admittedly, NIA’s SPF 30 lotion isn’t the most blendable — you’ll need a bit of patience and some elbow grease to ensure a smooth application — but it is without a doubt the most hydrating option in this group.

The One for Surfers

There’s a reason this stuff is called “mud.” Developed by a surfer, it’s a thick, creamy paste that’s made solely of things you know how to pronounce (cocoa butter, tea-tree oil, coconut oil, zinc oxide). While the chalky factor is low, a bit of elbow grease is still required for this pale-taupe-colored stuff to fully blend in.

The One for Afternoon Weddings

Along with its subtle golden tone, there’s a tiny element of shimmer in this tinted lotion, making it ideal for accentuating bare shoulders or dressing up pasty legs. The shimmer is super-subtle, and the formula feels surprisingly moisturizing and easily absorbs (and truly disappears) into the skin.

The Clean One

Comparing the texture of a beauty product to ricotta cheese might not sound flattering, but hear me out. This formula, which contains the brand’s signature marula oil along with some added antioxidants, has that fine grainy texture that a great ricotta has, but it’s grounded in a slightly milky base. You also might be alarmed and think that it won’t blend in, but it does, and with no chalky residue. Despite the ricotta reference and its pleasant citrus aroma, don’t be tempted to try a taste.

If You Want a Bit of a Glow

The tint in this liquid is so sheer, it’s like adding the Rio de Janiero Instagram filter over your skin. My pasty pale skin turned less pasty with a bit of a self-tan look, but it’s sheer enough to give darker skin tones a subtle glow.

And here are the seven sunscreens that reviewer Ashley Weatherford liked in 2018:

The Light-As-Air One

Most sunscreens are relatively thick — like a paste or a lotion — but this one is as thin as a glass of milk. It’s white like milk, too, but it blends in very easily. I like to wear it under makeup, so even after I pile on some foundation, my face doesn’t feel heavy with product.

If You Have Sensitive Skin

Oil-free and fragrance-free, Aveeno’s Ultra-Calming sunscreen was built for fussy skin. In terms of formula consistency, it falls somewhere in between BareMinerals and Avène, although it is more moisturizing than both. Just make sure to shake the bottle well before each use; the formula tends to separate quite easily.

If You’re a Frank Ocean Fan

Frank Ocean’s mom, Katonya Breaux, set out to create a mineral sunscreen that didn’t make dark skin look chalky. UnSun is the result, and the tinted formula is a dream. It’s thick like a moisturizer, but even my incredibly shiny skin could tolerate the creamy formula.

The All-in-One Option

Here’s something that works well for both face and body. The thick, white cream is infused with buzzworthy good-for-you ingredients, like squalane and vitamin E. It’s really effective at moisturizing dry skin, but if your face is already oily, you might want to look elsewhere.

The Makeup One

Some of the sunscreens on this list are tinted a little bit, like UnSun’s and SkinMedica’s, but Bodyography’s is so pigmented that it can double as foundation. There are four shades total, and the third shade, “Dark,” matches me best. I like that it’s outfitted with a brush on one end, so when I need to use it, adequate sun protection is only a few swipes away.

The One That’s Doctor-Approved

SkinMedica is one of those dermatologist-approved brands that’s sold in doctor’s offices and on skin-nerd sites like Dermstore. The tinted mineral formula is fragrance- and oil-free, and it feels like a light lotion on my skin. There’s a non-tinted version that carries a slightly higher SPF dosage (SPF 35), but the tinted one does a much better job of blending into skin.

The One to Use On Your Body

This lemony sunscreen smells like a burst of energy. You know how a lot of body sunscreens are thick but terrible at moisturizing? Well, Beautycounter’s is actually good at hydrating skin. That’s a big deal for me; there’s nothing worse than a dry elbow at the beach.

This article was originally published June 12, 2018. It has been updated throughout. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.

13 Mineral Sunscreens for Every Type of Skin