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11 best mineral sunscreens that are kinder to skin and the planet

Face and body SPFs for dry, oily, sensitive and normal skin

Sabine Wiesel
Monday 18 April 2022 19:00
<p>We used these products for a minimum of three days and embedded them into our normal beauty routine</p>

We used these products for a minimum of three days and embedded them into our normal beauty routine

By now we all know the importance of wearing SPF daily to protect our skin from the sun’s ageing and harmful UV rays. But what you may not know is that there are two different types of sunscreens: mineral and chemical. And the latter, used widely across beauty brands, has just been banned by major retailer Holland & Barrett – a UK first.

To understand the move, you have to know the difference between the two types of sunscreens – including how they work and their ingredients. Typically, chemical formulas (also known as synthetic) use filters like oxybenzone and octinoxate to absorb UV rays like a sponge so your skin doesn’t. They’re popular for their lightweight feel and being easy to apply.

However, more and more environmental studies reveal that these two chemical filters, among others, are toxic to coral reefs and marine life. And when, according to National Geographic, 14,000 tonnes of sun cream washes up into the oceans each year from bathing and swimming, that’s a lot of damage done.

This pollution to the world’s oceans is why the wellness retailer is following in the footsteps of places like Thailand and Hawaii, and banning chemical sunscreens containing these damaging ingredients. Instead, they’re favouring mineral formulas that don’t threaten reefs and wildlife.

In contrast, mineral formulas (also known as physical) use what’s being termed “reef-friendly” zinc oxide and titanium oxide filters to sit on the skin’s surface and block the rays getting to the skin – reflecting them rather than absorbing them.

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There are not just environmental benefits to choosing a mineral sunscreen over a chemical formulation. There are skin-benefits too. “Unlike chemical sunscreens, there is little chance of mineral products causing skin irritation – especially if you suffer from acne, eczema or sensitive skin,” explains Dr Adil Sheraz, consultant dermatologist.

It all sounds like a no-brainer, and that mineral formulas are the way to go, but unfortunately, they’ve fallen out of favour with consumers. Beauty brands have found easy-to-apply mineral formulations in the past hard to formulate and have often often been associated with leaving a thick white cast or a chalky finish, especially on darker skin tones.

Luckily, advances in cosmetic science mean the latest offerings have moved on from traditional formulations and are much easier to blend, xoffering a more invisible defence. So, to find the best mineral sunscreens we put the latest to the test…

How we tested

The latest mineral sunscreens were trialled for a minimum of three days under the same skincare routine for the best results. We marked them on how easy they were to apply to the skin, how they felt on the skin and whether they left any grease or white cast. These are the ones worth spending your money on…

The best mineral sunscreens for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Drunk Elephant umbra tinte physical daily defense SPF30: £30, Boots.com
  • Best body formula for high protection – Ultrasun mineral body SPF30: £28, Facethefuture.co.uk
  • Best face SPF for very sensitive skin – Avene mineral fluid SPF50: £14.80, Boots.com
  • Best face SPF for combination skin – REN clean screen mineral SPF30: £33, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best face SPF for oily skin – Ultra Violette lean screen mineral mattifying skinscreen SPF50: £34, Spacenk.com
  • Best for families – Green People scent free sun cream SPF30: £25, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best face SPF for acne and sensitive skin – Hello Sunday the mineral one SPF50: £15.95, Beautybay.com
  • Best face SPF for normal to dry skin – Grown Alchemist natural hydrating sunscreen: £33, Feelunique.com
  • Best budget formulas – Holland & Barrett 100 per cent mineral sunscreen: £9.99, Hollandandbarrett.com
  • Best make-up base – Murad city skin age defence board spectrum SPF50: £60, Johnlewis.com
  • Best budget face SPF – Hawaiian Tropic mineral skin nourishing facial milk SPF30: £8.33, Boots.com

Drunk Elephant umbra tinte physical daily defense SPF30, 60ml

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

This brand needs no introduction to the beauty-savvy. But if it’s yet to cross your path, then you should know the brand’s philosophy is that its skincare contains no nasties and what it claims to be the suspicious six: essential oils, drying alcohols, silicones fragrances/dyes, SLS and chemical sunscreens.

It’s, therefore, a given then that its SPF offering is a mineral formula and a cracking one at that – leaving skin glowing thanks to the added anti-oxidants and virgin marula oil for nourishment. It comes in this tinted and a non-tinted formula. Our tester prefers the former and if you’re light-medium skin-toned you will too, as it allows you to skip coverage on top. The very fair might just find it too dark, so should stick to the non-tinted – as should darker skin tones.

Ultrasun mineral body SPF30, 100ml

Best: Body formula for high protection

Rating: 8.5/10

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, we’ve lost count of how many outstanding SPF formulations Ultrasun has come up with over the years – and of course we’re including its mineral sun cream for the body in that. Simply work it into the body then watch it disappear and leave a mattifying effect behind. Available in SPF30 and SPF50, this also has a high UVA filter of 95 per cent to protect against ageing and damaging rays. On top of that, it promises to have Infrared-A and blue light covered too. You can’t say it doesn’t have you well covered.

Avene mineral fluid SPF50, 40ml

Best: Face SPF for very sensitive skin

Rating: 8/10

This French pharmaceutical brand can be trusted by those with sensitive, intolerant and allergic skin types. And within its already impressive line-up, comes this mineral sunscreen. The UVA and UVB mineral filters are joined with anti-oxidant pre-tocopheryl, a derivative of vitamin E, and the brand’s thermal spring water to soothe and comfort for added skincare benefits. We found the lightweight white fluid absorbs into the skin in an instant, provides a smooth semi-matte base for make-up and it’s water-resistant. If that’s not enough it also comes in a tinted formulation.

REN clean screen mineral SPF30, 50ml

Best: Face SPF for combination skin

Rating: 8/10

A REN bestseller, this mineral SPF is another zinc oxide formulation that protects your skin from damaging UVA, UVB and blue light. While the thick, white texture may feel slightly old-fashioned at first, it glides over the skin and disappears once you’ve worked it in – leaving the complexion feeling comfortable and well protected. Anti-oxidants have been added via yellow passion fruit seed extract to shield the skin further from free radicals. Plus, combination and oily skin types will appreciate that rice starch has been added to the formula to control shine and makes pores appear smaller.

Ultra Violette lean screen mineral mattifying skinscreen SPF50, 50ml

Best: Face SPF for oily skin

Rating: 8.5/10

Australian SPF brand Ultra Violette, is a cult favourite. And within its first-rate wardrobe of sunscreens, or “skinscreens” as the brand calls them, is this mineral formulation designed for not only sensitive skin but oilier, reactive skin types too.

It’s a next-generation zinc-only sunscreen that has a subtle tint and mattifying effect. It disappears quickly into the skin to leave zero chalkiness, just a comfortable shine-free finish. Furthermore, it’s infused with Aussie favourite Kakadu plum, rich in antioxidant and skin-protecting vitamin C. Plus, there’s no denying the bright blue and neon packaging adds to its appeal (hence why the brand is often spotted on Instagram too).

Green People scent free sun cream SPF30, 200ml

Best: For families

Rating: 8.5/10

Flying the flag for physical sun creams for many years, Green People has a superb mineral sunscreen offering. Just as the name suggests its natural line-up is fragrance-free, a bonus for those with sensitive skin or those who suffer from inflammatory issues. It’s water-repellent too, making it a great all-rounder if you’re looking for a formula the whole family can use. Plus, we love that the company gives 20p to the Marine Conservation Society for every bottle sold – a nice touch.

Hello Sunday the mineral one SPF50, 50ml

Best: Face SPF for acne and sensitive skin

Rating: 8/10

Hello Sunday’s collection of broad-spectrum UV defence formulas is where skincare meets SPF. Designed to be suitable for all skin types, including acne and sensitive skin, this 100 per cent mineral filter uses zinc oxide and titanium. The vegan formulation goes a step further with added protection from a bipeptide that shields the skin further from blue light from the sun and all the electronic screens in our lives. It’s slightly tinted to help counteract the slight white cast this has, so it’s only suited to fair-medium skin tones disappointingly. However, it’s lightweight and moisturising enough to use on its own.

Grown Alchemist natural hydrating sunscreen, 50ml

Best: Face SPF for normal to dry skin

Rating: 9/10

The combination of plant-based ingredients, science-led formulations and minimalistic eco-friendly packaging has won this Australian skin and hair care brand A-list fans like Gwyneth Paltrow. The new mineral sunscreen in its collection is a cocktail of UV-filter sheer zinc oxide, as well as vitamin-rich and full of skin-protecting antioxidants rosehip oil and parsley seed extract. To add to the appeal, hyaluronic acid leaves the skin feeling well-hydrated throughout the day. Expect the white broad-spectrum cream to seamlessly blend into your skin leaving it with such a natural glow you’ll want to go bare-skinned.

Holland & Barrett 100 per cent mineral sunscreen, 150ml

Best: Budget formulas

Rating: 8/10

Coinciding with the wellness retailer’s ban on chemical sunscreens, Holland & Barret has launched its own 100 per cent mineral sunscreen range. It uses both zinc oxide and titanium oxide to provide a physical skin barrier, as well as a combination of skin-protecting antioxidants and skin-loving oils – think coconut, jojoba, argan and sweet almond – in the SPF15 and SPF30 formulas. The SPF50 differs slightly with a coupling of soothing and hydrating ingredients like coconut, camellia and chlorella extracts. Effective and affordable, and reef-friendly this is perfect for holiday packing.

Murad city skin age defence board spectrum SPF50, 50ml

Best: Make-up base

Rating: 9/10

If you’re looking for an everyday mineral sunscreen to add to your skincare routine that truly looks invisible and won’t interfere with your make-up, turn to this bestselling formulation. Dr Murad is a man you can trust when it comes to skincare, and this second-skin formula is one of his best products that our tester has turned back to time and time again. Promising to protect your skin from blue light emitted from screens too, it’s a worthy pick for those working in offices and outdoors alike. It’s our most expensive pick, but you can’t put a price on looking after your complexion.

Hawaiian Tropic mineral skin nourishing facial milk SPF30, 50ml

Best: Budget face SPF

Rating: 8.5/10

One pump of this, like all Hawaiian Tropic products, transports you to a tropical paradise – so if you’re a fan of coconut-fragranced products this one is for you. The ultra-light, and yes you guessed it “milky” texture disappears in an instant on the skin leaving a mineral shield of zinc oxide to protect you from the sun. We were super impressed with this accessible, affordable and effective offering from the brand, and all without any harmful ingredients to the ocean and sea life. So if you pair it with the body formulation, you have the perfect holiday-packing duo.

The verdict: Mineral sunscreens

All these next-generation mineral formulas are outstanding, but for a face formula that’s going to suit all skin types, Drunk Elephant’s umbra tinte physical daily defense SPF30 is the on you should turn to. And don’t forget it also comes in a non-tinted formula. If it’s a body formula you’re after turn to Green People who have great all-around formulas that every member of the family can use.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on skincare and other beauty buys, try the links below:

Prone to getting sunburnt easily? Here’s how to treat the skin and soothe painful side effects

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