If you are brand-spanking new to this whole idea that certain types of sunscreens are better or safer than others, then this guide is for you.
Growing up surrounded by images of the ever-happy Coppertone baby can make it a bit confusing to learn that a lot of commercial sunscreens are made with chemicals that you probably don’t want to be putting on your skin.
After all, you grew up trusting these products to keep you from getting burned under the hot summer sun.
Physical sunscreens really are a healthier way to go. They are less harmful than many chemical options and will still give you that premium protection you’re looking for in a sunscreen.
But where to start?
It can certainly be overwhelming, suddenly taking everything you thought you knew about buying a good sunscreen and turning it on its head.
Like I said, though, this guide is here to support you through the process. It’s packed with all the info you need to get you started and you help you find the best mineral sunscreens out there.
After thorough research into requirements for physical (mineral) sunscreens to be effective, SimplySunSafe recommends Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best physical sunscreen. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 physical sunscreens.
To guarantee your next physical sunscreen has the right ingredients and offers the best sun protection available, be on the lookout for these must-have features:
Broad spectrum protection
Before you look at anything else on a product, you’ll want to ensure that it provides broad spectrum protection. Luckily, all physical sunscreens provide this type of protection because of the way they work, but it’s still important to understand exactly what this term means.
Sunlight is part of the visible spectrum of what comes from the sun. However, the sun’s rays also contain several types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
UV rays are invisible to the naked eye but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect us. There are two types you ought to be concerned about when it comes to sunscreen:
UVA rays cause accelerated signs of aging. Normally this type of damage isn’t noticeable until it’s too late to be reversed.
UVA rays easily penetrate deep into the skin, damaging the actual DNA of our skin cells. This mimics the natural effects of aging, causing thickened, darker, wrinkled and leathery skin. It can also eventually cause genetic mutation that spawn cancerous skin cells – definitely not a plus.
UVB rays cause visible skin damage, though it can be gradual.
UVB rays are the type that sunscreens more commonly protect you from as they are what causes tans, sun burns, and even those nasty blisters if you have a particularly bad case of sunburn.
An easy way to remember the difference is that last letter in each acronym: A is for aging and B is for burning. Neither one is bringing any benefit to your time outdoors, so be sure to choose broad spectrum products that protect you from both.
Best SPF for physical sunscreens
Even if you’re new to the idea that certain sunscreens are better for you than others, you’re probably familiar with SPF ratings. They’re prominently displayed on the packaging and they have a decidedly strong effect on most folks’ sunscreen purchase decisions.
The question is: do you really know what that number means?
Let’s start with the basics. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Essentially, this is a factor (multiplier or measurement) of how much longer you can stay in the sun before burning if you wear the rated sunscreen versus wearing no protection.
However, an SPF 15 sunscreen doesn’t really give you the freedom to stay outside 15 times as long and still be protected. This has to do in large part with the upper limitations on how long sunscreens are effective, as well as the consideration that most sunscreens protect from UVB rays far better than UVA.
For a more useful way to think about these ratings, take a look at this table below:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
When you look at the SPF ratings in terms of the actual percentage of UVB ray protection, you can see that SPF 30 isn’t twice as good as SPF 15, and so on. As a general rule, try to make SPF 30 your minimum level of protection.
Dermatologists typically recommend SPF 30 as sufficient protection for most wearers. The only time you’ll really need to go for SPF 50+ is if you have very fair skin, a history of skin cancer, or particular photosensitivity for another reason.
If that’s the case though, don’t be duped into paying twice as much for another 2% of UVB protection.
Physical is better than chemical
Regardless of why you decided to go on the hunt for the best physical sunscreens out there, you may still be wondering what exactly a physical sunscreen is, how it works, and why it’s better than what you grew up with.
Well, the distinction between physical and chemical sunscreens is based upon their active ingredients and how they work:
Physical sunscreens do exactly what the name implies – they provide a physical barrier between the surface of your skin and the sunlight.
They sit on top after application, and any sunlight direction toward exposed skin is harmless deflected away. Think of it like wearing thousands of tiny mirror – the UV rays bounce off the cream and your skin stays safe behind the barrier.
These types of sunscreen are made with zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or a mix of the two. They’re effectively immediately upon application, and are generally considered to be calming to the skin.
Chemical sunscreens are designed to soak down into your skin when applied. Then, as the sunlight reaches your skin, the chemical sunscreen ingredients absorb the dangerous UV rays before they can harm your skin.
Because they’ve got to soak in before they work, you usually need to apply these 15-20 minutes prior to sun exposure.
They’re typically made with a combination of: avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. These ingredients have been shown to cause skin allergies with repeated use, and there is increasing evidence that they can cross into the bloodstream and wreak havoc on your endocrine system.
When you look at the two types side by side, it becomes obvious that the physical sunscreens are the healthier, non-toxic sunscreen choice.
Really their only downside is that the formulas can be a little thicker than chemical options, but for the vast majority of consumers that’s a small price to pay.
Suitable to your lifestyle
Put simply, sunscreen isn’t going to do you a bit of good if you don’t use it. To this end, it is important to consider the individual characteristics of a given sunscreen and compare them against your lifestyle.
Most sunscreens have one or two best uses that can help you determine if they’re a good fit for you.
Common Best Uses:
- Sensitive skin
Sport sunscreens are for any activity where you’ll either be sweating or getting wet. Regular sunscreens aren’t waterproof and won’t be effective in this scenario. Sport sunscreens also tend to have thicker, waxier formulas so are usually not great for casual wear.
The last three categories can occasionally have some overlap:
- Everyday sunscreens have formulas that don’t have a super-noticeable white cast or unpleasant texture and therefore work well as your go-to daily product.
- Facial sunscreens are typically less oily and have a more transparent finish – nobody likes feeling as if they’ve got a layer of grease on their face when wearing sunblock.
- Sensitive skin formulas can have the same use, but are more careful with their ingredients to provide a wholesome product for folks with extra sensitivities.
Best Physical/Mineral Sunscreen Comparison
|Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral||Badger Sport Sunscreen||Cōtz Flawless Complexion||BurnOut Eco-Sensitive||derma e Antioxidant Natural|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (14.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (2%)||Zinc Oxide (22.5%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (18.9%)||Zinc Oxide (16%)|
|Best use(s)||Everyday / Sport||Sport / Sensitive||Everyday / Face||Everyday / Face / Sensitive||Everyday|
5 Best Physical/Mineral Sunscreens
After through research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, and participating in skincare forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best physical sunscreens.
All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, and do not contain oxybenzone.
Alba Botanica’s Sensitive Mineral formula is an absolutely fantastic budget-friendly physical sunscreen. It provides broad spectrum protection of SPF 30 with a combination of zinc oxide (14.5%) and titanium dioxide (2%).
One of my favorite things about this sunscreen is the high concentration of active ingredients – especially when you consider how inexpensive the product is.
The formula is still thin enough for daily wear, but it’s also rated as water resistant for 80 minutes so it makes a good sport sunscreen as well.
The size of the tube is both a good and bad thing. It’s quite small, just 4 ounces. This makes it great to pack for vacations where you know you’ll need it, but it’s also the only size this product comes in so you may have to repurchase frequently depending on how often you use it.
Like all mineral sunscreens this one can leave a white cast on medium or dark skin tones, but Alba’s Sensitive Mineral sunscreens rub in quite easily which is both a time saver and makes them less annoying to reapply as often as you should.
Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral also features as one of SimplySunSafe’s best chemical-free sunscreens.
- Pleasant texture
- Multiple uses
- Small container
Badger is, quite honestly, one of those companies you just enjoy buying from because it’s clear that they care about the impact their products have on the environment and on their customers.
Their formulas are always very simple, making them great choices for folks who struggle with sensitive skin.
The only reason that Alba barely beat out Badger for first place is a difference in price. Badger Sport is a great value for the money, but Alba’s product is more impressive in terms of affordability.
Badger Sport Sunscreen provides broad spectrum SPF 35 protection with just zinc oxide (22.5%) as the active ingredient. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes, so it ought to be tough enough for whatever life throws at you.
The trade of for using such a super simple formula to achieve a waterproof physical sunscreen is the texture. It is thicker than other lotions, and after rubbing into the skin the finished effect is slightly greasy with a white cast.
This isn’t necessarily bad. It does it’s job very well, you just won’t win any fashion competitions while you’ve got it on.
Badger Sport is feature-packed which is why it’s also featured the best natural sunscreen SimplySunSafe could find on the market.
- Simple formula
- Great value
- High concentration of active ingredients
- White cast
This physical sunscreen from Cōtz has a very subtle tint that makes it ideal for use on the face, or as an everyday sunscreen for anyone who has trouble dealing with the white cast that some mineral sunscreens can cause.
While it’s great for either use, it’s definitely one of the best mineral sunscreens for the face if you want to avoid that ‘mime’ look.
Cōtz Flawless Complexion provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 50 using 20% zinc oxide as the active ingredient.
The higher SPF may be particularly desirable to anyone who is very photosensitive. The best part is that the extra protection isn’t going to cost you an arm and a leg with this product.
The formula is oil-free which makes it a good option for anyone with oily skin or as a facial sunscreen. Keep in mind, though, that an oil-free formula like this that has such a high concentration of zinc may be too drying for users who already tend towards dry or flaky skin.
All in all, this is a great option if you want the best physical sunscreen for your face. It can definitely be used on the body, but over time that might become cost prohibitive.
- Gently tinted
- High SPF
- Not a good choice for dry skin
BurnOut Eco-Sensitive has a gentle formula that is also oil-free, making it a great sunscreen for everyday use on the face or body, even if you are super-sensitive.
This sunscreen provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 35 via 18.9% zinc oxide. The formula is thick, but it doesn’t leave as strong of a white cast as compared to other formulas that use a similarly high concentration of zinc oxide.
Because of how thick it is, it can take some rubbing to evenly distribute across the skin. This isn’t usually a big issue, but if you’re choosing a sensitive formula like this one because of a medical issue such as rosacea, the excess rubbing might further irritate your skin.
Just as with the Cōtz product, the high concentration of mineral combined with the lack of oil may contraindicate this sunscreen if you struggle with dry skin.
PLEASE NOTE: If you go hunting for user feedback on this product you may notice a wealth of unsavory reviews. These are all from 2013/2014 when the company briefly changed their formula.
Thankfully they were receptive to consumer concerns and have since fixed the problem; please don’t be put off from a wonderful product due to old reviews about the now-obsolete formula.
- Sensitive formula
- May not work with dry skin
- Thick formula
derma e’s Antioxidant Natural Sunscreen provides broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 using only zinc oxide (16%) as the active ingredient.
The formula is oil-free, and has a slightly lower concentration of active ingredients than the other two-oil free products on this list.
In this case that’s actually a good thing. There’s still enough zinc to give you great protection, but not so much that you ought to worry about the formula drying out your skin.
It’s moderately priced, and has the added bonus of being fortified with antioxidants that can actively help repair skin in addition to protecting it from further sun damage.
This formula does use clear zinc in an attempt to reduce white cast, but you may not want to use this on the face unless you’re quite pale as it can leave a white cast after application.
- Moderately priced
- High concentration of active ingredients
- Slight white cast
If this guide was one of your first stops on your journey with physical sunscreens, I hope you’ve found it helpful. If you’re already on board with us all-natural sunscreen lovers, then I hope you liked the products I recommended!
While SimplySunSafe does recommend Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best physical sunscreen, everybody is different and has different needs. You may need to try a few before you find the one that is perfect for you.
Or, maybe you’ve already found your favorite physical sunscreen. If you don’t see it here, leave a comment and let me know what it is! I love learning about new product to help make these guides the best that they can be.