Best Mineral Sunscreens of 2022

What to know before you buy

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detail of person in white t-shirt putting sunscreen on their arm Photo: Carol Yepes/Getty Images

No sunscreen completely blocks the sun’s wrinkle- and cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, but when used properly, a good sunscreen will significantly reduce the amount that reaches your skin. All types are designed to filter UV light, but they work differently.

Sunscreens fall into two categories: chemical and physical. The latter is also called mineral or natural. These terms refer to the products’ active ingredients, the ones responsible for sun protection.

How Sunscreen Protects

Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or both. Those ingredients act as a shield. When the UV rays hit your skin, mineral sunscreens physically deflect them—they “bounce” off.

More On Sunscreen

The active ingredients approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in chemical sunscreens are avobenzone, ecamsule, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, and oxybenzone.

Chemical ingredients protect by absorbing UV light before it can penetrate the skin and then, through a chemical reaction, release it as heat. Most chemical sunscreens contain more than one active ingredient. There are also sunscreens that are made with both chemical and mineral ingredients.

Mineral Sunscreens vs. Chemical Sunscreens

Many people prefer to avoid chemical active ingredients and use mineral sunscreens instead for a number of reasons.

In 2019 the FDA called on sunscreen manufacturers to provide more safety data on the chemical active ingredients. But the agency said it was satisfied with the information it had on titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The issue with the chemical active ingredients is that two FDA studies showed they can get into the bloodstream through the skin. This led to concerns that they weren’t safe to use. But the FDA and many dermatologists say that’s not the case and that people should continue to use sunscreen.

Mineral sunscreens are also thought to be less harmful to coral reefs and other ocean life. And some people find that chemical sunscreens are irritating to their skin.

Given all these unresolved issues, why not just opt for mineral sunscreens?

The problem is—according to CR’s sunscreen tests—that they simply don’t provide the same level of protection as many (but not all) chemical ones do.

“None of the 25 mineral-only or mineral plus chemical products in our current crop of sunscreens were highly rated,” says Susan Booth, project leader for Consumer Reports’ sunscreen testing. “In fact, CR’s testing has never found a mineral sunscreen that rated higher than a Good, which means they came in at about the middle of the pack.” About two-thirds of the mineral-containing sunscreens received Fair or Poor scores. Some mineral sunscreens provide adequate SPF protection but not enough broad-spectrum protection, or vice versa. All of the sunscreens CR recommends have chemical active ingredients.

In addition, it’s not clear the degree to which sunscreen ingredients affect ocean life. And some research has suggested that titanium dioxide, too, might be harmful to marine organisms.

If you’re concerned about chemical exposure for yourself or the environment, or you have sensitive skin and prefer to use a mineral sunscreen, our testing found that these two are acceptable, although they aren’t among the top performers in our tests.