When visiting a sunny destination, we often find ourselves slathering our skin in sun cream to avoid the unhealthy red glow that comes with burning.
Sun cream is also used by a lot of us as an everyday part of our skincare regimes, as protecting the skin from UVA rays helps slow aging.
However, you might not be aware of how many potentially harmful chemicals the average sunscreen contains.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sound as though they could be among these harmful chemicals, but they are actually two of the safest and best ingredients out there for sun protection.
Zinc and titanium oxide form a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s rays, rather than filtering out the sun’s rays like chemical sunscreens do. That’s why they are often referred to as ‘physical sunscreens’.
In this article, we’ll look at the best zinc oxide and mineral sunscreens available in the UK, and give a detailed overview of the pros and cons of mineral sunscreens, and how they work.
Best Zinc Oxide and Mineral Sunscreens in the UK
1. Shade All-Natural Sunscreen (SPF 25)
This all-natural sunscreen comes in a handy 100 ml pot, making it both easy to apply and small enough for packing into your suitcase as well as suitable for carry-on luggage.
For those of us who are terrified by the many undistinguishable chemical names on the back of a sun cream bottle, this product will put your mind at ease that you are applying only natural ingredients to your skin.
It contains organic virgin coconut oil, organic unrefined shea butter, unrefined beeswax and non-nano cosmetic grade zinc oxide as its only 4 ingredients. This also makes it a great option for those with sensitive skin as there are no hidden nasties that could cause irritation.
The lack of harmful chemicals also means that it’s reef-safe and biodegradable.
In terms of sun protection, you can also be assured that it is tested to European ISO Standards for broad-spectrum effectiveness (UVA & UVB) and SPF Verification and will therefore give optimum protection from the sun.
However, it isn’t tested for water resistance, so be sure to reapply after swimming.
- Simple, natural formula (just 4 ingredients)
- Reef-safe and biodegradable
- Comes in a metal tin (no plastic!)
- May not be water resistant
- Not vegan
2. Suntribe Natural Sports & Face Sunscreen (SPF 30)
This simple mineral sunscreen from Swedish brand Suntribe is similar to the one from Shade reviewed above. It only contains three ingredients: zinc oxide, organic beeswax and organic coconut oil.
This sunscreen is non-nano, so it’s safe for marine life.
Given that it contains beeswax it isn’t vegan, however it’s a relatively kind choice for animal life as it’s reef safe. It’s also waterproof, making it a good choice for wearing while swimming or paddling in the sea.
Suntribe’s Natural Sports & Face Sunscreen has an SPF of 30 and offers broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
This sunscreen comes in a tin, so it’s plastic free. That’s a big plus if you’re looking to reduce your plastic usage and live a more zero-waste lifestyle.
Given that this sunscreen contains just three ingredients, it’s very unlikely to cause an allergic reaction or pimples. It’s a good choice if you react to regular sunscreens, or have sensitive skin.
This sunscreen can be quite chalky and hard to rub in, and it can leave white marks on the face.
- Simple, natural formula: just 3 ingredients
- Safe for marine life
- Plastic free
- Not vegan
- Can leave white marks
3. ThinkSport Sunscreen 50 SPF
If you are an active person or are simply looking for a high-protection sunscreen that will keep you shielded from the sun’s rays while in and out of the water, then this ThinkSport sunscreen is a great option.
This sunscreen is designed to be used for all kinds of sports, including marathon and ultra-running, surfing, skiing, ironman, triathlon, cycling, all water sports and other outdoor activities as it still works for up to 80 minutes after application in the water.
This is also a great sunscreen for those with sensitive skin looking for a good sturdy product that can be used daily as it is free from harmful chemicals such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, 1.4 dioxane or UV chemical absorbers and is also free of PABA, parabens and phthalates.
Instead it contains soothing botanical ingredients that gives it a light citrus scent.
It’s light on the skin too, and doesn’t leave a chalky whiteness on application. However, it can be hard to get even coverage.
Compared to simple formulas such as Shade All-Natural Sunscreen, this product has quite a lot of ingredients. The Thinksport website lists the following ingredients:
Purified water, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, capric caprylic triglycerides, sorbitan stearate (coconut based), pine wood resin, vegetable glycerin, cetyl dimethicone, hydrogenated castor oil, magnesium sulfate (epsom salt), sunflower oil, jojoba oil, ascorbic acid (vitamin c), tocopherols (vitamin e), olive oil, raspberry seed oil, cranberry seed oil, hyaluronic acid (made from vegetable), glucose & glucose oxidase and lactoperoxidase, currant grapefruit.
- High level of protection (SPF 50)
- Doesn’t leave white patches on skin
- Water resistant up to 80 minutes
- Reef safe
- Hard to get even coverage
- Contains sulphates and silicones
4. Badger Balm Baby Sunscreen (SPF 30)
Badger’s Baby Sunscreen is aimed at kids and babies since it’s kind to sensitive skin and offers a good level of protection. It’s also water resistant for up to 40 minutes.
While this sunscreen does leave a white trace on application, it also contains soothing and natural USDA approved organic ingredients, making it gentle on the skin and giving it a light natural scent of chamomile and calendula.
You can read the ingredients list with ease on this cream as it contains all-natural products that even an untrained eye will recognise!
It is an especially good cream for children who are in and out of the water, who need of a higher SPF that is still gentle on skin and are usually less bothered by a few white streaks!
It’s only effective in water for 40 minutes, however, so needs to be re-applied regularly.
For those who are looking to live sustainably and safely when it comes to plastic packaging, this is sun cream comes in a BPA- and phthalate-free tube that is also widely recyclable.
- Good for sensitive skin
- Non-nano (reef safe)
- Nice smell
- Needs to be reapplied regularly when in the water
5. Eclat Mineral Sunscreen (SPF 50)
Eclat’s Mineral Sunscreen is full-spectrum, providing protection against all UVB and UVA rays.
It contains several natural antioxidant ingredients that could have anti-aging effects including Chinese mint, Baikal skullcap and sophora (a type of plant in the pea family).
This sunscreen should be a good choice for sensitive skin or eczema as it doesn’t contain irritating ingredients such as sulphates.
This sunscreen is free from sulphates and silicones, unlike ThinkSport Sunscreen. However, it contains parabens, which can disrupt hormones.
Eclat’s Mineral Sunscreen contains benzophenone-3, which is harmful to coral reefs. It should be eco friendly if you’re using it on land, but if you want to go in the sea you might prefer to choose a reef-safe sunscreen.
- A good choice for those with allergies, sensitive skin or eczema
- Free from sulphates and silicones
- Contains parabens
- Not reef safe, as it contains benzophenone-3
Which Mineral Sunscreen Is Best for the Face?
Etude House Sunprise (SPF 50+)
Etude House Sunprise is one of the best mineral sunscreens for the face.
It has a high SPF and can be used under makeup, making it a good daily sunscreen.
This sunscreen isn’t sticky, and is a good choice if you have oily skin.
While it only uses mineral-based physical ingredients to block out the sun, it still contains a lot of ingredients that aren’t especially natural.
Most people with sensitive skin and allergies to chemical sunscreens find this to be a gentle sunscreen that doesn’t cause any type of reaction.
Like most mineral sunscreens, it can leave some white residue. It can also have a drying effect, which is why it’s best to use with a natural moisturiser.
Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen
There are many differences between the regular type of sunscreen that you find on the shelves of your supermarket or pharmacy (chemical sunscreen), and mineral sunscreen.
Here are a few of these differences, including how they work, the ingredients they use and the effect they can have on your body.
Mineral sunscreens work by placing a physical layer or protection on your skin. They do this by using ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, or a combination of the two. These ingredients are usually natural although synthetic varieties can be made.
Because they sit on top of your skin, they cause less skin irritation or allergies than the chemical sunscreens, making them a much safer way to protect your skin without needing to worry about harming your long-term health.
However, even if you see the words ‘mineral sunscreen’ or ‘mineral-based’ on the packaging of your sunscreen that doesn’t mean that they are made purely with minerals.
Check the labels as they can often contain many of the same potentially harmful ingredients as regular sunscreen.
As the name suggests, chemical sunscreens work by using one or more to help dissipate the sun’s rays via a chemical reaction.
The chemicals are synthetic and usually include:
Before these types of sunscreens can work, your skin needs to absorb them. This can cause irritation and discomfort, especially if you’re a person with sensitive skin.
The chemicals used in sunscreens can seep into the body and potentially affect your health.
Research carried out by the EWG (Environmental Working Group) found that these chemical sunscreen ingredients can disrupt your hormones, affect fertility, act as xenoestrogens in the body and interfere with a range of essential hormonal processes.
Additionally, a study carried out by US government scientists in 2012 suggested that one of the chemicals often used in chemical sunscreen retinyl palmitate speeds up the growth of cancerous cells by 21%.
Chemical sunscreens could also be harmful for the planet and contribute to coral reach bleaching, DNA damage and death.
Other countries such as Palau in the Pacific are also following suit with bans coming into force in the coming years.
Mineral Sunscreen FAQs
How do zinc oxide and titanium dioxide work in sunscreen?
With research showing that excessive exposure to UV rays can cause both cancer and premature skin aging, it’s no wonder that holiday-goers are in search of the ultimate protection from both harmful chemicals and UV rays.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are natural minerals that block both UVA and UVB rays by coating the skin.
They are found in what are known as ‘physical’ sunscreens as they physically block the sun’s harmful rays from penetrating the skin, rather than sinking into the skin to absorb the UV rays like chemical-based sun creams do.
Chemical-based sun creams can irritate the skin as they are not made up of gentle naturally occurring minerals.
This is something you may wish to consider, especially for a product that you are going to use all over your body and on more sensitive areas such as your face.
Other benefits from switching to a zinc oxide or mineral sunscreen are that these minerals are far more stable when exposed to sunlight, meaning that they degrade far more slowly than other chemical products and therefore provide protection for longer as well as giving protection from all forms of UV, rather than just UVA or UVB.
Are mineral sunscreens any good?
Many people used to turn their noses up at zinc oxide sunscreens due to the less-than-flattering white residue that it can leave on the skin after application, which is especially noticeable on darker skin tones.
You will be happy to know that brands have come up with solutions that allow for the cream to be better blended with the skin while still providing great UV protection.
Creams that are tinted to a more natural skin colour are now available, so that there won’t be a white glow after application.
Zinc oxide is also added to some sunscreens as a nanoparticle, meaning that it is invisible to the naked eye and also thinner and easier to spread over your skin, making it a great option for those of us who are concerned with skin protection as well as looking good.
With its gentleness on skin, natural elements and its amazing UV protection, you will be desperate to try out a mineral-based sunscreen this summer, so below are some of the best mineral sunscreens on the market for you to try.
Are mineral sunscreens safe and effective?
Yes, studies have shown that mineral sunscreens can be both effective and safe when used by all ages, including children and those with sensitive skin.
There’s no evidence of hormone disruption, no side effects, less than 0.01% skin penetration and thus no concerns yet that the nanoparticles which these mineral sunscreens contain could be absorbed by the body.
Are mineral sunscreens biodegradable?
Many mineral sunscreens are 100% biodegradable—simply check on the label to find out more.
Is mineral sunscreen reef safe?
Mineral sunscreens are usually reef safe, but not always. Non-nano zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe for marine life, but sometimes mineral sunscreens contain non-reef-safe ingredients such as benzophenone-3.
Are mineral sunscreens drying?
Zinc oxide is an astringent, so if you use a mineral sunscreen frequently, you might find that your skin feels thirstier than usual.
A great way to overcome this is to apply a natural moisturiser before applying your mineral sunscreen. Those with oily or combination skins shouldn’t notice any problems.
Are mineral sunscreens water resistant?
Yes, many mineral sunscreens are water resistant. If so, you will find it written on the label or in the product description. If you don’t see anything then it will wash or sweat off with normal use.
Does mineral sunscreen expire?
As you might already know, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens degrade over time so they become much less effective and expire after a year.
However, this isn’t the case with mineral sunscreens. They don’t lose effectiveness in this way but start to separate. A quick shake or massage of the tube should help the ingredients to recombine.
Does mineral sunscreen need to be reapplied?
Yes, you should use mineral sunscreen like any other type of sunscreen and reapply every 2-4 hours to ensure your skin is protected.
Does mineral sunscreen work right away?
Yes! As soon as you apply mineral sunscreen, it starts to work.
Does mineral sunscreen stain clothes?
Mineral sunscreen is kinder on your clothes than regular sunscreen, although it can leave a mark if spillage occurs. However, if you apply bicarbonate of soda overnight then wash with your regular detergent it can usually be removed easily.
Does mineral sunscreen rub in?
A mineral sunscreen uses a barrier of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide which sits on your skin and prevents it from absorbing UV rays.
This means it doesn’t get absorbed by the skin like chemical sunscreens.
But don’t worry that you’ll end up looking like a vampire- many modern brands have minimised the ‘white look’.
Does mineral sunscreen clog pores?
Older brands of natural sunscreens used to be very thick and sit on top of your skin, but many modern brands now offer non-comedogenic (non pore-blocking) products which can allow you skin to breathe whilst also protecting you from the harsh sun.
Is mineral sunscreen better for acne?
As mineral sunscreen has astringent properties, it can help dry out the skin and reduce oiliness.
It’s also natural and non-irritating, which is perfect for blemish-prone or sensitive skins.
Having said that, it’s important that you remove your sunscreen completely at night to allow your skin to breathe.
Can you tan with mineral sunscreen?
No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays, so you will still tan whilst wearing mineral sunscreen but at a slower rate than if you weren’t wearing sun protection at all.
Is mineral sunscreen safe for babies?
Yes, mineral sunscreens are completely safe for babies. In fact, many baby-specific sunscreens are high in zinc oxide because it works so well on sensitive skins.
However, it’s best not to use any kind of sunscreen on babies until they’re around 6 months old and cover them with clothes and keep them in the shade instead.
Is zinc oxide sunscreen safe for pregnancy?
Yes, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-based sunscreen is considered safe for using during pregnancy. This is because they’re not absorbed by the body and they’re gentler to sensitive skin.
Are mineral sunscreens natural?
Some mineral sunscreens such as Shade All-Natural Sunscreen just contain a handful of natural ingredients, whereas others contain a lot of artificial chemicals.
‘Mineral’ or ‘zinc oxide’ sunscreen isn’t the same as ‘chemical-free’ or ‘natural sunscreen’, though mineral sunscreens tend to contain fewer artificial chemicals than regular sunscreens.
If we had to pick just one of these mineral sunscreens to recommend it would be Shade All-Natural Sunscreen.
It only contains four ingredients (which are all reef-safe), so it has a much simpler formula than chemical sunscreens.
It’s also affordable, easy to apply and has been verified to offer SPF 25 protection.
You should remember that while these sunscreens offer great protection, some harmful rays will still penetrate the screens and can cause damage or burning. An SPF of 25 means that 1/25 of the sun’s radiation will reach the skin through the sunscreen.
Sunburn is the body’s way of warning you that you have been exposed to damaging rays for too long and should cover up or move into shade, so don’t rely entirely on sun cream for complete protection.
These natural sunscreens will help to look after your skin and keep it looking young and healthy, but it is up to you to do the rest!
For some more options, read our reviews of the best natural, organic and chemical-free sunscreens in the UK.