How do they differ from chemical sunscreens & who are they best for? We asked skincare experts for the low-down on this popular type of SPF
Whether you’re in Barbados or Blighty, spend all day outside or most of your day al desko, the consensus among experts is that sun protection is a skincare staple.
It’s said that the most effective formula is the one that you actually enjoy using, but finding such a product can be a tricky task. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the world of SPF, UVA and UVB, rest assured that you’re not alone. A good starting point is swotting up on the different types of UV filters that sunscreens contain. They can be divided into two camps: chemical and mineral (also known as physical).
What’s the difference? Put simply: chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and dissipate heat from the skin, while mineral sunscreens reflect the sun's UV rays away from skin.
Relying on your foundation for SPF coverage? Here’s our guide to whether the SPFs in cosmetics protect your skin.
How do mineral & chemical SPFs work?
"Mineral sunscreens – which are sometimes referred to as sunblocks – use mineral-based active ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that form a physical barrier and reflect UV rays away from the skin," explains Dr Catherine Borysiewicz, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic.
"Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain chemicals that include avobenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and oxybenzone, which absorb UV rays, converting them to heat and releasing them from the body."
Although the mechanics differ, it’s worth noting that the two categories aren’t mutually exclusive – there are a number of sunscreens that use a combination of mineral and chemical filters to ward off UV damage in a variety of ways.
Who is mineral sunscreen best for?
Mineral sunscreens have wide-ranging appeal, but are generally considered gentler and less likely to clog pores. For these reasons, they may be particularly well-suited to sensitive and congestion-prone skin types, according to Dr Borysiewicz. If you are reaction-prone though, do a patch test beforehand and see how your skin reacts over 48 hours.
What about chemical sunscreens? "For people who play sports outside or sweat a lot, chemical sunscreens may be a better option, as they absorb into the skin and so are more resistant to sweat and water," explains Dr Borysiewicz.
Strides have also been made in mineral sunscreen tech to make them more undetectable. "Traditional mineral sunscreens tend to leave a white cast and can be visible on the skin, which can reduce their appeal," advises Dr Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for La Roche-Posay.
"Due to new, tinted formulations, many no longer have that associated ghostly effect and are suitable for all skin tones."
Already got SPF covered? Here are our tips on other ways to embrace summer from top to toe.
How to apply mineral sunscreen
For adults, the NHS recommends two teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck, and two tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen though, so a useful suncare mantra is: “too much is better than too little”. Choosing a higher SPF can also be helpful if you’re worried you might not be applying enough.
"It’s important to cover all areas of exposed skin – and don’t forget the backs of your knees, ears and feet, as they can also easily get burnt," says Dr Borysiewicz. "Ensure sunscreen is amply applied to your whole face – not just where the sun hits."
Don’t forget to top it up at regular intervals throughout the day, as the sun can dry it off skin. The NHS recommends reapplying it every two hours and straight after leaving the water if you’ve been swimming.
8 of the best mineral sunscreens at Boots
The best all-rounder for face
Try: Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Fluid for Face SPF30 (£23)
• Size: 30ml
Lightweight and formulated to suit a range of different skin types, this pick has garnered glowing reviews – not only for its silky feel, but also the moisturising formula and minimal white cast. It absorbs well, making applying sunscreen more of a joy than a chore.
The best tinted mineral sunscreen
Try: Avène Very High Protection Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF50+ Sun Cream for Intolerant Skin (£18.50)
• Size: 40ml
Designed for the most sensitive skin, this long-lasting, tinted mineral protection provides light coverage that’s also water‐resistant. Uniquely formulated with soothing Avène Thermal Spring Water and with a matte finish, it soothes, softens and leaves skin shine-free.
The best mineral sunscreen for days on the beach
Try: Versed Guard's Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF35 (£20)
• Size: 50ml
This lightweight mineral sunscreen provides hydrating, invisible protection against the elements. Its oil-free formula has a creamy texture and a natural, dewy finish that won’t leave a white cast on any skin tone.
The best mineral SPF for an everyday healthy glow
Try: Liz Earle Environmental Defence Cream Mineral SPF25 (£27.50)
• Size: 50ml
Enriched with blueberry seed oil, lingonberry seed oil and shea butter, this easily absorbed, lightweight cream is formulated with naturally derived mineral UV filters. It helps shield skin and prime it with a light-reflecting, universal pigment that blends with your skin, leaving it looking luminous and radiant.
The best mineral sunscreen for dry skin
Try: Hello Sunday The Mineral One Mineral Face Sunscreen SPF50 (£20)
• Size: 50ml
This mineral SPF not only provides SPF50 UV protection, but also a hydration boost thanks to a bevy of nourishing ingredients. There’s minimal risk of a chalky finish, too, thanks to its subtle tint.
The best mineral sunscreen for nourishing your face
Try: Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Sun Milk SPF30 Face (£8.33)
• Size: 50ml
Uniquely formulated to protect and care for even the most sensitive skin, this mineral sunscreen is fast-absorbing, silky-feeling and oh so easy to blend. Its iconic Hawaiian Tropic scent is sure to bring on holiday vibes, wherever you are.
The best mineral sunscreen make-up for touch-ups
Try: Clarins Mineral Sun Care Face Compact SPF30 (£27)
• Size: 15ml
The high-level filter liquid and plant-enriched tinted formula is perfect for those with fair skin looking for SPF touch-ups on the go. The innovative packaging has also been created in partnership with Plastic Odyssey to include recycled materials and help fight against excess plastic use.
The best mineral sunscreen for body
Try: Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Fluid for Body SPF30 (£26)
• Size: 125ml
This gentle, 100% mineral sunscreen is a great match for a range of skin types – even those with sensitive skin. Its lightweight, fast-absorbing, virtually invisible formula glides on to limbs for broad-spectrum UV defence from the neck down.