Chemical sunscreens have been getting a lot of criticism over the past few years, and for good reason.
They contain oxybenzone, octinoxate, and a variety of other chemicals, and work by absorbing into the skin and converting UV rays into heat, then releasing it from the body. Most people who use chemical sunscreens do so because of their convenience – they are more water-resistant than physical sunscreen and absorb faster. But these benefits come at a cost.
Recent studies have found that the active chemicals in chemical sunscreens are toxic to corals, algae, sea urchins, fish, and even mammals. These ingredients are especially harmful to corals. When they are introduced to a coral reef’s environment, they damage their DNA, deform their young, decrease their defense against coral bleaching, and sometimes even induce bleaching.
And that’s something everyone should care about. After all, coral reefs generate half of the world’s oxygen, and absorb 30 percent of man-made carbon dioxide.
The future is now, and we should all be switching to mineral sunscreens to protect our coral reefs. I’ve put together this list to make switching easier, and I hope it’ll be useful!
1. Sensitive Skin
Sensitive skin is temperamental, and can’t handle the same products normal skin can. This is true for cleansers, toners, serums, exfoliators, moisturizers, sunscreens, and everything in between. It’s best to look for products that include ingredients such as fatty acids, which will help reinforce the skin barrier, antioxidants, that’ll protect and combat future oxidative damage, and anti-inflammatory ingredients, that’ll soothe irritation.
Australian Gold’s Botanical Mineral Sunscreen for Kids is my number one recommendation for those with sensitive skin. It’s got a killer ingredient list – vitamin E, squalene, shea butter, all alongside lemon myrtle, kakadu plum, eucalyptus and red algae extracts. (which provide a unique combination of antioxidants)
It’s also hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, alcohol-free, and EU allergen-free.
I used this sunscreen for years and have nothing but good things to say for it. 10/10 would recommend and wear again.
2. Dry Skin
A wide variety of things can cause dry skin such as exposure to the elements, temperature change, and seemingly innocuous daily habits.
At its core, though, dry skin is caused by lack of oil. Individuals with dry complexions produce little to no sebum, which leads to irritation, flakiness, dryness, and a compromised skin barrier. This accelerates trans-epidermal water loss, leaving your skin dehydrated.
For this reason, individuals with dry skin should look for products that include emollient and humectant ingredients. An emollient is an ingredient that soothes and softens the skin, while a humectant is one that retains moisture in the skin. A combination of these two types of ingredients will help your skin the most, alleviating the initial dryness, and the dehydration that was caused by it.
Dr. G Green Mild Up Sun is another sunscreen I have used and recommend. It’s actually the sunscreen I am currently using, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It’s rich formula makes it perfect for dry skin.
Its ingredients include centella asiatica extract, which will calm even the most irritated complexions, safflower seed oil, which is chock-full of fatty acids, ceramides, which are a key ingredient in repairing the skin barrier, and vitamin E, which is known for its wound healing properties.
It’s great for dry skin, but really, I’d recommend it to virtually any skin type other than fungal acne-prone skin.
3. Acne-Prone Skin
Acne is the worst. I’ve had it since I began puberty, and only over the past couple of years has it waned. If you’ve got acne-prone skin, finding non-comedogenic products is essential. If you don’t, you’ll end up with a face full of clogged pores.
It can be challenging finding a sunscreen that works well with acne-prone skin. Partly because sunscreens are a heavier product, and partly because everybody’s skin is different, meaning ingredients that work for one individual may cause problems for another.
That’s why I like to keep it simple when it comes to acne-prone skin – the fewer the ingredients, the better. And on a broad scale, I look for products that are alcohol-free, silicone free, sulfate-free, paraben free, and fragrance-free.
Badger’s SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream is all of that. It’s only got five ingredients, which makes it perfect for acne-prone and sensitive skin – the fewer the ingredients, the less likely you’ll have a reaction to the product. These ingredients include:
1. Zinc oxide, the superior physical UV blocker.
2. Sea buckthorn fruit extract, which is rich in fatty acids and antioxidants.
3. Sunflower seed oil, a non-irritating, highly moisturizing oil with a comedogenic rating of zero.
4. Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps nourish and protect your skin from damage caused by free radicals.
5. Beeswax, a hydrating and soothing ingredient that calms the skin and reduces inflammation.
If you’ve got acne-prone skin, I 100% recommend giving this a try.
4. Fungal Acne-Prone Skin
Fungal acne differs greatly from hormonal acne. It’s not your typical clogged pore, and cannot be treated as such. If you attempt to do so, you’ll more than likely just make the problem worse.
It’s caused by an overgrowth of yeast in hair follicles. This yeast lives on everyone’s skin, but becomes problematic when it grows too much and feeds on human sebum. This is when fungal acne occurs.
Sadly, this yeast thrives in environments rich in fatty acids, which are found in high quantities in most beauty products. I’d love to be able to recommend Badger’s SPF 30 Clear Zinc Sunscreen Cream to those with fungal acne-prone skin, but because it’s formulated with sunflower seed oil, I can’t do so. If anything, I recommend you don’t use it.
Instead, try Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield. It’s 100% fungal acne safe, is tinted in various shades to help prevent a white cast, and has an awesome ingredient list. The formula includes niacinamide, vitamin E, alpha bisabolol, and glycerin. (which I love a lot, it’s my favorite humectant)
5. Dehydrated Skin
Not to be confused with dry skin, dehydrated skin lacks water, not oil. In fact, some of the oiliest complexions result from dehydrated skin – I know this from experience.
Overzealous use of chemical exfoliators combined with a subpar skin care regimen led to me having the worst skin of my life. A compromised skin barrier led to dehydrated skin, which then led to an overproduction of sebum, which then led to cystic acne – all paired with a perpetually red, irritated face. It took almost two years of simple, nurturing skin care to get my face back to normal. It took a long time, and I became very familiar with dehydrated skin.
Which, as it turns out, is a good thing. It allowed me to better understand how different skin care products react to different types of skin. So trust me when I say that the sunscreen you choose for dehydrated skin is much less important than the products you apply before said sunscreen.
Because dehydrated skin lacks hydration, you want to pack in as much water as you can. Toners, essences, serums, layer on the moisture. Give your skin as much water as you can, to compensate for all the water you’re losing during the day through trans-epidermal water loss. After you’ve done this, that’s when you want to go in with an occlusive sunscreen, to help lock in all of that hydration. It’ll work wonders.
Once again, Dr. G Green Mild Up Sun comes to the rescue. It works as well for dehydrated skin as it does for dry skin. It’s formulated with all kinds of occlusive ingredients, including olive oil, safflower seed oil, sunflower seed oil, silicones (which don’t deserve all the slack they get), and cholesterol, which is another essential ingredient in the repair of a compromised skin barrier.
If you’ve got dehydrated skin, I couldn’t recommend this sunscreen more.
6. Oily Skin
Oily skin isn’t always caused by dehydration. Some people just produce more sebum, which is both wonderful and troublesome. It’s wonderful because sebum has been found to protect your skin from aging, and keep your skin looking youthful, longer. It’s troublesome because this increase in sebum leads to larger pores, congested skin, and acne.
Finding a sunscreen that works well with oily skin can be difficult. They’re often too heavy, which leaves you looking like an oil slick a couple hours into the day. No one wants that.
Look for a sunscreen that has mattifying properties and ingredients. These will help absorb sebum, and in some cases, prevent it from being produced in the first place.
COOLA’s Organic Mineral Matte Sunscreen was created specifically for oily skin. It’s one of the few sunscreens I’ve found that actually reduces shine, not just when you apply it, but throughout the day. And it’s not just me that feels this way – there’re tons of others who share my sentiment on the web. If you’re having a tough time finding a sunscreen that works with your oily skin, I recommend you take a look at this one.
I also recommend this sunscreen to those with combination skin. It’ll mattify the areas of your face where it’s needed without stripping the dryer areas of its moisture.
7. Normal Skin
To put it simply, normal skin is just another way to say well balanced skin. It means that your skin produces an optimal amount of sebum, leaving it neither too oily nor too dry. This gives you flexibility in your choices for a sunscreen, and other skin care products for that matter.
While I wouldn’t recommend a mattifying sunscreen, any of the products above that I’ve mentioned for dry skin or sensitive skin, I’d recommend to someone with a normal complexion.
My favorite though is La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Light Sunscreen. It’s just so cosmetically elegant – like, no, really. It’s almost a liquid, which makes spreading it a breeze, it goes on smoothly, dries quickly, and once it’s dried, you can barely tell it’s there.
If you don’t have any specific skin concerns or requirements, this is the sunscreen I’d recommend to you.
8. Aging Skin
There are a few things you should look for when buying a sunscreen for aging skin – antioxidants and emollients. As our skin ages, it produces less sebum, leaving us with dryer complexions. So really, the best sunscreen for aging skin is one formulated for dry skin, that has a ton of antioxidants added in to fight off free radical damage.
MyChelle Dermaceuticals Replenishing Solar Defense fits the bill. It’s formulated with ingredients such as red algae extract, barley extract, and honeysuckle extract that help prevent free radical damage, and nourishing oils such as kukui and macadamia nut oils, which restore moisture balance and reduce visible lines.
9. Rosacea & Eczema
Rosacea is a skin condition that causes redness and visible blood vessels in your face. It may also produce small, red, pus-filled bumps.
Eczema is a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, rough, and sometimes blistered. It can affect skin all over the body, but it is most common where your skin flexes – inside the elbows, behind the knees and in front of the neck.
They are two very different skin conditions, but a lot of the ingredients you should avoid coincide with each other. Things like a fragrance, alcohol, essential oils, retinols, retinoids, sulfates, hydroquinone, witch hazel – pretty much any harsh ingredients. These ingredients can trigger your rosacea or eczema, which is anything but fun.
A sunscreen I recommend to people with rosacea or eczema is Paula’s Choice’s RESIST Super-Light Wrinkle Defense. Is sulfate free, alcohol-free, paraben free, EU allergen-free, and contains skin soothing ingredients. Quercetin and alpha-bisabolol offer wound healing properties while adenosine, vitamin C, vitamin E, and resveratrol offer skin protecting and rejuvenating properties.
It contains zero ingredients that conflict with sensitive skin, and is a mild, low-risk sunscreen.
10. White Cast Free
I’m pale, which means I don’t have to worry about a sunscreen giving me a white cast.
That is not the case for a good percentage of people that are reading this. Physical sunscreens, as wonderful as they are, are notorious for giving white casts. I want to make sure I can 100% stand behind the products I recommended, so since I’m not affected by this issue, I did as much research as I could. I scoured through tons of sunscreens, reviews, and suggestions, and the prevailing sunscreen was Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47.
Everyone that uses it says it doesn’t leave a white cast, and I can get down with its ingredient list. It contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, vitamin E, alpha bisabolol, argan oil, glycerin, and green tea extract. It comes in both a tinted and nontinted variety, both of which are said to leave no white cast.
11. Water Resistant
If you’re planning to participate in water sports, or physical activities that’ll cause you to sweat, a water resistance sunscreen will keep you from having to reapply every twenty minutes. Look for one that is water resistant for a good amount of time and isn’t too harsh on the skin. Cotz Face Natural Sunscreen is water resistant for eighty minutes, and its ingredient list is relatively simple.
It’s a very popular sunscreen brand, and for good reason. It’s well-tolerated by most people’s skin, performs its purpose well, and doesn’t break the bank.
12. Tinted Sunscreen
There’s way more than one skin tone, so when I recommend pigmented products, I try to find ones that come in multiple shades.
Australian Gold’s Botanical Tinted BB Cream offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 and comes in several different shades. Its formula contains all the goodness of its kid version, is lightweight, antioxidant-rich, it has a matte finish that’ll keep you from looking shiny.
13. Powder Sunscreen
The same thing holds true here as it does for tinted creams – I won’t recommend a powder sunscreen that doesn’t come in multiple shades. Jane Iredale’s Powder-Me SPF comes in four different shades, is hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, and can replace your regular makeup powder if you’re looking to buff up your sunscreen game.
I don’t use sunscreen powders because my skin’s too irritable for it, and powder sunscreen doesn’t typically provide as much coverage as liquid sunscreens. That being said, some people swear by them. If you don’t have super sensitive skin, or you have an oily complexion that you don’t know what to do with, maybe try one and see if they work for you.
14. Sunscreen Stick
I’m an avid traveler, so sunscreen sticks hold a special place in my heart.
They are so easy to use, and I prefer using them over anything else on my body when I’m out and about. They’re awesome for those who have tattoos, because it allows precise placement of your sunscreen, ensuring your tattoos will look fresh for a long time.
MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield Stick is my favorite, and it’s the one I use. It’s got all kinds of ingredient goodies, including tamanu oil, shea butter, hemp seed oil (one of my all-time favorite facial oils), jojoba oil, avocado oil, and cocoa butter. It’s also cheap as dirt and lasts a very long time. I really do like this one a lot and recommended to everyone.
Having said that, I use this exclusively for my body. I have not tried this on my face, and do not plan to, so take that with a grain of salt.
Switching to a physical sunscreen is the environmentally conscious thing to do.
It also might be better for you – they’re generally less irritating and more moisturizing than chemical sunscreens. Hopefully this list has helped you find your next go-to sunscreen!
Please note that this article contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase using one of them, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I 100% stand behind.
Hi, I'm Ash!
I’m a travel blogger who loves experiencing new things and deeply connecting with people. My missions are to help others around the world realize their travel dreams, and to spread the word about sustainable travel. Feel free to send me a message here.