10 mineral sunscreens ideal for brown skin
Physical formulations won’t leave a white cast behind
This article was originally published June 26, 2020 and was updated June 3, 2021 to reflect current product pricing.
Over the past few years, mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, have become more widely available, and they've become more sophisticated too.
If you have darker skin and have tried switching over to mineral sunscreen in the past, you may have struggled with some formulations. Mineral sunscreens tend to be thicker than chemical sunscreens and are notorious for imparting an unsightly white cast on melanated skin. The differences are partly due to the active ingredients at the centre of chemical and mineral sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens are made with filters that work by absorbing ultraviolet radiation and converting it into heat. According to Toronto-based dermatologist Dr. Renée Beach, these ingredients sink into the epidermis (a.k.a. the top layer of the skin), which is preferable from a cosmetic standpoint because "they rub in or disappear into the skin."
Mineral sunscreens instead contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide — UV filters that are classified as "natural ingredients" by Health Canada — which sit on the skin's surface, and work by deflecting ultraviolet radiation. Some common ingredients in chemical sunscreens are believed to be endocrine disruptors, and those concerned about that are among the fans of mineral sunscreens. Though it should be noted that the research pointed to was conducted on animals, which Beach notes, "doesn't always translate well to humans due to differences in absorption, metabolism, ingredient dosage and administration." Beach also says that some sunscreens use a mix of filters. "The delineation is not so clear-cut — many products contain both a mineral filter and also chemical blocker so they're 'straddling the fence.'"
Unlike chemical sunscreens, the job of mineral sunscreen filters is to scatter UV rays, which is more effective in Beach's opinion. "This mechanism," she says, "is much more efficient than a product simply absorbing UV rays." The drawback to mineral products? "[The] particles are just too big to readily absorb into the epidermis," Beach says, thus resulting in that white cast.
To help combat this nuisance, skincare brands have been experimenting with microsized particles that allow for easier absorption and spreadability, and tinted formulations, too. These refined versions will often still produce a white cast upon application, but Beach advises waiting a few minutes to let the product sit and settle into the skin. "Sometimes you'll put a mineral sunscreen on and think, 'Oh, there it goes looking all white.' But then you give it five minutes and realize it's not as noticeable."
As with chemical sunscreens, it's best practice to reapply mineral sunscreen at least every two hours while outside. Give your bottle a good shake before applying, too. "Ingredients settle to the bottom of a bottle, so if you don't shake the product up, you risk applying a lower density or watery component onto the skin," explains Beach. Finally, it's important to apply the correct amount, especially when it comes to mineral sunscreens. Don't be tempted to apply lightly in order to avoid a white cast, says Beach. "That's where it becomes dangerous. If you put on less, the product is going to be less effective." Generally, the recommendation for adults is to apply (at least) seven teaspoons of product evenly over the entire body, including your face and neck.
Here are 10 mineral sunscreens for face and body that are suitable for brown skin of any shade.
This brand's hero product does double-duty as a sunscreen and tinted moisturizer, and contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. While it's only available in two shades (Light/Medium and Medium/Dark), it's suitable for a range of darker skin tones. Fun fact: Founder Katonya Breaux is Frank Ocean's mom.
Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen, approx. $39, UnSun Cosmetics
Your local drugstore likely stocks an abundance of great mineral sunscreens that are wallet-friendly. Case in point: Aveeno's Sensitive Skin suncare range. New to the collection is the Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen, which can be layered underneath makeup — it's lightweight and doesn't leave behind a thick or cakey residue.
Aveeno Sensitive Skin Ultra Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, $19.99, Shoppers Drug Mart
French brands have a reputation for formulating some of the most effective yet cosmetically elegant products. La Roche-Posay's Anthelios Mineral fluid is just that. This titanium dioxide formula is a tinted tan shade but blends easily into skin of all shades.
Anthelios Mineral Tinted Ultra-Fluid Lotion SPF 50, $34, La Roche-Posay and at drugstores across Canada
It was only a matter of time before this buzzy, conscious skincare brand made its debut in Canada. (Its products are now available at Sephora.) Supergoop's Zincscreen has a pink tinge but blends seamlessly into darker skin tones.
Supergoop! Zincscreen Mineral Lotion SPF 40, $55, Sephora
Beautycounter's Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion claims to leave behind limited white residue and delivers on that promise. This 19 per cent zinc oxide lotion's consistency is comparable to a standard chemical sunscreen, and while a blue-ish white cast may be noticeable while rubbing it in, it eventually disappears.
Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, $49, Beautycounter
The zinc oxide content in this sunscreen clocks in at 21.6 per cent, which is high; mineral filters can be put into products in higher concentrations as opposed to chemical filters, says Beach. It may feel thick coming out of the tube, but with a little patience, it ends up drying clear on the skin.
Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Body, $19.99, drugstores and mass retailers across Canada
A favourite among skincare and beauty experts, this product feels more like a silky tinted moisturizer than a sunscreen. The universal tint may appear to be too light for dark skin tones, but it sheers out when massaged into the skin.
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50, $49, SkinCeuticals
This tinted sunscreen by Thinksport is a great option for those looking for a cleaner product (it's one of EWG's top-rated sunscreens) at an affordable price. The formula is tinted but can also be worn underneath makeup.
Thinksport Everyday Face Sunscreen SPF 30, $19.99, Well.ca
Dermalogica is an overall crowd-pleaser when it comes to skincare. The brand's latest mineral launch, Invisible Physical Defense, is on the pricier end of mineral sunscreens, especially given the tube's smaller size, but it makes good on its promise of being virtually invisible on the skin.
Invisible Physical Defense SPF 30, $65, Dermalogica
If you're a fitness-lover looking for a sheer mineral sunscreen, this one by Live Clean is water- and sweat-resistant, and doesn't leave behind a white cast. It's also free from parabens and petrolatum.
Sport Mineral Sunscreen, $17.99, Shoppers Drug Mart
D'Loraine Miranda is a Toronto-based editor and writer. Follow her on Instagram @dlorainem