Better Goods Skincare

We Ranked 15+ Clean Face Sunscreens On Their Ingredients

Better Goods

Feb 21, 2022

By now, everyone knows about how important it is to protect your skin with sunscreen. But if you have sensitive skin, want to avoid potentially-harmful chemicals, or want to protect our oceans, choosing a natural sunscreen is your best bet.

We define "natural" sunscreen as a mineral (also known as physical) sunscreen that uses titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide to physically deflect the sun's rays. These sunscreens are often filled with nourishing, natural ingredients, free from harsh preservatives and synthetic fragrances, and are overall a much better choice for your clean skincare regimen.

Chemical sunscreens use UV absorbers like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate that absorb UVA and UVB radiation. Not only do these chemicals absorb into the bloodstream, but they're also causing damage to our coral reefs and oceans.

The Two Main Ingredients in Natural (Mineral) Sunscreens

In place of chemical UV absorbers, mineral sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to physically reflect the sun's damaging UV rays.

According to the FDA, there’s enough evidence that these sunscreens don’t warrant the same health concerns as chemical sunscreens.

Let’s take a closer look at the ingredients:

  • Zinc oxide: The main active ingredient in mineral suncreens. It provides full-spectrum protection from both UVA & UVB rays.
  • Titanium dioxide: You’ll find this as an additive in some sunscreens. Titanium dioxide doesn’t provide full-spectrum UV protection.

There's some concern that nanoparticles of these minerals can be damaging to coral reefs, but in modern times, nanoparticles don't seem to be used in sunscreens.

Why We Don't Like Chemical Sunscreens

For a full run-down on why we don't recommend chemical sunscreens, read our deep dive on the topic.

Their Effect On Us

Chemical sunscreens have been shown to absorb into the bloodstream where they accumulate over time. (source) At this time, the effects this might have on the human body are unknown, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US still recommends using them.

For this reason alone we aren't fans of chemical sunscreens, but if you have sensitive skin, there's even more reason to avoid them.

Chemical sunscreens can sometimes be irritating or allergenic to those with sensitive skin. If you have a history of conditions like eczema or rosacea, choosing a natural sunscreen is a great idea. In our ratings, we identify potential irritants as well, so make sure to pay attention to that if you have sensitive skin.

Their Effect On Our Oceans

Chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone are known to be toxic to our coral reefs, too. Hawaii was the first state to ban chemical sunscreens in an attempt to protect the reefs, and countries like Palau and Aruba ban them as well.

While bans on these sunscreens have slowly been trickling out, it's not quickly enough.

For a more in-depth look at chemical sunscreens, read our full guide here.

"Mineral-Based" Sunscreen = No Good

Beware of sunscreens that market themselves as "mineral-based". While this might sound like exactly what you're looking for, this term actually means that the product contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide along with a mix of chemical sunscreen ingredients. Always check labels to be safe.

The Upsides of Natural Sunscreens

There are some good reasons to use natural (mineral) sunscreens.

  • The two main ingredients used in physical sunscreens—titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—are the only two sunscreen ingredients recognized by the FDA as being "generally recognized as safe".
  • Natural sunscreens are safe for our oceans and won't contribute to the destruction of our coral reefs.
  • Unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens are effective as soon as you apply them.

The Downsides of Natural Sunscreens

There are a few potential downsides to mineral sunscreens that you should know about.

  • Since mineral sunscreens sit in a thick layer on top of the skin, it can sometimes lead to breakouts on acne-prone skin.
  • Mineral sunscreens are also harder to apply and need to be applied more often.
  • The titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can leave a white film on the skin, which can be a problem especially for those with darker skin tones. Not all mineral sunscreens have this problem however, so read user reviews to get a better idea of a specific product.

Ingredients To Know About

In our research into the products covered in this list, we ran into a few ingredients that we'd like you to know about.

Tocopherol Acetate - This is a form of vitamin E. Some people have an allergy to vitamin E, so this is an ingredient to be aware of if you have sensitive skin.

This ingredient is reported to protect against sun-induced skin damage, which is why it's often added to face creams and sunscreens. There is some concern that tocopherol acetate can be contaminated with hydroquinone, but it's expected that good manufacturing processes would limit the amount of impurities to very low levels.

Phenoxyethanol - This is a common preservative used in personal care products like sunscreen. The main concern with phenoxyethanol is that it can be a skin irritant. Preservatives are an important part of skincare and personal care products, and you can read our full stance on preservatives here.

Our Methodology

We looked at social media, popular online stores like Credo, Sephora, and iHerb, and reviews across the internet to find 15+ of the most popular clean face sunscreens.

All of these products are advertised as being clean, safer alternatives. We found that while many of the products we looked at were good in terms of ingredients, some had ingredients either unsafe for us, or our environment.

We reviewed 15+ of the most popular clean face sunscreens on the market and rated them as follows:

Best ???? – These products are the best of the best. They contain all-clean ingredients, are non-toxic and are often the best choice for our environment.

Good – These products are typically quite good, but don’t go above and beyond like our best choices.

Iffy – These products are typically okay, but have some issues that make us unable to give them a “Good” rating. Often times they contain ingredients that are questionable.

Bad – These products typically have toxic ingredients or issues that make them dangerous or unsuitable to use. These products should typically be avoided.

Natural Face Sunscreens Rated: Best

Two sunscreens we looked at get a "best" rating.

Best Budget Clean Sunscreen: Radically Rejuvenating SPF Day Cream from Acure - With a great clean list of ingredients and priced at $11.17/oz, this is our recommended sunscreen for those on a budget.

Best Overall Clean Sunscreen: Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen from Biossance - A simple and clean list of ingredients in this sunscreen that leaves no white cast makes this our overall most recommended clean face sunscreen.

Biossance

Squalane + Zinc Sheer Mineral Sunscreen
Rating: Best🌟
Price: $30 ($17.65 per oz)
SPF: 30

This natural face sunscreen from Biossance has a clean list of ingredients and comes recommended by our team.

This sunscreen shouldn’t leave a white cast when rubbed in, even on medium-dark complexion. It has a glowy finish, which most people are going to like, unless you have very oily skin. You can wear it on its own, or under makeup.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Pacifica

Mineral Face Shade Coconut Probiotic SPF 30
Rating: Best🌟
Price: $13 ($7.65 per oz)
SPF: 30

This product has a clean list of ingredients and is scented with natural fragrance.

You may not be a fan of the fragrance of the product, which can be a bit strong. The formulation goes on thick (but smooth) but works best if you apply a small amount of product at a time to moisturized skin, which will minimize the amount of white cast. In terms of price, this is the best bang-for-the-buck clean sunscreen we found.

Active Ingredients:

  • Titanium Dioxide,
  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Natural Face Sunscreens Rated: Good

All of these sunscreens hit the mark in terms of clean ingredients. In terms of ingredient safety, you can feel confident in using any of these products.

Solara Suncare

Time Traveler Ageless Daily Face Sunscreen
Rating: Good
Price: $42 ($24.71 per oz)
SPF: 30

This unscented face sunscreen has a clean list of ingredients and is water-resistant, making it great for a day at the beach or for travel.

This sunscreen goes on thick, so you have to work to rub it in, but it leaves the skin feeling moisturized and absorbs within a few minutes. However, it leaves a white cast which is noticeable unless you’re fair-skinned.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Versed

Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35
Rating: Good
Price: $21.99 ($12.94 per oz)
SPF: 35

Ingredients-wise, this product offers a clean formula with no ingredients of concern.

Since this sunscreen is slightly tinted, it doesn’t leave a white cast. It also applies lightly and doesn’t feel greasy and has a subtle moisturizing quality. On the other hand, it sometimes has a tendency to clump up on the skin.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Acure

Radically Rejuvenating SPF Day Cream
Rating: Good
Price: $18.99 ($11.17 per oz)
SPF: 30

With a clean list of ingredients, this face sunscreen from Acure is recommended. It also has some skin-loving ingredients like niacinamide and vitamin C.

This face sunscreen has no scent, has a light texture and doesn’t feel heavy on the skin. It also sits well under makeup, making it a great wear for running errands or being outside during the summer. Unless you have very fair skin, expect a mild white cast when using this product, however.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Supergoop!

Zincscreen 100% Mineral Lotion SPF 40
Rating: Good
Price: $42 ($24.71 per oz)
SPF: 40

From a health standpoint, the ingredients of Supergoop’s sunscreen lotion are clean, but the inclusion of mica gives us concern. Mica is a questionable ingredient from a human rights perspective, because it’s often mined by child labor in remote parts of India. (source)

In terms of performance, it is slightly tinted to combat the white cast and doesn’t clump up or pill on the skin. There’s no fragrance in the product and applies easily, leaving the skin with a healthy glow, whether you wear it alone or under foundation, with a dry and non-sticky finish.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide,
  • Titanium Dioxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 1*

Kinship

Self Reflect Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 32
Rating: Good
Price: $25 ($14.29 per oz)
SPF: 32

This is a clean mineral sunscreen with a good list of ingredients. It does, however, contain phenoxyethanol and sodium benzoate, two mild preservatives we feel comfortable with, but some users might wish to avoid.

This is a very popular sunscreen, due to the fact that it goes on light, doesn’t leave a greasy residue, and leaves the skin feeling moisturized and glowy. The product has a slight vanilla fragrance that isn’t overpowering and dissipates after application.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 4*

REN

Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen
Rating: Good
Price: $38 ($22.35 per oz)
SPF: 30

While this face sunscreen from Ren gets passing marks in terms of ingredients, the performance of the product leaves something to be desired.

This sunscreen is very sticky and dry, making it most suitable for those with oily or combination skin. It applies thick and leaves a noticeable white cast and goes on very matte. Being a relatively expensive sunscreen, in terms of value, you’d be better off purchasing a more budget-friendly sunscreen on our list.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 9*

Nuori

Mineral Defense Facial Cream SPF 30
Rating: Good
Price: $59 ($34.71 per oz)
SPF: 30

This sunscreen does have a clean list of ingredients and gets a “good” rating.

However, expect this sunscreen to be thick and go on a bit heavy, making it suitable for a day at the beach, but probably not for daily use. Because of the high price, we’d recommend looking for a less-expensive alternative.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 2*

Alba Botanica

Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
Rating: Good
Price: $8.99 ($2.25 per oz)
SPF: 30

Alba Botanica’s mineral sunscreen has a clean list of ingredients, with dimethicone (silicone) being one that stands out negatively. Silicones in skincare make the product feel smooth going on, but form a barrier on the skin, trapping debris in the pores and inhibiting the skin’s natural breathing.

However, this is by far the cheapest clean face sunscreen we looked at, making it hard to beat from a value perspective. It will leave a slight white cast that fades somewhat after ten minutes. While it has no fragrance, it contains a few plant extracts that do give a slight smell.

Active Ingredients:

  • Titanium Dioxide,
  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 4*

Natural Face Sunscreens Rated: Iffy

Popular brands Drunk Elephant and Paula's Choice find their place in our "Iffy" rated sunscreens. These products contain some questionable ingredients, and we believe there are better products on this list.

Drunk Elephant

Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
Rating: Iffy
Price: $36 ($18 per oz)
SPF: 30

Drunk Elephant’s sunscreens have a few ingredients worth mentioning. Stearath-2 and stearath-20 are two ingredients that can potentially be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a potential human carcinogen.

While the amount of residual 1,4-dioxane should be very low with proper manufacturing processes, we can’t recommend this sunscreen over other sunscreens for this reason.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 5*

Drunk Elephant

Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30
Rating: Iffy
Price: $34 ($11.33 per oz)
SPF: 30

Drunk Elephant’s sunscreens have a few ingredients worth mentioning. Stearath-2 and stearath-20 are two ingredients that can potentially be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which is a potential human carcinogen.

While the amount of residual 1,4-dioxane should be very low with proper manufacturing processes, we can’t recommend this sunscreen over other sunscreens for this reason.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 5*

Paula's Choice

Defense Essential Glow Moisturizer SPF 30
Rating: Iffy
Price: $29 ($14.5 per oz)
SPF: 30

Like the other Paula’s Choice sunscreen we looked at, this one contains enough “iffy” ingredients that we can’t recommend it over others we looked at.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide,
  • Titanium Dioxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 5*

Paula's Choice

Hydralight Shine-Free Mineral Complex SPF 30
Rating: Iffy
Price: $29 ($14.5 per oz)
SPF: 30

With several ingredients our our “iffy” list, we don’t recommend this product over others we looked at which have much cleaner ingredients.

Active Ingredients:

  • Zinc Oxide,
  • Titanium Dioxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 3*

Natural Face Sunscreens Rated: Bad

We felt that only one product we looked at deserved a bad rating: the Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47 from Josie Maran.

Josie Maran

Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47
Rating: Bad
Price: $34 ($17 per oz)
SPF: 47

Cyclotetrasiloxane (D4) is known to be a human reproductive toxin and environmental toxin, and cyclopentasiloxane (D5) is also known to be toxic to the environment, particularly sea life. For this reason, the EU has prohibited these ingredients to 0.1% concentrations and we don’t recommend products with these ingredients.

It also includes laureth-12, which can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, a human carcinogen.

Active Ingredients:

  • Titanium Dioxide,
  • Zinc Oxide

Ingredients:

Potential irritants: 5*

In Conclusion

All of the sunscreens we looked at market themselves as being clean, but just because a brand says that, doesn't always make it true.

Several products we looked at contained ingredients we feel uncomfortable recommending, so it's always important to read ingredient labels.

To see our top recommendations, click here.

 
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