Physical sunscreens — formulas that block UV rays by forming a sort of shield over the skin — can be really uncomfortable. Many of them feel heavy, pill up when you try to rub them in or apply makeup on top, or give the skin, especially darker complexions, a strange white cast.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 delivers the UVA/UVB and free radical protection you can expect from physical sunscreens without the negative side effects. The formula contains 6% titanium dioxide and 5% zinc oxide to shield the skin from sun damage and an antioxidant complex called senna alata to protect from environmental damage.
This sunscreen comes in a lightly tinted version or a non-tinted version. The tint will prevent white cast and flashback in photos, but it's not a foundation. There's not really any coverage. You can apply other complexion products over the top, so you don't have to worry too much about color-matching. The tint is really there to make it easier to wear if you have a medium to deep skin tone. If you opt for the non-tinted, you'll get more of a traditional white liquid sunscreen formula that absorbs easily into the skin.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreens are popular with both shoppers and experts. This one in particular has over 970 Amazon reviews and has been recommended by Refinery29 Senior Beauty Editor Lexy Lebsack. She writes, "It's incredibly light and soaks in immediately, but it's also hydrating enough to take the place of my morning moisturizer."
It's a lightweight, hydrating sunscreen that comes out of the tube blue and goes onto the skin completely clear. Like all of the other Hydro Boost products, this one gets its minimally greasy moisturizing qualities from hyaluronic acid. It is a chemical sunscreen, though, so keep that in mind.
I love how quickly this quenches dry patches and sinks into the skin. It also sits beautifully under makeup, though you do need to give it a few minutes to set. Otherwise it might ball up when you try to apply cream products over the top.
Overall this is a wonderful chemical SPF for both day-to-day and outdoor use. I find that it doubles as a moisturizer, despite not being advertised as such, and leaves my skin plump, dewy, and fresh.
"I've spent forever looking for an spf that doesn't leave me looking casket ready - this one leaves NO white caste [sic] on my skin, doesn't feel like it weighs my skin down, and doesn't irritate my eyes despite the scent. I can't recommend it enough," says one 5-star Target review.
Tinted sunscreen is another long-awaited answer to the dreaded white cast. My personal favorite is the SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50. Make no mistake, this is not a hydrating SPF. You definitely need a separate moisturize underneath. But the texture is liquidy and lightweight and layers beautifully over skincare and under makeup.
I'm skeptical of anything that claims to be a universal tint because, well, people obviously don't have one universal skin tone. But this one is so sheer that it's the rare exception. The tint basically becomes invisible as I blend it in, with the nice bonus of diminishing any redness on my cheeks. For darker complexions it eliminates the issue of leftover white cast you get with many sunscreens (especially zinc formulas).
This is also the only physical sunscreen I've tried that does not pill up at all while I'm rubbing it in or using my fingers to apply creamy products. It dries relatively matte and totally seamless. The 1.7 ounce bottle is compact and durable, perfect for travel, and there's a 4.2 ounce size for true die-hards.
Experts at Refinery 29 and product review site Beautypedia also love this stuff and it has a 5 out of 5 rating on Dermstore, based on 100+ reviews. "My main concern which others I've used previously was that they were thick, oily, and white," writes one shopper. "I love that this one is sheer and tinted. It's light and evens out my skin, so much that I even use it as a CC/BB cream."
Pros: Lightweight, mattifying, water resistant for up to 40 minutes, fragrance-free
It’s the number one conundrum for makeup-wearers who want to protect from sun damage: How do you reapply SPF during the day? Most experts agree that sunscreen should be reupped in two hour intervals, but that’s difficult to do with a typical liquid or cream formula if your skin is coated with foundation, concealer, and the whole works — unless, of course, you don’t mind rearranging your entire face, Picasso-style, while you’re at the office.
Colorscience Sunforgettable Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Brush provides a simple solution. The concept is completely genius. It’s a tinted mineral sunscreen powder that comes in the ultimate portable packaging: a twist-up brush that deposits the product. You don’t have to worry about spillage in your purse or packing a bulky compact and a separate brush on the go.
I would caution against using this as your only SPF, since it’s hard to make sure you’re using enough product. But it’s amazing for adding more coverage on top of whatever SPF you apply before foundation in the morning.
The product available in four skin-tone shades: Fair, Medium, Tan, and Deep. The main downside is the applicator — several reviewers complained about having difficulty getting the powder to come out at first.
Why you'll love it: Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen is a clear, lightweight, broad spectrum SPF that is literally undetectable once applied to the skin.
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen certainly has a promising name. Permission to get your hopes up, because the product it represents doesn't disappoint. It's an invisible, fragrance-free chemical sunscreen with SPF 40 that doubles as a primer for foundation or BB cream.
The Unseen Sunscreen formula delivers multifaceted protection from a variety of skin-harming factors. There's avobenzone 3% for UV rays, red algae for blue light exposure, and anti-inflammatory extract of frankincense. Rounding out the hero ingredients are meadowfoam seed oil for hydration and diatomaceous earth to control oil production. It is a chemical sunscreen, though, so keep that in mind.
This sunscreen has a 4.5 star rating on Sephora based on almost 400 reviews. "So glad there is finally an invisible effective sunscreen! This does everything they say it will, and it feels like nothing on," writes one shopper.
Pros: Invisible finish, doubles as primer, fragrance-free, holds a Clean at Sephora seal
How to choose a mineral sunscreen that's safe for the environment
Editor's note from Insider Pick's guides reporter Owen Burke:
While zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been researched, tested, and mostly endorsed as reasonably safe sunscreen ingredients for many decades, the jury is still largely out on the active organic compounds used in chemical sunscreens, which are considerably younger.
Although mineral-based sunscreens are preferable because they have been tested extensively and deemed largely safe for people and the environment, they are not entirely free from controversy, either.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are powders that can be manufactured as ultra-fine nanoparticles (measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter), which allow these thick sunscreens to go on sheerly without leaving a white residue, and appear to be harming reefs, too. Plus, as with most powders, they're also potential respiratory toxins in high enough concentrations.
Navigating the retail market with this information can be tricky. Terms that suggest environmental and social responsibility like "reef-safe" and "non-nano" are largely, if not entirely unregulated, so take them with a grain of salt, and do your best to find brands that support these claims. We will, too.