Using Mineral Sunscreen Has Traditionally Meant Dealing With a Goopy White Cast, but These Next-Gen Formulas Are Changing the Game
Historically, opting for a mineral sunscreen meant that you were stuck with a white, opaque formula that felt more like face paint than skin care. But today, thanks to new technologies, elevated ingredients, and more inclusive thinking, mineral SPFs are glowy, absorbable, and even down-right flattering.
Mineral sunscreen sits on top of your skin to reflect UV rays, physically blocking them from damaging your skin. Unlike chemical SPF, which has small molecules that penetrate the skin easily and absorb UV rays, mineral SPF has larger molecules that make it feel thicker, harder to spread, and potentially drying.
Krupa Koestline, a clean cosmetic chemist, explains that in the past, mineral sunscreens have been tricky to formulate because the only two mineral UV filters are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—which are both white, opaque powders in their raw form. And since they’re neither oil nor water soluble, it can be hard to mix them into a creamy texture.
“Imagine trying to mix sand into a bucket of water–it’s very difficult to get an even mix because the sand will never dissolve into water like salt,” she says. “However, if you finely mill that sand, while it still won’t dissolve, you can get a more even mix.”
In terms of formulation challenges, Koestline notes that it’s hard to balance even particle distribution to get an appealing texture that doesn’t leave a white cast on the skin. “Titanium dioxide reflects light, so on darker skin tones like mine, they can make skin look even duller, ashier, and unnatural," she says.
Nowadays, it's easier to find finer zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, including nano and micronized particles, which is why brands have been able to use these ingredients to create more elegant formulas. Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are also less likely to irritate skin, which makes them good ingredients for pregnancy-safe sunscreens. Below, you can our favorite new mineral sunscreens with formulas that are both skin- and user-friendly, with no white cast to be found.
Tower 28 founder Amy Liu suffered from sensitive, eczema-prone skin and knew how challenging it could be to find a mineral SPF that would offer protection and coverage without being irritating.
“People with compromised skin need SPF protection even more since UV damage can lead to hyperpigmentation and scarring, so we decided to create SunnyDays SPF 30 Tinted Sunscreen as the first and only tinted sunscreen foundation to receive the National Eczema Association’s Seal of Acceptance—something our community had been asking for and didn’t already exist on the market,” says Liu.
Sarah McNamara and Rochelle Jacobs, co-founders of Naturally Serious, developed a clean SPF packed with a patented anti-pollution blend of six antioxidants to ward off environmental aggressors while imparting a radiant finish on all skin tones. “The challenge with many mineral SPFs is any potential white cast,” says McNamara. “We use a universal vanishing tint that easily blends into most skin tones.”
When formulating Summer Friday’s new lightweight Shade Drops, Jessica Abrams, head of product development, says that utilizing raw materials in a new way was key. To achieve a unique, sheer texture, formulators took oil-soluble ingredients, like squalane and shea butter, and engineered them to become water-soluble.
“This allowed us to leave out those thickeners and emulsifiers that tend to make SPFs goopy,” she says. “Furthermore, the zinc oxide particles are coated with a potent antioxidant called ethyl ferulate which not only boosts the spread ability on skin, but adds protection against damaging free radicals.” Blair Badge, the brand’s director of marketing, adds that the serum-like texture was tested on multiple skin tones until they found the perfect texture, blendability and finish.
Nichole Powell, founder of Kinfield, admits that SPF is probably the most challenging category to formulate in because of the range of ingredient quality. So when it came to developing the brand’s Cloud Cover, intensive testing was key.
“We’ve gone through multiple R&D teams to find our current partners, and tested countless versions of zinc and other ingredients to find the exact non-nano zinc and hydrating ingredients that would feel light on the skin while still offering the performance and broad-spectrum protection we need,” she says. “We also added super moisturizing skin-care ingredients not often seen in suncare, like aloe, glycerin, and sea kelp to make it friendly to a wider range of skin tones.”
ZitSticka co-founder Daniel Kaplan says that sunscreens have a reputation for blocking pores and causing break-outs, and the brand wanted to develop a product that supported acne-prone skin.
“Whereas most sunscreens serve a singular purpose—protection from the sun’s harmful rays—MEGASHADE is also a non-comedogenic serum that fights active acne with tea tree, soothes stressed skin with niacinamide and colloidal oatmeal, brightens with vitamin C, and plumps and hydrates with hyaluronic acid,” he says. “It’s a multipurpose item that could replace a few steps in your daytime routine.”
From the start, Casey Georgeson, founder of Saint Jane, set out to create something more than just a sunscreen—she wanted to give people the ultimate final step in their skin-care routines.
“It had to be a supercharged, multi-tasking SPF inspired by potent and beautiful flowers with results-driven skin-care benefits that Saint Jane has become famous for,” she says. Her non-negotiable requirements were meticulously clean ingredients that blurred pores to create an inclusive product that did not leave a white cast. “The formula has to work hand in hand with your makeup routine – making it effortless and enhancing your skin’s natural radiance,” she says. “Luxury Sun Ritual is makeup’s new BFF delivering a perfect canvas for makeup application.”
As a dermatologist-founded company, patients were the driving force behind the development of Curology’s sunscreen. Unsurprisingly, the brand’s research found that customers had negative views on mineral SPF due to long absorption times and chalky texture. Thanks to countless rounds of internal testing on people with diverse skin tones, sensitivity levels, and concerns, they were able to develop a formula that would change those opinions altogether.
“The result is our silky mineral sunscreen without the white cast, that is gentle for all skin types, and specifically designed with acne-prone skin in mind,” says David Lortscher, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and the brand’s founder. “It leaves a light, fresh finish so you can go confidently about your day, whether it’s just the last step in your skin-care routine or if you decide to layer makeup on top.”
Plum is the hero ingredient of all of Le Prunier’s products, and the brand’s sunscreen uniquely harnesses the all-natural sun-protection power of the fruit.
“Most mineral SPFs 30 and above contain an active ingredient [like zinc or titanium dioxide] between 10 and 20 percent, which can create a heavier white cast on skin and feel chalky,” says co-founder Allison Taylor. “Due to our powerful plum superfruit complex ingredient, we were able to reduce the active ingredient, non-nano zinc oxide, to only 4.7 percent in order to achieve a formula that performs beautifully on skin.”
She adds that it’s clinically proven to reduce hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. “It’s everything we’ve ever wanted in an SPF and more.”
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