Leave No Trace: Sheer Sun Protection



When it comes to choosing sunscreen there are essentially two choices: mineral-based and chemical. By the names of the categories you can guess which one is better for your skin and the environment. The main active ingredients in mineral-based sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, recognized as “safe and effective” by the FDA. They sit on top of the skin like a protective barrier, as opposed to chemical sunscreens which are absorbed into skin. Chemical sunscreens often contain active ingredients shown to be toxic to the body and environment, and damaging to marine life and the coral reefs as well.

The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in mineral sunscreens provide broad spectrum sun protection from both UVA and UVB rays, but the problem has traditionally been the chalky white residue they leave on the skin. This summer’s new class of mineral sunscreens rub in fast and clear, with the addition of skin hydrating, nourishing, and anti-aging plant based oils and natural ingredients. Many offer the added benefits of “non-nano zinc oxide”, which can be considered safer as they are less likely to be absorbed into skin than super-small nanoparticles.

Running, surfing, cycling, swimming… your favorite outdoor sports require the strongest, waterproof and sweat-proof protection. From drugstore to sport to boutique brands, these are 15 are our favorite mineral based sunscreens:


TOP ROW: LE PRUNIER PLUMSCREEN BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 31. Plumscreen combines broad spectrum UVA/UVB sun protection with the skincare benefits of Le Prunier’s signature Plum Beauty Oil. This silky sheer, non-nano zinc oxide formula is blended with antioxidant-rich Plum Superfruit Complex that protects skin from pollution, blue light, and DNA-damaging free radicals. Plumscreen is Reef Safe, vegan, PETA certified, and free of parabens, sulfates, and other chemical ingredients. 2 oz. for $78

VACATION MINERAL LOTION SPF 30 SUNSCREEN. This Reef Safe, non-nano, sheer mineral formula offers the broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection of zinc oxide, blended with naturally nourishing and luxurious ingredients like shea butter, cucumber, and vitamin E to soothe and hydrate skin. 3.4 oz. for $20

GROWN ALCHEMIST NATURAL HYDRATING SUNSCREEN BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 30. This invisible, lightweight, vegan formula rubs in effortlessly with an innovative ultra-sheer Zinc Oxide. 100% natural and Reef Safe, it’s blended with antioxidant-rich plant oils for regenerative, nourishing, brightening, and anti-aging skin benefits. 1.69 oz. for $39

AVEENO POSITIVELY MINERAL SENSITIVE SKIN SUNSCREEN BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 50. This mineral-based formula with broad spectrum SPF 50 combines naturally sourced zinc oxide, nourishing oat, and Vitamin E. It’s hypoallergenic and made to be extra gentle on sensitive skin. Lightweight and non-greasy, it rubs in sheer with a matte finish, and is sweat and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. 4.3 oz. for $12.99

BIOSSANCE SQUALANE + ZINC SHEER MINERAL SPF 30 SUNSCREEN. Lightweight and deeply hydrating, this sheer mineral sunscreen blends in fast into all skin tones with a soft, dewy finish. Non-toxic, Reef Safe, and made for the most sensitive skin, other ingredients include powerful squaline from sugarcane that mimics the body’s natural hydrating oils, and water lily that calms and cools sun-stressed skin. 3.8 oz. for $42

MIDDLE ROW: ZEALIOS SPORT PERFORMANCE SUN BARRIER REEF-SAFE SPF 50 SUNSCREEN. Formulated for endurance athletes, Zealios Sport Performance Sun Barrier is a water-resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen made for the most demanding conditions. Its powerful zinc oxide protection goes on smooth and dries clear. It has a water resistance rating of 80 minutes, and won’t run into your eyes, no matter how much you sweat. It’s this editor’s summer sunscreen of choice! 3 oz. for $18

DRUNK ELEPHANT UMBRA SHEER PHYSICAL DAILY DEFENSE SPF 30. Packed with 20% zinc oxide, sunflower and algae extract, and raspberry seed oil, Drunk Elephant’s nourishing mineral sunscreen has all you need to protect skin from broad-spectrum rays and free radical damage. This sheer lightweight formula blends into skin without feeling greasy. 3 oz. for $34

SUPERGOOP MINERAL SHEERSCREEN SPF 30. This 100% sheer mineral sunscreen features breakthrough SheerMatrix Technology for a formula that instantly blends into skin with a natural, smooth finish. Add the benefits of anti-aging bush clover extract to protect against free radical damage and blue light, and super hydrating aloe leaf juice that moisturizes and smooths skin. 1.5 oz. for $38

DENNIS GROSS SKINCARE’S ALL-PHYSICAL LIGHTWEIGHT WRINKLE DEFENSE BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 30 SUNSCREEN. This all-physical sun defense is oil-free, and blends into all skin tones providing daily sun and aging protection with weightless hydration. It’s powered by transparent zinc oxide, along with antioxidant-rich bearberry, sea buckthorn, lingonberry, and ferulic acid to defend against harmful UVA/UVB rays, pollution, and blue light. 1.7 oz. for $42

ELEVEN BY VENUS WILLIAMS UNRIVALED SUN SERUM SPF 35. This lightweight serum formulated with 25% zinc oxide combines sun protection with silky hydration in a quick-absorbing, sheer formula that leaves skin with a smooth and velvety finish. Clean, vegan, and Reef Safe, nutrient-rich ingredients include coconut fruit extract packed with amino acids; skin calming Allantoin from the comfrey plant; and lighweight, moisturizing shea butter. Anti-inflammatory vanilla fruit extract; skin, nourishing Ginger Lily extract; and vitamin C rich Mandarin create bright citrus aroma. 1 oz. for $50

BOTTOM ROW: BABO BOTANICALS SHEER MINERAL SUNSCREEN LOTION SPF 50. An extra sensitive sunscreen with 100% mineral active zinc oxide, Babo’s gently formulated, fragrance free broad spectrum sunscreen provides 80 minutes of water and sweat resistance. This lightweight, non-greasy and hypoallergenic formula is enriched with Calendula, Shea Butter, and organic Cocoa Butter to soothe and moisturize the skin. 3 oz. for $16.99

COOLA MINERAL BODY ORGANIC SUNSCREEN LOTION SPF 50. This organic water-resistant lotion with non-nano zinc oxide glides on smooth with a sheer, lightweight feel. It provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection in a hydrating but non-greasy mineral sunscreen, formulated with an antioxidant-rich Plant Protection Complex. With 70%+ certified organic ingredients, it’s Reef Safe too. 5 oz. for $32

SHISHEIDO ULTRA SUN PROTECTION LOTION BROAD SPECTRUM SPF 50+ WETFORCE. This mineral-based, high protection sunscreen for face and body features Shiseido’s exclusive WetForce technology, that becomes even more powerful when exposed to water or perspiration. With ingredients selected especially for the most sensitive and children’s skin, this low-irritant formula is free from chemical sunscreen agents, fragrance, alcohol, and parabens. 3.3 oz. for $42

THE ORGANIC PHARMACY CELLULAR PROTECTION SPF 5o SUNSCREEN. This hydrating light SPF 50 cream is formulated for the face and body and smooths right into skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide block both UVA and UVB rays, while shea butter, aloe, rose hip, and calendula nourish skin. It’s Reef Safe and suitable for sensitive skin, babies, and children. 3.4 oz. for $69

CLARK’S BOTANICALS INVISIBLE HERO SPF 30 ANTI-AGING SUNSCREEN + HYALURONIC ACID. This broad spectrum, anti-aging, 100% mineral sunscreen blended with hyaluronic acid and marine algae to hydrate, plump, and rejuvenate skin; grape leaf, sunflower, and arnica extracts to defend skin against pollution; and niacinamide (vitamin B3) to minimize appearance of pores. 1.7 oz. for $75