Ask a Beauty Editor: What Are the Best 'Clean' Sunscreens?

Struggling to separate fact from fiction in the world of “natural” sunscreen? Here’s an easy explainer.

Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. In our weekly series, Ask a Beauty Editor, beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, haircare, and makeup questions, all submitted by Real Simple readers. Tune in every Tuesday and submit your own burning beauty questions here for a chance to be featured.

Reader question: "Can you recommend some clean SPF products?" — @mihretfikir

You may be here because of the recent recall of some popular sunscreens that contained traces of benzene, which is classified as a human carcinogen. Or perhaps you're just looking for sunscreen products to help green up your skincare routine. When it comes to clean beauty products, however, it's difficult to tell what's actually "clean." Terms like "organic" and "natural" aren't regulated by the FDA, which means that supposedly "clean" skincare product you've been using could, in fact, be chock-full of chemicals and skincare nasties.

So why is it so important to use clean beauty products? Some sunscreens—ahem, chemical—employ a potent combination of synthetics and chemicals like oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, and avobenzone, many of which are endocrine disruptors. They can mimic the hormones that our bodies create daily and interfere with our normal bodily functions.

But please don't take that as a message to stop using sunscreen! The sun is much scarier than any sunscreen out there. Although figuring out what's actually natural or organic requires you to do something a bit more tedious—flip the bottle and read the ingredients list—it's the best commitment you can make for your long-term skin health.

When you're shopping for clean sunscreen, you want to look for mineral sunscreens containing only zinc and/or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. Be wary of the term "mineral-based," which often means zinc and/or titanium dioxide has been mixed with chemical sunscreens. A good indicator that your sunscreen isn't clean is if it leaves your skin red, inflamed, or itchy—something that SPF shouldn't do.

Even if the active ingredients are mineral, you'll want to triple check that the formula doesn't contain other potentially harmful ingredients. Some red flags: Anything ending in -paraben, phthalates, sodium laureth sulfate, and fragrances.

Because I know you don't want (or have time) to scour different ingredient lists at the drugstore—let alone swatch hundreds of formulas for the elusive non-chalky finish—here is a list of the best mineral sunscreen products below.

01 of 05

Best Sunscreen for Dry Skin: Saie Sunvisor Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 35

natural-sunscreen-Saie Sunvisor Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 35

This gorgeously textured sunscreen has a sheer finish that seamlessly sinks into the skin. Not only is it gentle for sensitive complexions, it's also infused with skincare ingredients —like grapeseed oil, hyaluronic acid, aloe, and vitamin E—to hydrate parched pores. Eco-bonus: The tube is made of 100 percent bioresin (sugarcane) as a substitute for virgin plastic.

02 of 05

Best Sunscreen for Layering: Mad Hippie Facial SPF 30+ Sunscreen

natural-sunscreen-Mad Hippie Facial SPF 30+ Sunscreen

The zinc oxide in this formula comes micronized so it leaves no ghostly residue—but I recommend applying a moisturizer first to ensure there's no chalky finish. The laundry list of beneficial plant-based ingredients are too long to list here, but long story short, it's a hydrating and anti-aging powerhouse.

03 of 05

Best Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin: EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44

natural-sunscreen-EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44

Want to wear sunscreen but scared of breaking out? This dermatologist-favorite product works for all skin types, but it's THE sunscreen for oily/acne-prone complexions—the formula has a bit of a tint (great for covering blemishes), and it's oil-free and non-comedogenic to prevent future pimples.

04 of 05

Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

natural-sunscreen-Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

Designed directly with dermatologists, this formula offers full protection (SPF 50+!) on finicky skin without making you blotchy and itchy. Also, to file under things you never knew you needed until you get it: The lid turns blue whenever UV rays are present as a reminder that it's time for reapplication.

05 of 05

Best Sunscreen for Combination Skin: Kinship Self Reflect

natural-sunscreen-Kinship Self Reflect

If your skin classifies as combination, you likely have an unbalanced microbiome. If you're torn between a hydrating or mattifying formula, opt for probiotic. The brand's proprietary probiotic formula works to balance the level of bacteria on your face and boost your skin barrier.

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