The Best Sunscreens of 2022: Coral Reef-Safe, Dolphin-Safe, People-Safe Mineral Sunscreens

By Jess Novak
|
June 3, 2022
a young woman with sunscreen on her arm

We all know that sunscreen is super important, but let’s be honest: it’s also majorly annoying. You have to apply it and reapply it and then reapply it again a few hours later; it often leaves white streaks all over your clothes; and when it mixes with sand, it ends up giving you a scratchy, unasked-for exfoliation treatment that nobody enjoys. So it’s not surprising that a lot of us just grab whatever’s at the grocery store, spritz some on, and consider ourselves virtuous for having even bothered. 

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But here’s the deal: those chemical-based spray sunscreens that go on wonderfully clear are definitely bad for our coral reefs, as well as marine life like dolphins, sea urchins, and mussels. There’s also some solid evidence that they might be hormone disruptors, too. They’re still legal, and the jury is still out on whether they’re actually, definitely harmful (more studies are currently underway) but high instances of these chemicals have been found in the urine and breast milk of people using these sunscreens during medical trials. So we’ve been avoiding them, and if you want to, too, we’d recommend checking out mineral sunscreen instead, which creates a safe, physical barrier from the sun.

However, you also want to be careful about the kind of mineral sunscreen you choose. (We know, sunscreen has become way more complex than it should be.) You should look for “non-nano” mineral sunscreens because non-nano particles won’t be absorbed by your skin — and possibly go into your bloodstream — which may happen with nano particles. With all of these factors in mind, we tested a whole bunch of coral reef-safe, non-nano mineral sunscreen products, and our very favorites:

The Best Sunscreen Serum with Extra Goodies: Mad Hippie Daily Protective Serum 

We were already huge fans of the award-winning Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum, but this sunscreen serum from the same brand is just as fantastic. It uses nano-free zinc oxide, it’s lightly hydrating, and provides tons of antioxidants, vitamin C, and vitamin E, all of which can help prevent and even reverse some photodamage. While it comes out paste-white, once you rub it in, it doesn’t leave a chalky white cast (unlike many other mineral sunscreens). It also doesn’t irritate sensitive skin, and is totally fragrance-free. We definitely recommend this as a great daytime facial serum in the summer — it’s perfect for layering under a light moisturizer or as a protective base before foundation or BB cream. 

The Best Facial Sunscreen for Melanin-Rich Skin Tones: Kinlò Golden Rays Sunscreen SPF 50+ Melanated Tint

Kinlò is the brainchild of tennis star Naomi Osaka, who teamed up with top-notch derms like Dr. Naana Boakye to create a skincare line designed especially for Black and Brown skin tones.

Kinlò’s products take into account skin issues that are common for those with melanated skin, and use vegan, squeaky-clean ingredients to address them, from jojoba seed oil to niacinamide. This is an excellent sunscreen that illuminates melanin-rich skin tones and leaves skin absolutely glowing. For people of all skin tones, we also seriously recommend trying their ultra-nourishing hydrating eye cream, which features red marine algae, an ingredient that protects against harmful UV rays. The brand also makes these fun stickers that turn purple when it’s time to reapply.

The Best Tinted Facial Sunscreen for Light to Medium Skin Tones: Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Moisturizer

If you’re not looking for a ton of coverage and just want a mineral facial sunscreen/BB cream that blends into your skin and doesn’t leave a white cast, this is a great option for those with light to medium skin tones. It comes in four different shades with different undertones — the “golden light” is great for those with an olive, Mediterranean complexion — it’s hydrating, and it doesn’t cause breakouts. For fuller coverage, we recommend their Impeccable Skin product, which is more like a sunscreen-infused foundation (it’s great stuff, but we’d use it with a brush or beauty blender to avoid streakiness). 

The Best Sunscreen for Exceptionally Fair Skin: Celtic Complexion Organic Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin

If you’re already very fair, why not just use any old mineral sunscreen that leaves a white cast? Because “fair-skinned” and “undead” are, in fact, different skin tones — and just because you have a snow white complexion doesn’t mean you want to look washed-out. Enter Celtic Complexion, which makes high-quality, gentle formulas especially for those with pale skin. If your skin can handle coconut oil, we definitely recommend their sunscreen stick, too — it smells amazing, goes on like a dream, and is very effective. 

The Best Active Sunscreen Lotion for the Whole Body: Eleven by Venus Williams Game Set Match Body Lotion SPF50

Another new sunscreen developed by an amazing tennis star (we’re sensing a super cool pattern here), this sunscreen is designed to work wonders for people of all skin tones, and we can attest that it worked beautifully on everyone in our diverse test group. Ingredients include allantoin, which helps treat and prevent dry skin, and apple fruit extract, which has skin rejuvenating properties. Plus, it’s gluten-free and dermatologist-tested, and remains water- and sweat-resistant for 80 minutes. 

The Best Inexpensive Spray Sunscreen: Babo Sheer Zinc Sunscreen for Extra Sensitive Skin

Look, we’re going to be real with you: This stuff leaves a serious white cast and is pretty hard to rub into your skin, especially if it’s damp. But if you can deal with looking a little corpse-like, you can’t beat the price (especially if you buy the two-pack), and this sunscreen is impenetrable. It doesn’t go anywhere — one person in our test group had to shower twice to get it all the way off, and that was with a loofah — and it absolutely prevented everyone from getting burned. So this stuff isn’t the most elegant solution and frankly looks a little weird, but it sprays on fast, and it seriously works. For a good stick sunscreen, check out their Baby Face Mineral Sunscreen, too. 

The Best SPF Lip Balm: Badger Mineral Sunscreen Lip Balm

This lip balm doesn’t smell like much of anything at all and leaves your lips way less sticky than most other lip balms in its category, so we’re giving it super high points. It’s also seriously hydrating, given that it’s formulated with extra virgin olive oil, cocoa butter, and shea butter, and it is very good at preventing sun damage, which is really the whole point. The Badger Active Mineral Sunscreen Cream is also really high-quality and doesn’t leave a white cast, but we definitely recommend putting this on before you leave the house since it takes a bit to rub in. However, it’s worth it — this is an excellent all-around sunscreen.

The Best Stick Sunscreen for Small Spots: ThinkSport Face + Body Mineral Sunscreen Stick

Toss this lightweight sunscreen in your beach bag, and you’ll be able to reapply sunscreen to those smallish, all-important points that tend to get burned way more easily. The tops of your shoulders and the tip of your nose will thank you. Formulated with cocoa seed butter and aloe, this is a soothing, hydrating stick formula that’s great for active use — unlike a spray, the stick works great when it’s windy outside, and unlike a cream, it doesn’t take long to rub into the skin, either. (Although their cream formulation is also pretty excellent).

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Jess Novak is the Head of Content and Audience Development for Clean Plates. She’s a massive skincare nerd with ultra-sensitive skin who has spent way too much time researching ingredients in everything from vitamin C serums to sunscreens. You can follow her on Instagram @jtothenovak.

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