I lend out sunscreen all the time.
When you’ve tested over 120 brands, you have tins and bottles and tubes all over your house. We don’t travel anywhere in the summer without taking at least half a dozen.
It’s funny though how poorly people listen to instructions these days.
Case in point: Kris, my husband, and I were hiking in Sedona, Arizona, and came across three young men in their 20s hiking up what we were coming down.
One of them, a light-skinned, ginger-haired kid, really wanted to hike with his shirt off because of the heat but hadn’t brought sunscreen.
I must have looked like a wise older person who would have packed sensibly, and he asked if I had some sunscreen. I said, “As a matter of fact, you’ve asked just the right person!”
I told him NOT to squirt a huge glob of sunscreen in his hand and then try to rub it all over. I told him to make little dots and rub them together.
My friends, if you’re a parent of a young person (the male type of young person, in particular), you know what’s coming next. I handed the young man a small tube of Stream to Sea Sunscreen. (Use coupon code kitchenstew for a discount.)
He unscrewed the cap, squeezed out a large dollop into his hand, and proceeded to slap it on his shoulders and attempt to rub it in.
I just stood there and shook my head.
It’s time to make a video of the dabba dabba method, I thought. People needed to know how to apply natural mineral sunscreen so they don’t get turned off and go back to the toxic conventional sunscreens! (Scroll down for the video.)
Too much to look through right now?
I organized alllll the sunscreens we reviewed in their recommendation category – one page at-a-glance to find out what is safe to buy AND works! Print it or save to your phone for reference!
The guide also includes answers to questions people ask me all the time:
- Which brand rubs in the clearest?
- What’s the best for all day outdoor sports?
- How do I save money on natural sunscreens?
- What looks good on ladies’ faces?
- Is there an option that is FAST to apply to wiggly kids?
I’ll send a copy to your email so you can see it right away and find it again later!
Why Does Mineral Sunscreen Look so White?
Here’s the thing: when you avoid something harmful, there’s always a trade-off.
In our house, the whites never quite get white because I’m just not a Tide-with-bleach kind of girl.
Our budget gets hit a little harder because we choose to buy certain things organic.
And because I opt out of chemical sunscreen ingredients that sink into my skin and cause all sorts of harm coursing through my bloodstream, my arms may look a little white.
Conventional sunscreen is absorbed into the skin. Zinc oxide is a mineral, and it sits on the surface of the skin. This is a good thing.
However — anything sitting on the surface of our skin, especially something that starts out as a white mineral, is going to show up a little bit.
The good news is that in the last decade so many brands have joined the natural sunscreen race, and competition is stiff. Competition is helpful because it increases the quality of the product.
Brands have gotten very good at emulsifying the zinc and suspending it in other ingredients so that it’s a lot more clear, that is, IF you can find a good brand that does it well.
That’s what I’m here for!
How to Rub in Mineral Sunscreen
If you choose a great brand with attention to quality (while avoiding nanoparticles) and you use the dabba dabba method, you can absolutely minimize the white cast that zinc oxide sunscreens are known for.
Obviously, my family and I are pretty pale, so I can’t speak for the way each of these sunscreens rubs into darker skin, but this method is the best way to rub in thicker zinc sunscreens and minimize the white cast as much as possible.
It will only take a few minutes to learn how to apply mineral sunscreen the right way. This is a small change and not difficult at all. Watch the video and see for yourself.
Can’t see the video? Watch how to apply mineral sunscreen correctly here on YouTube.
If you don’t have time for the video here are the steps:
- Dab little dots of sunscreen around the area you’re planning to cover.
- Begin spreading it around to connect the dots.
- Keep rubbing…
- Keep rubbing…You generally have to rub about twice as much as with conventional sunscreen.
- And that’s it! Super simple!
Do Nanoparticles of Zinc Oxide Help Sunscreen Rub in Clear?
Absolutely. Big brands began using nanoparticles of zinc oxide because the smaller the particle, the less you can see that classic white cast.
However, there are some serious dangers to nanoparticles, so that put them on the X list for me. None of our top recommended brands or even second-tier recommended can include nanoparticles of zinc.
Danger #1: Because nanoparticles are so small, less than 100 nanometers, it’s actually possible for them to absorb into your skin. Now we have the whole “zinc in the bloodstream” problem which may cause physical harm.
Danger #2: Also, nanoparticles are toxic to sea life.
It’s all just not worth it to me. You don’t need nanoparticles of zinc oxide to help your sunscreen rub in well.
Which Mineral Sunscreen Rubs in Best?
As you know, our family has tested over 120 brands of natural mineral sunscreen. We absolutely know which ones will make you look like Casper the Friendly Ghost or an alabaster statue and which ones rub in clear.
A few of my favorite brands that bring absolute clarity to the situation include:
- 3rd Rock Sunblock (free shipping on orders over $50 and use the code KITCHENSTEW for 20% off!)
- Kokua Suncare (use the code KS for 15% off!)
- Anything tinted
I don’t love using tinted sunscreens on kids because it’s too easy for them to get their clothes all stained up, but for adults, especially on the face, tinted is the way to go.
Ladies, I recommend using a quick powder over your tinted sunscreen, as it’s going to act a lot like a foundation, including the shine. More on daily SPF moisturizing lotions for faces.
I highly recommend using the dabba dabba method even on an area as small as your face. If you’re using a tinted stick like Raw Elements, or Earth Mama you can “sponge paint” it on like this.
How Much Zinc Oxide Should a Sunscreen Have?
After testing so many brands, I can say that the most effective brands tend to contain above 18 to 20% zinc oxide.
If I see anything as low as 12% zinc oxide in the active ingredients, and it’s not paired with titanium dioxide, my antenna goes up.
I haven’t found an option with zinc that low that qualifies in field testing anywhere near an SPF 30. (Note that I don’t actually do research or testing in a lab. But we put these things on our bodies all summer long and 12% is just too low.)
Many brands push the zinc oxide content as high as 22% or even 25%. Generally, once you get that high, you’re going to see a little bit more white and it’s a little bit harder to rub in. However, some brands pull it off.
If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about scrutinizing the percent of zinc oxide, although keeping 18% as the lowest threshold in mind is not a bad idea.
Beyond that, just read my reviews and trust our family to tell you what applies nicely.
What’s the Best Clear Natural Sunscreen?
Time to talk labeling.
Keep in mind that words like “clear” and “natural” are completely unregulated. So companies can pretty much put whatever they want about the way their sunscreen looks on the front of their tube.
Note that words like “waterproof” and “sunblock” are regulated.
In fact, they are illegal because they are inaccurate.
Nothing can block 100% of the sun, and nothing is completely waterproof. A brand is being shady if they use those terms. “Water-resistant” is acceptable.
You’ll see “natural” and “mineral-based” on all sorts of toxic conventional sunscreens, so I’ve learned not to trust package marketing.
Any brand that claims “clear” on its label may be pulling the wool over your eyes.
In our testing, these brands rose to the top on how clear they rub in:
Just Listen and Follow Directions Folks
Back when I was a third-grade teacher, my favorite activity to do with the kids is that classic worksheet where the directions at the top say to read the directions carefully.
The very first instruction is to put your name on the paper and turn it in.
However, the entire rest of the page (typically up to 20 questions) instruct the kids to do silly things like call out their name as loudly as they can, or turn around three times, or go give someone a high five across the room.
Every time I’ve done this, there are a very small number of kids who follow directions accurately. They get to share with me in the joke, and I have a feeling that those third graders, who are now adults, are doing quite successful things.
Following directions is a great and helpful skill. So when it comes to natural mineral sunscreen, just follow. my. directions.
Use the dabba dabba method.
Don’t do the glop thing.
And at all costs, avoid conventional chemical sunscreen for your health and that of your family and our precious ecosystem.
Now go turn in your paper before you look ridiculous. 😉