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17 Jun 2022

Mineral sunscreens fail Which? tests

Independent Which? testing found multiple mineral-based sunscreens failed to provide enough sun protection or live up to claims on the bottle

Worrying new Which? research reveals that many pricey mineral sunscreens aren’t up to the job of protecting your skin from the sun’s rays. 

All the mineral-based products we tested failed SPF or UVA tests - and shockingly several products failed on both counts. 

Four SPF 30 mineral-based sunscreens from Alba Botanica, Clinique, Hawaiian Tropic and Tropic Skincare - costing between £11.99 and £28 - didn’t come close to providing the protection they claim to. They failed key sun protection tests twice, using two different samples, so we’ve named them all Don’t Buys to avoid.

A fifth product – Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF 30, which uses mineral and chemical UV filters, failed to protect adequately from UVA, and is also a Don't Buy. 


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The Don't Buy mineral sunscreens that failed our tests

Mineral sunscreens have become increasingly popular in recent years, due to concerns that chemical UV filters may have an environmental impact, and the fact that mineral blockers can be better for those with sensitive skin. 

But concerningly, none of the products we tested did a good job of protecting you from the sun or providing the level of protection claimed. Here's a rundown of the products that failed and why:

Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 £11.99/113ml 

In our tests, this sunscreen failed to provide even two thirds of its SPF 30 claim, and failed to protect adequately from UVA too. You won’t find any chemical UV filters – it relies solely on the minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and it's free from artificial colours or synthetic fragrances.

That might sound promising for sensitive skin sufferers, but based on its disappointing sun protection test results, it’s a Don’t Buy.

Clinique Mineral Sunscreen Lotions for Body SPF 30 £26/125ml

When we tested this pricey mineral sunscreen it barely provided a third of its claimed SPF, and it failed to provide enough UVA protection either. 

It was easy to apply, but that's not much use when it didn’t provide enough sun protection in our tests. And at £26 for 125ml, it’s also the most expensive sunscreen we’ve tested. Don’t waste your money.

Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF 30 £25.50/200ml

We’re happy with the level of SPF protection provided by this sun cream, which is probably due to the inclusion of Isoamyl p-Methoxycinnamate (an approved chemical UV filter, which Green People state is from a natural source). 

But unfortunately, it fell short on UVA protection, failing our tests. Sunscreens need to pass both tests to be acceptable, and that's why this one is a Don’t Buy.

Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Protective Sun Milk SPF 30 £10.50/100ml

With 100% mineral-based UV protection, ‘reef-friendly’ claims and PETA certification, this mineral sunscreen from Hawaiian Tropic seems to have a lot going for it, but the results of our tests left us concerned.

We found that it only provided around two thirds of its SPF 30 claim in our tests, meaning it won't protect you as much as you expect. It's another fail, and we don’t think you should buy it. 

Tropic Skin Shade Sun Cream SPF 30 £28/200ml

Described as ‘reef friendly’ and mineral-based, this expensive sunscreen might feel like a good and green choice. Our application testing panel thought it was easy to apply while not feeling tacky on your skin. 

But, like the others above, it didn’t deliver on its SPF 30 claim in our tests, registering little more than a third of the expected SPF. It also failed to provide adequate UVA protection. Disappointing, and another Don’t Buy. 

Mineral vs chemical sunscreens: what's the difference?

Chemical-based sunscreens use organic compounds, such as octocrylene, to filter UV rays. They are absorbed into the skin and provide sun protection by absorbing UV rays, either releasing the energy from the light as heat or changing the 3D shape of the chemical, which then breaks down. 

Mineral sunscreens use inorganic minerals, usually titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, to provide protection from UV rays. These sit on top of the skin when the sunscreen is applied, rather than being absorbed, and create a physical barrier that acts like a mirror, reflecting and scattering UV light. 

Some UV filtering chemicals that you’ll find in most modern sunscreens have been linked to coral damage, which is why some people want to avoid using them. They can also be better for sensitive skin, which can be irritated by some chemical filters - and there are some concerns that chemical UV filters are absorbed into the bloodstream, though more research is needed.

What is 'reef-safe' sunscreen?

Nikon Coolpix W300 underwater

Mineral sunscreens often promote their environmental credentials, the most common being that they are ‘reef-safe’ or ocean-friendly. This tends to mean that two commonly used chemical UV filters linked to coral bleaching – oxybenzone and octinoxate – aren’t used. In some places, including Hawaii, the sale of sunscreens containing these compounds is banned.

However, terms such as 'reef-safe' and ocean-friendly aren't regulated, so there's no consensus on what they mean or which products they can be applied to.

While environmental considerations are important, as is what works best for your skin, our tests show a worrying pattern of the mineral sunscreens tested failing to provide their claimed level of SPF or UVA protection. Other independent European and American consumer groups that Which? works with internationally have had similar findings in independent tests. 

Sunscreens that passed our SPF and UVA tests

We also tested eight sunscreens which use chemical UV filters as part of our 2022 testing. These all passed both SPF and UVA tests, and some cost less than £3 a bottle. Products which passed include:

  • Asda Protect Moisturising Sun Lotion SPF30, £2.80/200ml - available from Asda
  • Avon Sun Body Cream SPF30, £5/150ml  - available from Avon
  • Calypso Press & Protect Sun Lotion SPF30, £3.49/200ml  - available from Calypso Sun
  • Lloyds Pharmacy Solero Moisturising Sun Lotion SPF30, £7/200ml  - available from Lloyds Pharmacy
  • Morrisons Sun Protect & Nourish Sun Spray SPF30, £3.50/200ml - available from Morrisons
  • Piz Buin Allergy Sun Sensitive Skin Lotion SPF30, £8/200ml - available from Amazon, Asda, Ocado, Piz Buin, Sainsburys, and Superdrug 
  • Superdrug Solait Moisturising Sun Spray SPF30 High, £5.49/200ml - available from Superdrug
  • Ultrasun Family SPF30, £26/150ml - available from  Boots, John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Superdrug and Ultrasun

You can see full test results, including the Best Buy sunscreens which were rated highly for ease of application (logged in Which? members only), in our sun cream reviews.


Suncream buying guide - SPF, UVA and UVB explained, how to choose, and the marketing jargon to watch out for


Don't Buy sunscreens: what the manufacturers say

Clinique told us it has conducted external standard testing which supports its SPF claims and meets EU guidelines for UVA: ‘All our products are subjected to rigorous testing - we guarantee our claims are clinically valid. Our evaluation and inspection process means we have full confidence in the integrity and efficacy of all ingredients and formulas.'

Edewell (manufacturer of Hawaiian Tropic Mineral Protective Sun Lotion) told us it firmly disagrees with the testing results obtained by Which?: ‘Our product’s sun protection factor has been tested by a reputable and internationally recognised lab to ISO 24444 and obtained an SPF result of 34.5. Its UVA protection surpasses minimum European and UK thresholds and we’ve received no complaints or reports about adverse reactions.'

Green People said it's puzzled why the mean measured UVA PF fell below the level recommended by the EU, and that it was in the process of investigating this further.

After retesting its product Tropic told us: ‘The safety of our customers is and has always been our number one priority. On receiving Which?’s results, we disagreed entirely with their findings. Our Skin Shade SPF30 had been tested multiple times, with the last test conducted in August 2021, achieving an SPF rating of 32.5. 

In the interest of complete peace of mind for our customers, we have now tested the same batch of Skin Shade SPF30 Which? tested with two external independent ISO accredited labs, receiving results of SPF 32.3 and SPF 31. Our Skin Shade SPF30 has now been validated by three external independent labs, showing our commitment to ensuring the integrity of our formulas. 

Our sunscreens are manufactured following the strictest GMP and ISO accredited standards. We are happy to share these reports with anyone who requests them. As we've not been able to validate Which?'s findings, we firmly believe they are incorrect.‘

Alba Botanica didn't respond to our request for comment.

Which? sunscreen tests

Our independent lab tests reveal how well high street sunscreens protect skin from UVA and UVB rays, the types of ultraviolet light linked to skin cancer. UVA causes premature skin ageing and UVB causes sunburn. 

  • SPF claims - we shine a UVB lamp on to sunscreen applied to volunteers’ backs. We record the point when skin reddens and compare the smallest amount of UVB required with and without the sunscreen. The difference between the two points is used to calculate the SPF. 
  • UVA protection - we spread the sunscreen on a glass plate, place it in the path of a spectrophotometer and record the UVA radiation absorbed by the sunscreen. 

Both tests are carried out to agreed British and International test standards. Any fails are subject to a repeat test with a fresh sample from a different bottle.

In addition to these core tests, we get a diverse panel of at least 10 people to rate each sunscreen on how easy it is to apply, rating factors such as odour, absorption, residue, tackiness and greasiness. 

Products are anonymised, and the products rated best for application are named Best Buy sun screens. See our top picks by logging in and checking our sun cream reviews.

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Find the best sun creams that aced our independent lab tests and find out how we test sunscreens 


Prices correct as of 16 June 2022