Best pregnancy-safe sunscreens, according to dermatologists – NBC News

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There’s nothing like pregnancy to make you rethink your skin-care routine. That’s because the ingredients in your favorite formulas could potentially have some repercussions for your growing baby. That goes for  sunscreen, too.
By and large, a pregnancy-safe sunscreen is one that uses mineral filters, such as zinc oxide. There are a number of studies showing that chemical sunscreen filters can disrupt the endocrine system in animals, although there are other studies that haven’t found this effect — and no confirmation that they actually affect humans in this way, says Dr. Heather Rogers, a board-certified dermatologist at Modern Dermatology in Seattle, WA. In short: The data isn’t conclusive, so many experts err on the side of caution and recommend mineral sunscreens to be safe. 
While everyone’s comfort level with certain ingredients may differ, Rogers favors a mineral-based formula (specifically, zinc oxide) during pregnancy, particularly for those who are applying it to a large surface area, where there’s increased absorption of whatever you apply to skin. To find out more about what to look for in a pregnancy-safe sunscreen, we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists and included their top recommendations along with top-rated picks that fit their guidance and recommendations.
SKIP AHEAD How we picked the best pregnancy-safe sunscreen | The best pregnancy-safe sunscreens in 2024 | How to shop for pregnancy-safe sunscreen | Which sunscreen is safe during pregnancy? | What ingredients in sunscreen should I avoid when pregnant? | What are the side effects of sunscreen during pregnancy?
When speaking with experts to build this list, they recommend I look for attributes like:
Every item on this list is a mineral formula and all but one are fragrance-free. (Fragrance can sometimes include phthalates — and might not be ideal if you’re sensitive to scent during pregnancy, too.)
Rogers likes this sunscreen, which works for most skin tones since it comes in both sheer and tinted shades. “It is very cosmetically elegant, but it does have a lot of silicone in it,” she says. (Silicone has a nice slip to it but can feel greasy). It has vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, and uses zinc oxide to defend skin against both UVA and UVB rays. The formula is lightweight and gentle enough for sensitive skin types, too, according to the brand.
SPF rating: 30 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
If you don’t love the feel of silicone (which gives products a slippery feel), Rogers recommends this option, which she says is also very cosmetically elegant. It’s formulated with ingredients intended to support the skin barrier, such as turmeric and vitamin E. It’s also free of synthetic fragrances, although it has plant-based vanilla extract for a scent .
SPF rating: 32 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: no
Vanicream is beloved among dermatologists for its gentle formulations, and this sunscreen is no exception. “It is 19% zinc oxide and tolerated by really sensitive skin,” says Rogers, who uses it from head to toe. “It is not water-resistant, but it is something that I can use on my body if I’m out and about — and not in the water or sweating.” In addition to sun protection, it has squalane and ceramides, and is free of fragrances, parabens and potential irritants like lanolin and botanical extracts.
SPF rating: 30 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
It’s an investment, but both Rogers and Dr. Deirdre Hooper, a board-certified dermatologist at Audubon Dermatology in New Orleans, Louisiana, recommend this lightweight sunscreen. It’s easy to apply to your body because it’s quite milky, says Rogers. It also has a special enzyme that helps repair existing sun damage, and creates a smooth base for makeup, according to the brand.
SPF rating: 50 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
Hooper recommends this sunscreen for people with oily skin, since it leaves a matte finish. The oil-free formula has a tint to help minimize a white cast, is noncomedogenic , and uses polymers to create a smooth base for makeup application. It also has bamboo and clover extract, which serve as antioxidants and help counteract the effects of free radicals, according to the brand.
SPF rating: 40 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
Hooper loves this sunscreen for its high concentration of zinc. “I’m a freckly, skin cancer-prone patient, and I like a high concentration of zinc,” she says. “It’s a very effective sunscreen, especially if I’m sweating.” It’s formulated to withstand outdoor activities, and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Plus, it also has antioxidants to reduce the effects of free radicals, as well as jojoba esters to hydrate, according to the brand.
SPF rating: 50 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free:yes
I swear by this tinted sunscreen, which is one of the few mineral sunscreens to actually disappear into my tan skin. I used it throughout my pregnancy and always appreciated its weightless, never greasy feel and the fact that it didn’t seem to exacerbate my pregnancy acne. The packaging is also a bonus, with the pump making it easy for me to control how much I dispensed. The formula also has antioxidants and peptides to soothe and protect skin.
SPF rating: 50 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
Tinted formulas aren’t as common for the body, so I’ve typically had to just live with the white cast of mineral sunscreens. And while this has a somewhat chalky finish, in my experience, it was a lot less noticeable than other mineral formulas I tried and relatively easy to blend in. It has silica powders that give skin a velvety, but not greasy feel, and I found it was really easy to spread from head to toe. Plus, it also has antioxidants, including vitamin E.
SPF rating: 50 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
Hooper recommends this sunscreen for outdoor activities, even swimming since it provides great broad-spectrum protection without being drying, she says. It uses only mineral filters to protect skin, and it is both sweat- and water-resistant for 80 minutes, according to the brand. What sets this brand apart is the bottle, which turns blue when it’s exposed to UV light — indicating that you need to apply it.
SPF rating: 50 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
For daily wear, Hooper considers this a good option at a great price point. The tinted formula paired mineral sunscreen filters with ceramides, niacinamide and hyaluronic acid to calm the  skin, and it has a lightweight feel, according to the brand. It’s also noncomedogenic and formulated without fragrance and parabens.
SPF rating: 30 | Sunscreen type: mineral | Fragrance-free: yes
Pregnancy-safe sunscreen really comes down to the sunscreen filter, of which there are two types: mineral and chemical. Mineral ingredients, which include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are also referred to as physical sunscreens; these “block harmful ultraviolet damage by sitting on the skin,” says Dr. Mona Sadeghpour, a board-certified dermatologist at Skin Med Institute in Lone Tree, Colorado. Chemical filters, on the other hand, protect skin by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting them into heat, which then dissipates off your skin.
If you just want to err on the side of utmost caution during pregnancy, then your best bet is a mineral formulation. “I don’t routinely recommend people change their sunscreen because the data is not there to recommend against sunscreen — of any sort — in pregnancy,” says Hooper. However, if a pregnant patient were to ask her, she says she would steer patients toward a mineral sunscreen “because of the theoretical concerns surrounding chemical sunscreens — namely, that the chemicals can be absorbed into your body and into your bloodstream and could potentially be a problem.” The trade-off is that mineral sunscreens can leave a white cast and can sometimes be drying on skin, which can make it challenging for some people to make the switch.
Also, it’s worth scanning the ingredient list beyond the filters — for instance, some sunscreens are made with parabens, which could influence hormones in high amounts, and fragrance, which sometimes have phthalates. 
On top of that, mineral sunscreens aren’t always mineral sunscreens. “There is a newer category of sunscreens now in the U.S.  that is marketed as clear, mineral sunscreen,” says Rogers. These feature zinc oxide as the key ingredient, but they may “include chemical UV blockers as well to reach a higher SPF claim and make the zinc more spreadable,” she says. These include chemical filters that are nearly identical to the chemical filters regulated by the FDA — but they don’t have to be highlighted since they’re not exactly the same, and therefore not under the FDA’s purview. She recommends looking for (and avoiding):
Ultimately, you need to look at the ingredient list on your sunscreen even if it says 100% mineral sunscreen, she says.
Really, all sunscreen is safe during a pregnancy — and it’s much, much safer than foregoing it entirely. There is research showing that when certain subjects used certain chemical sunscreens at their maximum recommended use, active ingredients were detected in their blood, meaning they were absorbed from the skin into the body, says Sadeghpour. (These ingredients include: avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, ecamsule, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate.)
However, “it is important to remember that the application that lead to the systemic absorption of these ingredients was at the label’s maximum recommended use of 2 milligrams of sunscreen per 1 centimeter of skin on 75% of body surface area, four times per day for four days in a row,” says Sadeghpour. It’s safe to assume no one is actually applying SPF at those concentrations, although the findings do raise additional questions of long-term effects, she adds. However, that “absorption does not equal risk — and both the FDA as well as the American Academy of Dermatology advise and support the continued use of sunscreen.”
So, if that does concern you, you may find that mineral sunscreens are the safest possible option for you — so long as you actually use them. And, pregnant or not pregnant, “hats, clothing and shade provide the most reliable forms of sun protection, since studies have shown that most people do not use enough sunscreen,” says Sadeghpour, who adds people generally only use a quarter of the amount of recommended sunscreen. Look for clothing with UPF, which indicates the level of sun protection a fabric provides.
Some chemical filters are worth avoiding. These include:
There aren’t any side effects of using sunscreen. (The exception is if you have sensitive skin, as chemical filters may trigger irritation — because of that, mineral formulas make for the best sunscreens for sensitive skin.)
Otherwise, even if you slather yourself in chemical sunscreen during pregnancy, it’s extremely unlikely that this will have any impact whatsoever on you or your baby. Ultimately, “probably nothing [will happen],” says Hooper. 
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest. 
Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer and editor who has been covering beauty and health for more than a decade, including topics like peptides and vitamin E. For this article, Pai spoke to three dermatologists to narrow down the best pregnancy-safe products to shop, and highlighted their recommendations about what to consider when shopping.
Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date. 
Deanna Pai is a freelance writer and editor at NBC Select.
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