Elta MD Sunscreen Review: Better Than Cheaper Options?

Elta MD Sunscreen Review: Better Than Cheaper Options?

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Elta MD is a cosmetics company that sells a wide variety of skincare products, but they're known for their sunscreen. The brand claims to be the "#1 Dermatologist-Recommended Sunscreen Brand."

But is there really a difference between expensive and cheaper sunscreen brands? Are the ingredients used by Elta MD backed by clinical research? Do their products contain any harmful additives? And how do real users rate their products?

In this review we’ll answer these questions and more as we review every ingredient in two of Elta MD's most popular sunscreens: Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen and Elta MD UV Clear.

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen Review

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen active ingredients

Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen inactive ingredients

Elta MD sells a tinted sunscreen called "Elta MD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46." Tinted sunscreens have two main benefits according to Elta MD’s site: to reduce white residue from standard sunscreen and to reflect more light.

Zinc oxide is an effective physical sunscreen ingredient, which means it sits atop the skin and reflects or absorbs UV rays. A clinical trial published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology proved this ingredient to be safe and non-toxic, and it's a physical sunscreen ingredient we recommend.

Octinoxate is a chemical sunscreen ingredient that we recommend avoiding. A 2018 medical review found this ingredient to be potentially harmful to human health, and octinoxate has been banned in Hawaii due to its potential to damage coral reefs and other ecosystems.

Iron oxides are an effective sunscreen ingredient because they're proven to work synergistically with zinc oxide to provide added UV protection.

Niacinamide and sodium hyaluronate have anti-aging effects as we documented in our recent Disco Eye Stick reviews article.

We consider Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen to be likely effective for sun protection, and to potentially have an anti-aging effect due to the inclusion of two other functional ingredients. However we cannot recommend it overall because it contains a chemical sunscreen ingredient that we consider questionable from a health and environmental perspective.

One of the most popular YouTube reviews of Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen is published by a channel called "Abbey Yung" and has over 85,000 views at the time of updating this article. The video appears unsponsored and the creator does a product demonstration and shares her thoughts on the product:

Elta MD UV Clear Review

Elta MD UV Clear active ingredients

Elta MD UV Clear inactive ingredients

Elta MD UV Clear has the exact same active ingredients, at the exact same concentrations, as their tinted sunscreen. Thus our conclusion about the active ingredients is the same: likely to be effective as a sunscreen but we cannot recommend this product due to the octinoxate.

The only notable difference in the inactive ingredients is the lack of iron oxides in this formulation. For this reason we consider this formulation inferior to the tinted sunscreen, since iron oxides are proven to add sun protection.

Overall we do not recommend this product.

One of the most popular YouTube reviews of Elta MD UV Clear is published by a channel called "The Bauer Beauty Experience." The creator is an esthetician and the video appears unsponsored:

Where to Buy Elta MD for the Best Price

Elta MD is sold at a variety of online retailers.

Below is a price breakdown for Elta MD Tinted Sunscreen (1.7 ounce) at the time of updating this article:

Elta MD website: $38 (plus shipping, link)

Amazon: $38 (free shipping, link to official Amazon listing)

Walmart: $16.14 (third-party seller, link)

Walmart currently has the best price, but the listing is from a third-party seller with only a few reviews.

For consumers who can afford to do so, we'd recommend purchasing either from Amazon (which is an official listing) or the brand's website.

Real Customers Review Elta MD

Elta MD products are sold on Amazon which is a more objective resource for customer reviews than a brand's website in our opinion. Their most-reviewed product on Amazon is their UV Clear sunscreen, which has over 33,000 reviews and an impressive average review rating of 4.7 out of 5.

The top positive review from a verified purchaser is written by a user named "Seo Young Myaeng" who claims that the product is effective for their sensitive skin:

"And after trying about 8 other sunscreen brands, I've decided to stick with this one. I've been using it for about a month and it's not very harsh on my skin, nor does it cause white cast when I reapply it (at least on the second time. Haven't tried reapplying more than that). It's not too oily so doesn't feel disgusting and I haven't experienced any breakouts yet."

The top negative review from a verified purchaser comes from a user named "Peace" who claims to have experienced side effects from the product:

"I purchased this in early May, and now probably my my 5th-10th time using it in late July, I have had a terrible reaction. I have painful hives all over my face, neck, ears, and chest. Everywhere I had put the sunscreen. It has been three days since I last used the sunscreen and the hives are not going away. I am putting Benadryl on my face to hopefully end the allergic reaction, as well as using a gentle cleanser to make sure it doesn’t actually cause any acne."

Our Clean Sunscreen Pick

Our top sunscreen pick is YOUARESUNSHINE from ClearStem. 

It's an SPF 50+ physical sunscreen entirely free of questionable additives, and it may even have anti-aging effects. This sunscreen contains green tea extract, which is clinically shown to moisturize the skin and reduce wrinkles.

Interested consumers can check out YOUARESUNSHINE at this link to the product page on the brand's official website.

Elta MD Pros and Cons

Here's our take on the pros and cons of Elta MD as a brand.


  • Effective sunscreen ingredients
  • Very favorable customer reviews
  • Some anti-aging ingredients


  • Questionable chemical sunscreen ingredient
  • Expensive
  • Contains preservatives
Stay up-to-date on our research reviews


 We consider Elta MD sunscreens to be well-formulated from an efficacy perspective. They contain active ingredients that are proven in clinical research to protect skin from sun, and contain inactive ingredients that may have an anti-aging effect.

However, we do not recommend any Elta MD sunscreens because they contain a chemical sunscreen ingredient called octinoxate which may be endocrine-disrupting in humans, and which is harmful to marine wildlife and natural ecosystems.

Reviewers online seem to think highly of Elta MD as their products have some of the highest average Amazon ratings for a cosmetics brand that we've reviewed on Illuminate Health.

We recommend that consumers avoid all sunscreens containing octinoxate, and instead choose physical sunscreens with active ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

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