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Mineral Sunscreen vs Chemical Sunscreen

Sunscreen is one of the hottest topics in the world of skincare and also healthcare in general, and for good reason.  Sunscreen not only helps protect your skin from sunburn, it also helps prevent premature aging, and even skin cancer.  But with so many sunscreen options available on the market, choosing the right one can be confusing.

Today, we’re diving deep into the world of mineral and chemical sunscreens. We’ll break down how they work, their pros and cons, and which one might work best for you.

What is sunscreen?

A sunscreen, sunblock, sun cream, or sun care product protects your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun.

What UV rays are harmful? 

  • UVA rays – these long rays cause damage by penetrating into the skin. Skin aging, inflammation, or even skin cancer can appear over time. This damage is typically not seen immediately but can build up with repeated exposure.
  • UVB rays – these short rays cause sunburns on the surface of the skin and can harm your skin cells immediately and over time. It is easy to remember that “B” causes “burning”. 
best suncreen for uva and uvb protection

So the harmful rays to worry about are the UVA and UVB rays. When looking for a good sunscreen you want to look for one that is “broad spectrumor protective against both UVA and UVB rays. Many less effective or older sunscreens protect against either/or, but with research from the last 50 years of sunscreen usage, broad spectrum sunscreens are necessary for complete protection and are more commonly available.

What is the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?

  • A mineral  sunscreen is typically made out of naturally occurring minerals such as the oxides of zinc or titanium. 
  • A chemical sunscreen is made of synthetically produced organic chemicals which are made in a lab. 

In the past, it was believed that chemical sunscreens worked by absorbing UV rays and mineral sunscreens worked by reflecting them. 

Mineral sunscreen is often still referred to as “physical sunscreen” because it was believed that it physically blocked UV rays from entering your skin.

However, it has recently been shown that both chemical and mineral sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays before they make contact with or enter your skin. 

uv protection mineral vs chemical sunscreen

Pros and Cons of Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens

You may be wondering if chemical or mineral sunscreen is better? Let’s look at some pros and cons of the two:

Pros of mineral sunscreens:

  • Best for sensitive skin so can be used for babies, kids, elderly and those with acne prone skin
  • Broad spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays) when non-nano
  • Immediate effectiveness
  • Considered by dermatologists to work better overall
  • Not absorbed into body
  • These substances are considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA

Cons of mineral sunscreens:

  • With some formulas the percentage of zinc may be too high so considered thick and harder to apply
  • Too high a percentage of zinc in the formula can be drying
  • Minerals like zinc in high concentration can leave a white cast on skin, especially noticeable on darker skin tones
  • Nano zinc is not broad spectrum, and can cause damage to coral reefs. So be sure to use non nano if choosing a mineral sunscreen
mineral sunscreen application

Pros of chemical sunscreens:

  • No white cast
  • Broad spectrum when the chemicals are paired together in products
  • Texture is usually light and easy to apply 
  • Invisible on all skin tones
  • Is more readily available 

Cons of chemical sunscreens: 

  • Can be irritating to the skin, even to skin that isn’t sensitive
  • Can be comedogenic, so can clog pores
  • Less reef safe than mineral sunscreen, with some chemicals being banned entirely
  • Slightly less broad spectrum than mineral sunscreen
  • Slightly less effective overall according to dermatologists
  • Absorbed into body, which may affect hormonal systems
  • Chemicals used are not considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by FDA

There are many reasons to consider a mineral sunscreen vs “regular” sunscreens or chemical sunscreens. You may be wondering, “is mineral sunscreen better for you?” or even if mixing chemical and physical sunscreens is a good idea for the best coverage. 

Studies have shown that mixing the different types of sunscreens does reduce the effectiveness of both, so it’s something I prefer not to do. A lot of ready-made products may include both types in their formulas in order to achieve a nice texture on the skin. While I’ve used products like this in the past, I think with this newest research I will avoid products like this going forward.  

How to tell if sunscreen is mineral or chemical

In a sunscreen product made in the US, mineral sunscreens will have one or both of the following ingredients: 

In a sunscreen product made in the US, chemical sunscreens will have one or more of the following ingredients: 

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate

Sometimes you may see some different chemicals listed on your skin care product other than these. This is because there are some chemical UV filters that are not yet approved by the FDA in the US, however are widely used in sunscreens in Europe and Asia. Some of these sun products have been imported to the US for use. 

Conclusion: Mineral SPF vs Chemical SPF

In my opinion, after testing out both kinds of formulas on my own skin (which is sensitive), I have decided that mineral sunscreen is the best choice for me. 

Not only does it have better pros and minimal cons, it’s easy to make your own customized formula that includes nutrient-rich natural ingredients. Many of these offer sun-protective benefits of their own in their natural state. I find this to be very cost effective, and I can tailor my formula to my specific needs and skin type. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about finding a product that doesn’t blend in with my skin tone. I can add mica pigments, a touch of ready-made bronzer or powder, or even natural iron oxide cosmetic pigments to make it a tinted moisturizer.

sunscreen application importance

There are many other steps you can take to protect yourself from the sun besides a skin-care product, including protective clothing, sunglasses, umbrellas, and seeking shaded areas often. The best sun care product overall is the one you will use regularly! Don’t be afraid to explore the options that are available, as research over many years helps to create newer products every day that are better and safer for us and our environment.

As always please comment below if you have any questions or feedback. I would love to hear about your favorite sunscreen or DIY sunscreen ingredients you find work best. 

Author: Natalie, DIY Skincare Enthusiast