Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreens: What is the Difference?

Wondering what the difference is between mineral and chemical sunscreens? Read this article to learn more about their pros and cons and how to choose the best sunscreen for you!

Sun Care is Skin Care

We have all been told how important it is to use sunscreen while we are outside to protect our skin from UV damage, but with so many options available, it can be difficult to choose the one that is best for you. Mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen are the two main varieties on the market.

 

In this post, we’ll talk about how chemical and mineral sunscreens differ from one another, how they function, and which one is better for your skin so you can choose the sunscreen that is best for your skin type.

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen is a skincare product that protects your skin from the harmful effects of the sun. It contains ingredients that help to prevent damage caused by UVA and UVB rays, which can lead to premature aging and even skin cancer.

What is SPF?

Some people choose their sunscreen by the sun protection factor (SPF) on the bottle. While important, the SPF indicates the length of protection, not the quality.  Let’s say your skin burns after 15 minutes of sun exposure.  Multiply the SPF value by 15 and you will get the amount of time you are technically protected from sunburn. 

What are UVA and UVB Rays?

There are two types of UV light when talking about sunscreen: 

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength. It is associated with skin aging.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength. It is associated with skin burning.

 

While UVA and UVB rays differ in how they affect the skin, they both do harm. Unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB damages the DNA in skin cells, producing genetic defects, or mutations, that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.

An effective sunscreen is the one that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Alternatively, SPF is a relative measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays only.  In other words, a higher SPF value does not mean better UVA protection.

Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreens: Key Differences

Mineral Sunscreens

  • Uses natural minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients

 

  • Forms a physical barrier on the skin that reflects and scatters UV rays

 

  • Provides broad-spectrum protection

 

  • Less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions

 

  • Works immediately upon application

 

  • Typically more difficult to apply and may leave a white cast on the skin

 

  • May be more resistant to water and sweat

 

  • Recommended for people with sensitive skin or skin conditions like rosacea or eczema

Chemical Sunscreens

  • Uses synthetic compounds like:
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Homosalate
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Absorbs UV rays and converts them into heat, which is then released from the skin

 

  • May provide less broad-spectrum protection

 

  • May cause skin irritation or allergic reactions

 

  • Needs time to be absorbed into the skin before it starts working
  • Typically easier to apply and has a more lightweight feel on the skin

 

  • May require more frequent reapplication

 

  • Recommended for people who do not have sensitivities to the active ingredients

What Is Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, use natural minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as their active ingredients. These minerals work by forming a physical barrier on the skin that reflects and scatters UV rays, preventing them from penetrating the skin. Aside from its active ingredients mineral sunscreens are also known for their extensive protection and are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions to the skin.

Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen

One major benefit of mineral sunscreen is that it provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays without penetrating the skin. This makes it ideal for people with sensitive skin or those who are prone to allergic reactions because mineral-based sunscreen does not contain common irritants like oxybenzone or avobenzone which can be found in a chemical sunscreen. Another benefit of mineral sunscreen is its ability to remain effective for longer periods of time compared to chemical sunscreens.

Drawbacks of Mineral Sunscreen

It’s true that mineral sunscreen provides a wide range of benefits however, there are some significant drawbacks to using mineral sunscreen that you should be aware of too.

 

One major drawback of mineral sunscreen is that it can leave a white cast on your skin. This is because the minerals in the formula cannot be fully absorbed by the skin, which leads to a white or chalky appearance. This may not be noticeable on fair skin tones but can be very visible on darker complexions, making it less attractive as an option for people with darker skin. Another issue with mineral sunscreen is that it tends to be thicker and greasier than other types of sunscreens.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen is a type of sunscreen that uses chemicals to absorb and neutralize the sun’s harmful UV rays. These sunscreens contain active ingredients like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate which work by converting UV rays into heat energy that is released from the skin. Unlike physical sunscreens that sit on top of the skin and reflect UV radiation away from it, chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin deeply to protect it against UVA and UVB radiation.

The Environmental Working Group has a really helpful summary table that describes health concerns of these chemicals.  I also checked their information with the European Union Chemicals Agency database.  

Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe?

Chemical suncreens such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and avobenzone are all systemically absorbed into the body after one use, according to the studies published by the FDA. The agency also found they could be detected on the skin and in the blood weeks after they had last been used. 

They penetrate the skin deeply and can disrupt hormones. These chemicals rate high on EWG (10 as the most toxic), and/or the EU Chemicals Agency database marks it for endocrine disruption, thyroid issues, allergens and behavior issues among other things. There may be a reasons as to why these are being banned on islands such as Hawaii… because they are very toxic to the coral reefs. 

 

Other studies have reported finding sunscreen ingredients in breast milk,urine and blood plasma samples. And it’s possible for sunscreen users to inhale ingredients in sunscreen sprays and ingest some of the ingredients they apply to their lips, so the ingredients must not be harmful to the lungs or internal organs.

So, a true non-toxic face sunscreen is one that contains NO oxybenzone, octinoxate, or homosalate. 

 

The other chemical UV filters such as octisalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone seem to be okay.  However, many times sunscreens that have them are rarely without the three chemicals discussed above.  So, it is safest to make sure you are using a mineral facial sunscreen instead of a chemical one.

Different Forms of Sunscreen

Sunscreen comes in various forms such as lotions, creams, sprays, and sticks. Lotions and creams are the most common form of sunscreen and are recommended for daily use. They are easy to apply and come in different formulas for various skin types. Sprays and sticks are also available, but they should be used with caution. Sprays may not provide even coverage, and there is a risk of inhaling the product. Sticks are convenient for targeted areas, but they may not cover larger areas effectively.

How to Use Sunscreen?

To use sunscreen, apply it generously to all exposed skin for at least 15 minutes before going outside. This allows time for the product to be absorbed and provides maximum protection. Reapply every two hours or more frequently if sweating or swimming. It’s important to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas, including the face, ears, neck, and hands for total protection.

Bottom Line:

Overall, both mineral and chemical sunscreens can effectively protect your skin from UV radiation, but each individual may have personal preferences or sensitivities to certain ingredients so it’s important to choose a sunscreen that works best for your skin type and lifestyle.

Remember: a true non-toxic face sunscreen is one that contains NO oxybenzone, octinoxate, or homosalate.

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