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Mineral vs chemical sunscreen: Which one should you actually use?

a man in sunscreen with a sun on his shoulder
Anna Tarazevich / Pexels

Even on cloudy days or days spent indoors, wearing sunscreen every day is a non-negotiable part of a healthy skincare routine. Not only can excess sunlight cause premature aging of the skin, but it’s also critical to wear sunscreen to protect against various types of skin cancer. When choosing sunscreen, you’ll find two main types — chemical and mineral sunscreen. The mineral vs chemical sunscreen debate has been an ongoing one, as both forms of sunscreens have their pros and cons. Below, we’ll dive into the pros and cons of each type of sunscreen to help you choose the best option.

A silhouette of some hikers against the sun
Kristjan Kotar / Unsplash

Pros and cons of chemical sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens, often made of chemicals such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, or other similar chemicals, are absorbed into the skin when applied. This type of sunscreen is generally easy to apply to the face and body and absorbs UV rays that touch the skin.

Pro: hydrating for the skin

Due to the thin and blendable nature of chemical sunscreens, they are generally hydrating for the skin and can be added to cosmetics such as moisturizers, skin tints, or foundation products.

Pro: sweat and water resistant

Many cosmetics that market “SPF included” contain chemical sunscreens. People also like chemical sunscreens because they are quite sweat and water-resistant.

Pro: no white residue

Chemical sunscreens also blend well into the skin and do not leave any white residue. If you think back to the sunscreen you used as a kid, chances are it was a chemical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens have become more popular in recent years as consumers are paying more attention to the ingredients in their skincare and health products.

Con: not the best for sensitive skin

Although chemical sunscreens are easy to use, they are not always a great choice for those with skin conditions or sensitive skin. The chemicals found in this type of sunscreen can cause allergic reactions or worsen conditions such as melasma.

Con: chemical ingredients and environmental impact

In addition, some of the chemicals used in these products may be linked to cancer, as trace amounts get absorbed into the bloodstream. Another con to consider is the environmental impact of chemical sunscreen, which may damage reefs and other marine environments.

Weather with sun and clouds
Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Pros and cons of mineral sunscreen

One of the primary differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen is their method of action. Unlike chemical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen works to block rays at the surface level and is not absorbed into the skin.

Pro: great for sensitive skin

Most mineral sunscreens are made of either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (both of which are recognized as safe by the FDA). Since mineral sunscreens don’t need to be absorbed into the skin, they offer sun protection immediately. The mineral formula is safer for sensitive skin and children with sensitive skin.

Pro: slightly more effective

Most research suggests that mineral sunscreen is slightly more effective than chemical sunscreens.

Con: white cast left on skin

Opponents of mineral sunscreen often dislike the formula, which sometimes can leave a white cast on the skin. For those with a darker complexion, the white cast of mineral sunscreen for the face is a deal-breaker.

Con: thicker, less-blendable formula

The texture of a mineral sunscreen is also thicker and not as blendable as chemical sunscreens. The “heavy” feeling of mineral sunscreen on the face can also cause sensory issues for some people. However, lots of new products have come on the market recently that have reduced the white cast of mineral sunscreens by offering tinted varieties.

Closeup of a finger on the pump of a sunscreen spray bottle.

Is mineral sunscreen or chemical sunscreen best for you?

All in all, mineral sunscreens are likely more effective, as they provide immediate protection from the sun by physically blocking its incoming rays. In addition, mineral sunscreens do not pose a threat to marine environments and are a safe choice for those with sensitive skin. Remember, it may take time to adjust to using a mineral sunscreen, especially if you have used a chemical sunscreen for many years.

However, the best choice of sunscreen for your needs is one that you’ll actually wear. Those with darker complexions or who prefer a more comfortable sunscreen may opt for a chemical sunscreen. Both forms of sunscreen provide adequate sun protection and can help protect against UV rays. In addition, both forms of sunscreen will need to be reapplied throughout the day to ensure adequate sun protection.

If you are more likely to wear a chemical sunscreen regularly, it might be a better option for you. Protecting yourself from the sun with any form of sunscreen is most important. Speaking with a trusted dermatologist about skincare and sun protection options can also provide more information and help you determine if chemical vs mineral sunscreen is best for you.

Emily Caldwell
Emily is a freelance writer with a special focus on health, fitness, lifestyle, food, and nutrition topics. She holds a B.S…
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