Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Offers Better Protection?
Mineral vs. chemical sunscreen — people have been wondering which offers safer and more effective sun protection.
A mineral sunscreen sits on the skin's surface and will block rays by forming a physical barrier. It is an immediately-effective sunscreen but can be difficult to blend, especially if you have a darker skin tone.
Meanwhile, as the name implies, a chemical sunscreen contains chemical UV filters. These absorb UV radiation, convert it into heat, and release it. They are easy to apply but may cause skin irritation in some people.
Not all sunscreens are the same. Some of the factors you should look for are the SPF rating, active ingredients, protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and approval by board-certified experts.
All these could be daunting, especially if you have limited knowledge of sunscreens. So, if you are jumpstarting your sun protection journey, we are here to help! Keep reading to learn more.
What are the 2 Types of Sunscreens?
The two types of sunscreens available on the market are chemical and mineral sunscreens. These are board-certified to be SAFE for public use and effective in protecting against skin cancer. They also block UVA rays, which cause pigmentation and collagen breakdown.
Chemical sunscreens typically have gel-like or spray-on formulas, making them easy to blend. They are most often clear and do not leave a white cast on the skin.
However, they need MORE TIME to take effect compared to mineral sunscreens. Additionally, chemical sunscreen ingredients are non-natural, and those with sensitive skin might experience redness or inflammation.
Meanwhile, mineral (or physical) sunscreens contain minerals that form a barrier on your skin that reflects radiation. They are MORE SUITED for people with sensitive and acne-prone skin.
However, these sunscreens are known to have a thick, goopy texture that can be uncomfortable to wear for some. They might also leave a white cast on your skin due to their ingredients.
How Do Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens Work?Shop Now
Mineral sunscreens contain physical UV filters that create a physical barrier on the skin to shield it from harmful UV rays. The barriers it creates reflect UV rays before they penetrate the skin.
Most mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are recognized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as SAFE and EFFECTIVE.
But does mineral sunscreen expire? It does, and an expired mineral sunscreen becomes less effective — it will no longer achieve the SPF rating indicated on the bottle.
Unlike mineral sunscreens, chemical sunscreens DO NOT form a physical barrier on the skin that bounces off the sun's rays.
Instead, they are made up of active ingredients that absorb UV rays before they harm your skin. Then, through a chemical reaction, they will convert the rays into non-damaging heat, which is released from the skin.
These sunscreens contain chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.
There is also such a thing as hybrid sunscreens, which contain a COMBINATION of mineral and chemical filters.
Similar to chemical sunscreens, they are lightweight and do not leave white residues, and like mineral sunscreens, they offer immediate protection from UV rays.
How to Choose the Right Sunscreen
The right sunscreen can prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer. Below are a few factors you should consider when choosing the right sun protection:
- At least SPF 30 - SPF stands for sun protection factor, and it measures how well the product protects against UVB rays. This tells you how long it would take for your skin to redden under the sunlight. So, applying sunscreen with SPF 30 means it takes 30 times longer before your skin burns compared to not having sunscreen on.
- Provides broad-spectrum protection - A broad-spectrum sunscreen provides sun protection from both UVA rays, which cause aging, and UVB rays, which cause burns.
- Water resistant - A water-resistant sunscreen will stay on your skin even if you get wet or sweaty. However, most water-resistant sunscreens need to be reapplied every once in a while.
- Skin type - Your skin type can also affect what you choose between a mineral and chemical sunscreen. For instance, those with acne-prone or sensitive skin should ideally choose mineral sunscreens. If you have darker skin tones, chemical sunscreens might work better since it will not make your skin look pasty.
Now that you already know how you should choose a good sunscreen, a few questions could pop in your mind: "Do we need separate sunscreens for each member of the family?" "Can adults use kids’ sunscreen?"
There is no need to buy a different bottle of sunscreen, especially if you aim to share it with your family. It is perfectly fine to use only one sunscreen formula.
In fact, kids' sunscreens can be GOOD for those with sensitive skin because they contain gentle ingredients.
In the same way, kids can use "adult" sunscreen as long as they are mineral sunscreens. That is because children have thinner and more absorbent skin, which can be irritated by the ingredients in chemical sunscreens.
What are the Safety Considerations for Sunscreen?
The FDA regulates sunscreen products and released updated regulations last 2019.
For one, sunscreens with at least SPF 15 are required to have broad-spectrum protection. On top of that, as SPF increases, protection for UVA radiation should also increase.
Another concern is regarding the safety of zinc oxide in sunscreens. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are two mineral sunscreen ingredients that are generally recognized as safe and effective. PABA and trolamine salicylate, on the other hand, are NOT board-certified.
But how much zinc oxide content should be in sunscreens? There should be about 10% to 25% for the sunscreen to be considered safe for your health and effective against UVA and UVB rays.
As for chemical sunscreens, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, ecamsule, and octinoxate were also tested.
It turns out that these are absorbed into the bloodstream at significantly higher levels than 0.5 nanograms per milliliter — which is the standard set by the FDA for topical medications.
Despite that, scientists say that those findings do not mean sunscreens are unsafe. In fact, the health risks of sun exposure are still HIGHER than the potential risk of absorbing sunscreen chemicals.
Can Kids Wear Sunscreen?
Knowing all these, you might now be wondering, at what age can kids wear sunscreen? You can introduce sunscreen to them as early as 6 months old.
The reason why there is no need to apply sunscreen on younger babies is that they should not be under direct sunlight in the first place.
Additionally, younger babies have VERY SENSITIVE skin that is prone to rashes and irritation regardless of the kind of formula you put on them. As such, it is best to minimize their sun exposure.
Cover them up properly when you take them outside, and keep them in the shade as much as possible.
When they get older, you can start putting sunscreen on your child every day to protect them from the sun's damaging rays.
How much sunscreen you apply also matters to ensure sun protection. For kids, you should put on at least 2mg per square centimeter of skin; this translates to two tablespoons.
Environmental Impact of Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreen ingredients (particularly oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate) have been linked to dying coral reefs. These marine animals are said to absorb nanoparticles from sunscreens, regardless of the ingredients and formulation.
As such, if you want to be more ECO-FRIENDLY while also minimizing skin damage from the sun's UV rays, choose a mineral sunscreen that is explicitly labeled as having no nanoparticles.
If you still prefer chemical sunscreens, choose one without oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate.
Mineral Sunscreen: Pros and Cons
When you think of sunscreens, the first thing you probably picture is the mineral sunscreen — and within good reason. After all, mineral sunscreens offer several benefits to its users:
- Safe for long-term use - Given that it does not penetrate the skin, mineral sunscreens pose a lesser risk, especially to those with skin sensitivities. It also contains ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are safe and effective sunscreen ingredients, according to the FDA.
- Suitable for acne-prone and sensitive skin - The active ingredients in physical sunscreens are normally well-tolerated by those with sensitive skin. Most formulas of mineral sunscreens are also non-comedogenic and non-inflammatory. If zinc oxide is one of your sunscreen's active ingredients, the formula might even help improve your acne.
- Offers immediate protection - When you slather on physical sunscreen, it immediately acts to protect you from the sun's rays.
However, mineral sunscreen has some drawbacks as well:
- Has a thicker consistency - Mineral formulas are known to have thick, goopy textures that can feel heavy on the skin.
- Need to be reapplied more frequently - Mineral sunscreens sit on the skin's surface. Because of that, it rubs off and rinses off easily, so you will need to reapply sunscreen several times.
- Can be challenging to apply - Physical sunscreen may leave a white cast on the skin, especially for those with darker skin tones. The consistency and the white cast can make it quite challenging to blend into the skin.
Luckily, Fresh Monster’s Mineral Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide rubs easily and does not feel heavy on the skin. It also does not leave a white cast, is not greasy, does not cause skin dryness, and avoids pilling. This is great to use for the whole family, especially for kids!
Chemical Sunscreen: Pros and Cons
People think of chemicals as toxic and dangerous. But is chemical sunscreen bad? There has not been any conclusive evidence showing that such products cause adverse health outcomes.
Scientists call for more research, yet they also emphasize that wearing chemical sunscreen is BETTER than not wearing sunscreen at all.
Below are a few pros to using chemical sunscreens:
- Quick and easy application - Chemical sunscreens usually have clear formulas that can be spread and blended easily on the skin. These make them easier to incorporate into your skin-care routine.
- Statistically perform better on consumer tests - They last longer than physical sunscreens since they are absorbed by the skin. Thanks to that, they do not get rubbed off easily.
Despite how convenient chemical sunscreens tend to be, there are also some drawbacks you should know about:
- May cause and worsen skin conditions - They might cause allergic reactions in people with sensitive skin. On top of that, chemical sunscreens could even worsen melasma and rosacea.
- Takes time to be absorbed by the skin - Chemical sunscreen needs to be absorbed by the skin before it activates to provide full protection. It takes at least 15 minutes for this to happen.
Key Takeaways on Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Mineral vs. chemical sunscreen — which one should you pick? Generally, mineral sunscreens work better and are healthier. They may take longer to apply and need to be reapplied more often, but they can be safer for long-term use.
On top of that, they immediately block UV rays the moment you put them on. Kids' sunscreens are typically mineral formulas since they are gentler on the skin.
However, chemical sunscreen also has its pros. Aside from ease of use, the CDC, the AAD, and the US FDA have deemed chemical sunscreens SAFE.
On the flip side, the chemical ingredients it contains might cause adverse reactions in some users. Hence, further research still needs to be conducted regarding its chemical compounds.
At the end of the day, between chemical and mineral sunscreen, whatever you have on hand is the best sunscreen (as long as the formula works for you).
Whether you are exposed to UV light tanning beds or the sun, it is more important to not skip sunscreen. After all, UVA and UVB rays present more risks (such as skin cancer) than sunscreen chemicals do.
Whichever sunscreen you choose, ensure you get something that is at least SPF 30 and offers broad-spectrum protection. You should also remember to reapply it every once in a while.