Spending time in the sun is one of life's little pleasures. Sometimes you just want to bask in the sunshine and soak up the vitamin D. But practicing sun safety is crucial to supporting your skin health, so it's important to wear sunscreen to ward off sunburns, sun damage, and even skin cancer while you enjoy the outdoors.
In addition to choosing a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection and SPF 30 or higher, there are two types of sunscreen to consider: mineral vs. chemical sunscreen. Both mineral and chemical sunscreens can effectively protect your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays, but they work a little differently. Read on to learn more about them so you can make the best choice for you and your family.
What Is Mineral Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen, is powered by the active ingredients Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. As the name suggests, these ingredients are minerals. They work by sitting on top of the skin and acting as a physical shield that blocks the sun's UV rays from penetrating the skin.
Someone might prefer mineral sunscreens for plenty of reasons. They're effective, gentle enough for sensitive skin, and provide broad-spectrum protection.
In terms of safety, mineral sunscreen is a reliable choice. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are considered safe and effective by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which makes them a popular choice for children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics favors mineral formulas. Some research also recommends physical sunscreens for pregnant women.
So, what's the catch? Mineral sunscreen is a great choice for many people, but it can leave behind a white cast—especially on people with darker skin tones. If this is a concern for you, look for a formula specially designed to go on clear. For example, EltaMD UV AOX Mist Broad-Spectrum SPF 40 is a 100 percent mineral sunscreen formulated to blend into a clear, sheer finish.
- Suitable for sensitive skin
- Recommended for children
- Safe for pregnant women
- Offers broad-spectrum protection
- Recognized as safe and effective by the FDA
- Often leaves behind a white cast
- Tends to have a thicker consistency
- Messier to apply
What Is Chemical Sunscreen?
If physical sunscreens act like a shield, chemical sunscreens act like a sponge. After your skin absorbs sunlight, they create a chemical reaction that converts UV light into heat, which dissipates from the skin. Common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene, and Octinoxate.
Many people prefer chemical sunscreens for their sheer finish and creamy texture. These formulas tend to have a thinner consistency, making them easier to work into the skin. Chemical sunscreen is also great for people with darker skin tones since it's more transparent than mineral sunscreen. Another perk of chemical sunscreens is that they're more resistant to water, so they're a good choice if you'll be exercising outdoors or taking a dip in the pool.
Chemical sunscreen active ingredients often don't provide broad-spectrum protection when used alone, so they're often combined to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They may even be mixed with mineral sunscreen ingredients. For example, EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is powered by both Octinoxate and Zinc Oxide.
Dermatologists have long recommended chemical sunscreen as a safe and effective option. While the FDA proposes a safe and effective status for mineral sunscreen, it concluded there's not enough data to officially declare chemical sunscreens as safe.
Some groups may choose to avoid chemical sunscreen when possible, such as those with sensitive skin, children, and pregnant women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that pregnant women avoid cosmetics that contain Oxybenzone, for example.
Finally, chemical sunscreen filters can be more unstable, meaning they tend to expire more quickly. But if you're using your sunscreen daily (and you should be!), this shouldn't be a problem.
- Easy to apply
- Has a thinner, creamy texture
- Doesn't leave behind a white cast
- Offers broad-spectrum protection when combined
- More water-resistant
- May not be the best choice for those with sensitive skin, children, or pregnant women
- Not all active ingredients are officially recognized as safe and effective by the FDA
- May expire more quickly
Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen
So, is chemical or mineral sunscreen better? It can be easy to overthink the best type of sunscreen, but any sunscreen is better than none at all. Neither type of sunscreen is fundamentally better than the other. They're both effective ways to reduce your sun exposure, thereby reducing your risk of sunburn, sun damage, and skin cancer.
The best type of sunscreen is the one you love and will remember to apply daily, regardless of formula. The choice comes down to personal preference and your unique needs, such as having sensitive skin.
If you can't decide between the two (or want to merge their benefits), try a hybrid sunscreen. For example, EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ offers the best of both worlds. It pairs Zinc Oxide with Octocrylene for a lightweight sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, hydrates the skin, and goes on sheer so you can kiss that white cast goodbye. So go ahead, experiment and find the one you love!