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Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreens and Why You Need to Know the Difference

July 1, 2021

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Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreens and Why You Need to Know the Difference

Wearing sunscreen is a non-negotiable. You might think that you can’t leave the house without a coat of mascara or a layer of lip gloss. In reality, it’s your SPF that needs to be your daily go-to. The number one tip that every dermatologist will give you is that you should be wearing a daily SPF to protect your skin. Regardless of its formula, a sunscreen will protect your skin from sun damage and the threat of premature aging.
Sunscreens can be divided into two types of formulas – chemical and minerals. What are the differences and why does that matter? We’re taking a deep dive into chemical and mineral sunscreens to help you decide which one is your perfect match.

Using a daily SPF


Whether you decide to use a chemical, mineral, or hybrid sunscreen formula, the most important thing is to be consistent. It’s not enough to just be using a sunscreen when the sun is out. You want to be using it every day. The golden rule has always been that the ‘best’ sunscreen is the one that you’re wearing every day.
The secret to protecting your skin and keeping it youthful is to find a sunscreen that you enjoy using and can be consistent with. As long as your sunscreen has an SPF of at least 30, you’re good to go!

Why you need a daily SPF


It’s not just skin cancer that your sunscreen prevents. UV rays can wreak havoc on your skin and cause a myriad of problems that can be difficult to tackle. Everything from hyperpigmentation to fine lines and scarring can be caused by exposure to UV rays. Continued exposure to UV rays means that your skin is more likely to experiment premature aging, including wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging.
If you’ve invested in your skincare routine, you need to be using a sunscreen to make it all worthwhile. Whatever your skincare routine is like – whether you’re a skinimalist or have a 20-step routine – your SPF is a non-negotiable.

Choosing your SPF


Finding an SPF is easier than finding your perfect lipstick shade. Yes, the formulas can be complicated to understand, but there are only three main types to choose from. Over time, sunscreen formulas have become more innovative and inclusive. Gone are the days when mineral foundations automatically gave you an ashy or chalky cast to your skin. For years, mineral sunscreens were seen as the essential choice for those with sensitive skin.
As the skincare industry evolves and becomes smarter, sunscreens have undergone the same change. Mineral sunscreens have grown to become more inclusive by incorporating zinc nanoparticles, meaning that they work for a spectrum of complexions.
We won’t be surprised when the day comes that the “best sunscreen is the one you’re going to wear” argument dies a quick death. As these formulas become smarter, there will be a time that you find the best sunscreen for you and your skin.
Everything from the environmental impact of mineral nanoparticles to the research involving oxybenzone and octinoxate will impact which formulas are the best to use on your skin. The production of sunscreen has been shown to have a negative impact on our coral and marine life. As we all become more conscious of our environmental footprint, these sunscreen formulas will likely evolve to become more environmentally friendly and to incorporate ‘green’ beauty into their production.
Don’t be shocked if we start to see ‘all-natural’ and ‘reef-safe’ sunscreens starting to hit the market in the next few years.

Everything you need to know about mineral sunscreens


One of the two most popular types of sunscreens are those with a mineral formula. These sunscreens are also known as ‘physical’ sunscreen as they contain inorganic ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
A benefit of mineral sunscreens is that their physical ‘reflective’ nature of sun protection means that you don’t have to wait the usual 15-minutes for it to take effect. It’s an ideal type of sunscreen to keep in your bag to reapply while sitting in the sun or at your office desk.
What makes mineral sunscreens so popular is that they are photostable, meaning you don’t need to worry about reapplying them as frequently.  You can go longer between touch-ups than with your chemical sunscreens.
All physical sunscreens are able to reflect and scatter around 5-10% of UV rays, whereas chemical filters scatter more incoming rays. If you’re looking for a physical sunscreen, keep an eye out for those that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as they can block a wider range of UV wavelengths, while also being photostable.
Dermatologists continue to recommend mineral sunscreens for those with sensitive skin. While only a small number of people are likely to be allergic to chemical sunscreens, it’s usually best to stick to mineral formulas if you know your skin has sensitivity.
Another benefit of this physical sunscreen is that they are less likely to clog your pores or cause irritation. If you can find a mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide in its formula, you can take advantage of its anti-inflammatory properties to help soothe your skin and reduce redness.
If you’ve had a bad experience with mineral sunscreens in the past, it might be due to the appearance and texture of your product. It’s worth remembering that physical sunscreens act by sitting on the surface of your skin to block UV rays. If you’re looking for an invisible application, it’ll take a little more work to get your skin to fully absorb your sunscreen.
Only a few years ago, those with darker skin tones would usually avoid mineral sunscreens due to the ashy residue that they leave behind. Thankfully, more brands are becoming inclusive by adding zinc nanoparticles to their mineral sunscreens to improve their textures and remove their ashy finish. You can even find some mineral foundations that incorporate blue-light protection to keep your skin safe from both UV and blue light. Even if you have darker skin, you can find a mineral foundation that will work for you.
If you’re planning on wearing a mineral SPF with nano-zinc ingredients, it’s a good idea to stay out of the sea if you’re heading to the beach.

Everything you need to know about chemical sunscreens


Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV rays as they hit your skin. The appeal of this formula is that it is easier to apply to your skin and doesn’t leave behind a tell-tale residue. The one thing to consider is that you need to be applying this sunscreen at least fifteen minutes before heading outside, in order for the UV protection to kick in.
Most chemical sunscreens include UV filter ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, and octisalate. Some of these ingredients are up for debate. While FDA continues to permit their use, the state of Hawaii has banned oxybenzone and octinoxate being used in skincare products.
What we love about this type of sunscreen is its texture, which is similar to your daily moisturizer. Just like finding your perfect moisturizer, if you’re a fan of chemical SPFs, you’ll usually not want to switch to a mineral alternative.
While a chemical sunscreen will sit better under your makeup, you’ll need to reapply it more than a physical sunscreen. If you’re someone who wants a low-maintenance sunscreen, you’ll likely be better off with a physical sunscreen.

Hybrid formulas


Do you want the best of both worlds? It’s worth checking out a hybrid sunscreen formula that combines the best of both chemical and mineral ingredients. These hybrid SPFs give you the flexibility of wearing it under your makeup with the wider protection of a physical sunscreen.
By blending the two sets of ingredients, you solve the instability that can come from some chemical filters once they are exposed to the light. You can also enjoy a higher SPF with a hybrid formula than what you can achieve with a dedicated physical or chemical formula.

Why is there a chemical vs mineral debate?


You might be wondering why there is a debate between chemical and mineral sunscreens. While this debate is ongoing, most dermatologists agree that it is more important to emphasise the need to wear sunscreen over avoiding chemical filters. There is far more scientific evidence backing up the risks and danger of sun exposure than the risk of using chemical sunscreens.
The FDA has not managed to update their advice on sunscreen for over 10 years. While no new advice has been approved, it’s worth noting that research in 2019 and 2020 found that chemical filters can be absorbed into the skin at a higher concentration that the FDA recommend. The FDA have said that they know these specific chemicals are being absorbed into our bloodstream, but that we aren’t aware of what the significance of this is.
Whatever type of sunscreen you choose to use, the most important thing is that you’re wearing one consistently. While there are concerns about specific chemical filters, a hybrid sunscreen gives you the best of both formulas. If there’s one piece of advice that we can give you, it’s to wear a sunscreen that you know you can wear everyday.

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