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Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Is Better?

You’ve got options when it comes to sunscreen, but is one option better than another?
  • Wendy Rose Gould
April 12, 2024

You already know that it’s important to wear sunscreen every day to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. (Yep—even in the dead of winter). But determining which type of sunscreen to use isn’t always so cut and dry. There’s a lot to consider: Cream or lotion? SPF 30 or SPF 50? Mineral vs. chemical sunscreen? All of these factors can make it feel challenging to narrow down on the best sunscreen for your needs.

Fortunately, you don’t have to go it alone. Here, we’re diving into the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen so you can help determine which is the right pick for your needs. Keep reading to learn about the details on both types of sunscreen, as well as the benefits of each.

Iai Mineral Vs Chemical Sunscreen1

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), chemical sunscreen is made with chemical filters (like avobenzone and oxybenzone) that absorb UV rays like a sponge and convert them into heat. This chemical reaction helps protect your skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure.

These ingredients need to penetrate the top layer of your skin in order to work effectively. As such, you’ll want to apply your chemical sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading outdoors so it has plenty of time to absorb.

Benefits of Chemical Sunscreen

  • No white cast: One of the main advantages of chemical sunscreens is that they absorb easily and are typically less likely to leave a white cast on the skin than mineral formulas.
  • Lightweight formulas: Chemical sunscreens often have a lighter, more fluid consistency than mineral sunscreens. This can help make them easier to apply and spread evenly.
  • Versatile: Chemical sunscreens come in a wide range of formulations, from classic sunscreen lotions to creams, gels, sticks, and even oils. This versatility makes it easier to find a sunscreen that suits your skin type, needs, and lifestyle.

If you’re looking for a versatile everyday sunscreen to add to your skincare routine, we suggest L’Oréal Paris Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion. The non-greasy formula is suitable for all skin types and boasts a lightweight texture that blends seamlessly with all skin tones without leaving behind a white cast.

What Is Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen contains mineral UV filters like titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on the surface of the skin and physically block UV rays—which is why mineral sunscreens are sometimes referred to as physical sunscreens.

Both of these ingredients are stark white, so mineral SPF can sometimes leave a chalky white cast on the skin. However, this isn’t always the case—many newer mineral sunscreens have elegant formulas specifically designed to apply without a white cast. If you’re really worried about a white cast, you can also opt for a tinted sunscreen that matches your skin tone.

Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen

  • Gentle: Mineral sunscreens are generally gentle and non-irritating, making them an ideal option for those with sensitive, reactive, or blemish-prone skin.
  • Environmentally friendly: Mineral sunscreens are considered reef-safe, which means they won’t damage coral reefs or disrupt underwater ecosystems.
  • Instant protection: One of the most important differences between mineral and chemical sunscreens is how long they take to work. Mineral sunscreens protect your skin immediately, while chemical SPFs, as mentioned above, require a bit of time to absorb before they begin to work.

Is Mineral or Chemical Sunscreen Better?

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to the mineral vs chemical sunscreen debate. While one person may swear by chemical-based formulas, another may feel that mineral options are best for their skin and lifestyle.

What matters most is that you like the product enough to want to apply it every single day. After all, protecting your skin from the sun—which helps reduce cancer risk and protects against premature skin aging—is the most important thing you can do to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy.

That being said, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises opting for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. And whether you opt for chemical or mineral SPF, you’ll want to ensure the formula you choose has an SPF of at least 15.

5 Sun Safety Measures Everyone Should Take

In addition to wearing sunscreen and re-applying it often (at least every two hours and after sweating or swimming), there are a handful of additional ways you can protect yourself from the sun. These tips are especially important to follow if to plan to spend an extended amount of time outdoors, per the FDA.

  1. Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun’s rays are most intense.
  2. Seek shade when possible, particularly at midday.
  3. Wear clothing to cover exposed skin (bonus points if it’s UPF clothing, which has built-in sun protection).
  4. Wear hats, scarves, and UV-protective sunglasses when outdoors.
  5. When applying sunscreen, use about a shot glass’ worth (one ounce) for your entire body, and be sure to cover all exposed areas, including the tops of your feet, neck, and ears.

Next Up: Do I Still Need Sunscreen If My Foundation Has SPF?

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