Which Is Better: Chemical or Mineral Sunscreen?

When it comes to sunscreen, you’ve probably heard the names ‘mineral sunscreen’ and ‘chemical sunscreen’ thrown around. When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun and preventing sun damage, is one better than the other? What is a ‘chemical’ sunscreen in the first place? Here are the answers to all of your questions - starting with what these two different types of sunscreen are. 

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Mineral Vs Chemical Sunscreen: What’s the Difference?

Woman applying sunscreen at the beach

All sunscreen ingredients can be divided into two different categories: physical, also called mineral sunscreen, and chemical sunscreen. I know what you’re thinking - why is it called chemical sunscreen? Are they bad for your skin? Here’s our guide to the difference between the two types of sunscreens and how they protect your skin from the sun. 

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF50Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50
Shield skin from the sun with this chemical sunscreen formula from Dermalogica.

What is Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen, commonly appears in sunscreen ingredient lists as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They work by literally reflecting UV light off of your skin, preventing any harmful UV rays from actually getting through.

Zinc and titanium are often included in baby sunscreens and sunscreens for sensitive skin, as they have a smaller chance of causing irritation on skin than other sunscreen filters. However, there’s one drawback to physical sunscreen filters - they can often leave a serious white cast on skin. 

Unless formulated with nano-zinc and nano-titanium, mineral sunscreens can make skin look ashy due to the large size of the mineral particles in the formula. This means that if you have naturally darker skin, make sure any mineral sunscreen you use is using nano-technology so that your skin isn’t left looking ashy and odd-coloured! 

One way to remember what mineral sunscreens do is to not forget that mineral filters physically block UV rays - hence the name, physical sunscreen!

Grown Alchemist Invisible Natural Protection SPF30Grown Alchemist Invisible Natural Protection SPF 30
This mineral sunscreen from Grown Alchemist uses Zinc to protect your skin from the sun.

What is Chemical Sunscreen?

There’s one instant benefit that chemical sunscreen filters have over mineral, and it’s that they don’t leave any white cast on skin. They also tend to have a lighter texture, making them ideal for applying to your skin before putting on makeup. 

To put it simply, any sunscreen ingredient that isn’t zinc or titanium qualifies as a chemical sunscreen filter. Some examples that you have already seen include avobenzone, octisalate, oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, and homosalate.

Chemical sunscreen filters work by absorbing UV rays and transforming them into heat, instead of deflecting them off of the skin like physical filters do. 

Dermalogica Clear Start Clearing Defense SPF 30Dermalogica Clear Start Clearing Defense SPF 30
Oily skin doesn’t have to miss out on sun protection, either - this mattifying sunscreen from Dermalogica protect skin while feeling lightweight and non-greasy.

Which Should I Choose: Mineral Sunscreen or Chemical?

When it comes to choosing between mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen, both can serve you well when it comes to shielding your skin from the harmful benefits of the sun. Many people ask is mineral sunscreen better than chemical - and it’s a little bit like asking if apples are better than oranges. 

The answer is, it depends! If you have sensitive skin or skin that easily flushes, a mineral sunscreen formula might be better for you as it’s less likely to cause irritation. Luckily, mineral sunscreen formulas have come a long way from the thick zinc sticks to nano-zinc formulas that don’t leave skin with a visible white cast.

Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF 30
This sunscreen from Dermalogica shields skin with nano-zinc for natural, effective protection.

However, for most people, a chemical sunscreen is perfectly safe and effective at warding off the effects of UV rays on skin. Just don’t forget to apply your chosen sunscreen every day, and reapply if you’re spending significant time in the sun!

Now that you know what sets mineral sunscreens apart from chemical sunscreens, we hope you’re ready to get your beauty affairs in order and protect your skin from the sun!

Or, if you’re still trying to put together a beauty routine with or without sunscreen, try our skin analysis!

Beauty Affairs Skin Quiz

Products Mentioned:

  • Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50
  • Grown Alchemist Invisible Natural Protection SPF 30
  • Dermalogica Clear Start Clearing Defense SPF 30
  • Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF 30
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