Chemical sunscreen vs mineral sunscreen: Debunking the myths

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Chemical sunscreen vs. mineral sunscreen. How do you know which one is right for you? It depends. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as avoiding chemical sunscreen simply because of its name.

When choosing a sunscreen, remember these crucial points:

  • Broad-spectrum sunscreens offer both UVA and UVB protection to fight against skin cancer and premature aging.

  • Dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30 as it’s known to block the majority of the sun’s harmful rays. SPF 50 is even better.

  • Check for water resistance. You’ll still need to reapply, but water-resistant sunscreens can provide better protection if you’re swimming or sweating in the sun.

Chemical sunscreen vs. mineral sunscreen

What’s the difference between chemical sunscreen and mineral sunscreen? It’s all in how they protect the skin. Natural sunscreen blocks UV rays by sitting on top of the skin and providing a physical barrier.

Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin to stop UV rays from entering and damaging your skin. When UV rays come into contact with chemical sunscreen, the sunscreen molecules are destroyed as they absorb the rays instead of your skin.

Should I use chemical sunscreen?

Because of its name alone, chemical sunscreen gets a bad rap. However, there are many benefits to using chemical sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreens are lightweight and absorb more easily. They also tend to not have a white cast (a chalky white finish on the skin).  

Still asking yourself should I use chemical sunscreen? You might prefer chemical sunscreen if:

  • You’re swimming, sweating, or playing sports outdoors.

  • You have a darker skin tone and/or want to avoid a white cast.

  • You’re not sensitive to fragrances or dyes in skincare.

  • You’re wearing makeup along with your sunscreen.

Are chemical sunscreens bad for the environment? 

Chemical sunscreens may have a negative impact on the environment, but despite a lot of discussions, we’re still not certain. The concern here is that the ingredients in chemical sunscreen get into our waterways when we shower.

Several ocean-conscious regions, including Hawaii, Australia, and the Virgin Islands, have banned certain chemical sunscreens.

Some of the controversial ingredients include:

  • Non-zinc oxide

  • Nano-titanium dioxide

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octinoxate

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group championed titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as two of the safest sunscreen ingredients for the environment. You’ll find these in mineral sunscreen.

If you’re worried about these ingredients threatening marine life and coral reefs, you can look for reef-safe or reef-friendly labelled sunscreens. 

But don’t be too quick to swear off chemical sunscreen completely. We still need much more research to understand the nuances of chemical sunscreen and any of its possible environmental effects. Additionally, there are still no regulations on reef-safe sunscreens, so these labels may not always be accurate.

Should I use mineral sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen (also known as natural sunscreen or physical sunscreen) is not absorbed into the skin. Instead, it sits on the skin's surface and redirects and reflects harmful UV rays. 

Mineral sunscreen is usually better for sensitive and acne-prone skin because chemical sunscreen ingredients can block pores. 

Natural sunscreens have their downsides too. They can be tedious for people with dark skin because they’re often thick and leave behind a white cast. However, there are newer and more lightweight formulas that allow you to go about your skincare and makeup routine as usual.

With all this information, you might still be wondering should I use mineral sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreen might be for you if:

  • You have sensitive skin.

  • You’re prone to breakouts.

  • You’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or dealing with melasma.

There’s still ongoing research about how chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the skin and whether they can be harmful during pregnancy or while breastfeeding.

What level SPF should I use?

What SPF level should you use daily? Dermatologists and The Skin Cancer Foundation agree that SPF 30 is the absolute minimum, especially if you’ll be swimming or sweating outdoors.

No matter how high your SPF is, it’s important to avoid long-term sun exposure. In addition to wearing sunscreen, you can:

  • Take a break from the sun in a shaded area.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.

  • Wear UV-blocking sunglasses.

  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure around noon and the early afternoon.

When to talk to a dermatologist?

While wearing sunscreen daily is crucial, you should also keep an eye out for signs of sun damage or skin cancer. For example, be on the lookout for any moles that change size or colour and hyperpigmentation.

Remember that any sunscreen is better than risking sunburn or more severe sun damage. And SPF is your BFF no matter the season. 

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