If you plan to spend any amount of time in the sun this summer, you know that sunscreen is a must-have. Whether you’re lounging poolside or reading a book on the beach, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
The only problem?
With one trip to the drugstore sunscreen aisle, you’ll find that there are a ton of options on the market. As you browse the different rows, you might notice that the bottles are grouped into two main categories: mineral and chemical.
Which sunscreen is best and what gives it the winning edge? Today, we’re breaking down all of the answers you need to know.
What Is Chemical Sunscreen?
Chemical sunscreen is made from a formula that uses chemical filters to keep the sun’s UV rays away from your skin. While you can find a range of different options on the market, there are some chemical SPF ingredients that are more commonly used in the United States than others.
When UV light hits your skin, these ingredients get to work. While the rays will technically enter your skin, the chemicals catalyze a reaction that transforms the light into heat. From there, the heat will dissipate out of your skin as you move, play, and sweat.
While these ingredients might be hard to pronounce, they’re more common than you might think. In fact, the majority of sunscreens available over the counter today are chemical ones. If you’re going to go this route, then look closely at the label before you check out.
The best chemical sunscreens are those that offer broad-spectrum UV protection. They should also be water-resistant so they won’t dissolve as you swim or sweat. Make sure you understand how long the protection lasts, and whether it’s ideal for your specific skin type.
Benefits of Chemical Sunscreen
Chemical sunscreens absorb easily and quickly into your skin. If you want to wear sunscreen on a daily basis, you’ll likely lean toward products like these that blend without leaving any type of white cast.
These products are lightweight and easy to use. They melt into your skin and disappear completely, making them the perfect last step in your skincare routine. As long as you choose a broad-spectrum spray or lotion with an SPF of at least 15, you can enjoy effective sun protection.
What Is Mineral Sunscreen?
As mentioned, chemical sunscreens rely on chemicals to filter out the sun’s UV rays and keep them from damaging your skin. With mineral sunscreens, the protection is physical rather than chemical. This is why you may hear them referred to as physical sunscreens or sunblock.
These lotions are designed to block ultraviolet radiation by covering the surface of your skin with small particles that the sun cannot penetrate. The most common ingredients used are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
While some of these products may leave a white cast on your skin, you can layer them on top of your skincare and makeup products with ease.
Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen
One benefit of mineral sunscreen is that usually blends in and works effectively, regardless of your individual skin type. Conversely, you may experience sensitivity or irritation if you apply a chemical sunscreen onto sensitive or acne-prone skin.
These are gentle products that won’t bother problematic skin. In fact, due to to their mild nature, most baby sunscreens are mineral-based!
If you’re concerned about the impact of your sunscreen on the environment, you may also reach for a mineral alternative. These chemicals are more eco-friendly than the ones you’ll find in chemical alternatives.
This is especially important if you swim in lakes, rivers, or oceans. Mineral sunscreens won’t damage aquatic habitats and ecosystems, which makes them a greener and more sustainable choice. For an even cleaner pick, try sun-protective clothing, such as this UPF running shirt!
Which Sunscreen Is Best: Chemical or Mineral?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for rating and grading sunscreen products. To date, the FDA has not deemed either chemical or mineral sunscreen unsafe for routine use.
However, it did propose a rule back in 2019 that raised scrutiny around some of the most common ingredients in chemical sunscreens. The rule revised the requirements for several factors, including:
- Active ingredients in sunscreens
- Maximum SPF levels
- Broad-spectrum protection levels (both UVA and UVB)
- Recommended dosage forms
In addition, the proposed rule included updates on how sunscreens are labeled to make it easier for consumers to identify key information. It also called for additional research on the most common products in chemical sunscreens, including the key ingredients listed earlier.
As long as you choose a sunscreen product that is FDA-approved, you can rest assured that you’re not putting your health at risk. Though there have been some randomized clinical trials suggesting certain ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream at excessive rates, these results have not been clear across the board.
One thing we do know, however, is that chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that could damage and even bleach coral reefs. Much of this damage is traced back to oxybenzone, which can also cause adverse reactions in people with sensitive skin. If you do opt for chemically-based products, don’t wear them into the ocean and monitor your skin for any changes.
Protect Your Skin All Year Round
In the debate between mineral and chemical sunscreen, no product emerges as the clear winner. However, if you’re asking, “Which sunscreen is best?” then it’s time to do your homework.
If you prefer lotions and creams that blend into your skin and deliver an invisible finish, then chemical solutions are the way to go. However, check the ingredients list to make sure you understand what you’re using. If you have sensitive skin or want a more eco-friendly approach, then stick with mineral-based products.
Looking for more information on which skincare solutions to choose? Check out our Beauty Products section!