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Is mineral sunscreen better than chemical sunscreen? Pros and cons to consider

Mineral and chemical sunscreens each have unique advantages. Mineral-based sun protection works through a combination of reflecting and absorbing ultraviolet radiation, while chemical sunscreen absorbs UV rays. You have a wide range of options when it comes to sun protection. To decide which formulas are right for you, it’s important to understand how mineral and chemical sunscreens differ. Here, we break down the pros and cons of mineral and chemical sunscreens. 

How does mineral sunscreen work?

Mineral sunscreen is also known as physical sunscreen because it literally forms a physical protective barrier on the skin’s surface. These sunscreens contain particles of titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, minerals that are generally recognized as safe by the United States Food and Drug Administration. Additionally, mineral sunscreen is considered a safe option for pregnant women (though you should always consult with your doctor).

Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreens are effective at protecting skin from exposure to both UVA and UVB radiation. 

How does chemical sunscreen work?

Chemical sunscreen is made with different types of UV filters. A chemical reaction neutralizes the harmful properties of UV radiation. These sunscreens are usually formulated to absorb into the skin and tend not to not leave behind any visible traces, unlike some mineral sunscreens.

What are the pros and cons of mineral sunscreen?

Mineral-based sunscreen can be the best option for sensitive skin: It is generally formulated for sensitive skin, so manufacturers tend to keep allergenicity in mind. However, there are several other key factors to consider when deciding if mineral sunscreen is the better option for your skin—including whether a formula is tested to be non-comedogenic (meaning, it won’t clog pores).

Many mineral sunscreen formulas leave behind a white cast that can be more noticeable on wearers who have medium or darker skin tones. At Clair Obscur, we’re developing light, whipped mineral sunscreen formulas with multiple tint shades that blend into all skin tones, don’t leave behind a greasy residue, and won’t pill when worn under makeup.

What are the pros and cons of chemical sunscreen?

While many may consider mineral sunscreen better overall, people sometimes prefer to use chemical formulas when layering skin care, sun care, and cosmetics. Ease of application is an advantage chemical sunscreens have over many mineral formulas. Chemical formulas often spread more easily and require less contact to achieve complete coverage. 

Chemical sunscreens are also a popular choice for people who have darker skin tones and want to avoid any trace of a white cast, although the most advanced mineral-based sun care is also formulated to limit this potential drawback.

The FDA considers zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to be the only two sunscreen filters that are GRASE (generally regarded as safe and effective). It’s currently reviewing the safety of many chemical sunscreen ingredients. However, this does not mean that these chemical filters are unsafe; the FDA simply requires more information before determining the safety in humans.

The safety of ingredients is one of the primary considerations when comparing mineral sunscreen with chemical formulas. Mineral sunscreens are not known to pose safety issues, whereas some chemical sunscreen ingredients have been under scrutiny because they are found to be absorbed by the bloodstream and may cause endocrine disruption.

Research suggests that both mineral and chemical sunscreens work best when you allow at least 15 minutes for the formulas to penetrate your skin and form a film. Applying sunscreens shortly before sun exposure gives the formula a chance to create a protective coating over the surface of your skin.

Broad-spectrum protection is another important consideration. Most mineral sunscreens reflect both UVA and UVB rays, whereas chemical sunscreens may specify UVA, UVB, or broad-spectrum protection.

When is mineral sunscreen better?

The answer to this question depends entirely on your skin type, lifestyle, and personal preferences. The best sunscreen is one you’ll love to wear and that will benefit your skin by providing reliable sun protection. Clair Obscur is developing a full range of mineral and chemical sun care products that are effortless to apply and safe to use.