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Understanding the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens

There’s no doubt that going outside without sun protection is not an option, but there are options when it comes time to purchase.

With so many sunscreens on the market, selecting the best one can get confusing. Both mineral and chemical sunscreens are excellent choices. The main difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is how they protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The functional difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen

While both will protect your skin from the sun, mineral sunscreens do so by creating a barrier and also absorbing rays, while chemical alternatives mainly rely on reactions between their ingredients and the sun's rays.

1. Mineral sun protection

Mineral, or physical, sun care creates a shield by reflecting UV rays (up to 15%) and also absorbing them. The protective ingredients in physical sunscreen are usually titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Mineral sun care products are usually formulated to offer broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

2. Chemical sun protection

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays when they hit the skin. This creates a chemical reaction with the ingredients in the sunscreen, converting the rays of light to heat, which is then dissipated into the air. Some chemicals used in this type of sun care product include:

  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate

Mineral or chemical sunscreen: Which is better?

As far as preventing UV radiation from harming your skin, the effectiveness of any sun care product is determined by its sun protection factor (SPF) number, which indicates how much exposure to the sun can be tolerated without adverse effects.

Broad spectrum sun care will also handle UVA rays, which is sometimes indicated by a PA number.

The higher the number, the better the protection and the longer you can safely stay in the sun. Clair Obscur recommends the use of at least SPF 40.

Besides protection, the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is only skin deep; other differences will help you decide the proper type for your skin.

Physical sun protection may leave behind a white film on the skin, unless you find a tinted version that works well with your skin tone. However they are usually formulated for sensitive skin, so may be a good option for you.

Chemical sunscreen may be easier to apply, given that they are not suspensions of powder. However, some chemical sunscreen filters may be irritants for some people with sensitive skin.

The difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen — which do you choose?

With so many sun care products available in today's market, the right one for you will often come down to preference.

Don't let the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen slow you down. Choose a product that offers the protection and security you need.