Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: What is the Difference?
There are two types of sunscreen ingredients that can help protect your skin from UV rays: physical barriers and chemical barriers. In order to choose the right sun protection for your skin and your lifestyle, it's important to understand the difference between the two. Let's take a look.
Sunscreen, whether it's a mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen, or a chemical sunscreen can effectively provide broad spectrum protection against damaging UVA and UVB rays. But these two types of sunscreen ingredients1 act in different ways, and it is important to know the difference between them.
Must-know info about physical vs. chemical sunscreen ingredients:
- The active ingredients in a mineral sunscreen are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
- Chemical sunscreen ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate
- The U.S. FDA has approved both chemical and physical sunscreen active ingredients2, deeming them as safe and effective on skin
Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients
There are two types of sunscreen ingredients1 that effectively help prevent sunburn: mineral sunscreen filters (also known as physical sunscreen) and chemical sunscreen filters. These ingredients can both help protect your skin, but the way they protect your skin is different. Let's take a look:
Mineral sunscreen ingredients form a barrier on the surface of the skin that helps reflect UV rays away from the skin. The only FDA-approved mineral sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These physical sunscreen filters are ideal for both daily and prolonged, intense sun exposure because of their broad spectrum protection3 against both UVA and UVB rays. To get the most out of your mineral sunscreen, it's important to use them as directed – by applying a generous amount (one ounce for the entire body) 15 minutes before sun exposure.4,5
On the other hand, chemical sunscreen ingredients penetrate the top layers of the skin to absorb damaging UV rays before they can harm your skin. These sun protection ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Depending on the formulation, chemical sunscreens may be easier to rub into the skin and are less likely to leave a white cast. Like mineral sunscreens, chemical sunscreens should also be applied 15 minutes before sun exposure4,5 to effectively protect your skin from UV rays.
Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which is right for you?
Any UV protection labeled as “broad spectrum” has been tested and shown to help shield the skin from both UVA and UVB rays, yet different skin types have different needs1. The U.S. FDA has approved both physical/mineral and chemical sunscreen active ingredients, deeming them safe and effective. Talk to your dermatologist before deciding between a physical vs. chemical sunscreen-and be sure to select a product that you can commit to using every day.
- Premi, S., Wallisch, S., Mano, C. M., Weiner, A. B., Bacchiocchi, A., Wakamatsu, K., Bechara, E. J. H., Halaban, R., Douki, T., Brash, D. E. (2015). Chemiexcitation of melanin derivatives induces DNA photoproducts long after UV exposure. Science, 347(6224), 842-847.
- Hughes, M. C.; Williams, G.M.; Baker, P.; Green, A. C. (2013). Sunscreen and Prevention of Skin Aging: A Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine, 158(11), 781-790.
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