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Mineral Vs. Chemical Sunscreen: The Best Choice According To Derms

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You need daily sun protection to keep your skin healthy and looking youthful. But, which type of sunscreen should you choose? Sun protection generally falls into one of two categories: chemical and mineral (physical). While both provide sun protection, chemical sunscreens and mineral sunscreens differ in their active ingredients and in how they protect against UV exposure. Read on to learn the difference and discover the benefits of using mineral sunscreen.

Mineral Vs. Chemical Sunscreen | Mineral Sunscreen Benefits | Dermatologist-Suggested Mineral Sunscreen

Mineral Vs. Chemical Sunscreen: The Key Difference

Chemical Sunscreen

Sunscreen is essential for keeping the skin protected from the dangers of sun exposure, including sunburn, sun damage and melanoma. It’s also beneficial in minimizing the aging effects of UV rays, such as fine lines, wrinkles, sagging and rough skin. 

There are two types of sunscreens to choose from — mineral and chemical sunscreen. While they both protect your skin from the sun’s powerful rays, they provide protection in different ways. Chemical sunscreens are often referred to as “absorbers.” Their active ingredients are organic (carbon-based) compounds that absorb UV rays. Through a chemical reaction, these chemical compounds convert UV rays into heat, then release that heat from the skin. 

Chemical sunscreens include one or more of the following ingredients: 

Oxybenzone
Octinoxate
Octocrylene
Avobenzone
Ooctisalate 
Homosalate

While these active ingredients successfully dissipate UV rays, these chemicals end up getting absorbed into your skin. In comparison, mineral sunscreens block the sun from your skin.

Mineral Sunscreen

Mineral sunscreens, known as “reflectors,” act as physical blockers that manually reflect and bounce UV rays off of the skin. Mineral sunscreens are formulated with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the two main active ingredients. These active ingredients form a protective barrier on the skin, which allows the harmful UV rays to be reflected before they make contact with the skin’s surface. Since mineral sunscreens physically defend the skin from the sun’s rays, they provide immediate sun protection upon application. There’s no need to wait indoors for the product to fully absorb. 

While great for all skin types, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Markowitz shares with Glamour that mineral sunscreens are especially well suited to those with acne-prone or sensitive skin. Mineral formulas sit on top of the skin, rather than getting absorbed, so the formula is less likely to clog pores or irritate. Mineral sunscreens are also reef-safe, but we’ll explore the benefits in greater detail below. 

Chemical vs. mineral sunscreen infographic

The Key Difference For Sunscreens

Mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens defend your skin against harmful UV rays differently. Mineral sunscreens’ active ingredients — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — act like a protective shield on top of the surface of your skin. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand absorb into the skin and then absorb and convert UV rays. 

For some, the absorption of active ingredients from chemical sunscreen has raised alarm bells; a recent study found that certain active ingredients used in chemical sunscreens can be absorbed into the bloodstream in as little as one use. These ingredients included oxybenzone and avobenzone. In a press release, the FDA’s Director Dr. Janet Woodcock says that while the study showed evidence of some active ingredient absorption, “the fact that an ingredient is absorbed through the skin and into the body does not mean the ingredient is unsafe.” More research is needed. In comparison, the zinc oxide and titanium oxide used in mineral sunscreens are two ingredients that are recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

If you’d prefer to take a precautionary approach when choosing a sunscreen, consider using mineral sunscreens as they create a physical shield on your skin instead. 

Another main point of difference is the time it takes for each product to start working. Since chemical sunscreens are absorbed, they generally take 20 to 30 minutes to become effective. In comparison, mineral sunscreens protect your skin right away upon application. Let’s further explore the surprising benefits of mineral sunscreen that you may not know about. 

mineral sunscreen vs chemical sunscreen

Mineral Sunscreen Benefits

If you aren’t yet convinced by the benefits of mineral sunscreens, here are a few more reasons to add them to your daily skin care routine. 

Reef-Friendly

Mineral sunscreens are friendlier for the environment. You may not be aware, but the chemical ingredients (organic, carbon-based compounds) found in chemical sunscreens can devastate the ecosystems found in our ocean’s coral reefs. That is, even in low concentrations. Mineral sunscreens are the preferred choice for beachgoers and destination travelers because they avoid these harmful chemicals. Put simply, mineral sunscreens help keep marine life happy and healthy!

Suitable For All Skin Types

Mineral sunscreens are hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic. With their anti-inflammatory properties, they are gentle enough for the most sensitive skin types. And, they are free of pore-clogging silicones, making them a better option for those prone to blemishes. Some formulas are also made with dry, combo and normal skin types in mind. Regardless of your skin type, there’s a mineral SPF that’s perfectly suited to your unique skin.

Broad Spectrum UV Protection

Mineral sunscreens reflect both UVB and UVA rays from the skin’s surface. UVB rays cause sunburn and uncomfortable symptoms such as redness, dryness and itchiness. UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are responsible for premature aging and play a key role in the development of melanoma (a type of skin cancer).

Our Dermatologist-Suggested Mineral Sunscreen

Some dermatologists lean towards mineral sunscreens considering that FDA is conducting further research on the absorption of chemical sunscreen ingredients. However, “The most important factor is that you will use the SPF regularly,” dermatologist Loretta Ciraldo, MD, tells Glamour. If you don’t like the texture or smell, you won’t end up using it regardless of whether it’s mineral or chemical. 

Dr. Hooman Khorasani, MD, a quadruple board-certified dermatologic and skin cancer surgeon in New York City “loves” when people use mineral sunscreen. “I recommend mineral sunscreen to patients that have inflammation of the skin, sensitive skin, acne-prone skin, or have had an energy-based procedure in the office,” says Dr. Khorasani. “Mineral sunscreens reflect UV rays, and therefore, do not absorb heat in the skin like chemical blockers do. Overall, mineral sunscreens are more gentle on the skin and the environment.”

At Eminence Organics, we offer mineral sports sunscreens as well as mineral SPF 40 moisturizers that are free of harmful ingredients. They use non-nano zinc oxide as safer options for the skin and for the environment. Keep reading to learn more about each sunscreen and SPF moisturizer option. 

A woman applies lotion to her hand.

What Is Zinc Oxide?

Mineral sunscreens typically employ zinc oxide as a physical sun blocker of UV rays. Yes, the same zinc your parents slathered over your nose and cheeks in the ‘80s. Zinc oxide has come a long way since and can now be found in lightweight, layerable formulas that provide the same sun protection but with a natural-looking finish. Here’s a look at zinc oxide’s many benefits for the skin.

Zinc Oxide Keeps Skin Cool

Unlike chemical sunscreens which trap UV rays and convert them to heat, zinc oxide keeps the skin cool and allows it to breathe. It reflects the heat and energy of the sun’s UV rays away from the skin, thereby maintaining the temperature of the skin. For this reason, mineral sunscreen is particularly beneficial in minimizing the appearance of skin inflammation and redness associated with acne, rosacea and skin sensitivity.

Zinc Oxide Provides Physical Sun Protection

While zinc itself can be found in nature, zinc oxide is actually created by combining the mineral zinc with oxygen molecules. When these two elements are vaporized and condensed, they form a fine powder that sits on top of the skin and provides a protective barrier against UVA and UVB rays. In addition to providing a physical barrier, zinc oxide acts as a mirror to reflect UV rays before they can penetrate the skin’s surface.

Supports Collagen Production

UV exposure is the leading cause of premature aging. Sun damage exposes the skin to harmful free radicals that break down and destroy collagen, a protein that is essential for keeping skin toned, plump and elastic. Zinc serves as a co-factor in collagen synthesis by activating the protein collagenase. This protein triggers collagen production in order to build and repair connective tissue like your skin.

Benefits Breakout-Prone Skin

Zinc oxide is also beneficial in treating breakout-prone complexions. Studies show that zinc effectively reduces the appearance of skin inflammation, inhibits the growth of pimple-causing bacteria and regulates sebaceous gland activity. It also has astringent properties which tightens the appearance of pores and minimizes the look of an uneven skin texture. 

Which All-Mineral Sunscreen Is Right For You? 

Defending your skin against sun damage is one of the most effective ways to slow the visible signs of aging and keep your skin looking and feeling healthy. Now that you know the benefits of using all-mineral sunscreens, let’s explore our all-mineral SPF moisturizers and our mineral sunscreen.

Red Currant Protective Moisturizer SPF 40

This mattifying daily moisturizer is complete with a Youth Shield Antioxidant Complex and SPF 40 all-mineral protection. This SPF moisturizer offers sun protection and helps with the appearance of wrinkles. Red currant is a source of Vitamin C, an antioxidant with additional bioflavonoids that helps improve the look of fine lines. 

 

Lilikoi Daily Defense Moisturizer SPF 40

This all-in-one lightweight daily moisturizer is formulated with cocoa seed extract, satsuma mandarin peel and SPF 40 all-mineral protection. If you’re concerned with exposure to blue light from sitting in front of electronic devices all day, then this moisturizer is for you. This sunscreen is specifically formulated to improve the appearance of skin exposed to blue light stress and pollution. Cocoa seed extract contains a blend of cocoa peptides, saccharides and polyphenols to help improve the appearance of the skin.

As well as improving the visible effects of blue light exposure, this SPF moisturizer provides indoor and outdoor protection from UVA and UVB rays and environmental pollution. Active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide form a barrier against UV rays to keep your skin looking healthy and smooth.

Tropical Vanilla Day Cream SPF 40

Sometimes scents can transport us to a dream destination, and the Tropical Vanilla Day Cream SPF 40 does just that with its fresh, tropical scent. A must have for your beach bag, this all-mineral sunscreen is formulated with vanilla, shea butter and SPF 40 all-mineral sun protection to revitalize the appearance of the skin. Shea butter is a hydrating ingredient that is high in triglycerides and fatty acids, making the cream an effective emollient for skin that needs a moisturizing boost. 

Bright Skin Moisturizer SPF 40

This daily moisturizer contains a Natural Hydroquinone Alternative and SPF 40 all-mineral protection, including a formula that targets the appearance of dark spots. The Natural Hydroquinone Alternative helps improve the look of dark spots for a smooth, even-looking complexion. Watch this video to find out more about our all-mineral SPF moisturizers and how to apply them:

Lilikoi Mineral Defense Sports Sunscreen SPF 30

In addition to our SPF moisturizers, we also recommend our Lilikoi Mineral Defense Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 for protection from head to toe. This easy-to-apply sport formulation for face and body is non-greasy and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.

Will you be adding mineral or chemical sunscreen to your skin care routine? Tell us in the comments below and join the conversation on social media. Experience our all mineral SPF moisturizers and Lilikoi Mineral Defense Sport Sunscreen SPF 30 at an Eminence Organics Spa Partner near you.

This article was originally written in April 2019.

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