Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen

July 10, 2023

_LEARN

/

REFERENCE LAB

Making Sense of Sunscreen: Understanding the Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens
Summer has finally arrived! And with it comes sunny days and high UV Indexes. Since we all know how critical sunscreen is to preventing sun damage, it’s about time we equip ourselves with sun protection we can have full confidence in.
Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen

_LEARN

/

REFERENCE LAB

July 10, 2023

Making Sense of Sunscreen: Understanding the Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens
Summer has finally arrived! And with it comes sunny days and high UV Indexes. Since we all know how critical sunscreen is to preventing sun damage, it’s about time we equip ourselves with sun protection we can have full confidence in.
Making an Informed Choice: Selecting the Right Sunscreen for Your Needs
There are several clear benefits of sunscreens, however not all sunscreen products are created equal; their efficacy and safety are dependent on their ingredients and mechanism of action. (Read more about how sunscreen works its magic hereto learn more about how long does sunscreen last!) Generally, sunscreens fall within two categories: mineral (aka physical) sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Making an Informed Choice: Selecting the Right Sunscreen for Your Needs
There are several clear benefits of sunscreens, however not all sunscreen products are created equal; their efficacy and safety are dependent on their ingredients and mechanism of action. (Read more about how sunscreen works its magic hereto learn more about how long does sunscreen last!) Generally, sunscreens fall within two categories: mineral (aka physical) sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Exploring Sunscreen Types: Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen
Both mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreens provide sun protection by scattering, reflecting and/or absorbing UV radiation. Let’s take a closer look at the two and identify the pros and cons of each.

What Are Mineral Sunscreens? Understanding Their Composition and Benefits

A mineral based sunscreen contains active, inorganic ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which create a physical barrier on the surface of the skin. This barrier naturally reflects light, including the sun’s harmful UV rays, earning mineral sunscreen their straightforward nickname: physical sunscreen. 1
The physical properties of these compounds are intrinsic which is why mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after they’re applied. The active ingredient in mineral sunscreens don’t get absorbed into your skin or blood, making them suitable for sensitive skin types and frequent, long-term use. 2

The Science Behind Mineral Sunscreens: How They Provide Sun Protection

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can scatter light due to their high refractive index. This allows them to bend and redirect light. What makes these ingredients furthermore effective at protecting our skin cells from UV damage is their additional ability to absorb UV light, due to their molecular structure. 3 Let’s zoom in on the molecular scale.
Atomic Chemistry 101:All atoms have orbitals with electrons. Distant orbitals have higher levels of energy than proximal orbitals; an electron’s energy will match the energy of its inhabited orbital. Compounds like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have multiple interacting atoms, each with several orbitals and electrons. Given the right amount of energy, lower-energy electrons can get “excited” and make jumps to higher orbitals. Afterward, the electron relaxes to its original position, releasing the excess energy as heat.
The energy required to excite electrons in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide matches the energy in the UV light wavelength. So, the energy from UV light gets absorbed into these compounds and, eventually, released safely as non-damaging heat.4 These properties allow ingredients to form a protective coating that keeps our cells safe from UV-induced damage.
Exploring Sunscreen Types: Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen
Both mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreens provide sun protection by scattering, reflecting and/or absorbing UV radiation. Let’s take a closer look at the two and identify the pros and cons of each.

What Are Mineral Sunscreens? Understanding Their Composition and Benefits

A mineral based sunscreen contains active, inorganic ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which create a physical barrier on the surface of the skin. This barrier naturally reflects light, including the sun’s harmful UV rays, earning mineral sunscreen their straightforward nickname: physical sunscreen. 1
The physical properties of these compounds are intrinsic which is why mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after they’re applied. The active ingredient in mineral sunscreens don’t get absorbed into your skin or blood, making them suitable for sensitive skin types and frequent, long-term use. 2

The Science Behind Mineral Sunscreens: How They Provide Sun Protection

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can scatter light due to their high refractive index. This allows them to bend and redirect light. What makes these ingredients furthermore effective at protecting our skin cells from UV damage is their additional ability to absorb UV light, due to their molecular structure. 3 Let’s zoom in on the molecular scale.
Atomic Chemistry 101:All atoms have orbitals with electrons. Distant orbitals have higher levels of energy than proximal orbitals; an electron’s energy will match the energy of its inhabited orbital. Compounds like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide have multiple interacting atoms, each with several orbitals and electrons. Given the right amount of energy, lower-energy electrons can get “excited” and make jumps to higher orbitals. Afterward, the electron relaxes to its original position, releasing the excess energy as heat.
The energy required to excite electrons in titanium dioxide and zinc oxide matches the energy in the UV light wavelength. So, the energy from UV light gets absorbed into these compounds and, eventually, released safely as non-damaging heat.4 These properties allow ingredients to form a protective coating that keeps our cells safe from UV-induced damage.
Chemical Sunscreens: How They Differ from Mineral Sunscreens
The fundamental difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is that chemical sunscreens actually penetrate and absorb into the skin. Hence, they do little deflecting and more absorbing of the UV rays. These products are designed to first penetrate the skin and then absorb UV radiation. Typically, chemical sunscreens contain organic ingredients such as oxybenzone and avobenzone. 1

How Chemical Sunscreens Work: Unraveling Their Mechanism of Action

Oxybenzone and avobenzone have similar molecular constructs to their inorganic counterparts titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They’re able to absorb UV light energy and dissipate it as heat, this time within the skin. 5
Some commonly used organic compounds, such as avobenzone, are less photostable; this makes them prone to UV-induced degradation. Chemical sunscreens will often contain stabilizing agents to avert degradation and maintain product efficacy. 6

Understanding Chemical Sunscreens: Evaluating Their Efficacy and Safety

Chemical sunscreens have been used for decades and continue to effectively protect against UVA rays and UVB radiation. That being said, the penetrative nature of these agents prompts more ingredient/cell interactions and hence, more opportunities for adverse reactions and absorption of the ingredients into the body’s bloodstream. Therefore, we see a heightened risk of skin irritation and allergic reactions in chemical sunscreens. 5
Recent evidence is also uncovering that oxybenzone may be an endocrine disruptor. 7 Hormone disruption in the skin can influence acne, pore size, wrinkling, etc. (Read more about hormone-induced skin changes here!)
Chemical Sunscreens: How They Differ from Mineral Sunscreens
The fundamental difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is that chemical sunscreens actually penetrate and absorb into the skin. Hence, they do little deflecting and more absorbing of the UV rays. These products are designed to first penetrate the skin and then absorb UV radiation. Typically, chemical sunscreens contain organic ingredients such as oxybenzone and avobenzone. 1

How Chemical Sunscreens Work: Unraveling Their Mechanism of Action

Oxybenzone and avobenzone have similar molecular constructs to their inorganic counterparts titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They’re able to absorb UV light energy and dissipate it as heat, this time within the skin. 5
Some commonly used organic compounds, such as avobenzone, are less photostable; this makes them prone to UV-induced degradation. Chemical sunscreens will often contain stabilizing agents to avert degradation and maintain product efficacy. 6

Understanding Chemical Sunscreens: Evaluating Their Efficacy and Safety

Chemical sunscreens have been used for decades and continue to effectively protect against UVA rays and UVB radiation. That being said, the penetrative nature of these agents prompts more ingredient/cell interactions and hence, more opportunities for adverse reactions and absorption of the ingredients into the body’s bloodstream. Therefore, we see a heightened risk of skin irritation and allergic reactions in chemical sunscreens. 5
Recent evidence is also uncovering that oxybenzone may be an endocrine disruptor. 7 Hormone disruption in the skin can influence acne, pore size, wrinkling, etc. (Read more about hormone-induced skin changes here!)
Choosing Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens: Factors to Consider
Whether to go mineral or chemical is up to you! Here are a few pros and cons to help you answer the question: is mineral or chemical sunscreen best for my skin type?
Choosing Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreens: Factors to Consider
Whether to go mineral or chemical is up to you! Here are a few pros and cons to help you answer the question: is mineral or chemical sunscreen best for my skin type?
Pros and Cons of Mineral Sunscreens: Is It the Right Choice for You?
Mineral sunscreens have clear advantages. While chemical sunscreens require 10-15 minutes to take effect, mineral sunscreens hit the ground running! Moreover, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less likely to trigger skin irritation or allergic reactions, making them the safer option for those with sensitive skin.However, just like there are differences between face vs body sunscreen, not all mineral sunscreens are the same. There are two main factors to consider.

Factor #1: White Cast

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are white in color and sit on the surface of the skin; this can lead to an undesirable visible white residue, often referred to as white cast. It can also be difficult to fully rub the sunscreen into the skin, especially skin with more melanin. Some mineral sunscreens don’t have this problem. Newer skin care products can employ smaller particles, or nanoparticles, to reduce white cast. 5 Tinted sunscreens are also effective at managing white cast entirely!

Factor #2: Water Resistance

Knowing how much sunscreen to use on your face
and how often to apply is important, as some mineral sunscreens are very easily washed off with sweat and water exposure. These sunscreens are shorter-lasting and need to be reapplied more frequently. Try to select mineral sunscreens that employ cross-polymer mineral coatings. These coatings can provide extra protection while improving the dispersivity and water resistance of the product.8

Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreens: Is It the Right Choice for You?

Chemical sunscreens are typically more cosmetically desirable. They leave a negligible white cast and can be more water-resistant. Unfortunately, these sunscreen ingredients penetrate the skin barrier. This not only increases the potential for irritation but deepens the effect of ingredients as they can be absorbed into the body and the bloodstream. For this reason, there are sunscreen ingredients to avoid like oxybenzone chemical sunscreens to prevent potential hormone disruption.
Pros and Cons of Mineral Sunscreens: Is It the Right Choice for You?
Mineral sunscreens have clear advantages. While chemical sunscreens require 10-15 minutes to take effect, mineral sunscreens hit the ground running! Moreover, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less likely to trigger skin irritation or allergic reactions, making them the safer option for those with sensitive skin.However, just like there are differences between face vs body sunscreen, not all mineral sunscreens are the same. There are two main factors to consider.

Factor #1: White Cast

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are white in color and sit on the surface of the skin; this can lead to an undesirable visible white residue, often referred to as white cast. It can also be difficult to fully rub the sunscreen into the skin, especially skin with more melanin. Some mineral sunscreens don’t have this problem. Newer skin care products can employ smaller particles, or nanoparticles, to reduce white cast. 5 Tinted sunscreens are also effective at managing white cast entirely!

Factor #2: Water Resistance

Knowing how much sunscreen to use on your face
and how often to apply is important, as some mineral sunscreens are very easily washed off with sweat and water exposure. These sunscreens are shorter-lasting and need to be reapplied more frequently. Try to select mineral sunscreens that employ cross-polymer mineral coatings. These coatings can provide extra protection while improving the dispersivity and water resistance of the product.8

Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreens: Is It the Right Choice for You?

Chemical sunscreens are typically more cosmetically desirable. They leave a negligible white cast and can be more water-resistant. Unfortunately, these sunscreen ingredients penetrate the skin barrier. This not only increases the potential for irritation but deepens the effect of ingredients as they can be absorbed into the body and the bloodstream. For this reason, there are sunscreen ingredients to avoid like oxybenzone chemical sunscreens to prevent potential hormone disruption.
Skin Sensitivity and Sunscreen: Which Type Is More Suitable?
Although chemical sunscreens don’t trigger all skin types, they are more likely to. The penetration of ingredients can result in a host of unanticipated interactions in the skin. So, is mineral sunscreen better?Mineral sunscreens are able to reduce risks of skin irritation, allergic reactions, and potential endocrine disruption with their physical barrier mechanism. White cast and water sensitivity can also be adequately addressed with newer formulations and tinted varieties. So, a good mineral sunscreen, whether tinted vs untinted, is likely your safest and best choice, especially if you’re wearing sunscreen as recommended (daily all year round!). Pairing a peptide sunscreen with other topical products can enhance your skin's health and appearance. Consider integrating a peptide moisturizer and peptide eye cream into your skin care routine to further strengthen your skin barrier. With proper sun protection and the right skin care products, you can enjoy healthier, more radiant skin throughout the year.
Skin Sensitivity and Sunscreen: Which Type Is More Suitable?
Although chemical sunscreens don’t trigger all skin types, they are more likely to. The penetration of ingredients can result in a host of unanticipated interactions in the skin. So, is mineral sunscreen better?Mineral sunscreens are able to reduce risks of skin irritation, allergic reactions, and potential endocrine disruption with their physical barrier mechanism. White cast and water sensitivity can also be adequately addressed with newer formulations and tinted varieties. So, a good mineral sunscreen, whether tinted vs untinted, is likely your safest and best choice, especially if you’re wearing sunscreen as recommended (daily all year round!). Pairing a peptide sunscreen with other topical products can enhance your skin's health and appearance. Consider integrating a peptide moisturizer and peptide eye cream into your skin care routine to further strengthen your skin barrier. With proper sun protection and the right skin care products, you can enjoy healthier, more radiant skin throughout the year.
Key Takeaways
  • Mineral, or physical, sunscreens contain active ingredients that form a reflective barrier on the surface of the skin. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that first penetrate the skin and then absorb UV radiation.
  • Mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after application while chemical sunscreens typically require 10 - 15 minutes to take effect.
  • Mineral sunscreens can leave a white cast residue and have poorer water resistance than their chemical counterparts. However, newer mineral sunscreens avoid this with smaller particles and tinted formulations.
  • Chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin making them more likely to trigger adverse reactions. Mineral sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin and are, therefore, better candidates for sensitive skin types.
  • Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, is a potential hormone disruptor. Try to avoid oxybenzone chemical sunscreens.
Key Takeaways
  • Mineral, or physical, sunscreens contain active ingredients that form a reflective barrier on the surface of the skin. Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that first penetrate the skin and then absorb UV radiation.
  • Mineral sunscreens are effective immediately after application while chemical sunscreens typically require 10 - 15 minutes to take effect.
  • Mineral sunscreens can leave a white cast residue and have poorer water resistance than their chemical counterparts. However, newer mineral sunscreens avoid this with smaller particles and tinted formulations.
  • Chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin making them more likely to trigger adverse reactions. Mineral sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin and are, therefore, better candidates for sensitive skin types.
  • Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, is a potential hormone disruptor. Try to avoid oxybenzone chemical sunscreens.
By Kiran Kumar: Kiran is studying Biotechnology Engineering at UC San Diego. She is highly enthusiastic about longevity sciences and women’s health! You can find more of her work at thisiskirank.com.
By Kiran Kumar: Kiran is studying Biotechnology Engineering at UC San Diego. She is highly enthusiastic about longevity sciences and women’s health! You can find more of her work at thisiskirank.com.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

Reviewed by Alessandra Zonari, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer (CSO) and Co-Founder of OneSkin

Alessandra earned her Master’s degree in stem cell biology, and her PhD in skin regeneration and tissue engineering at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in collaboration with the 3B’s Research Group in Portugal. Alessandra did a second post-doctoral at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. She is a co-inventor of three patents and has published 20 peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals.

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