The Real Difference Between Mineral Sunscreen And Chemical Sunscreen

Whether you’re spending the day at the beach or just walking to a local coffee shop, it’s important to wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful rays. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun can cause wrinkles, liver spots, and even skin cancer. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, melanoma is the 19th most common type of cancer in the world, and other types of skin cancer are the fifth most common. Experts recommend wearing sunscreen year-round, and even on cloudy days. But which one of the two main types of sunscreen works best to keep you safe?

When you go to the store to buy sunscreen, you may notice that many of them are labeled as natural or mineral. These types are known as physical sunscreen. That’s because they form a physical barrier between the UV rays and your skin (via Byrdie). They are normally made of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Tiny bits of these minerals act like little mirrors, deflecting sunlight back out and away from your skin. Mineral sunscreens can protect against UVA and UVB light. UVA rays cause premature aging and UVB rays can burn your skin.

Sensitive skin? Try this, not that

Besides protecting you from most UV light, mineral sunscreens, also known as natural sunscreens, also tend to be less irritating to skin. They are less likely than other types to clog pores and cause breakouts, according to Byrdie. And if you want a greater degree of UVA protection, stick with zinc oxide since titanium dioxide isn’t as strong on that front (via Women’s Health). Unfortunately, you may find yourself having to reapply a mineral sunscreen more frequently than other types since they tend to wear off more quickly. So how do they compare to the other player in the sunscreen game, chemical formulas?

With carbon-based ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone, chemical sunscreens work much differently than their mineral counterparts. In fact, instead of deflecting sunlight, they actually absorb it. The chemicals set off a reaction that changes UV light into heat energy. Chemical sunscreens can often be applied more evenly than mineral sunscreens, and are more commonly included in makeup or other beauty products because of their ability to mix in easily (via The Washington Post). You can also use less of a chemical sunscreen because of its ability to be applied in a thinner layer and still offer excellent protection. They don’t go without their problems, however.

Not all sunscreen ingredients are equal

Chemical sunscreens tend to irritate the skin more, and can cause skin issues because of the excess heat that they generate when absorbing UV light. The FDA also released a small preliminary study that suggested that high levels of oxybenzone are being rapidly absorbed into the skin, and has been found in both blood and breastmilk (via Prevention). It’s important to remember that while the FDA is requiring sunscreen companies to do more research on the safety of their products, there has so far not been any data showing harmful effects in humans.

Whichever type of sunscreen you choose to apply, be sure to put it on early and often. Experts recommend re-applying at least every two hours, or more often if you’ve been sweating or in the water (via Allure). Both mineral and chemical sunscreens offer great protection from UV rays if used correctly, but your best bet is avoiding the sun at peak hours and covering up with a hat and clothing to keep your skin happy and healthy.

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