Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreen

We all know the importance of sunscreen but could there be risks in the types we put on? It seems everything has risks these days or is it that we’re only just finding out the true facts in the last few years?

The idea of sun protection has been around for centuries, plant produce and zinc oxide were used to protect the skin from sun damage. Now however chemical sunscreen is widely available and used by the majority, but what is the difference between a chemical and physical product?

Chemical Sunscreen

These contain chemical ingredients that are designed to absorb the UVA/UVB rays and reduce their energy, allowing a tan to form while reducing the risk of burning. Formulated in light oil or oily emulsions they generally do not stain clothing or leave a white cast on the skin. The energy absorbed by the UV absorbing chemicals slowly breaks them down so the chemial sunscreens must be re-applied as directed on the bottle. Another point to take is that these must be applied a good 30 minutes or so before sun exposure for the correct level of protection.

Physical (Mineral) Sunscreen

These contains minerals like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide which reflect the UVA/UVB rays away from the skin so that tanning is slow or not at all. They provide the highest protection and often found in thick creamy formulas suitable for most skin types, even sensitive skin. Due to the minerals these can often leave a white cast on the skin if too much is applied which can transfer onto clothes.Since they don’t absorb the UV rays they don’t usually degrade like chemical sunscreens meaning they don’t have to be applied as frequently.

My opinion

Both have pros and cons but my personal preference is the physical sunscreen, this can be applied immediately before heading out unlike the chemical which requires prep time. Many have complained about the thick white mask of physical types however I’ve found more sophisticated formulas don’t leave this undesired look, and I do have a suspicion that it’s actually more to do with the fact people smother it on rather than apply it thinly with adequate coverage.

It can transfer but I have ruined clothes and bikinis with tanning oils and lotions with off-white chemical SPFs, so again if you apply things in a slap dash way you will make a mess. A big factor is the price for mineral sunscreen, it’s more pricey and some of the top brands aren’t as easily accessible as say the drugstore chemical brands. The largest and most important factor for me has to be the studies found on the dangers of the ingredients used in chemical sunscreens, these have been found to be absorbed in the skin deep  in the body with traces found in breast milk. Research has found that these chemicals mimic hormones disrupting the hormone system and can be toxic to the reproductive system.

Studies show that many of the chemicals can actually cause skin irritation, increase the risk of endometriosis, and can lead to cell mutation and cancer.

The only issue, if I can call it that, with mineral sunscreen is because it is so high it can lower the amount of vitamin D the body makes from the sun which is an important factor. If you feel yours is low ask advice about taking supplements



These D.I.Y, home-made sunscreen recipes, FORGET them. You could cause serious damage to the skin, after sun creams, yes, fair enough, mash up all the cucumber and yogurt you like. They’re not being relied upon to protect the skin, rather soothe it.



Photo credit: Justin Paget/Photolibrary/Getty Images



Comments (2)

  • You could buy some Zinc Oxide and mix it up with some oil like coconut oil, I really want to try this x

    • Oh no don’t do this, there’s been reports of serious sunburn down to people making their own SPF. x


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