People email us to ask all kinds of sunscreen questions, one of the most frequent one we hear is: what’s the difference between mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Mineral sunscreens utilize minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients.
Chemical sunscreens need to use 3-4 or even more active chemical ingredients to either a) cover the entire UV spectrum and/or b) compensate for ingredient deterioration.
If you want to learn more about mineral and chemical sunscreen, keep reading. In this post, we’ll discuss:
- What is mineral sunscreen?
- What is chemical sunscreen?
- Mineral sunscreen vs chemical
- What’s the best sunscreen?
There are two basic types of sunscreens — mineral and chemical. Each work differently to screen the sun’s rays and protect your skin.
What is mineral sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreens utilize the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients. These sit on top of the skin to absorb UVA and UVB rays, convert them into infrared heat energy, then dispose of the heat away from the skin. These sunscreens starting working immediately and do not seep into the skin like chemical products.
Mineral sunscreens are the healthiest choice for your skin and our oceans. The only drawback to wearing mineral sunscreens is cosmetic, since they usually leave a white cast on your face — especially when applied more thickly or not rubbed in completely.
What is chemical sunscreen?
Chemical sunscreens seep into your skin and protect skin by absorbing the sun’s rays. This is why chemical sunscreens apply smoothly, without leaving a thick film. But this causes chemical bioaccumulation and systemic exposure, by building up in the blood and fat deposits.
Active chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate and avobenzone, which are created by extracting and processing various chemicals from crude oil. Such derived substances are known collectively as petrochemicals.
Many chemical sunscreen ingredients (like oxybenzone) mimic estrogen in the human body. This is linked with numerous diseases, including cancer and early female puberty.
Most petrochemicals do not biodegrade, accumulating in water supplies and ocean sediments, feminizing fish and damaging coral. Most tropical aquatic parks have banned petrochemical sunscreens.
Mineral Sunscreen vs Chemical Sunscreen
Ingredients Used: Zinc Oxide, Titanium Dioxide
How do they work? Sit on top of skin, they deflect and scatter UVB and UVA rays
- Does not enter the skin
- Works immediately
- Gentle on skin
- Less likely to clog pores
- Stable in sunlight
- Longer shelf life
- Safe for babies and pregnant moms
- Non-nano versions are reef-safe
- Zinc Oxide is most complete broad spectrum
- Will likely leave white tint on skin
- Thicker to apply
- More difficult to remove after use
- Titanium Dioxide doesn't protect entire UVA spectrum
- More expensive
Ingredients Used: Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Octocrylene
How do they work? After absorption into the skin, they absorb UV rays and convert UV energy into heat
- Lightweight application
- Less residue on skin
- Thinner and easier to spread
- Commonly found at all big stores
- Less expensive
- Increase risk of cancer
- More likely to irritate skin and eyes
- Generate free radicals in the skin when exposed to UV light
- Unstable and break down in sunlight
- Without avobenzone or oxybenzone, likely doesn’t protect from UVA rays
- Can disrupt hormones, including endocrine levels
- Because of the produced heat, can increase brown spots
- Protection begins about 20 minutes after application
- Clog pores and increase breakouts
- None are reef-safe
- Multiple chemicals required to provide both UVA and UVB protection and higher SPFs
What’s the best sunscreen?
The truth is that the only safe, fully effective sunscreens, both for short term and long term protection, use non nano zinc oxide (not titanium dioxide, which contains a toxic heavy metal and doesn’t disperse UV energy as efficiently as zinc oxide) as their sole active ingredient.
Zinc oxide doesn’t have any of the issues petrochemicals do. Zinc oxide (by itself) has the most effective absorption capabilities across the entire UVA/UVB spectrums.
Zinc oxide is made from the critical mineral nutrient zinc. Like all the ingredients in Waxhead skincare, zinc oxide is biochemically identical to the building blocks used by human and animal systems.
Zinc oxide holds tight to its electrons when absorbing UV energy, limiting free radical production. Zinc oxide does not damage or adversely affect wildlife or water habitats or the animals that use them. It is completely reef safe. Zinc oxide is the only sunscreen active ingredient FDA-approved for use on children.
Uncommonly gentle, use it daily to nourish and defend sensitive skin from the sun.
Get our Sampler Pack -- it's a great way to try several Waxhead Sunscreens.
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Note: Waxhead sunscreens use only non-nano, non-micronized zinc oxide.
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.