Sun 101 |

The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen

It’s time to settle the whole mineral versus chemical debate once and for all! In this post, we’ll tell you all about the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen, the best clean chemical picks, the best mineral sunscreen picks and why it’s not a matter of one versus the other, but rather choosing which kind is right for you.

We get it. You just want to figure out which SPF is right for you. But there’s a lot out there to choose from! Plus, there’s a whole other confusing layer to this situation, because you just heard that there’s chemical SPF, and then there’s mineral SPF––and you’re not totally sure what that means, either. Well, we’re here to help!

The DL on chemical and mineral sunscreen;

Before we get into the nuances here, it’s good to keep in mind that chemical and mineral SPF do actually have a few key similarities. Both are made in a lab, both are non-comedogenic and both can offer broad spectrum protection.

The primary differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens are a.) how they’re formulated and b.) how they actively shield your skin from UV rays. Let’s start by diving into chemical SPF, and then we’ll move on to mineral. To help, we’ve enlisted the expertise of Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

The primary differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens are a.) how they’re formulated and b.) how they actively shield your skin from UV rays.

“Chemical sunscreens are made of synthetic ingredients that work by absorbing UV rays (so your skin doesn’t). These actives are changing the rays into heat and then releasing them from the skin,” she explains. Despite what you might have heard or read, there’s nothing inherently wrong with chemical sunscreens. They effectively protect your skin from the sun, and they also allow for major innovation, like feel-good, lightweight and even invisible formulas.

That being said, there is a reason why this type of SPF gets a bad rap… Many chemical sunscreens contain oxybenzone, voted the number one skin irritant by the American Academy of Dermatology and also a big aggressor to the coral reefs. However, here at Supergoop! we’ve never used oxybenzone in any of our formulas…and that’s been the case since the day we were founded back in 2007.

OK, next up is mineral SPF, also known as physical SPF. Think about any beach scene from the 80s and 90s, and you may find they all have one thing in common: white (or neon!) sunblock-coated noses. That’s an example of mineral SPF. Fortunately these formulas have come a long way over the years, and today, ones like ours can be sophisticated, effective and—most importantly––highly blendable.

We suggest considering the types of activities you’ll be doing while wearing your SPF.

“A physical sunscreen contains 100% mineral actives, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide,” says Jaliman. And when it comes to how this SPF works, it is only absorbed into the exterior layers of the dermis. They then combat UV rays by reflecting them (instead of absorbing them like chemical SPF does).

Decisions, decisions…

Jaliman says that physical sunscreens as a whole may be better suited for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin, but it’s still a matter of shopping thoughtfully. For example, Unseen Sunscreen is a chemical formula that can work on all skin types (sensitive, acne-prone ones included) because it’s non-comedogenic, which means it doesn’t contain ingredients that will clog your pores or cause breakouts.

Secondly, we also suggest considering the types of activities you’ll be doing while wearing your SPF. If you’re sweating and working out, then chemical formulas like Everyday Sunscreen allow your skin to breathe. Mineral formulas, on the other hand, will trap sweat into your skin (not good – especially since sweating is one way for your body to release toxins), so we tend to recommend them more for everyday wear. We make ours so that they work especially well with your daily makeup routine––CC Cream, we’re looking at you!  

Last but not least, another approach to figuring out which SPF is right for you is to think about what kind of payoff you like from your SPF products. For example, our 100% Mineral Setting Powder has been formulated to set makeup, control shine and provide a matte finish. On the flip side, Defense Refresh Setting Mist is on the more refreshing side – and it also sets makeup while absorbing excess oil.  

The bottom line

Although there are a few notable differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens, both have to ability to protect your skin from UV damage. It really just comes down to choosing what’s right for you.

+Still don’t know if chemical or mineral is best for you? Ask us questions in the comments below and we’ll help you out!