Mineral Sunscreen or Chemical Sunscreen?

You’ve heard it a hundred times: your skincare routine is not complete without sunscreen. But there are so many options on the market, how do you decide which to use?

We’re big fans of mineral sunscreens and work exclusively with them. Read on to learn the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen and the benefits of using mineral sunscreen.

Sunscreen is a Priority

Sunscreen prevents signs of aging and saves the skin from burning by providing protection against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is directly linked to DNA damage, pigmentation disorders, and most skin cancers. For more information about the dangers of UV radiation, we recommend this article from cancer.org.

To minimize these risks, it is crucial to select a sunscreen that works best for you and your skin and to use it on a daily basis.

Types of Sunscreen

There are two main categories of sunscreen to choose from: chemical (or synthetic) sunscreen and mineral (or physical) sunscreen.

The main difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen lies in their active ingredients and the protective action that each one takes to provide protection against UV rays.

How Does Chemical Sunscreen Work?

First, a note about the term ‘chemical’: technically, everything is a chemical, including water. But for our purpose, we use the term when describing a synthetic compound or man-made substance that does not naturally occur in nature and in the case of sunscreen, differentiating HOW the sunscreen works.

Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients that are synthetic compounds that work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays. This absorption process involves an energy transfer that gradually breaks down the sunscreen ingredient and releases heat into the skin.

This heat can cause flushing of the skin and discomfort for some individuals, especially for those prone to redness, rosacea, or general skin sensitivities. Those with melasma or other forms of hyperpigmentation may also want to also consider how their skin responds to products that hold heat in the skin, as this could possibly increase the pigment in existing dark spots.

Here are a few examples of ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreens:

    • Oxybenzone
    • Avobenzone
    • Octinoxate
    • Homosalate
    • Octisalate

Chemical sunscreen requires a period of time after application to absorb into the skin and dry into a protective barrier. For full protection, it’s necessary to apply in advance. For best practice, read your product label to determine how long you should wait before going out in the sun.

How Does Mineral Sunscreen Work?   

Mineral sunscreens use naturally-occurring solid substances from the earth (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) to form a protective shield that rests on top of the skin, reflecting away UV rays. (They are often called ‘natural’ sunscreens, though advances in science and technology now allow mineral ingredients to be created in a lab, as well as sourced from nature.)

Mineral sunscreens are sometimes referred to as physical sunscreens because they provide a physical barrier between the skin and the rays of the sun. We liken it to having millions of tiny mirrors resting on the surface of the skin, bouncing away harmful UV rays.

Zinc oxide in particular blocks the widest spectrum of UV rays, protecting the skin against burning and premature skin aging, as well as lowering the risk of skin cancer. Zinc oxide is also photo-stable, meaning it does not break down when exposed to sunlight. With no heat released into the skin, this makes it an ideal sunscreen solution for more sensitive or redness-prone skin types.

Know Your Labels

Some sunscreen manufacturers use a blend of both mineral and chemical ingredients. These sunscreens may advertise themselves as mineral sunscreens but may also contain chemical sunscreen ingredients.

Sunscreens are classified as over-the-counter drugs and as such have stringent testing and labeling requirements. In order to legally claim a sun protection factor (SPF) rating, manufacturers are required to submit formulas and batch samples for vigorous testing and use only previously-approved sunscreen ingredients. Active ingredients must be specified in a separate ingredient list apart from the rest of the ingredients.

We recommend reading the label and checking the entire ingredient list before purchasing any sunscreen product.

Our Favorite Mineral Sunscreens


Tizo stands for Titanium Dioxide/Zinc Oxide, indicating that it uses the two minerals to provide physical sunscreen protection. Tizo sunscreen is broad-spectrum, protecting against both UVA and UVB rays. The minerals are photo-stable and will not break down like chemical sunscreens.

Specially formulated for those with photosensitivity, Tizo mineral sunscreens are ideal for use after skin procedures like laser and chemical peels. Their unique formulas will not irritate skin and are perfect for both adults and children. They are also water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.

Tizo sunscreens make a great addition to a daily skincare routine. In addition to offering sun protection, they add hydration and antioxidant support. Plus they glide on with an elegant, silky finish that makes for an excellent makeup primer.

All Tizo sunscreens are reef-safe.

Elta MD – UV Physical

EltaMD UV Physical uses transparent zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation as an effective broad-spectrum sunscreen. It provides antioxidant protection to combat skin-aging free radicals associated with ultraviolet (UV) and infrared radiation (IR).

EltaMD UV Physical provides a lightly tinted, matte finish that provides longer wear in humidity and during perspiration, and is water-resistant up to 40 minutes.

UV Physical is also reef-safe.

Daily Use of Mineral Sunscreen

Interested in adding mineral sunscreen to your skin care routine? Let us know if you use chemical or mineral sunscreen and any questions you have on sunscreen and SPF.

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