Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Is Better for My Skin? - GoodRx (2024)

Key takeaways:

  • Both mineral and chemical sunscreens are effective at sun protection when used correctly.

  • Mineral sunscreens are better for people with sensitive or acne prone skin.

  • Chemical sunscreens are more water- and sweat-resistant.

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Is Better for My Skin? - GoodRx (1)

Protecting your skin from the sun is the key to preventing sunburns, premature aging, and skin cancer. In fact, 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime.

Sunscreen can keep your skin safe from harmful UVA and UVB rays. You have two main options when you’re looking at sunscreens: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin and then absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays and convert them into heat. Mineral sunscreens do not absorb into the skin. They sit on the skin and absorb or reflect UV light before it reaches the skin.

But is one type better than the other? Here’s how to choose between mineral and chemical sunscreen.

What’s in chemical sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens are made of carbon-containing compounds. These work like sponges by absorbing UV rays so that the rays can’t damage your skin.

The most common chemical sunscreens have these ingredients:

  • Oxybenzone

  • Octinoxate

  • Octisalate

  • Avobenzone

Chemical sunscreens are popular because they absorb into the skin and don’t leave a noticeable residue. This makes it easier to use sunscreen every day and blend it with makeup and other skin care products.

Some people are reluctant to use chemical sunscreens though. This is because studies have shown that these chemicals can pass into the bloodstream, said Maria Robinson, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist.

But she pointed out that “we don’t know what effect (if any) this has on your health.”

The FDA is reviewing research to confirm the safety of 12 common sunscreen ingredients — including the ones listed above. Right now, only mineral sunscreens are designated as “generally recognized as safe and effective” (GRASE) by the FDA. But this may change as more information becomes available.

There are also some concerns about the environmental impact of chemical sunscreens.

“Oxybenzone and octinoxate are the two blockers most associated with coral reef damage,” said Dr. Robinson. She noted that “oxybenzone may also have mild hormonal properties in the body, so people may want to look for sunscreen without these ingredients.”

What’s in mineral sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreens act as a shield to protect your body against UV rays. They don’t absorb into your skin. Instead, they sit on top of your skin. And then, they either absorb the UV light or reflect it to keep the rays from reaching your skin.

Mineral sunscreens are popular because they don’t contain the chemicals found in chemical sunscreen. They’re also better for people with sensitive skin, eczema, and acne-prone skin. That’s because they’re less likely to irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction, said Dr. Robinson.

While mineral sunscreens offer great sun protection, they can leave behind a visible white residue. This can make it challenging to work sunscreen into your everyday use — meaning mineral sunscreens “might not be the ideal choice for everyone,” said Dr. Robinson.

The most common mineral sunscreens contain:

  • Zinc oxide

  • Titanium oxide

Both types have a GRASE designation from the FDA.

There have been concerns that titanium oxide could be absorbed into the bloodstream and increase your risk for cancer. But most experts believe that titanium dioxide doesn’t pose a threat to your health in either cream or lotion sunscreen form. You may want to avoid spray sunscreen and cosmetic powders that contain titanium dioxide. These contain smaller titanium dioxide particles, which are more likely to get absorbed by the body.

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Is mineral sunscreen better than chemical sunscreen?

Both mineral and chemical sunscreen helps protect your skin against sunburns and UV rays. This means they both offer protection against skin cancer.

But when choosing between mineral versus chemical sunscreen, you might want to keep these factors in mind:

  • Safety: Only mineral sunscreen has a GRASE designation from the FDA. Two chemical sunscreens — Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate — are generally recognized as not safe. These ingredients aren’t common in sunscreens. But it’s always important to check the label to make sure your sunscreen doesn’t have them. More research is needed when it comes to other chemical sunscreens. If you want to be cautious, stick with zinc-oxide-based sunscreen.

  • Skin sensitivity: People with sensitive or acne-prone skin tend to do better with mineral sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen is also less likely to irritate your skin if you have eczema.

  • Activity level: There’s no such thing as a “waterproof” sunscreen. You have to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours if you’ve been in the water. But in general, chemical sunscreens are more resistant to water and sweat than mineral sunscreen.

  • Age: Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under 6 months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mineral sunscreens for older babies and children. It also recommends spraying sunscreen on your hands and then applying it to your child’s skin. This will help make sure they don’t breathe in the spray.

Which sunscreen do dermatologists recommend?

The FDA and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) agree: Because of the importance of sun safety, both mineral and chemical sunscreens are preferable to unprotected skin.

The AAD recommends everyone use a sunscreen that is:

  • Broad-spectrum, meaning it provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays

  • SPF 30 or higher

  • Water-resistant

The AAD also recommends using clothing and hats to block the sun, and seeking shade when possible to protect your skin.

As Dr. Robinson said, “When it comes to sunscreen, the best one is the one that you’ll use regularly.”

The bottom line

Mineral sunscreens are safe, effective, and may have less of an environmental impact than chemical sunscreens do. But because of the prevalence of skin cancer, the broad-spectrum sunscreen that you’ll wear regularly is the best sunscreen for you.

References

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2024). Chemical exposure from personal care products.

American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2022). Skin cancer.

View All References (7)

expand_more

American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2023). Sunscreen FAQs.

Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. (n.d.). Titanium dioxide.

Cole, C., et al. (2015). Metal oxide sunscreens protect skin by absorption, not by reflection or scattering. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine.

Dréno, B., et al. (2019). Safety of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in cosmetics. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.). FDA proposed order: Sunscreen drug products for over-the-counter-human-use; proposal to amend and revise the deemed final order established by the CARES Act.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2022). Questions and answers: FDA posts deemed final order and proposed order for over-the-counter sunscreen.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2023). Facts about sunscreen.

GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Is Better for My Skin? - GoodRx (2024)

FAQs

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Is Better for My Skin? - GoodRx? ›

Key takeaways: Both mineral and chemical sunscreens are effective at sun protection when used correctly. Mineral sunscreens are better for people with sensitive or acne prone skin. Chemical sunscreens are more water- and sweat-resistant.

Do dermatologists recommend mineral or chemical sunscreen? ›

Dermatologists recommend physical sunscreens, also called mineral sunscreens, for people with sensitive skin.

Which is more effective chemical or physical sunscreen? ›

Protection level

Physical sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays, while chemical sunscreens are more of a mixed bag. This is why you'll usually see a combination of active ingredients on a chemical sunscreen label: some work well against UVA rays, and some for UVB.

Why you should switch to mineral sunscreen? ›

There are many pros to using mineral sunscreens over non-mineral options. These include: Minimal risk of allergies and sensitivities, especially for those who are prone to these reactions. They are more gentle on sensitive skin than many chemical absorbers like oxybenzone or octinoxate.

What are the disadvantages of zinc oxide sunscreen? ›

The main disadvantage to Zinc Sunscreens is that you generally have to use more of it to get to a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30, than you would with other sport sunscreens. This can make zinc oxide sunscreens more expensive initially, however, you don't need to reapply as often, so they can be effectively cheaper.

What is the number one dermatologist recommended sunscreen? ›

UV Clear SPF 46 Face Sunscreen

EltaMD's UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is a go-to for Tiffany J. Libby, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and the director of Mohs micrographic and dermatologic surgery at Brown Dermatology in East Providence, R.I.

Should I get mineral or chemical sunscreen? ›

Between the two types, mineral sunscreens are generally the better, healthier option. “I tell my patients that mineral sunscreens are like a healthy, home-cooked meal, [while] chemical sunscreens are like the fast food of sunscreens,” Ploch says.

Is mineral sunscreen better for aging skin? ›

For ideal skin health, use mineral sunscreen to keep the aging UVA beams away from your skin. Broad spectrum: Broad spectrum sunscreen helps to block both UVB rays that are traditionally the cause of skin cancer, as well as UVA rays that cause early aging.

What happens if you don't wash off mineral sunscreen? ›

What Happens If You Don't Wash Off Mineral Sunscreen? Neglecting to thoroughly remove mineral sunscreen can have more consequences than just a dull complexion. It can impede your skin's ability to breathe and renew itself overnight, leading to several unwanted effects.

Do you need to rub in mineral sunscreen? ›

Work in small sections. Start with a pea to dime-size amount, rubbing it between the palms of your hands and blot it over the areas you want to cover. Rub it in well. Non-nano titanium dioxide is white in appearance, but when applied correctly, you will only see a sheen to your skin.

Who should not use zinc oxide? ›

You should not use this medicine if you are allergic to zinc, dimethicone, lanolin, cod liver oil, petroleum jelly, parabens, mineral oil, or wax. Zinc oxide topical will not treat a bacterial or fungal infection. Call your doctor if you have any signs of infection such as redness and warmth or oozing skin lesions.

Is zinc oxide good for wrinkles? ›

Among the numerous benefits of zinc oxide, the one convincing usage is that it reduces skin wrinkling. This will be a natural outcome of the substance's ability to act as a protective layer that reflects off ultraviolet rays and reduces the loss of moisture from the skin.

What are the side effects of zinc on the skin? ›

Taking very high doses of zinc is likely unsafe and might cause stomach pain, vomiting, and many other problems. Single doses of 10-30 grams of zinc can be fatal. When applied to the skin: Zinc is likely safe. Using zinc on broken skin may cause burning, stinging, itching, and tingling.

What skin type should use mineral sunscreen? ›

“Mineral sunscreens are typically tolerated by all skin types—I recommend them to everyone, but especially my clients with sensitive skin, rosacea, eczema, or sun-induced rashes,” says New York dermatologist Elyse Love, MD.

Why do dermatologists recommend zinc sunscreen? ›

Zinc oxide is a stable sunscreen ingredient that is much less likely than chemical ingredients to break down in the bottle or on your skin. Zinc oxide does not irritate sensitive skin. Zinc oxide is not absorbed into your body; it stays on your skin where you put it and where it can protect you from the sun.

Is La Roche Posay a mineral or chemical sunscreen? ›

The La Roche-Posay sun protection range combines both chemical and mineral sun filters to ensure very high broad spectrum protection, so they can be used together. Found this guide helpful?

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