Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: What’s the Difference?

You may be under the impression that all sunscreens are created equal and are therefore good for you. Sunscreen provides several advantages, including shielding your skin from harmful UV rays, preventing sunburns, hindering aging, and minimizing the risk of cancer, so how could they be unhealthy? Well, the majority of sunscreens on the market are made with active chemical ingredients, such as oxybenzone and avobenzone. But what does this mean for you and your skin?

Chemical sunscreen ingredients absorb into the skin to provide sun protection. This can cause skin irritation, and in some cases, skin damage and may potentially have a hormonal impact. In fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently asking for more data on how these chemicals interact with our bodies. So, how do you keep your skin safe from the sun?

One alternative is to use mineral sunscreen. Read on to learn the differences between mineral vs. chemical sunscreen and how to best protect your skin from sun damage. You can also use the links below to skip to the sections that best answer your questions.


What is Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen, or physical sunscreen, is a type of sunblock** that often uses two natural ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—that’s it. Instead of the sunscreen seeping into your skin, it sits on top of it and reflects harmful UV rays.


 mineral sunscreen water test


As you can see through our water test in the image above, our mineral powder sits on top of water. If you place your finger into the water and then pull it out, you’ll find that your finger is still dry! This test reflects the fact that our pure minerals are hydrophobic and won’t penetrate your skin.

Despite only using very few ingredients, mineral sunscreens still offer adequate sun protection whether you’re getting ready to spend time in the sun or need to reapply sunscreen. Learn more about it by reading our guide on SPF.

“There are two kinds of sunscreens – chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens only go so far into the UV spectrum. Physical sunscreens are creating a physical barrier to the sun with Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide,” says Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Mona Foad, MD.


What is Chemical Sunscreen?

Traditional sunscreens, or chemical sunscreens, are typically made with six or more non-natural active ingredients, including octinoxate, oxybenzone, and octocrylene. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays. Then, through a chemical reaction, the rays will be released as heat.

“Chemical sunscreen ingredients (non-physical) penetrate the skin and absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds. They slowly break down and release heat as a by-product of their chemical interaction with ultraviolet light. This heat energy then dissipates through and away from the skin. Additionally, chemical sunscreens have been implicated in possible endocrine disruption and can cause irritation to the skin, especially for those with sensitive skin,” says Chemist, John Garruto.

Mineral vs Chemical sunscreen infographic


What is the Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreen?

While mineral and chemical sunscreens both protect your skin from the sun, they’re far from being the same thing. Here are a few key mineral sunscreen vs. chemical sunblock** differences you should be aware of:

  • Ingredients—Mineral sunscreens primarily use two safe and effective ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—while chemical sunscreens use several different ingredients, many of which scientists are unsure of what the lasting effects may be.
  • Blocking method—Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, whereas mineral sunscreens reflect them.


Which Sunscreen is Safer?


Now that you know the difference between mineral vs. chemical sunscreens, you may be wondering which sunscreen is safer to use. Many experts agree that the better choice is mineral sunscreen because of the stark differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen.

“The better choice is physical sunscreen ingredients like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide (used in all Colorescience sun protection products). They reflect UV and do not have a heat reaction associated with their use, so they are a better option in that regard. Physical sunscreens do not penetrate the skin but instead act like tiny mirrors to reflect back ultraviolet rays. Since they do not penetrate, physical sunscreens do not cause irritation to the skin,” says Chemist, John Garruto.

Here are a few additional reasons that highlight why physical sunscreens are the clear winner in the mineral vs. chemical sunscreen debate:

  • The ingredients of mineral sunscreens are FDA-approved, making them an effective alternative for chemical sunblock**.
  • According to a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association, the leading chemicals found in traditional sunscreen—avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, and octocrylene—were not only absorbed into the bloodstream but found in levels higher than normal. The ingredients of mineral sunscreens won’t make their way into your bloodstream because they sit on top of your skin instead.

That said, which ingredients would you prefer—those found in mineral or chemical sunscreens? At Colorescience, we offer physical sun protection in a variety of forms, including our face shield glow sunscreen and Sunforgettable® Brush-on Sunscreen™ SPF 50, which is an InStyle Best of Beauty winner and the #1 sunscreen brush in the industry. We also offer blue light sunscreen to shield your skin even if you spend your day behind a screen.

We include these same sun protection ingredients in our mineral cosmetics, treatments, primers, foundations and lip enhancers. We’re committed to protecting your skin and enhancing your natural beauty without compromising your health.

Woman in tan sun hat applying sunscreen to her face


Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen

Besides being a safe alternative to chemical sunblocks**, mineral sunscreen has several benefits that help protect you from the sun, reduce signs of aging caused by UV rays, and more. We’ll explore more physical sunscreen benefits below.

  • Because mineral sunscreens use only natural ingredients and limit the number of ingredients used, they can be a good option for those with sensitive skin types. It also helps that physical sunscreens gently graze the top of your skin instead of being absorbed deeper.
  • As mentioned, mineral sunscreens don’t penetrate your skin, so it doesn’t need to be absorbed in order to shield your skin from UV rays. If you’ve applied traditional sunscreen, you may know that it can take some time before it starts protecting your skin, which is why dermatologists recommend you wait 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Mineral sunscreens often have a bad reputation for causing white cast when applied to the skin. However, our unique formula prevents white cast from forming and can even be layered or mixed with your moisturizer.

“Some people may have a reaction to chemical sunscreen. What I like about Colorescience is that it’s all mineral. Patients who are acne-prone or have sensitive skin will benefit from this product,” says Board Certified Dermatologist Dr. Marina Peredo, MD.


Protect Your Skin with Safe, Mineral Sunscreen

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. This is a striking number, which is why it’s vital to protect your skin with a sunscreen that’s safe to use and free of chemical ingredients. At Colorescience, we only use pure mineral sunscreen ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, in our products. The minerals sit on top of the skin, creating a physical barrier. This ensures non-irritating, broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection.

Explore our collection of natural sunscreen and skin treatments to find the best solution for you. We offer a variety of convenient products that you can take on the go with you, so you never miss a reapplication. With sun protection from Colorescience, you can ensure you’re using only the best solutions to care for your skin.

 *Reef safe as defined by Hawaii’s legislation related to the ban of SPF sunscreen products that contain oxybenzone or octinoxate.

**Sunblock is not a term approved by the FDA. Colorescience refers to our products as sun protection.