Chemical vs mineral sunscreens: what to choose ?






84% of sunscreen products are harmful to health. To choose a sunscreen that is safe and actually provides good sun protection, we need to understand the types of sunscreen and how they work.


Chemical vs Mineral sunscreen




There are three kinds of sunscreen: chemical, mineral (physical) and plant-based.
Here is how they work:

Chemical sunscreens  

    Absorb UV rays, and transform them into heat.
The chemical ingredients penetrate our skin and are absorbed by the body.

Chemical sunscreen include: Most commonly Avobenzone [butyl-methyoxydibenzoylmethane; Parsol 1789], and alsoBenzophenones (dixoybenzone, oxybenzone), PABA and PABA esters (ethyl dihydroxy propyl PAB,  glyceryl PABA, p-aminobenzoic acid, padimate-O or octyl dimethyl PABA), Cinnamates (cinoxate, ethylhexyl p-methoxycinnamate, octocrylene, octyl methoxycinnamate), Salicylates (ethylhexyl salicylate, homosalate, octyl salicylate), Digalloyl trioleate, Menthyl anthranilate.
Among these ingredients, only Avobenzone has been permitted in Europe !

Pros and cons of chemical sunscreen: 

  • The ingredients of chemical sunscreens are absorbed by the body. 
  • They imitate sexual hormones, and interfere with normal sexual development. 
  • They generate compounds that actually promote skin cancer. Read more about the toxicity of chemical sunscreens here.
  • Many chemical sunscreens are not photostable. This means that they break up and form new compounds that may harm the skin. (you need to research on the internet whether a particular sunscreen is photostable or not. A surprising quantity of them are not). 
  • Makeup ingredients may destabilise chemical sunscreen.
  • The only advantage is that they do are not as heavy and white on the face as mineral sunscreen.



Mineral (physical) sunscreen

Reflect the UV rays. The ingredients are not absorbed by the skin.

Mineral sunscreens are easy to recognise: they contain Titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide, and usually both.

Pros and cons of mineral sunscreen:

  • Mineral sunscreen does not penetrate the skin, unless there are micronised (nano) particles in it. 
  • The disadvantage is that many of the mineral sunscreens form a white layer on the face, which may be visible on darker complexions. 
  • Many mineral sunscreens are oily of pasty, and some have a slightly strange smell.
  • Mineral sunscreen is also easier to rub off. So, keep your hands away from your face ! 
  • A big plus for mineral sunscreen is that it is always photostable, and so does not get destabilised by any ingredients in makeup.
  To make mineral sunscreen more sheer, some manufacturers have started using nano particles of Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. This is a potential danger, since nano particles penetrate into our blood system, and their effect upon our organism may be harmful. Besides, nano-sized particles behave unpredictably, quite differently from normal-sized particles. Here is a good article about nano particles in makeup.

Mixed (chemical + mineral)


   Many sunscreens combine mineral and chemical ingredients, in an attempt to provide higher SPF protection.

Plant-based Sunscreen

   Very few of such sunscreens are available. However I hope to see more of them in the future ! Ingredients such as berry-seed oil and Sea-Buckthorn oil havs been shown to provide protection equal to that of titanium dioxide. I hope to see more such products soon !

So, which one to choose ?

   Chemical sunscreen is unsafe, and probably cause more harm than good. Mineral sunscreen is much safer, providing it is free from nano-sized particles. Skin Deep is a good place to start the search for a safe sunscreen.
   I would love to test out and see some reviews of plant-based sunscree. Do let me know if you have any info !



   The bottom line ? I don't use chemical sunscreen, and I would never use chemical sunscreen on a child. I am in search of the perfect mineral sunscreen, one that blends nicely into my skin tone.

   So far I've found Trukid Sunny Days (click on No thanks, just take me to Skin Deep to see the reviews) it sounds safe as well as light on the face. Unfortunately it is not available in my part of the world.

   So, questions, doubts ? Ask away !







Photo: Revealed  by ramparts54




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