As the temperatures continue to rise, it’s essential to gear up with the usual necessities: a lightweight moisturizer to lock in hydration, a tubing mascara that’ll last through the summer sweat, and, of course, sunscreen. Now, SPF is not a seasonal product category — you should be wearing it every day, all year round. But with sunny, outdoor activities on the rise, it is imperative to protect your skin against UV rays during the summer, when the sun is strongest. The question is, however, which sunscreen should you use, and how do you decide between mineral vs. chemical sunscreen?
As Dr. Nava Greenfield, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City, explains to TZR, “Mineral sunscreen uses a UV blocker that acts as a physical shield and sits on top of the skin to reflect ultraviolet rays.” Dr. Greenfield compares mineral sunscreens to wearing a mirror over your skin, stating that mineral sunscreens do not discriminate between UVA and UVB rays — they block all rays from reaching the skin. If you’re unsure what constitutes a mineral sunscreen NYC dermatologist, Dr. Hadley King notes that mineral sunscreens include ingredients like zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
So, if mineral sunscreens act like a disco ball and reflect UV rays, what do chemical sunscreens do? Dr. King explains, “Chemical sunscreens are made up of chemicals that are absorbed into the skin. [Once in the skin], they can absorb the UV rays and create a chemical reaction that changes the UV rays into heat, and the heat is then released from the skin.” Dr. King notes that chemical sunscreens will have a combination of two to six of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and homosalate.
Now, no sunscreen type is necessarily better than the other — both mineral and chemical sunscreens work to protect the skin against UV rays. However, certain sunscreens can be better for an individual based on factors like skin type, skin condition, makeup application, and lifestyle.
Read on to see what you’ll need to consider when choosing between a physical and chemical sunscreen formula.
When dealing with sensitive or easily sensitized skin, your best bet is to tread lightly when purchasing new products, as certain active ingredients can exacerbate any dryness, redness, or skin conditions to which your skin may be prone. Dr. Hysem Eldik, dermatologist at Marmur Medical, reveals that he prefers mineral sunscreens for people with sensitive skin “as there are fewer preservatives or alcohol-based products in the mineral formulas versus chemical formulas.”
Roberta Moradfar, board-certified advanced aesthetics nurse practitioner and founder of EFFACÈ Aesthetics, also mentions that it is best to steer clear from chemical sunscreens, as the ingredients are absorbed into the skin (as opposed to mineral sunscreens, which sit on top of the skin) and can potentially lead to irritation.
When in doubt, always perform a patch test with a new or chemical formula to see how your skin reacts.
There is a common misconception that if your skin is prone to blackheads, sebaceous filaments, or cystic acne, you should avoid using SPF altogether to prevent further breakouts. Although there are sunscreen types that *can* clog your pores and exacerbate blemishes, a myriad of sunscreens work hard at blocking UV rays while still keeping your pores clear. Dr. King reveals to TZR the two things that can cause sunscreen-related breakouts: occlusion of the pores by comedogenic (AKA, pore-clogging) materials found inside sunscreen formulas or a sensitivity reaction to chemical UV-blocking ingredients. She recommends looking for mineral sunscreens since they contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are both non-comedogenic.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, melasma is “a skin condition that causes patches and spots, usually on the face, which are darker than your natural skin tone.” Melasma is triggered and worsens by UV exposure, meaning that along with sun gear like hats, scarves, and sunglasses, you’ll want to stock up on a proper sunscreen in order to avoid new spots.
Dr. Greenfield notes that mineral sunscreens are the best for melasma-prone skin since, “A mineral blocker will protect the skin against more wavelengths of light than a chemical blocker, which tend to be more efficient at protecting against UVB than UVA.” Dr. Eldik adds that it’s important to consider a formula that contains iron oxide to protect your skin from indoor fluorescent lighting, which can also trigger or worsen melasma.
Additionally, as board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engleman previously told TZR, “Chemical sunscreen does not protect against melasma — and, in fact, can actually worsen melasma — because it requires the sun’s rays to be absorbed into [the] skin first before chemically converting them into heat and releasing them.” Since heat can trigger new melasma, it’s wise to prioritize a mineral SPF (which blocks the rays rather than absorbing them).
When reminiscing about trips to the beach or pool during your childhood, you likely have (possibly traumatic) memories of your guardians slathering sunscreen onto your entire body, leaving you with a white tint from head to toe. Now, there is a reason for this tint, which is also known as a white cast — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are both white in color, meaning that you will have an inevitable white cast with most mineral sunscreens. Moradfar recommends using chemical sunscreen to avoid a white cast under makeup or on darker skin tones. However, if a mineral sunscreen is more suitable for your sensitive, acne- or melasma-prone skin, Moradfar recommends looking for a tinted mineral formula.
Pilling Under Makeup
Of course, it’s important to note that although SPF is crucial for protecting your skin against UV damage, some formulations can cause pilling under makeup, which might make you want to stop wearing SPF altogether. Luckily, there is a way for you to have your sun protection, and wear your makeup, too. Makeup artist, Ashley Rebecca, reveals, “Chemical sunscreens are ideal for non-pilling,” since they absorb into the skin, much like a good moisturizer would. However, mineral sunscreens can be thick in texture and oil content, which can be too heavy for the skin, causing pilling. If you must use a mineral formula, Rebecca recommends using one that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid that will absorb into the skin and keep your complexion smooth.
How Long It Lasts
The general rule of thumb is to reapply your sunscreen every two hours, especially during the summertime, when the sun is at its strongest. Although it can seem as though one sunscreen type can last longer than the other, all professionals agree that the amount of time a sunscreen stays on your skin is entirely dependent on your activity level. Dr. Greenfield says, “All sunscreens need to be reapplied every two hours. Some formulations tend to stay on the skin longer than others, and not all mineral or chemical sunscreens have the same life on the skin.” If you plan on swimming all summer, or engaging in activities that make you sweat a lot, make sure to reapply your sunscreen after you exit the water (this goes for ‘water-resistant’ formulas, too).
Dr. King explains that a study published earlier this year showed that avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule were all found in the bloodstream after one day of frequent use. Although this can sound scary, there isn’t much evidence that these chemical blockers are doing damage to the body. Says Dr. King, “We don’t yet know the significance of these findings — yes, these chemicals have been found in the blood, but we don’t know if they are causing any harm while there.” Dr. Eldik seconds this and mentions, “We don’t observe this with mineral sunscreens,” meaning it could be a safer alternative to chemical sunscreen.
The Verdict On Mineral Vs. Chemical Sunscreens
So, which sunscreen type is the best? As Moradfar says, “The best sunscreen will be the sunscreen that a person will actually wear. You can make the best recommendation to someone based on their skin condition but ultimately the client will decide what’s best for them.” You may choose based on your lifestyle, your texture preference, or how you look in a particular formula. Of course, if you have sensitive or melasma-prone skin, it’s best to use a mineral sunscreen, or if you like the way a chemical formula sits under your makeup, that might be your preference, but at the end of the day, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all.
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