Mineral vs chemical sunscreen: Know which one to pick

Sun protection can be confusing. Simply because there is a lot of opposing information available about the various types of creams and sunscreens, leaving the consumer confused about the best choice for their skin. Should you pick mineral or chemical, or opt for a physical, chemical, or hybrid formula? Making this decision can be overwhelming and also complicated.

As such, understanding the pros and cons of chemical and physical sunscreens is of paramount importance, said Sushma Yadav, dermatologist, cosmetologist, hair transplant surgeon, and founder of Skinology, Bangalore.

Chemical sunscreen

These contain organic compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone.


*You require only a small amount for protection as the sunscreen molecules bind together after application
*These also tend to be thinner and spread more evenly on the skin
*Once absorbed into the skin, it futher absorbs UV rays, converts them into heat, and releases them from the body

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*Needs about 20 minutes after application before it starts to work
*Increased chance of irritation and stinging due to the multiple ingredients combined in order to achieve broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection
*Not suitable for all skin types
*Re-application must be more frequent
*May clog pores for oily skin types

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Mineral sunscreens

They’re also commonly referred to as physical sunscreen. Mineral sunscreen consists of ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The reason they’re also called physical sunscreens is they form a physical barrier that reflects the light rays away from the skin.


*Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and is naturally broad-spectrum
*Doesn’t have a waiting duration
*Long lasting but not when your skin is wet or sweating
*Works well on sensitive skin and is less likely to clog pores


*Rubs off easily, hence, requires frequent reapplication
*May leave a white cast on the skin, which makes it irrelevant for medium to dark skin tones
*Can be less protective if not applied and re-applied generously

“The key difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens lies between the way they react on the skin. Chemical sunscreens get absorbed into the skin whereas physical sunscreens simply sit on the skin and act like a shield. Mineral sunscreens tend to be better suited for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin, but the formulations also tend to be thicker and can potentially leave a white cast behind on deeper skin tones,” said Yadav.

No matter which sunscreen you go for, just make sure you apply it religiously to protect your skin in the long run. If you’re still having a tough time figuring it out, consult your dermatologist, she added.

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