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The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen

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The Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen

We’re shining a light on the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen, so you can choose which is right for you!

Sunscreen can be tricky, and the fact that there are two different categories to choose from can make things even more confusing. So, we’re sharing the deets on everything you need to know about chemical SPF and mineral SPF: What they are, how they’re alike (yes, there are actually some similarities!) and how they’re different. Plus, we’ll give you some tips that can help you decide which one — or ones! — are right for you.

The 411 on chemical and mineral SPF…

First off, it’s good to keep in mind that chemical SPF and mineral SPF actuallydohave some big picture similarities. Both are made in a lab, both can offer broad spectrum UV protection and both can be non-comedogenic. In fact, there are only two primary differences between them: 1) How they’re formulated, and 2) How they actively shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays.

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There are two primary differences between mineral SPF and chemical SPF: 1) How they’re formulated, and 2) How they actively shield your skin from the sun’s UV rays.

With that in mind, let’s learn more about what defines chemical SPF… “Chemical sunscreens are formulated with synthetic, or ‘organic,’ ingredients that work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays so your skin doesn’t,” explains our friend and NYC-based, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman. These ingredients (also known as chemical sunscreen “actives” when you’re reading your sunscreen label) get their job done by converting the sun’s rays into heat, and then releasing them from the skin.


Despite what you might have heard or read, there’s nothing inherently wrong with chemical sunscreens. They effectively protect your skin from the sun, and they also allow for major innovation, like weightless and even invisible formulas. (Our #1 bestseller, Unseen Sunscreen, is a chemical SPF!)


That being said, the reason why chemical SPF has gotten a bad reputation over the years is primarily because many of them contain oxybenzone, a chemical SPF active that has been voted the number one skin irritant by the American Academy of Dermatology — and one that is also considered a big aggressor to the coral reefs. Here at Supergoop!, we’ve never used oxybenzone in any of our formulas, and we were actually the first brand to launch an oxybenzone-free chemical SPF back in 2007.

OK, now let’s talk about mineral SPF, which can also be referred to as “physical” SPF: “Mineral SPF encompasses any sunscreen that contains 100 percent mineral actives,” says Jaliman. “These actives include zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or a combination of the two — and that’s it.” This type of sunscreen works by absorbing around 95 percent of the sun’s UV rays and reflecting back the rest.

These formulas have been known to be on the pastier side, but fortunately for us, they’ve come a long way over the years… Today, 100% mineral formulas like ours can be sophisticated, sheer and super blendable. (Check out Mineral Sheerscreen SPF 30 for a 100% mineral alternative to Unseen Sunscreen!)

To learn more about mineral SPF (and why “invisible” mineral SPF is a marketing ploy) you can read more about it here.

Decisions, decisions…

When it comes to picking which kind of SPF is right for you, there are a few deciding factors at play: Skin type, activity and personal preference.

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When it comes to picking which SPF is right for you, there are a few deciding factors at play: Skin type, activity and personal preference.

Regarding skin types, chemical SPF can work wonderfully on dry or combination skin, while mineral SPF can be great for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin (including babies and toddlers). “Mineral sunscreens as a whole are often better suited for those with sensitive skin because they sit more on top of the skin,” says Jaliman. “But, it’s still a matter of shopping thoughtfully.” For example, our chemical SPF Unseen Sunscreen works well on all skin types (including sensitive and acne-prone skin) because it’s non-comedogenic, which means it doesn’t contain ingredients that will clog your pores or cause breakouts.


The next thing to keep in mind when deciding between chemical and mineral SPF is the types of activities you’ll be doing while wearing it. If you’re sweating and/or working out, then chemical formulas like PLAY Everyday Lotion allow your skin to breathe and sweat out your body’s toxins. Mineral formulas, on the other hand, trap sweat, which is why they are recommended more for everyday wear. We intentionally make ours so that they work especially well with your daily makeup routine. (CC Screen, we’re looking at you!)


Last but not least, another approach to figuring out which SPF is right for you is to think about personal preference…things like what formats you may or may not like to use, what finishes you prefer or, more generally, what kind of payoff you’re looking for from your skincare and/or beauty products.

One of the reasons we have more than 40 SPFs to choose from is because we know everyone’s skin types, activities and preferences are very unique, and the ultimate goal should be about finding an SPF you love to wear every single day. After all, it’s the #1 thing that’s proven to keep your skin safest — and happiest — in the long run!

The bottom line…

Although there are a couple of notable differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens, in the end both types of SPF help protect your skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays. It just comes down to choosing which one is right for you! 😊

+Do you have any other q’s about chemical or mineral SPF? Just drop us a note in the comments below and we’ll get back to you.

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