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Mineral Vs Chemical Sunscreen: What's The Difference

If you're confused about sunscreen you are not alone!

Sunscreen is one of the most complex skincare products we use. Hopefully, we can shed some light on this subject and share our top ten mineral sunscreens with you.

Vitamin D

My number one tip for flawless skin is to always protect your face from the sun. This is because UVA rays cause DNA damage to your skin cells and affect the protective functions of your skin.

But, it is also our best source of vitamin D, a unique vitamin that most of us don't get enough of. A deficiency in vitamin D can lead to serious health risks and has been linked to cancer, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and depression.

So, while I may behave like a vampire when it comes to exposing my face to the sunlight, I do make sure the rest of me gets a healthy amount of sun. Which, according to Healthline is around 10 minutes, three times a week during midday.

I also take vitamin D supplements to be on the safe side. And because I live in the Uk!

Did you know that the darker your skin the more time you need in sunlight? And therefore, you have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

When the skin is exposed to sunlight, it creates vitamin D from cholesterol. The sun's UVB rays hit cholesterol in the skin cells, providing the energy for vitamin D synthesis to occur.

Did you know that the darker your skin the more time you need in sunlight? And therefore, have a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Dark skin has more melanin than light skin, which reduces the amount of UVB rays absorbed by the skin, thus protecting against sun damage.

Studies show that if you have dark skin you need anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours longer in the sun than lighter-skinned people to get sufficient vitamin D.

How The Sun Ages Our Face

The sun's UVA rays (A is for aging!) cause the most damage to your skin in terms of premature aging because they are longer than UVB rays and therefore penetrate deeper into the skin. They travel through the dermis, the layer beneath the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin), and into the hypodermis (the subcutaneous layer). These are the 3 main layers of the skin.

The dermis houses most of the collagen and elastin in your skin. Collagen and elastin are protein fibers that form the structure (scaffolding) of the skin, giving it a plump and youthful appearance. When UVA rays reach the dermis they cause major damage to collagen and elastin fibers rendering them hardened, fractured, misshapen and basically dysfunctional.

UVA damage doesn't show up on your face straight away, but over time as the ‘scaffolding’ collapses the skin becomes wrinkled and saggy. Sun exposure can also cause irregular pigmentation marks (hyperpigmentation/melasma), sunspots, and freckles as we age.

So, basically, you can be totally committed to your skincare regime, have professional treatments and use the best anti-aging products money can buy, but unfortunately, this won't prevent sun damage!

This brings me to the subject of this post. Which sunscreen is best?


If you happen to be making the change from chemical to physical (aka mineral) sunscreen or, you hadn't a clue that there was more than one type of sunscreen, then this post is for you.

Finding just the right mineral sunscreen is no easy task, because there are a couple of downsides to choosing this type of SPF - 1) the dreaded white cast that some leave on the skin can be subtle or scary, and 2) the consistency can be a bit on the thick/greasy side.

Not major issues if you're at the beach, but seeing as sunscreen needs to be a step in your morning beauty routine before applying your makeup... you're definitely going to need the right one!

When it comes to sunscreen you need to look for the active ingredients when reading the product label. These ingredients make up the broad spectrum protection in sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.


There are only two active ingredients in mineral sunscreen: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Note that zinc oxide is the only full broad-spectrum protection out of all the active ingredients used in sunscreen.

So, when buying mineral/physical sunscreen it's best to buy one that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide plus zinc oxide for full-spectrum coverage.

The active ingredients in mineral sunscreen work by creating a physical barrier/shield between your skin and the sun. This shield begins working immediately to protect the skin by deflecting and scattering the suns harmful rays. For obvious reasons, this mineral sunscreen is considered the safer, natural option.


There are over 30 synthetic ingredients used in chemical sunscreen. These active ingredients form UV/chemical filters once they are absorbed into your skin. Some of the most common ones, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate and octocrylene must be combined together in order to create a broad spectrum sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreen filters need to be absorbed into the skin where they create a chemical reaction, whereby when the sun hits the skin they convert the energy of UV rays into heat, absorbing and "deactivating" them.

This chemical reaction is part of what causes chemical sunscreens to break down and need reapplying every two hours. Regardless, it's still advised to reapply every two hours whichever sunscreen you use.

Additionally, chemical sunscreen needs 15-20 minutes to absorb into the skin before they can be effective. So you must apply before you head out into the sun!

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The Environmental Working Group reviewed the existing data on human exposure and toxicity for 9 of the active ingredients used in chemical sunscreen. Oxybenzone being the highest concern with potent anti-androgenic (testosterone blocker) effects, allergic skin reactions and different pregnancy and birth outcomes reported. Avobenzone and homosalate have shown endocrine disrupting concerns too.


A recent FDA study published in The Journal of American Medical Association showed that four active ingredients commonly found in chemical sunscreen were absorbed through the skin into the body, at concerning levels and concentrations.

According to Spotlight on CDER Science (7/8/2019) "Some concerns have been raised about the safety and effects of sunscreen ingredients on human health, in part because we have limited evidence of absorption for some sunscreen ingredients. There is a need for more rigorous and systematic research specifically evaluating the bloodstream concentration of sunscreen ingredients when users apply sunscreen as directed on the label.

Today, sunscreens, which are regulated as over-the-counter (OTC) drug products, are used with greater frequency, in larger amounts, and by more consumers than ever before. Moreover, sunscreen formulations have changed, yielding higher SPFs and better broad-spectrum protection. Lab technologies have also evolved, improving our capacity to detect the absorption of active ingredients."

Just in case the active ingredients in chemical sunscreen don't cause enough harm, BANANA BOAT has thrown in alcohol denat. (a destroyer of the skin barrier function), PEGs/Silicones, Mineral Oil & toxic Fragrance for the whole family!

Dr Kanade Shinkai, a dermatologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-authored an editorial accompanying the government study says "We definitely know that the sun can cause skin cancer and melanoma. But the findings highlight the need for further research into the potential health effects of these chemicals when they wind up in the blood. The concern is that we just don't know what the systemic (blood) absorption data mean" Shinkai told Live Science.


In Feb. 2019 the FDA announced a proposed rule to update regulations. More safety and toxicology data has been requested for 12 sunscreen ingredients. These new studies will help determine if these ingredients meet the agency's criteria to be classed as "generally recognized as safe and effective" (GRASE) for the intended use.

So, what were these ingredients classed as before now??

The FDA also stated in the article that while safety testing continues, the agency advises the public to continue using sunscreen. And that the results do not mean that the ingredients are unsafe.

Only two sunscreen ingredients currently meet the GRASE criteria - zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

By this point, it's probably clear why I choose mineral over chemical sunscreen. But, if you are happy to stick with chemical sunscreen I suggest reading this article by Dr Axe on the Best Sunscreens of 2019 (And Toxic Ones To Avoid).

Dr. Axe says "All sunscreen are not created equal. In fact, a 2019 report from Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that nearly two-thirds of sunscreens don't work and or contain concerning ingredients that are readily absorbed by the body. In fact, a recent study found that sunscreen chemicals hit the bloodstream within a day of using them, and at levels high enough to prompt a government investigation on safety"

I can't say enough bad things about Banana Boat. It's a truly terrible brand. Their Kids Continuous Spray is number 1 on Dr. Axe's Most Toxic Sunscreens To Avoid List

Click here for the top ten clean mineral sunscreens for the face, and my Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Defense review.


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I make sense of skincare. Together we create better routines and lifestyle habits to empower you to feel more confident and in charge. I want everyone to be able to have a Skin Coach in their life, which is why I’ve designed 3 Skin Coaching Plans to fit any budget.


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Welcome to my little piece of cyberspace! I'm Gabrielle, and I show women how to cut through the marketing BS, understand skincare labels, find non-toxic beauty products —and achieve their skin glow goals!

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