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A person holding Kielh's mineral sunscreen


Your Guide To Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen

There are a few key differences between mineral and chemical sunscreens. Here at Kiehl’s, learn about these differences and find our best SPF for your skin.

By now, you know that sunscreen is non-negotiable if you’re spending time in the sun. Less well-known is that sunscreen is an everyday essential, whether you live in the Arctic or on the equator. Unprotected sun exposure can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes, and over time, it’s linked to the vast majority of facial skin aging. In other words: You need to wear chemical sunscreen or mineral sunscreen every day if you want your skin to stay youthful and healthy-looking. Also important is choosing a formula suited to your skin type and concerns—otherwise, you may not use it as often as you should.

To help you figure out which type of sunscreen is best for your skin, we’ve put together this all-in-one Kiehl’s guide. Ahead, you’ll learn about the key differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen and discover the best Kiehl’s SPF formulas for your skin type. Keep reading to learn more about chemical sunscreen vs. physical sunscreen and the respective benefits of each.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens are formulas that use chemical filters to protect the skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. While many different types of chemicals offer sun protection, the most commonly used chemical SPF ingredients in the United States include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, and octisalate. These admittedly hard-to-pronounce ingredients work like a sponge, absorbing UVA and UVB rays before they can reach your skin. Chemical sunscreens are what most people mean when they refer to sunscreen; one study found that more than 96% of sunscreens available in the United States utilize chemical SPF ingredients rather than mineral ingredients.I

When choosing a chemical sunscreen, look for one with an SPF, or sun protection factor, of at least 15. We recommend Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+. This lightweight sunscreen contains five chemical sunscreens, including oxybenzone and homosalate, and provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The fast-absorbing, matte-finish formula also contains vitamin E and helps defend the skin from environmental stressors, such as air pollution. It’s non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types. Apply it at least 15 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours—or after sweating, swimming, or toweling off—for lasting protection.

What Is Mineral Sunscreen?

Whereas chemical sunscreens use chemicals to filter out the sun’s damaging UV rays, mineral sunscreens form a physical barrier against ultraviolet radiation with mineral ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. As such, mineral sunscreen is sometimes called physical sunscreen or sunblock (though this is a bit of a misnomer—no mineral or chemical sunscreen blocks 100% of all ultraviolet radiation). Though it’s as effective as chemical sunscreen when used properly, mineral sunscreen only accounts for about 3.4% of the sunscreen on the market in the United States.*

What Are The Benefits Of Chemical Sunscreen?

When choosing between chemical vs. mineral sunscreen, people often gravitate toward the former because of its versatility. Chemical sunscreen tends to be lightweight and boast a non-chalky finish, which makes it well-suited for those with darker skin tones (because while melanin provides some protection from UV radiation, it’s not nearly enough to forgo sunscreen).

Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30

In addition to broad-spectrum sunscreens like our Super Fluid, chemical sunscreen ingredients can also be found in many SPF moisturizers. These can offer additional sun protection while helping to hydrate and soften the skin. At Kiehl’s, we have several different SPF moisturizers to choose from, including an SPF 30 version of our classic Ultra Facial Cream. Suitable for all skin types, Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30 provides non-greasy hydration and leaves the skin feeling moisturized for up to 24 hours. Its broad-spectrum SPF 30 formula helps protect against UVA and UVB rays, and it can be used daily for balanced, healthy-looking skin.

If visible aging is a concern, we suggest seeking out an SPF moisturizer that also boasts anti-aging benefits, like Super Multi-Corrective Cream SPF 30. In addition to helping protect against ultraviolet radiation, this potent moisturizer helps visibly firm the skin, smooths fine lines and wrinkles, and gives dull, aging skin a more even appearance.

For men, we recommend Facial Fuel Men’s SPF 20 Moisturizer. Like the other SPF moisturizers in our lineup, this chemical sunscreen-infused moisturizer provides broad-spectrum protection from UV rays. The energizing formula also contains antioxidants and helps protect the skin from other skin-aging stressors. Plus, it delivers lightweight hydration in a non-greasy formula, making it an ideal pick for men’s (often) oilier skin.

Kiehl’s Tip: Whether you plan to spend the day indoors or outdoors, remember to use SPF on all sun-exposed areas, including your lips. A lip balm with SPF can help keep your lips’ delicate skin protected from the sun’s harmful rays.

What Are The Benefits Of Mineral Sunscreens?

While chemical sunscreens are widely available and boast several benefits, they’re not perfect for everyone. Some chemical sunscreens can be irritating, especially for those with sensitive or blemish-prone skin. Mineral sunscreen, meanwhile, is very gentle, which makes it an ideal option for those with problem skin (it’s also the SPF of choice in most baby sunscreens).

Additionally, the active ingredients in mineral sunscreen are generally believed to be more environmentally friendly than chemical SPF, particularly for vulnerable aquatic ecosystems. As such, mineral sunscreens may be preferable for those looking to adopt a more sustainable beauty routine.

Do All Mineral Sunscreens Leave a White Cast?

When determining whether to use mineral sunscreen vs. chemical, many opt for the latter because of the widely-held belief that mineral sunscreens leave a white cast on the skin. Though it’s true that mineral sunscreen can leave your skin looking chalky (especially if you have a darker skin tone), you can mitigate this risk by seeking out a tinted formula. Just make sure it matches your natural skin tone for a seamless-looking finish.

Do Mineral Sunscreens Clog Pores?

If you're concerned about sunscreen (mineral or chemical) clogging your pores, seek out a formula that has “non-comedogenic” written on the label—this means that the product won't clog your pores.

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