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Your Guide To Mineral vs. Chemical SPF

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 sunscreen every day if you want your skin to stay youthful- and healthy-looking.

Of course, that’s only half the battle. In order to comply with daily sun protection, you need to find a sunscreen that suits your skin type and unique skin concerns. So here’s what you need to know: There are two main types of sunscreen—chemical and physical. Each has its pros and cons, but both are effective at protecting your skin against the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays.

Ahead, we’ll break down the differences between mineral sunscreen vs. chemical sunscreen and offer recommendations on which formulas are best for your skin type. We’ll also introduce you to a handful of Kiehl’s sunscreens that we believe deserve a spot in your daily sun-care routine. Keep reading to learn more about chemical sunscreen vs. physical sunscreen and the benefits of both.

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 ultraviolet radiation before it 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

Look for a chemical sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection and boasts some water resistance, such as Activated Sun Protector Waterlight Lotion For Face and Body. This SPF 30 chemical sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and provides long-lasting yet weightless sun protection for all skin types, including sensitive skin.

What Is Mineral Sunscreen?

Whereas chemical sunscreens use chemicals to filter out the sun’s damaging UV rays, mineral sunscreens physically block ultraviolet radiation with ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. As such, mineral sunscreen is sometimes called physical sunscreen or sunblock. Though it’s as effective as chemical sunscreen, mineral SPF only accounts for about 3.4% of the sunscreens on the market in the United States.I

What Are The Benefits Of Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreens tend to absorb quickly and dry with an invisible finish, making them ideal for those looking for a sunscreen that they can wear daily. Their lightweight, non-chalky finish also makes chemical sunscreens 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).

If you choose chemical sunscreen, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, like Super Fluid Daily UV Defense 50+. This lightweight formula for all skin types contains five chemical sunscreens, including oxybenzone and homosalate, and provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The unique 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 as the last step in your daily skincare routine, especially when you plan to spend time outdoors.

On days you don’t anticipate being outside, an SPF moisturizer, like Ultra Facial Cream SPF 30, should suffice. This lightweight moisturizer for all skin types is formulated with olive-derived squalane and glacial glycoprotein alongside chemical SPF. It nourishes the skin with lasting, 24-hour hydration while protecting against aging ultraviolet rays for soft, healthy-looking skin.

Lastly, protect your lips with Butterstick Lip Treatment SPF 30 before going outside (or whenever your lips need an extra boost of hydration). The buttery, coconut oil-infused formula is available in four summery shades, plus one untinted finish, for soft, smooth lips every day.

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 acne-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.

If you want to try a mineral sunscreen, look for a tinted formula, like Super Fluid Daily UV Mineral Defense. This surprisingly lightweight mineral sunscreen contains 15% titanium dioxide alongside free radical-scavenging antioxidants, including vitamin E. It provides broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection against damaging UV rays and doesn’t leave behind a chalky residue. The mild, non-comedogenic formula is gentle, making it an excellent pick for those with sensitive or blemish-prone skin, and can be used as the last step in your daily skincare routine for lasting sun protection.

Next: How To Treat Sun Spots For Visible Clarity

I. Amber, Kyle T., et al. “Assessing The Current Market of Sunscreen: A Cross-Sectional Study of Sunscreen Availability in Three Metropolitan Counties in The United States.” Journal of Skin Cancer (2014). doi:10.1155/2014/285357
II. “Sunscreen and Corals.” The Coral Reef Alliance. 2020.

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