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Sunscreen is amazing! It’s one of the best ways to protect your skin, reduce your risk of skin cancer, and stop the premature aging of your skin. Sunscreens can minimize the negative, harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays and should be used daily.

But not all sunscreens are created equal.

There are many types of sunscreens, different ingredients, and lots of guidance (sometimes conflicting) on how best to use a particular sunscreen. Let’s start by reviewing the two main categories of sunscreens, chemical, and mineral. While both types can shield your skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, they do so in very different ways and have several pros/cons.

With so many options, it’s hard to know what to choose!

Chemical Sunscreens (Avoid If Possible)

Chemical sunscreens work by allowing UV light into the skin, then creating a chemical reaction that converts UV light to heat, which dissipates from the skin. The common chemicals used to induce this reaction include avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.  

Unfortunately, there are several issues with chemical sunscreens. First, chemical sunscreens are absorbed into your skin and some of the chemicals (e.g., avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule) are absorbed into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that the absorption can be significantly above the 0.5 nanograms per milliliter that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends for toxicology testing. This includes potential systemic carcinogenicity (testing for substances that promote the formation of cancer) and negative impacts on reproductivity. 

Second, because chemical sunscreens allow UV light to enter your skin, the UVA and UVB rays do not bounce off your skin. Instead, your skin is still taking in the rays from the sun, which we want to avoid. Third, chemical sunscreens often contain toxic chemicals that are known carcinogens (e.g., benzene or octocrylene).  

Finally, studies have shown that another common ingredient in chemical sunscreens, oxybenzone, may disrupt your hormones and cause allergic skin reactions. Oxybenzone may also contribute to coral reef bleaching, which is one of the reasons Hawaii banned sunscreens with this chemical!

Mineral Sunscreens (Use Daily)

Mineral sunscreens, sometimes known as physical sunscreens, work by physically preventing the sun’s UV rays from penetrating the skin. The mineral ingredients, which include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, act as a barrier to the sun and skin on top of your skin, causing UVA and UVB rays to bounce off.  

Physical sunscreens do not contain known carcinogens, such as benzene or octobrylene, and have not been shown to absorb into the bloodstream. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which typically take 20-30 minutes to absorb into your skin, mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin, which means they offer immediate protection after application. Also, mineral sunscreens can (and should!) be applied on top of other skincare products, allowing you to get the benefit of your daily skincare routine.

Final Verdict: Mineral Sunscreens

When selecting a sunscreen, make sure you choose broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB) mineral sunscreens and apply them daily. Even if you’re not going outside for an extended period, a mineral sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s rays coming through your windows, as well as many other ambient light sources. Also, when you are outside, do not forget to reapply your physical sunscreen early and often (at least every 2 hours, although more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating).  

Mineral sunscreen is the healthier option, may be safer for long-term use, and stops UV light from entering your skin. You’ll also get the benefit of avoiding carcinogenic chemicals and even help save the oceans, all while protecting your skin!