HomeLifestyleMineral versus Chemical Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

Mineral versus Chemical Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

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Mineral versus Chemical Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

The best way to protect against skin cancer, as well as premature lines and wrinkles, sunscreen is a crucial step in any daily skin routine, no matter your skin tone or type. When you choose mineral sunscreen, you sidestep the known and suspected carcinogens, hormone disruptors, and skin irritants that are common in chemical sunscreen active ingredients. And the tech in mineral (also called physical) sunscreens has improved to such a degree that the best formulas now melt easily into any skin tone.

No chemical sunscreens meet goop standards for clean, but many mineral sunscreens do. The two work very differently: Mineral sunscreens physically block and reflect UVA and UVB rays, while chemical ones absorb the UV rays. SPF ratings for both mineral and chemical sunscreens reflect only UVB protection.

You can easily tell whether a sunscreen is chemical or mineral: Look in the active ingredient box; if there are any ingredients listed besides zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both), it’s chemical and not clean by goop standards. (goop takes its lead from the Environmental Working Group, which recommends using only mineral sunscreens and avoiding chemical ones completely.)

Aren’t Mineral Sunscreens Harder to Rub In?

Not anymore. Our favorites out now melt easily into any skin tone without the whitish cast of previous iterations, and they feel silky and luxurious on your skin. Some of the ones we’re most excited about act almost like makeup, incorporating skin-perfecting tech to smooth the appearance of pores, even tone, and soften the look of blemishes. Others are fortified with skin-boosting antioxidants to protect and improve skin further.

  1. Practically Poreless Finish

    Saint Jane Luxury Sun Ritual Pore Smoothing SPF 30 Sunscreen

    Saint Jane
    Luxury Ritual Pore Smoothing SPF 30
    goop, $38

    SHOP NOW

  2. Sheer Tint for Even Skin

    Beautycounter Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer

    Beautycounter
    Dew Skin Tinted Moisturizer
    goop, $50

    SHOP NOW

  3. All but Invisible Cream Tint

    Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen

    Unsun
    Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen
    goop, $29

    SHOP NOW

  1. Moisturizing with a Translucent Finish

    Saie Sunvisor

    Saie
    Sunvisor
    goop, $37

    SHOP NOW

  2. Vitamin C and SPF Serum Tint

    ILIA C Beyond Triple Serum SPF 40

    ILIA
    C Beyond Triple Serum SPF 40
    goop, $64

    SHOP NOW

What about Irritation and Breakouts?

While common chemical sunscreen ingredients are known to irritate skin (octinoxate or octyl methoxycinnamate, homosalate, and octisalate have all been shown to be skin and eye irritants) and may be some of the reason for sunscreen’s breakout-causing reputation, zinc oxide is so calming that it’s the primary ingredient in baby-bottom cream. Look for all-zinc formulas if your skin’s sensitive or acne-prone.

  1. Ultimate Skin-Soothing Sunscreen

    Clark’s Botanicals Invisible Hero SPF 30

    Clark’s Botanicals
    Invisible Hero SPF 30
    goop, $75

    SHOP NOW

What Are the Issues with Chemical Sunscreen?

Some of the most common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens—oxybenzone, avobenzone, and homosalate—have been flagged by the EWG as hormone disruptors. The organization’s recent sunscreen report cites four separate studies from 2020 that showed that oxybenzone can act as an endocrine disruptor and may increase the risk of breast cancer and endometriosis. A study in JAMA found that four chemical sunscreen ingredients—avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule—can be absorbed into the bloodstream. This is especially concerning because these chemicals can cause issues even in tiny amounts—there’s no known safe dose at which to use them. In the US, the only ingredients for sunscreens that are generally recognized as safe and effective are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, according to a May 2019 FDA proposal to reevaluate the safety of ingredients used in chemical sunscreens.

Chemical sunscreens can also impact the environment. In 2021, Hawaii banned the sale and distribution of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, both shown to damage coral and other marine life.

Formulators Have Gotten (Beautifully) Creative

New ways of encapsulating and blending ingredients have changed the way mineral sunscreens look and feel on your skin. The new ultralight serum formulas are one of our favorite new ways to smooth on sun protection (they sink in like magic), and the gentle but powerful eye cream with SPF 40 that Supergoop came up with is just brilliant.

  1. Gleamy Finish

    MARA Algae + Zinc Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum

    MARA
    Algae + Zinc Sea Kale Sunscreen Serum
    goop, $52

    SHOP NOW

  2. Semimatte Finish

    EleVen Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

    EleVen
    Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35
    goop, $50

    SHOP NOW

  3. Just for Eyes

    Supergoop Bright-Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40

    Supergoop
    Bright-Eyed 100% Mineral Eye Cream SPF 40
    goop, $38

    SHOP NOW

Mineral Sunscreens for Body Have Changed, Too

The improvements in blendability and texture show up in body products, too—even at SPF 50.

  1. Silky and Moisturizing

    Unsun Hydrating Full Coverage Body Lotion SPF 30

    Unsun
    Hydrating Full Coverage Body Lotion SPF 30
    goop, $32

    SHOP NOW

  2. Sinks-Right-In SPF 50

    The Organic Pharmacy Cellular Protection Sun Cream SPF 50

    The Organic Pharmacy
    Cellular Protection Sun Cream SPF 50
    goop, $69

    SHOP NOW

  3. Water-Resistant

    Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

    Beautycounter
    Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
    goop, $43

    SHOP NOW

Choose Creams and Lotions for Maximum Safety
(and Sun Protection)

The EWG has recommended against sprays and powders for a decade because inhaling sunscreen ingredients (even mineral ones) can deliver them deep into the lungs; it is also much harder to get adequate coverage when you use sprays or powders. Aerosols are especially problematic, and the FDA is currently considering banning the entire category. These creamy formulas are some of our favorites.

  1. Moisturizing (Yet Dries to a Matte Finish)

    Grown Alchemist Natural Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30

    Grown Alchemist
    Natural Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 30
    goop, $39

    SHOP NOW

  2. Easy (and Gentle) SPF 50

    Babo Botanicals Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50

    Babo Botanicals
    Sheer Mineral Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
    goop, $17

    SHOP NOW

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