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Chemical Sunscreen vs. Mineral Sunscreen: What's the Difference?

When thinking of sunscreen, we typically just think of protection from the sun and not much else, but in reality, there are two different types of sunscreen that can protect you in different ways.

The two categories we break sunscreen into are mineral sunscreen (AKA physical sunscreen) and chemical sunscreen. But what does this mean? Physical sunscreen contains zinc oxide or titanium oxide and reflects UV rays in order to protect your skin. Chemical sunscreen absorbs UV rays and converts them into heat. Both sunscreens protect you from the sun, but which should you use in different scenarios, and how do you know which is right for you? We're going to dissect what physical and chemical SPF mean. 

Chemical Sunscreen vs Physical Sunscreen

So what's the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen? Here's a quick breakdown between the two.

Chemical Sunscreens

What is Chemical Sunscreen Good for?

Chemical SPF is best for daily use, because it is lightweight and thin, making it ideal for oily skin.

Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients:

Oxybenzone, Homosalate, or Oxtinoxate

How Chemical Sunscreen Works:

Chemical sunscreen works like a sponge, by partially absorbing the sun's rays to prevent UV damage.

Mineral Sunscreen

What is Mineral Sunscreen Good for?

Physical sunscreens are best for sensitive or reactive skin types. They are also safer for children and pregnant women.

Mineral Sunscreen Ingredients:

Zinc Oxide and/or Titanium Dioxide

How Mineral Sunscreen Works:

Mineral sunscreen/physical SPF acts like a shield, deflecting the sun's rays to prevent UV damage.


Who Should Use Mineral Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen is best to use if you have acne prone skin, because it is less likely to clog pores. It is often heavier and can feel cakey. Physical sunscreen can also rub off very easily and often needs reapplication.

A great physical sunscreen is the Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50. With a mineral SPF, you also see powdered sunscreen options, like the Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield SPF 50, which are great for reapplying sunscreen over makeup.

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Who Should Use Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical Sunscreen is more often your typical day-to-day SPF. It is thinner and less likely to rub off when sweating. A chemical sunscreen is much easier to mix in with other skin care products and should be the type of sunscreen that you incorporate in your daily skin care routine.

Some great chemical sunscreens include the EltaMD UV Clear sunscreen and the Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. These chemical SPF formulas are great whether you are headed to the beach or just for everyday wear. Both sunscreens go on clear and don't leave a white cast. No one will even notice you are wearing SPF!

The Bottom Line

Conclusively, no sunscreen type is better than the other, they are just alternative ways to protect your skin from the sun. We hope you enjoyed our brief explanation of your favorite SPF! Shop all the products mentioned here at

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