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Did you know there are predominantly two different kinds of sunscreen? You likely know both; chemical sunscreens is what you likely use already on yourself and your family, it’s easily absorbed and is cost-effective. Mineral sunscreens on the other hand are associated with leaving a white mask and are generally seen as more expensive. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. Here, we take a look at a more detailed comparison.

Chemical sunscreens are bad for the environment

This one came as a bit of a shock and inspired me to research and write this piece. In doing some research for an upcoming trip, I found a notice advising me of a ban on chemical sunscreens. Specifically, products that contained oxybenzone and octinoxate- common chemicals found in chemical-based sunscreens. This is because these common ingredients, and many others found in chemical sunscreens, are harmful to coral and sea life. It effectively bleaches and kills off the coral, even in small concentrations.

Image credit NOAA

This ban on chemical sunscreens is being initiated in countries around the world at a fast pace. Currently we have found reports that suggest Thailand, Hawaii, Australia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Aruba, Key West in Florida, Bonaire, Palau, and even some locations in Mexico such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, are all banning chemical sunscreens. But it’s not just countries taking action; retailers are also following suit. Holland & Barret are the first major UK retailer to completely ban the sale of chemical sunscreens in their stores.

Mineral sunscreens offer a physical barrier

The difference in the primary function between chemical and mineral sunscreens is how they actually protect you from the sun’s rays. A chemical sunscreen is absorbed into the skin and absorbs the suns rays, whereas mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and act as a physical barrier (a bouncer of the skin if you will), preventing the sun from penetrating the skin to an extent.

It’s important to note that the level of coverage any sunscreen offers will depend on how well it’s been applied. Most people do not use the recommended dosage, don’t top it up regularly- every few hours or after swimming, or taking other steps to protect their skin – like not sitting in the sun between 11-3pm. This is true for both chemical and mineral sunscreens. If you’ve heard of physical sunscreens, this is also another term for mineral sunscreens because of the physical barrier to the skin.  

Check out the guide from Healthline on the different measurements of how much sunscreen you actually need.

Mineral mask

As mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin this is why some may create a masking effect. We actually think that a masking effect may be no bad thing for days at the beach; it does help us to see how effective our coverage is after all and when it’s wearing off. But we know this may not be the desired look day to day. Thankfully, there has been huge strides in the development of sunscreen and there are plenty of products that sit more naturally, whilst offering all the incredible protective benefits.

We recently tried the Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense Sunscreen for the promise it blends in far better than competitor products. Turns out, it’s not just a fantastic product to protect your skin from the sun but I found it performed better than some moisturisers I’ve tried. I also found that I got fewer breakouts than normal whilst using a sunscreen (some can be quite oily) and I found it helped to brighten my complexion. We’d say it’s a pretty fantastic multi-tasking product.

The major plus point of course is that it is a mineral sunscreen. The Invisible Physical Defense sunscreen contains Zinc Oxide (the other common ingredient found in mineral sunscreens is Titanium Dioxide); a core compound in mineral sunscreen in non-nano form, meaning it cannot penetrate into the skin. It blends effortlessly onto the skin and thanks to a combination of wonder ingredients, it also protects against blue light as well as UVA and UVB. Whilst it also helps to reduce redness, soothe the skin, helps to keep the skin moisturised, and another major kudos point for this product is it is good for sensitive skin. It really is a great hardworking all-rounder product.

Chemical sunscreens can be more sensitive for the skin

There have also been several studies suggesting some of the chemicals in chemical sunscreens may cause skin irritation in young children, as well as those with sensitive skin. There are a couple of articles and studies that also suggest some of the chemicals can affect hormone production. Although chemical sunscreens are generally safe to use, broadly speaking if you have young children, sensitive skin, are pregnant, or have common skin conditions, it would be advisable to consider using a mineral or physical sunscreen. However, let’s be honest, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all.

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