We all remember mineral sunscreens from our youth. Back then the formulas were pasty, kind of chalky, and left that almost cartoonish streaky whiteness on your skin. Mineral sunscreen is still available today, but seem to be blocked out by what we know to call chemical sunscreens; these are the lotion-like formulas that go on and soak in within 20 minutes.
We’ve talked about how risky exposure to UV rays can be for our skin and other parts of our health. So who isn’t dying to know which to throw in the shopping cart with our sunhats and beach balls? With both mineral and chemical sunscreens on advertising themselves on the shelves, how do we know which one is safer and more effective? Let’s dig into the age-old debate. Lucky for us, the fashion and beauty gurus at Harper’s Bazaar put the science into terms that don’t feel like chemistry class.
Mineral Sunscreen: Old Fashioned Yet Effective
Mineral sunscreens work very simply. Their active ingredient is usually zinc-oxide which works almost like a liquid mirror on your skin! It completely blocks UV rays by making creating a physical barrier. This is why these kinds of sunscreens are often called “sunblock” or “physical sunscreen”. What are the pros of mineral sunscreen?
Well for starters, it is hypoallergenic, more so than its chemical counterpart. Not only does it effectively bounce those pesky UV rays away, it also prevents heat and light from triggering skin conditions like rosacea, and very effectively prevents the worsening of dark spots. They also work as soon as they are applied, which can be a lifesaver for moms and dads. So, kids are less than willing to wait the 20 minutes that chemical sunscreens require to take effect after applying. There are, however, some cons. While mineral sunscreen makers are slowly improving their formulas, these products tend to sit on top of skin, sweat or rub off easily, and require more frequent reapplication.
Chemical Sunscreens: Questionable Convenience
Chemical sunscreens work a bit differently. Their active ingredients are carbon based chemicals, often oxybenzone, that react with the sun’s rays, converting UV light into heat, that moves away from the skin. On the one hand, these typically need a bit of time after applying. On the other hand, they don’t need to be applied as frequently. These go on like lotion: no streakiness or white chalky feelings, and much less rub-off factor. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, not quite.
Unfortunately, these concoctions are way more likely to cause an allergic reaction, especially on the face and around the eyes if you aren’t careful to give these an at-home test. Remember that part about the UV rays being turned into heat? That means that the inner layers of your skin heat up in the sun with the use of chemical sunscreens. This can mean darkening of sunspots, even without the UV factor, and people with rosacea may find these sunscreens trigger their heat-induced splotchy symptoms. As the first application of chemical sunscreen starts to lose its effectiveness, your skin absorbs the final results of the reaction
The Final Verdict
In short, it seems like when it comes to sunscreen doing its job, mineral sunscreen takes the gold medal. Developers, scientists, and skin experts are slowly approaching new ways to develop these to help alleviate some of its pesky (yet harmless) disadvantages, because, let’s face it: a physical barrier to the sun’s UV rays is the most efficient method we have. So keep in mind, chemical sunscreen may be easier to use, but isn’t always the best for skin. It depends on the kind you buy, could mean feeding your skin (or your loved ones’ skin) some less-than-friendly chemicals.