Mineral, Chemical and Physical Sunscreen — What’s the Difference?

The world of sunscreen can feel overly complicated — what is the actual difference between mineral, chemical and physical sunscreens?! Whether or not you understand the science behind these products, sunscreen is a product that should be used every day.

To help you understand a little bit more about sunscreen (and the importance of its daily use), we turned to facialist and skin therapist, Melissa Young. The founder of Melissa Young Beauty in Sydney, Young’s knowledge of both inner and outer beauty is unparalleled. And, just like us, she’s a big fan of sunscreen.

Why is daily sunscreen use so important?

“Sunscreen should be a part of everyone’s daily skincare routine and you will thank yourself down the track if you can implement this from a younger age,” Young told The Latch.

According to Young, the benefits of wearing an SPF every day include:

  • Prevention of skin cancer
  • It dramatically slows down the development of premature/photo-ageing. A whopping 90% of visible ageing comes from the hours we spend unprotected in the sun
  • Prevention of pigmentation forming from sun damage
  • Helps maintain an even skin tone

Whether or not you’re concerned with the anti-ageing benefits of sunscreen, the skin cancer prevention benefits should be at the top of your list. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world and ultimately, it’s a highly preventable cancer.

According to the Cancer Institute NSW, at least 95% of melanoma skin cancers and 99% of non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiations from the sun and tanning beds.

What’s the difference between mineral, chemical and physical sunscreen?

Mineral and physical sunscreen actually refer to the same thing and the term can be used interchangeably. Physical sunscreens basically sit on top of your skin to reflect the sun’s rays.

“Mineral sunscreen physically blocks UV as it contains ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” Young said. “Chemical, on the other hand, absorbs into the skin and will then absorb the UV rays. It then converts the rays into heat and releases them from the body.”

Physical and mineral sunscreens are often best for days where you’re exposed to a lot of sun, but many of the sunscreens found on shelves in supermarkets and chemists are chemical sunscreens. The chemical formulas are often lightweight and don’t feel as heavy as the physical product.

What type of sunscreen is best?

When considering which type of sunscreen to use, it really comes down to personal preference. Physical sunscreen has a thicker texture compared to chemical, so might not be the easiest for every day or for those with oily or acne-prone skin.

“Overall a physical sunscreen is best, however, traditionally it is thicker and will leave a white residue on the skin which might not be practical for everyday wear especially under makeup,” Young said. “Although it is great for when you plan to hit the beach, pool or have a larger amount of sun exposure.

“My personal preference for everyday wear is the Ultraceuticals UV Protective Daily Moisturiser SPF 50+ Mattifying (as I do have oily skin) which is a chemical sunscreen. This incredible daily product not only moisturises and protects, but it also sits perfectly under makeup and is designed for Australian sun conditions so it still gives you amazing protection.”

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