What is Mineral Sunscreen vs Chemical Suncreen?

What is Mineral Sunscreen vs Chemical Suncreen?

In the world of sunscreens, there are two types of “active” ingredients (the ingredients that do the business of filtering the sun’s rays): mineral and chemical. What’s the difference and is one kind better than the other? Here’s what you need to know.

Mineral sunscreens: These work by settling into the topmost layers of skin and reflecting or scattering UV rays. They are often referred to as “physical” sunscreens, and there are only two mineral sunscreen ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.  

Chemical sunscreens: Also known as “synthetic” sunscreen ingredients, chemical sunscreens absorb into the top layers of skin, where they work in two ways: partly by scattering and deflecting the sun’s harmful rays, and also by absorbing UV rays and “deactivating” them. Common synthetic sunscreen ingredients include oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. 

Is one form better than the other?

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that oversees and regulates the sunscreen industry has recently found that that might be the case. 

When the FDA first began evaluating sunscreen safety back in the 1970s, it grandfathered in active ingredients based on the assumption that these chemicals sat on top of the skin and didn’t impact health. After learning that many are actually absorbed into the bloodstream, the FDA started a re-evaluation process and in February 2019, the agency released its final draft sunscreens monograph that made the following conclusion based on the available safety data: 

“Of the 16 currently marketed active ingredients, two ingredients – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE) for use in sunscreens; two ingredients – PABA and trolamine salicylate – are not GRASE for use in sunscreens due to safety issues. There are 12 ingredients for which there are insufficient safety data to make a positive GRASE determination at this time.” 

You read that right: The new FDA monograph gave GRASE designation to just two active sunscreen ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – the mineral sunscreens.

Hello Bello uses non-nano zinc oxide in all of our products because it’s the only FDA-approved, active ingredient that provides broad-spectrum protection against all 3 types of UV rays (UVB, UVA2, and UVA1) all on its own. Plus, it’s gentle and non-irritating for even the most sensitive skin.

Do you have other questions about sunscreen? Let us know if the comments and we'll do our best to help!


1 comment


What is the best way to apply mineral sunscreen? Do I rub it in or leave it so that it’s still white on the skin?additionally, I bought the spray mineral sunscreen because it’s easier to apply, but it does not apply evenly and I have to rub it evenly. Should I apply enough to keep it white or is it ok to rub in? Thanks!

Amanda on

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