The Great Debate: Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen

The Great Debate: Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen



In the world of sunscreens, we talk about chemical vs. mineral protection. Mineral sunscreens, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are natural and non-toxic. They sit on top of our skin and block the sun like reflectors. 

Chemical sunscreens like oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone must be absorbed into the skin before they can protect us from the sun’s radiation. These ingredients protect the skin by absorbing the sun’s rays then converting them into heat that is released from the skin. These are not natural and likely non-toxic.

Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, but understanding the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen can help you decide which is best for you and your skin.

Mineral Sunscreen

Chemical Sunscreen

Active Ingredients

Zinc Oxide; Titanium Dioxide

Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Homosalate, Octinoxate

Method of Protection

Forms physical barrier that reflects and scatters UV rays away from the skin

Converts UV radiation into heat which then dissipates from the skin


Immediately effective upon application

Requires approximately 15 to 30 minutes to become fully effective after application

Skin Sensitivity

Well-tolerated by those with sensitive skin

Higher risk of allergic reaction and may worsen melasma or rosacea

Bodily Impact

Can leave a white cast and may contribute to breakouts in people prone to acne

Oxybenzone, octinoxate and homosalate have all been shown to accumulate in the body over time

Environmental Impact

Considered reef and earth-friendly

Accumulate in waterways and linked to coral reef damage

I prefer mineral sunscreens that contain zinc oxide. Zinc provides protection against both UVB rays that cause burns and UVA rays that are longer, come through windows and cause brown spots and wrinkles. It has a reputation for being thick and white, making people look ghost-like, but now many of the sunscreens with zinc are cosmetically elegant. Unlike the chemical sunscreen ingredients, zinc is a natural mineral and not absorbed by your body. Titanium dioxide is another good physical sunscreen but it only protects from UVB rays, so products need to have both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to provide broad spectrum protection.

Most drugstore sunscreens contain a combination of chemical sunscreen that provide pretty good UVA and UVB protection. Using these products is definitely better than not using anything, but these are chemicals that our body absorbs. We can measure them in our blood and urine. They are well studied and labeled by the FDA as non-toxic and despite the reports out there, they do not cause cancer and have not been shown to cause hormone disruption in humans. However, they do accumulate in us and I would like to minimize the accumulation of any unneeded chemicals in my body or our world whenever possible. Further, avobenzone is a common cause of sunscreen allergy and oxybenzone is contributing to the death of coral reefs. 

 I always tell my patients to keep trying sunscreens until they find one they like! You can get sprays, creams, wipes, powders, sticks. There are now so many available, you will find one you like…but you may just have to hunt!

As sunscreen should be an important part of your skin care routine you will need more than one product.  I recommend having several:

  • A daily face sunscreen that can have tint.
  • A powder sunscreen for easy reapplication during the day.
  • A body sunscreen for neck, chests, arms during summer days at work.
  • A sunscreen that is water resistant for exercise and water play.

Unfortunately, if you do get a sunburn, our Restore Healing Balm can help soothe redness and help the recovery process. For a full list of my favorite mineral sunscreen check out my Suncare Beyond Sunscreen blog.



Researchers Say Oxybenzone Kills Baby Coral And Contributes To Reef Decline.

Reuters (10/21, Liston) reports that a study published Oct. 20 in the Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology suggests that oxybenzone, a chemical commonly found in sunscreen that filters UVA and UVB rays, kills baby coral and is implicated in global coral reef decline. The chemical, which acts as an endocrine disruptor, also increases coral’s susceptibility to bleaching. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, no data exist demonstrating that the chemical is hazardous to human health.


Note: Heather D. Rogers, MD is not sponsored or financially compensated by any brands she recommends. Her recommendations are thoroughly researched, focusing on effectiveness and safety. She prioritizes your skin and health over external pressures or personal gains.

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