Should You Use Mineral Sunscreen?
Written by Jess Beech
18 Jul 2023
It’s totally up to you. But if you’re wondering whether a mineral sunscreen could be right for you, here’s what you need to know.
First things first: sunscreen is a non-negotiable part of your year-round skincare routine. (As our consultant dermatologist Dr Andrew Markey always says: don’t think about whether it’s sunny outside, or how much you’ll be outdoors, or whether you’ll be sitting by a window or not. Just apply it. Every morning, without even thinking about it. Like brushing your teeth).
What is up for discussion though, is the type of formula you use and whether it’s powered by chemical or mineral filters. To help you choose between the two, we’ve summed up everything you need to know about mineral sunscreen to help you make an informed, sun-smart choice…
What is a mineral sunscreen?
A mineral sunscreen is a sunscreen formulation that uses filters made from mineral ingredients to protect our skin from the sun. They are also known as inorganic filters, which is absolutely nothing to do with vegetables, and instead is a scientific term used to signify the fact that these filters are not carbon-based. There are two types of mineral filters that are commonly used in sunscreens: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
There are two types of UV rays that reach us – UVB rays (think B for burning) which are strongest during the summer months and UVA rays (think A for aging).
Before we go any further into mineral sunscreen, let’s just have a quick recap on why we need protection from the sun. There are two types of UV rays that reach us – UVB rays (think B for burning) which are strongest during the summer months and UVA rays (think A for aging) which are present all year round and can even penetrate through glass and clouds. Spending time outdoors (or in your car, or in a desk by the window) without adequate protection can lead to burning and redness in the short term, and things like wrinkles and hyperpigmentation in the long term. Plus, all the potential risks to your health. So really, we think it’s fair to say we can all benefit from sun protection.
How does mineral sunscreen work?
Mineral sunscreen was initially thought to work in just one way, and that was like a physical barrier or blockade. If you imagine the sun's rays beaming towards you, then a mineral filter will stop it in its tracks by bouncing it away – a bit like batting a rogue beach volleyball away with your hand before it makes contact with your face. However, new evidence has shown that mineral filters don’t just reflect UV rays, they also absorb some of them too and convert them into heat. (Before you worry about getting a hot sweaty face, don’t panic – it’s such a small amount of heat that you wouldn’t feel or notice the process happening.)
How does chemical sunscreen work?
The other major type of sunscreen is a chemical sunscreen. These work by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and converting it into heat energy, thus preventing it from penetrating the skin. These sunscreens contain organic compounds. When applied to the skin, these compounds form a thin, protective film that absorbs UV rays.
Each compound within chemical sunscreens absorbs specific wavelengths of UV radiation. When exposed to UV light, these compounds undergo a chemical reaction, where their molecular structure changes and energy is absorbed. This absorbed energy is then released as heat, preventing the UV radiation from reaching the deeper layers of the skin. This process helps to reduce the risk of sunburn, skin damage, and long-term effects of excessive UV exposure, such as premature aging and skin cancer.
What are the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen?
The key differences between chemical and mineral sunscreen are:
The way they work. Traditionally, mineral sunscreens were thought to work by reflecting UV rays, and chemical sunscreens were thought to work by absorbing them and turning them into heat. New research shows that there’s more crossover than initially thought though, and there is some crossover between the two.
The number of them. There are lots of different types of chemical filters which can be used in sunscreens, but only two mineral filters.
The way they look and feel. Mineral filters are white powder in raw form, which means they reflect white light. This has meant that over the years they were less suitable for deeper skin tones as they created a tell-tale white cast. Mineral sunscreens were traditionally thicker and less elegant to use too. Over time, technology has evolved to a point that is possible to create a mineral sunscreen that’s just as sheer and lightweight as a chemical one.
How quickly they work. If you’re diligent enough to read the back of your sunscreen bottle you’ll notice that chemical sunscreens recommend for you to apply around 20 minutes before heading into the sun. This gives them a chance to start working. With mineral sunscreens, there’s no waiting time, and the filters work from the moment they’re applied to the skin.
Who they can be worn by. Mineral sunscreen is great for sensitive skin and is suitable for people with skin conditions like rosacea or eczema. Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, can aggravate these skin concerns.
Reef safety. Chemical sunscreen filters oxybenzone and octinoxate are considered to be harmful to marine life. The jury is still out though, and for that reason, it’s always good to err on the side of caution in terms of what we’re washing down the drain. If you’re swimming in the ocean, even some mineral filters like zinc oxide are suspected to bleach coral reefs. Always check your sunscreen is “reef safe” before wearing it in the sea.
Who can use mineral sunscreen?
Anyone can use a mineral sunscreen, but it will appeal to you most if:
Your skin is sensitive or prone to reactions. Those with sensitive, easily irritated skin as well as anyone with psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea are all likely to find mineral sunscreen more pleasing to use than chemical.
You’re going to wear makeup over the top. If you have a deeper skin tone and are worried about the potential for a white cast, mineral sunscreen is best worn underneath makeup.
You prefer to use non-chemical filters. This could be down to personal preference or concerns about reef safety, as mineral filters are generally considered better for the environment.
You don’t want to wait before heading outside. If you’re in a hurry, a mineral sunscreen will work from the second it’s applied.
Is mineral sunscreen good for everyday use?
Mineral sunscreen is great for everyday use. Remember, sunscreen should be a part of your skincare routine every single day – not just when there’s a heatwave at home or you’re on holiday. It doesn’t really matter if you’re using a chemical or mineral sunscreen, both can be used every day, but the most important things are that you like the formula enough to wear it, that the factor is high, and that you’re applying enough. We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30, as this will protect your skin from around 97% of UVB rays.
We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF rating of at least 30, as this will protect your skin from around 97% of UVB rays.
To get that level of protection though, you need to be applying liberally. It’s not an exact science, as everyone’s faces are different sizes, but it should be a generous layer. If you don’t apply enough, you won’t get the amount of coverage promised on the bottle. Re-application is important too, especially if you’re swimming, sweating, or touching your face.
What’s so special about Beauty Pie’s mineral sunscreen?
If you’ve been put off of mineral sunscreen in the past we’re guessing it’s for one of three reasons. Either you found it too heavy on your skin, it created a white cast or it was a nightmare to wash off at the end of the day. All of these are fair reasons to put a product on your no-go list, but if you are willing to give it a second chance (and trust us, this really deserves it) our first mineral SPF launch will make up for all of its predecessor's mistakes. The formula is one of a kind and feels just like a moisturiser rather than having a chalky consistency that’s thick enough to comfortably paint your walls with. It doesn’t feel greasy on the skin, it won’t pill or bobble under your makeup, and, most importantly, it doesn’t create a white cast. Suitable for all skin tones and types, it’s a real game-changer.