Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

Chemical vs Mineral Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreens: Understanding the Difference

Shielding your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays is paramount to preventing premature ageing and maintaining your skin’s health, and choosing the right sunscreen is essential. At Chinook Skincare, we believe in empowering you with the knowledge to make the best decisions for your skin health. Let’s dive into the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens, highlighting the key ingredients used in both, and understand UVA and UVB rays.

Chemical Sunscreens

How They Work:
Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation through their active ingredients and convert it into heat, which is then released from the skin. This type of sunscreen typically feels lighter and is easier to blend into the skin without leaving a white cast.

Key Ingredients:

  1. Avobenzone (AVB) – Provides broad-spectrum protection by absorbing both UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Octinoxate (OMC) – Effective in absorbing UVB rays, which are primarily responsible for sunburn.
  3. Oxybenzone (BP-3) – Absorbs UVB and short UVA rays, one of the most commonly used and potentially the most dangerous for health and environmental concerns.
  4. Homosalate (HMS) – Helps in absorbing UVB rays and works synergistically with other sunscreen ingredients.
  5. Octocrylene (OCR) – Absorbs UVB and short UVA rays, stabilising other ingredients like avobenzone.
  6. Octisalate (OS) – Enhances the stability and effectiveness of other UV-absorbing ingredients, particularly UVB rays.

Recent Research:
A 2020 study by the FDA highlighted that certain chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octisalate, are absorbed into the bloodstream at higher levels than previously understood. The study found that these chemicals can reach concentrations above 0.5 ng/mL in blood plasma, a threshold which requires additional safety testing according to FDA guidelines. The study showed that these ingredients remained in the blood for at least 24 hours after application, with some lingering for up to several days. 

Mineral Sunscreens

How They Work:
Mineral sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens, act as a shield. They sit on top of the skin and reflect UV radiation away from the skin. These sunscreens are ideal for those with sensitive skin, as they are less likely to cause irritation.

Key Ingredients:

  1. Zinc Oxide (ZnO) – Offers broad-spectrum protection by reflecting both UVA and UVB rays. It’s gentle on the skin and often used in formulations for sensitive skin. You can also look for clear zinc. Avoid nanoparticles. Look for “Reef friendly” options.
  2. Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) – Primarily protects against UVB rays and some UVA rays. It’s lightweight and less likely to leave a white residue compared to zinc oxide.

Plant Seed Oils

Raspberry Seed Oil: Raspberry seed oil is often touted for its natural UV protection properties. Studies suggest that it has an SPF ranging from 28 to 50 for UVB rays and around 8 for UVA rays. While these properties are promising, raspberry seed oil alone is not sufficient as a primary sunscreen due to its variability and lack of standardised testing.

Other Plant Seed Oils:

  • Carrot Seed Oil: Has some UV-blocking properties but should not be relied upon solely for sun protection. It's best used as a supplementary ingredient.
  • Wheat Germ Oil: Rich in vitamins and antioxidants, it offers some degree of UV protection but, like other plant oils, is not enough on its own.
  • Coconut Oil: Offers minimal UV protection with an SPF of about 4-6. It's more effective as a moisturiser rather than a sunscreen.

Effectiveness of Plant Seed Oils

While plant seed oils can provide some level of sun protection, they should not be used as a primary means of shielding the skin from UV radiation. They can be excellent supplements in sunscreen formulations, enhancing moisturising properties and providing antioxidants, but relying solely on them can leave your skin vulnerable to UV damage.

Understanding UVA and UVB Rays

UVA Rays:

  • What They Are: UVA rays have a longer wavelength and can penetrate deeper into the skin compared to UVB rays.
  • Effects on Skin: UVA rays are primarily responsible for skin ageing (photoaging), as they can damage collagen and elastin in the skin. They also contribute to the formation of wrinkles and can increase the risk of skin cancer over time.
  • Year-Round Presence: UVA rays are present throughout the year and can penetrate glass, making them a consistent threat even indoors or in the car.

UVB Rays:

  • What They Are: UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and primarily affect the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).
  • Effects on Skin: UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn and play a significant role in the development of skin cancer. They can directly damage the DNA in skin cells.
  • Seasonal Variation: UVB rays are more intense during the summer months and are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. They do not penetrate glass.

When to Wear Sunscreen

Peak UV Hours:
The hottest time of day typically falls between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. During these hours, UV radiation is the most intense and poses the greatest risk to your skin. Applying sunscreen during this period, even on cloudy days, is crucial, as up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate clouds.

Every 2 Hours: Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating.

Year-Round Protection:
UV radiation can damage your skin even on cooler or overcast days, so wearing sunscreen year-round is recommended. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time outdoors or live at a higher altitude, where UV exposure can be more intense.

Choosing the Right Sunscreen

Skin Type and Concerns:

  • Sensitive Skin: Mineral sunscreens are generally better for sensitive skin due to their non-irritating properties.
  • Daily Use and Makeup: Chemical sunscreens often blend more seamlessly under makeup and are preferred for daily use. You can also look for foundations or mineral powder with SPF
  • Outdoor Activities: If you spend extended time outdoors, consider a water-resistant option from either category. Mineral sunscreens can offer immediate protection, while chemical sunscreens need to be applied 15-20 minutes before exposure.

Environmental Impact:
At Chinook Skincare, we’re also mindful of the environmental impact of products. Some chemical sunscreen ingredients, like oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been shown to contribute to coral reef bleaching. Opting for mineral sunscreens with non-nano zinc oxide or titanium dioxide can be a more eco-friendly choice.

Additional Sun Protection: Hats and Cover-Ups

While sunscreen is a crucial part of sun protection, hats and cover-ups can significantly enhance your defence against harmful UV rays.


  • Wide-Brimmed Hats: Hats with a wide brim (at least 3 inches) can provide shade and protect your face, neck, and ears from direct sunlight.
  • Material: Look for hats made of tightly woven fabrics that block out sunlight. Darker colours can also offer more protection than lighter ones.


  • Long-Sleeve Shirts and Pants: Wearing long-sleeve shirts and pants made of lightweight, breathable fabric can protect large areas of your skin.
  • UPF Clothing: Clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating is specifically designed to block UV radiation. UPF 50+ clothing blocks about 98% of UV rays.


Both chemical and mineral sunscreens have their unique benefits, and choosing the right one depends on your skin type, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use consistently! Along with sunscreen, incorporating hats and cover-ups into your routine can significantly enhance your protection against the sun's harmful rays. 

Stay informed with Chinook Skincare and protect your skin with a sunscreen that works best for you.