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Mineral vs. chemical SPF - here's everything you need to know

Confused about how to best protect your skin in the sunshine? Let our EV experts help you choose the right sunscreen formula for you

Wrinkles, pigmentation, accelerated skin ageing, broken capillaries and sunburn – just some of the skincare issues that arise when we skip out on the all-important SPF from our beauty regimes.

But with so many products on the market, trying to decide what to use to ensure maximum protection from the sun can also feel confusing. Luckily, our EV experts are on hand to explain the conflicting advice and what formula is best for you…

Mineral vs. chemical 

The first thing to understand is that there are two main types of sunscreen you can buy – mineral and chemical. Mineral sun creams, also known as physical sunscreens, sit on top of the dermis and work by reflecting the sun’s harmful rays. “Mineral sun creams are made up of non-toxic ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,” says EV Expert and Medical Director at Vie Aesthetics, Dr Ioannis Liakas.

“Not only are these ingredients not absorbed into the skin, but they have an excellent safety record.” Providing both UVA and UVB protection, mineral sun creams start working instantly too. They’re also a better option for those with sensitive or acne-prone skin. “Zinc oxide is an anti-inflammatory and calming agent,” says Dr Liakas. This means that using mineral sun cream formulas can actually help soothe conditions such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, melasma and acne.”

However, because they sit on the skin, older mineral formulas have always been thicker, creamier and leave a chalky residue on those with dark skin tones.

Chemical sunscreens

With clearer, lighter formulas, chemical sunscreens – aka traditional sun creams – often feel nicer to use on the skin. They also sit better under makeup and are easier to use.

Unlike mineral formulas that sit on top of the dermis, chemical sunscreens work by being absorbed into skin. The active ingredients – such as oxybenzone, and avobenzone – in these products then absorb the sun’s UV rays, before turning them into heat and releasing the heat through the skin. But they don’t work immediately.

“Chemical sunscreen take a minimum of 10 minutes to bond to the skin and then become effective,” says Dr Anna Hemming, EV Expert and Founder and Medical Director of Thames Skin Clinic.

However, in recent years chemical sunscreens have come under fire for not only being potentially harmful to marine life, but also humans. “Oxybenzone in sunscreen has been found to be highly toxic to juvenile corals and marine life,” says Dr Hemming.

Dr Liakas adds: “Many of the ingredients used in chemical sunscreens have been found or are suspected as hormone disruptors, allergens and carcinogens.” And while further research is needed to reach agreement across the entire scientific community, Dr Liakas says the current data alone has prompted “many to opt for mineral sun creams over chemical ones" already.  

What’s best for you? 

With skincare companies working hard to address the chalky, hard-to-apply mineral formulations of the past, Dr Liakas thinks mineral sunscreens trump chemical versions.

“Mineral sun creams are a more effective way of protecting your skin because the ingredients sit on the surface of your skin and act as a filter as opposed to being absorbed into your skin,” he reiterates. “They are also ‘reef safe’ as both the active ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are naturally occurring.”

As for application, apply under makeup and re-apply throughout the day. “Mineral powder SPFs can be re-applied over your makeup,” says Dr Liakas. It’s also important to reapply sunscreen after swimming or excessive sweating to ensure you’re fully protected.

“Reapply every 2-3 hours and before exposure at a minimum and opt for products with a 5-star UV rating, broad spectrum protection and an SPF of 30-50,” suggests Dr Hemming. As for how much to use? A 10 pence size is needed to cover the full face and neck area.

Dr Liakas shares his top sunscreen picks 

Alumier MD Sheer Hydration SPF 40-
It’s a top seller in the clinic and my personal favourite. It leaves skin completely hydrated and also comes in a tinted shade for people looking for coverage.

ZO SKIN HEALTH  Sunscreen + Powder Broad-Spectrum SPF 30
This powder SPF is ideal for people looking to build coverage on the skin. It has buildable, colour-enhancing pigments in three shades for different skin tones and minerals that leave a luminous glow. Triple-Spectrum Protection and exclusive ZO antioxidant technology.

Mesoestetic Mesoprotech Antiaging Facial Sun Mist SPF 50+
This spray SPF is lightweight, invisible and can be used easily when on-the-go. It’s also easy to reapply and is absorbed quickly – even on top of makeup. It also contains added vitamin E to aid anti-ageing.

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