Sun Care 101: Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens

There’s a LOT of sunscreens out there to choose from. You need to consider the SPF and the PA, of course - but you need to consider the type of sunscreen as well. Now the question is: How do you choose which between a chemical or a physical/mineral sunscreen?

No matter what type of sunscreen you're looking at, the most important thing is choosing which kind is right for your skin. First, we need to understand what mineral and chemical sunscreens are.

Mineral vs. Chemical sunscreens: what's the difference?

Before we dwell onto their own characteristics, it is important to know that both types of sunscreens are made in the labnon-comedogenic and offer broad spectrum protection. The difference between these two types of sunscreens is 1) how they are formulated and 2) how they actively protect and shield your skin from UV rays. 


Mineral/Physical sunscreen

Chemical Sunscreen

What they’re made of (active ingredients)

100% mineral actives (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide)

Synthetic (organic) ingredients

Ingredient function

Absorbs ~95% of the UV rays and converts them to heat, and reflects back the ~5%;

Stays on top of your skin.

Absorb the UV rays so your skin doesn’t. They absorb and convert the UV rays into heat, and releasing them from the skin.

Suitable for skin type

Sensitive, acne-prone

 All skin types

Recommended to type of activity

For everyday use

When working out, activities that make you sweat a lot


There is nothing inherently wrong with chemical sunscreens. They protect your skin from the sun, and allow innovation in the formulation like having lightweight, feel-good, or even invisible formulas. However, there is a reason that chemical sunscreens get a bad reputation: Many chemical sunscreens contain Oxybenzone and Octinoxate, which are well-known skin irritants that are damaging to coral reefs by causing what is called “coral bleaching”.

All sunscreens in this shop are reef-safe.
We take care to make sure they do not contain potential coral reef-harming and skin-irritating Oxybenzone and Octinoxate 😊

Mineral or physical sunscreens also had a reputation of having formulations that are too thick. Remember those 80s and 90s TV or movie beach scenes where people's noses were covered in white sunblock? That's the mineral sunscreen of the yesteryears. 

Good news for people living in the 21st century, though! Formulations have improved over the years. Fortunately, there are now sophisticated formulations that's made mineral sunscreens very blendable.

Things to consider when choosing your sunscreen
Skin needs. Mineral sunscreens tend to be recommended more for sensitive and acne-prone skin types because they only stay on top of the skin. As these don’t get absorbed by the skin, they are least likely to cause irritation. (It is worth noting that there are also chemical sunscreens that are non-comedogenic, meaning it will not clog your pores, leading to breakouts.)

Bonus round: Mineral sunscreens that utilise zinc as UV filter will benefit those with sensitive and acne-prone skin types, as zinc has anti-inflammatory properties.

Type of activity. Consider what activities you’ll be engaging in when choosing the type of sunscreen for you. For example, when you’re going to be active, it is recommended to use a chemical sunscreen because it will enable your skin to breathe even as you sweat a lot. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, will trap the sweat in your skin (which is not good, as sweating is a way for the skin to release toxins from the body), so mineral sunscreen is better for common everyday use.

Appearance and finish. Lastly, take note of the finish of the sunscreen and what effect it has on the appearance of your skin. Do you need a sunscreen that has a mattifying effect that will control the shine on your face and set your makeup, or maybe you prefer a sunscreen that has a refreshing finish but still will absorb excess sebum?

Bottom line: Mineral and chemical sunscreens may be considerably different, but it is still a matter of choosing what is feels right for your skin and what you enjoy wearing. 😊

Ready to choose? Check out the physical/mineral sunscreens in store here, and all chemical sunscreens here.

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