Mineral Sunscreen Compared to Chemical

What Sunscreen is safe to use?

The information around which sunscreens are safe to use has heated up since the article by MK Matta, which demonstrated that specific levels of Oxybenzone, a type of chemical sunscreen, are not considered safe.  The study assessed subjects who were exposed to repeated applications of the chemical lotion and its impacts on the blood stream. 

We will talk on that below, but first, let's break down the differences amongst chemical and physical (mineral) sunscreens and why it matters. There's a lot of information you could sift through below, and we've provided it! But the most important takeaway is to be a safe and smart shopper. 

Not all ingredients are created equal. Terms such as “reef safe” or “reef friendly” are not regulated by law, meaning companies can use them even if there are toxic ingredients to reef life and your body. Look at your labels, and if you want to chose an option that is dermatologist recommended and 100% safe by the FDA, go with mineral. 

The FDA does not have enough data on Chemical Sunscreens products to determine if they can be Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS). Mineral sunscreens are considered 100% Safe by the FDA.

Chemical Sunscreens

Impact On Our Bodies

Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays and releasing heat. Chemical sunscreens contain one or more of the following active ingredients: 

  • oxybenzone
  • avobenzone
  • octisalate
  • octocrylene
  • homosalate 
  • octinoxate.

While chemical sunscreens provide excellent sun protection, the ingredients are also absorbed into the bloodstream. Much of the literature on chemical sunscreen active ingredients focuses on one specific chemical ingredient, Oxybenzone. 

In addition to being used in sunscreen, Oxybenzone is also present in plastic, hairspray and nail polish.  Unfortunately, there is currently not enough evidence from recent reports to make conclusive claims on the safety of chemical ingredients.

For example, a recent systematic study could not find a causal relationship between the elevated systemic level of Oxybenzone and adverse health outcomes. 

A non-causal relationship does not mean that these products are safe. It simply means there is not enough information.


Impact On The environment


Studies have identified UV filters such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, octinoxate, and ethylhexyl salicylate in many water sources around the world. These ingredients are not easily removed by common wastewater treatment plants.   


In addition, there is also a fair amount of controversy around the effects of sunscreen on the coral reef. In laboratory settings (not in the ocean), oxybenzone has been implicated specifically as a possible contributor to coral reef bleaching. 

Several states have banned chemical sunscreens until there is further proof that these ingredients are not harmful to the coral reef. Common sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone, octocrylene, and octinoxate have been identified in various species of fish worldwide, which may have possible consequences for the food chain and the environment.

The impacts of these findings have yet to be determined. The FDA is requiring further research of these ingredients to better determine their safety for both humans and the environment.


Mineral sunscreen advantages

Mineral-based sunscreens are physical blockers, meaning they are not absorbed into our bloodstream. Mineral sunscreen ingredients will have the following as the only active ingredients. :


  • zinc oxide
  • ferrous (iron) and/or titanium dioxide


In particular, men should look for ultralight products that are geared toward their skin.  The two minerals that are approved as GRAS (Generally regarded as safe) by the FDA are titanium dioxide (TiO2) and zinc oxide (ZnO).  

These minerals work by absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet rays. Newer formulations use ultra fine (150-400 nm) and nano particles (smaller than 100 nm) to ensure an appearance that is more similar to chemical. Mineral sunscreens, today, not only feel great but also are 100% safe and effective.

Traditionally, Zinc Oxide absorbs across both UVA and UVB spectrum while Titanium dioxide tends to be effective as a UVB blocker, in particular at smaller sizes.  

Of note, while some mineral options can come in the form of aerosols, due to potential negative effects of the minerals when inhaled, powder and spray products are discouraged.  

So what should i do?


As always, make sure to compliment your SPF with a full sun protection program that includes a sun hat, sunglasses, sun shirt and shade. To be confident that you are using a fully safe and effective program, stick with mineral every time. 


A comprehensive routine will set you up for success! 

At the end of the day, just be kind to yourself as you are figuring it out. Reach out to us at hello@getmr.com with any questions or if we can be of help in any way.   


-Dr. G & E



Photo by George Cox on Unsplash

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