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Mineral Sunscreen 101: Everything You Need to Know

Here’s everything you need to know about mineral sunscreens and how to choose the best one for you, whether you’re looking for serious sun protection for the outdoors or everyday wear.

Most of us know that sunscreen is a non-negotiable step in our daily skincare routine, yet shopping for it isn’t so straightforward. The fact is, finding your perfect sunscreen comes down to personal preference—and (according to the Canadian Dermatology Association) it should be an SPF of 30 or higher while also providing broad-spectrum protection (against UVA and UVB rays). But before you weigh the pros and cons, you’ll need to decide on a sun filter: mineral or chemical.

Now, you’re probably aware of mineral sunscreens. Maybe you love them, or maybe you had a bad experience because the mineral sun-shielding ingredient left behind a chalky white cast. The good news is that technology has come a long way—the best mineral sunscreens disappear more quickly, especially when they’re massaged onto the skin correctly.

If you’re wondering which is better—chemical or mineral sunscreen—you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn about how these filters work before you pick up your next bottle and the latest mineral sunscreen stars that will keep your skin protected all year long.

What is mineral sunscreen?

Sunscreens come in two main forms: chemical, which is absorbed by the skin, and mineral, which sits on the skin’s surface. There are also hybrid formulas that contain both kinds of filters.

a. How does mineral sunscreen work?

Mineral sunscreens, which are also known as physical sunscreens, achieve their SPF factor with physical blockers; they use fine particles of minerals like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. They sit on the surface of the skin and physically block and reflect UVA and UVB rays.

b. How do chemical sunscreens work?

Chemical filters, also known as organic sunscreens, protect skin from UV rays by absorbing them with ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate and Mexoryl. Essentially, they work by absorbing radiation and then releasing it in the form of thermal energy before the rays penetrate the skin.

c. How long does mineral sunscreen last?

Mineral active ingredients do not break down as easily in the sun as chemical filters do and are considered photostable, so, technically, they do offer greater sun protection for longer. That said, no matter what type of sun filter (mineral, chemical or a hybrid) you use, according to the Canadian Dermatology Association (and Health Canada), it should be reapplied every two hours. However, it’s important to note that efficacy is reduced at a much faster rate if you’ve been sweating or submerged in water. It’s best to reapply after you’ve towel dried post-swim.

Is mineral sunscreen better?

The mineral vs. chemical sunscreen debate really comes down to personal preference. And if you ask any dermatologist, they’ll tell you that the best sunscreen is the one you’ll apply (and reapply) every day, no matter the type of sun filter. However, mineral sunscreens have a few benefits that their chemical counterparts lack. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which first need to be absorbed into the skin, taking between 20 to 30 minutes, mineral filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) work immediately. This is because mineral sunscreen sits on top of the skin, blocking rays at the surface, so it needs zero downtime to kick in.

One of the main arguments in favour of mineral sunscreens is that they are better suited for folks with acne-prone or sensitive skin. This is because some of the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens can be irritating and cause skin sensitivity in some people. Although mineral formulations tend to be thicker (and sometimes leave a white cast on deeper skin tones), they are less likely to clog pores or irritate the complexion. Plus, zinc oxide possesses the additional benefit of being anti-inflammatory.

How to apply mineral sunscreen on the face

Misusing sunscreen really defeats its purpose, so proper application (and reapplication every two hours) is vital, no matter what kind of sun filter you choose. Whether you’re using a mineral, chemical or hybrid sunscreen, you probably need more than you think. Not sure about how much sunscreen to apply? Experts recommend that an average adult needs a shot glass of sunscreen applied to their body for complete protection.

When it comes to your face, there are two ways to ensure that you put enough on. You can measure ¼ teaspoon or try the user-friendly “two-fingers” method. For the latter, squeeze one line of sunscreen on your pointer finger and another on your middle finger and then rub the contents of both over your face, neck and ears. While chemical sunscreens do not leave a white residue, many (not all) mineral sunscreens do, so it’s important that you rub them in thoroughly. You can also choose a tinted mineral sunscreen, especially for the face, which will be easier to blend in.

a. How to remove mineral sunscreen from the face

While sunscreen is one of the most important steps in your morning skincare routine, not washing it off at the end of the day is a recipe for clogged pores and breakouts—especially if you opt for a mineral sunscreen. These sun filters create a physical barrier of protection, which means they require a bit more work to wash off.

You’ll need to pay a little more attention to your evening cleansing routine, so consider double cleansing. Try the one-two-punch of SkinCeuticals Simply Clean followed by SkinCeuticals Soothing Cleanser. Simply Clean contains an amino acid surfactant, glycerine and orange oil to remove long-wear makeup (and sunscreen), while Soothing Cleanser harnesses a concentration of sorbitol, glycerine and orchis mascula and cucumber extracts to gently remove impurities and comfort sensitive skin.

Our range of mineral sunscreens

We know the most important thing is that you pick a sunscreen you enjoy using—and we’re confident you’ll find your best mineral sunscreen match in our wide selection.

● Best mineral sunscreen for the face: SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50

Sheer Physical Defense uses a combination of microfine zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for robust protection. It also contains artemia salina, an ingredient sourced from plankton extract that helps boost the skin’s natural defences and resistance to UV rays and heat-induced stress. Its silky sheer fluid-like texture spreads easily, dries quickly (with no white cast) and delivers a high level of broad-spectrum protection.

● Best mineral sunscreen for oily skin: SkinCeuticals Physical Matte UV Defense SPF 50

This is a perfect match if you’re looking for a strictly mineral-based formula with a long-lasting matte finish. It’s ideal for acne-prone skin thanks to aerated silica technology, which is proven to maintain a matte finish and minimize the appearance of pores, even in the most humid conditions. Plus, it offers some light coverage, thanks to iron oxide spheres, boosting radiance while providing a universal tint for most skin tones.

● Best mineral sunscreen for dry skin: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50

Formulated for folks with sensitive and very dry skin, this liquid-y sunscreen, which comes in a shaker bottle, is applied and blended easily and doesn’t leave a white cast. This is thanks to the same tint technology used in Physical Matte UV Defense; however, this sunscreen also addresses dry-skin concerns by improving skin’s barrier function and providing all-day hydration.

● Best mineral sunscreen for the eyes: SkinCeuticals Physical Eye UV Defense SPF 50

The eye area is one of the first places to show signs of aging, so using an SPF is essential. However, you’ll want to be careful about what type of sunscreen you use, as this area tends to be more delicate and sensitive—which is why mineral sunscreen is a smart move. This one contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which provide mineral protection, and ceramides, which work to seal and moisturize the delicate skin under the eyes.

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