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Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen: What’s the Difference?

When you’re living in a tropical country such as Malaysia, sunscreen is a must-have product.

Whether it comes in a lotion or as a light spray, sunscreen is important for skin protection. Not only will it prevent sunburn, but it also reduces the risks of skin cancer. Plus, it’ll protect you from the dangers of UV (ultraviolet) light!

Before you start heading to the nearest drugstore to buy one, there are a couple of things you need to know first.

Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreen

There are two types of sunscreens: mineral sunscreens (a.k.a. physical sunscreens) and chemical sunscreens. To wear either of these sunscreen types, apply it to your face and arms before heading out.

Mineral Sunscreen

Also known as physical sunblock, mineral sunscreens are essentially sunscreens that contain small amounts of helpful minerals. The most common ingredients in these types of sunscreens are titanium oxide and zinc oxide which act as mineral filters to protect you from the sun.

Besides its ingredients, mineral sunscreens usually come in a white, occasionally chalky lotion. They’re also thicker in consistency, but most modern formulas have ensured mineral sunscreens come out smooth.

Pros and Cons of Mineral Sunscreen


In general, mineral sunscreen is better for your skin. For those with sensitive skin and acne, ingredients like zinc oxide are safe for use. On top of that, mineral sunscreens have been favoured for better protection against the sun because it lasts longer as a physical barrier for your skin.


While there are many options of mineral sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast, application for people with different skin tones may be difficult. Besides that, mineral sunscreens are often unpleasant in texture and may cause skin breakouts because of how thick they are, depending on the skin.

Chemical Sunscreen

On the other hand, chemical sunscreens are another type of sunscreen that contains chemicals in its composition. These include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, or octinoxate.

Unlike mineral sunscreens, chemical sunscreens are usually clear or colourless in appearance. Many prefer this type of sunscreen because they don’t leave any white marks after applying, and can be applied with other skincare products or makeup.

Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreen


Many sunscreen users prefer to use chemical sunscreens because they are often clear and easy to apply. Chemical sunscreens don’t leave a white, chalky residue on your skin, and they come in various forms like a spray or a gel. As a result, chemical sunscreen is much easier to apply, especially with makeup on.


However, chemical sunscreen does come with its cons. For starters, chemical sunscreen may need to be reapplied often because of how thin they are. Many sunscreen users have also said chemical sunscreens are less effective this way.

Besides its effectiveness, the chemical ingredients in chemical sunscreens have brought up concern over their impact on our skin and the environment. Potentially, chemical sunscreens may irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions and discolouration because it does not fully block out the UV rays in the sunlight. Likewise, several chemicals in this type of sunscreen can also hurt marine life and cause coral bleaching.

The Difference

The main difference between these two types of sunscreens lies in the way they work. Mineral sunscreens protect your skin by creating a “physical barrier” out of the minerals in their product. When applied, it directly sits over your skin, thus protecting you from the risks of the sun. Think of it like a mirror: instead of directly absorbing the sunlight, the titanium oxide and zinc oxide in your sunscreen reflect it back into the sky.

In contrast, chemical sunscreens work differently. That is, they allow sunlight into your skin’s surface. However, the chemicals in the sunscreen will act like a sponge that absorbs UV sun rays and cause a chemical reaction that breaks down the UV rays particles. Before any skin damage can be done, the rays are then converted into heat which leaves your body.

Frequently Asked Questions about Sunscreens

What is SPF?

You might see this on the front of all sunscreen bottles. But what does it actually mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and there are three different types of SPF: SPF15, SPF30, and SPF50. Although the numbers are the same for both types of sunscreen, they vary depending on the amount of UV sun rays it blocks from our skin:

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UV rays
  • SPF30 blocks 97% of the UV rays
  • SPF50 blocks up to 98% of the sun’s rays

What SPF value should I choose when buying sunscreen?

Many experts recommend sunscreen with SPF30 or SPF50, as they provide better protection for your skin.

How many times do I need to reapply my sunscreen?

Sunscreen does tend to wear off after a while, especially when you’re actively sweating or partaking in water sports like swimming. Reapply every two hours for ample skin protection.

Which sunscreen is better?

While many may not be fans of the thick consistency or the chalky effect, many experts claim mineral sunscreens are actually better for your skin. They’re safer for long-term use and contain fewer chemicals that may harm the environment.

Which sunscreen should I use if I have sensitive skin?

If you have sensitive skin and acne, you should go for mineral sunscreen. They’re less irritating on your skin compared to chemical sunscreens that may clog up your pores.

Sunscreen is truly an important part of our lives. Using it can prevent skin damage such as sunburn, wrinkles, and even skin cancer. Before you go outside, do remember to bring a tube of sunscreen in your bag just in case. However, if you’d like to go the extra mile, bring along a pair of sunglasses and a hat. Trust me, your future self will thank you for this!

And if you’re looking for a sunscreen that’s suitable for all skin types, make sure to check out our WonderDewi Cica Sunscreen and WonderLab Bel-aek Ageless Tone Up Sunscreen!