Mineral sunscreen (commonly referred to as physical sunscreen) is exactly what it sounds like: sunscreen that uses minerals (most commonly zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) to protect skin from the sun. Like a bunch of tiny mirrors reflecting light, mineral sunscreens sit on top of your skin to reflect UV rays so they don’t penetrate to the underlying layers. Since mineral sunscreen is not absorbed as much as chemical formulas, it’s considered the more non-toxic option (plus, it’s better for the environment). However, mineral sunscreens do tend to leave a white cast on the skin, because they are made with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which include the same ingredients you find in diaper cream. Although this ingredient is thicker, more difficult to apply, and looks less than stellar on some skin types, it does help reduce inflammation and provide an excellent protective barrier against the sun.
Here’s the good news though—mineral sunscreens have come a long way in recent years, resulting in lighter, more flattering formulas that work across a wider range of skin tones. Dr. Beal adds that, “The biggest benefit to mineral sunscreens is they are a healthier option for skin, are soothing, and protective.” They are great for people with sensitive skin (rosacea, eczema, and perioral dermatitis) because they are non-irritating and not as harsh as chemical sunscreens.
So what type does Dr. Beal recommend? “I tend to recommend mineral sunscreens first, but there is a definite role for chemical options too.” At the end of the day, the sunscreen you choose depends on your own needs, how your skin reacts, and how the formulas look on your skin.