Fill up your water bottle. Grab your hat. And of course – slather on sunscreen. Sounds like a pretty familiar summer ritual, right? Sunscreen helps prevent sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer.
Which sunscreen to use, though? Mineral sunscreens are ideal for many people, including babies, children, and those who are pregnant or have sensitive or acne-prone skin. But your friend swears by the easier-to-apply chemical sunscreen.
What are in these sunscreens – and which is the best option for you?
What Is Mineral Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreen is also called physical sunscreen or sunblock because it physically blocks the sun's rays. The active ingredients in mineral sunscreen are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or a combination of both. These minerals sit on the surface of the skin and deflect the ultraviolet (UV) light, preventing it from entering the skin.
What Is the Difference Between Mineral And Chemical Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreen sits atop the skin and acts as a shield against UV rays. Chemical sunscreen has active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate that sink into your skin. They absorb UV light, convert it into heat and release it away from your skin.
Mineral and chemical sunscreens also differ in how you apply and wear them:
This type of sunscreen has the following qualities:
- Thick and more difficult to rub in
- May leave a whitish tint on skin
- Preferred during pregnancy and for young children
- Less likely to irritate sensitive skin
- Works immediately
This type of sunscreen has the following qualities:
- Thinner and easier to apply
- Starts working 20-30 minutes after application
- Can aggravate sensitive and acne-prone skin
Are Mineral Sunscreens Safer Than Chemical Sunscreens?
Mineral sunscreens definitely get the safety thumbs up: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated there's enough evidence to indicate that mineral sunscreens are safe.
The FDA regulates all sunscreens as over-the-counter drugs. And both mineral and chemical sunscreens are approved for protecting your skin from damaging UV light.
"Many of you may be following the media hype regarding the safety of sunscreens and are probably wondering if sunscreen is safe to use," said Namrata Shah, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Franciscan Physician Network Dyer. "The answer is, 'YES.' Dermatologists and the FDA continue to advise Americans that sunscreen should be applied. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime and sunscreen use can reduce this risk. Sunscreen also decreases risks of premature aging, wrinkles and sun spots."
The FDA recently requested more information about 12 ingredients commonly used in chemical sunscreens. These ingredients are being reevaluated for safety since they're absorbed into the body.
The FDA hasn't declared that these ingredients are unsafe, simply that they need further data to prove that absorption doesn't cause any problems.
"So, what's all the excitement about? The FDA has advanced proposed regulation requesting manufacturers to provide more data about the safety of certain sunscreen ingredients," Dr. Shah said. "What they want to know is how much of these chemicals are absorbed through the skin and whether these absorbed chemicals have any effects on the body or the skin."
Are Mineral Sunscreens Safe For Children And Babies?
It's best to avoid using any type of sunscreen on babies younger than six months. If you're planning an outdoor outing with a baby, you can take other protective measures (see below.) For older babies and children, experts often recommend mineral sunscreens because they're less likely than chemical sunscreens to irritate sensitive skin.
What Is The Best Sunscreen?
Ultimately, the best sunscreen is one that you’ll use often and as recommended. Whether you choose a mineral or chemical sunscreen, keep the following guidelines in mind when purchasing and applying it:
- Broad spectrum: Choose a sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum." It keeps out both types of rays – UVB (associated with sunburn) and UVA (associated with premature aging).
- SPF: Look for a sunscreen that offers at least SPF 30, which stands for "sun protection factor." When used properly, this strength protects against 97 percent of UVB rays.
- Amount: Most people use half or less of the amount of sunscreen they need to fully cover exposed skin. An adult generally needs to use enough to fill a shot glass.
- Reapply: Sunscreen is considered ineffective after two hours of wear or if it's worn off earlier by swimming, sweating or rubbing – even if it's water-resistant. Be sure to reapply as directed by the sunscreen label.
What Else Can I Do To Protect Myself And My Family From The Sun?
Sunscreen is essential for outdoor activities, but you can also take other steps to safeguard your skin, such as:
- Stay in the shade whenever possible.
- Avoid going out between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when sunlight is strongest.
- Wear full-coverage clothing with built-in sun protection.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Get more tips on how to choose your sunscreen to prevent melanoma and other skin cancers, or see a dermatologist if you're concerned about any iffy-looking spots on your skin.