Applying sunscreen should be one of the easiest parts of your day. But then you jump online or walk into a drugstore to buy some more, and you’re confronted with hundreds of options. How can you know which one is right for you?
In this blog post, I’m going to clarify the differences between the three different kinds of sunscreens, chemical, mineral, and hybrid, in an effort to help you find some peace of mind. But first, let me say this: Whichever sunscreen you like using day in and day out is the best sunscreen for you, as long as it has an SPF of at least 30.
If you have yet to discover “The One,” try a handful of different sunscreens (and then a handful more, if necessary) until you find one with a texture that feels just right and a formulation that meshes with your skin tone and skin sensitivity.
Knowing the differences between chemical, mineral, and hybrid sunscreens should help guide your search.
Mineral sunscreens only have two active ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They both work in basically the same way, reflecting UV rays before they can penetrate skin cells.
Because of this mechanism, mineral sunscreens don’t need to be applied 15 minutes before you head outside the way that chemical sunscreens do; they’ll start working as soon as they’re applied to your skin. They’re also photostable, which means they don’t have to be reapplied as often as chemical sunscreens do once they’re exposed to light.
If you’re prone to breakouts, a mineral sunscreen is your best option because it’s the least likely of the three types to clog pores or irritate the complexion. Zinc oxide is also an anti-inflammatory, which is a nice added benefit.
While mineral sunscreens reflect UV rays, chemical sunscreens absorb them and convert them to non-damaging heat.
Chemical sunscreens are popular largely because of their texture, not because they’re necessarily any more effective than mineral or hybrid sunscreens. Generally, they’re formulated to feel a lot like a weightless moisturizer. As a result, they’re easier to rub into the skin. And they won’t leave a white residue the way mineral sunscreens can.
Chemical sunscreens aren’t photostable, however, so you’ll need to be more diligent about reapplying them to get the best protection. You also need to apply them at least 15 minutes before heading out the door to allow enough time for the chemical reaction to take place on the skin before it’s exposed to the sun.
Hybrid sunscreens, as you probably already guessed, combine mineral and chemical filters. So you get the ease of application from a chemical sunscreen and the broad-spectrum coverage of a mineral sunscreen.
Hybrids are worth exploring if you like the protection of mineral sunscreens but have a hard time wearing them regularly. If you’ve never tried a hybrid sunscreen before, look for one with at least 7% zinc (the ingredient label will cite the percentage). The zinc will reflect a lot of the UV rays and provide a soothing effect when your skin is exposed to some sun.