Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which to Recommend

Skincare can be confusing for the average person. As an esthetician, you’ve undergone hundreds of hours of training and hands-on experience to learn the ins and outs of skincare. It’s your job to use the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired to benefit your clients and help them make informed decisions about the treatments and products they choose for their skin.

The importance of sun protection is widely understood, though many people continue to neglect this essential element in a daily skincare routine.

What degree of protection is necessary? Do you need sunscreen every day? How often should it be reapplied? You’re equipped to answer your client’s basic questions about sun protection but don’t stop there. Consider the client’s skin type and existing skin concerns to make an educated recommendation regarding mineral versus chemical sunscreen.

Why is Sun Protection Important?

While the sun delivers vitamin D, its rays can be harmful to the skin in heavy doses. The sun produces ultraviolet rays – a type of invisible radiation – that damages the skin cells with prolonged exposure and can increase the risk for melanoma.

Sunscreen is a product applied to the skin to help protect against sun damage. Dermatologists generally recommend wearing a minimum of SPF 30 and reapplying every 2 hours. Sunscreen is best applied 15 to 30 minutes prior to going outside and may need to be reapplied more often when sweating or swimming. While water-resistant sunscreen may stay on the skin a bit longer, there is no such thing as a fully waterproof sunscreen.

Wearing sunscreen is just one piece of a comprehensive sun protection plan, but it’s a simple step your clients can take on a daily basis to protect against the aging effects of the sun’s UV rays.

What’s the Difference Between Mineral and Chemical Sunscreen?


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When shopping for sunscreen, it may seem like the biggest decision that needs to be made is the choice between a lotion or a spray. Sunscreen comes in several forms, but your clients may not realize that different sunscreens deliver sun protection in different ways. In terms of function, sunscreens can be divided into two categories: mineral and chemical.

Mineral sunscreen forms a physical barrier against UV rays on the surface of the skin and it’s typically made with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. Early mineral sunscreens were chalky, white, and difficult to spread but modern formulations tend to blend a little more easily.

Chemical sunscreen works by absorbing the sun’s UV rays, turning them into heat which is then released harmlessly through the skin. These sunscreens typically include active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate, octocrylene, and octinoxate. These formulations tend to be lighter and more sheer than mineral sunscreens, though they have been shown to have some adverse environmental effects.

Consumers generally seem to favor chemical sunscreens over mineral sunscreens, though both options have their advantages and disadvantages.

Which Option Works Best?

The best sunscreen is one your client will actually use on a regular basis. When properly (and consistently) applied, both chemical and mineral sunscreen can be highly effective. There are, however, certain situations in which one might be more appropriate than the other.

Mineral sunscreens are also called physical sunscreens because they sit on top of the skin, physically blocking UV rays at the skin’s surface. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, absorb the rays to neutralize them. Because mineral sunscreens tend to be thicker, clients with sensitive or acne-prone skin may be tempted to avoid them but they may, in fact, be the more appropriate choice. Chemical sunscreens can be irritating to skin that is already sensitive or aggressed by acne.

Chemical sunscreens tend to be lighter and easier to wear than mineral sunscreen, so they’re a good choice for individuals with normal or combination skin. Clients with dry or mature skin may find that either product works, so it may come down to a matter of preference.

An additional factor to make note of is that mineral sunscreens are not designed to be rubbed into the skin as much as chemical sunscreens. Because they have the potential to leave behind a white cast, mineral sunscreens may not be the ideal choice for individuals with darker skin tones. For clients with dark skin tones who prefer physical over chemical sunscreen, suggest a tinted formula.

Tips for Making Product Recommendations

Education is a key component of any professional skincare treatment. It’s your job as a skincare professional to not only work to address your client’s current skin concerns but to help prevent future problems. This is where education about sun protection comes in.

Sun protection should be the final component in any facial treatment (unless, of course, the treatment is administered after sundown). As you apply the sunscreen, give your client a gentle reminder about the importance of sun protection – especially if you’ve applied any products that may increase the photosensitivity of the client’s skin (like retinol or alpha-hydroxy acids). Remind your client that a minimum of SPF 30 is recommended.

After completing the treatment, don’t forget to include sun protection in your product recommendations. The client’s skin type, skin concerns, and skincare habits should inform your recommendations regarding mineral versus chemical sunscreen.