The great sunscreen debate: How do mineral and chemical products compare

Nov 20, 2019
Sun protection is super important. Source: Getty

With summer fast approaching, the sunscreen debate is heating up. You might have heard about mineral sunscreen and be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Mineral sunscreens have come a long way since the thick, white zinc that was made popular in the 1970s, with many experts insisting they are better for our skin and the environment than traditional chemical sunscreens.

William Cook, the creator of Ocean Australia, says the new mineral sunscreens are nothing like the traditional zinc sticks favoured by cricketers and young kids. Thanks to new technology, they can now rub into the skin without leaving an obviously thick and chalky residue.

“The new [mineral] sunscreens being released now are getting better and they will get even better as time progresses,” Cook tells Starts at 60.

Aesthetics aside, Cook reckons they may also be better for your skin. While traditional chemical sunscreens use a cocktail of chemical sun blockers that sink into your skin to absorb UV rays, mineral sunscreen contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide which sit on top of your skin to physically block the sun’s rays.

“So, [mineral sunscreens] are a lot safer from a skin cancer positioning,” he explains. “They’re a better overall protection because they’re physically stopping the sun before it hits your skin.”

If you have sensitive skin, you know the pain that is finding a sunscreen that doesn’t irritate your skin. Well, the good news is mineral sunscreens are more gentle than chemical sunscreens, Cook adds, explaining that this is because they sit on top of your skin.

So, were we doing things right when we reached for zinc over chemical sunscreens?

According to Heather Walker, one of the Cancer Council’s experts on skin cancer, both chemical and mineral sunscreens are an effective method of sun protection.

“Both types of sunscreen contain ingredients that are safe and effective at preventing skin damage that can lead to cancer,” she says.

“The active ingredients are less important than choosing a sunscreen formula you like as you are more likely to use it. Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum and water-resistant.”

Walker adds correct application is key, as research has found that 85 per cent of Australians don’t apply enough sunscreen.

In fact, the majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight. She says a full body application for an adult is at least seven teaspoons – one for each arm and leg, one for the front of the body, one for the back and one for your face, neck and ears.

“Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going outside, and reapplied every two hours or more if swimming, sweating or towel drying,” Walker adds. “Sunscreen is not a suit of armour and should be used in combination with clothing, hats, shade and sunglasses.”

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Which type of sunscreen do you prefer?

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