Home » Physical Mineral Versus Synthetic Chemical Sunscreens

Physical Mineral Versus Synthetic Chemical Sunscreens

Hellooooo Glowups! Let’s talk about sexy suncare aka physical mineral versus synthetic chemical sunscreens! Ok, I apologize for the lame joke and I know it is probably one of the most dreaded (and often most overlooked) topic when it comes to skincare. But this could not have been a better time to discuss this topic since it’s summertime et al, but it also needs to be something that you need to incorporate as a last step to your morning skincare routine everyday, 365 days a year, rain or shine. PERIODT.

While we are on the very topic, let’s take a look at my video, shall we?

It’s crazy to think just how much we de-prioritize (and the biggest misconception) incorporating sunscreens into our skincare routine! And while windows can filter out UVB rays, they don’t filter out UVA rays, and UVArays can actually penetrate deeper into your skin and one of the main culprits of those pesky sun spots and premature/photo-aging. Easiest way to remember which rays causes what; UVA , A for Aging; and UVB , B for Burning.

I will cover a whole topic on Natural/Clean Beauty one day as it can be pretty controversial and a deeply biased topic with so much misinformation and creative marketing utilized as scare tactics, and so I need some more time to collect my thoughts, facts and sort it out to provide you with just the unfiltered version.

But one of the BIGGEST common myth, and so widespread that even on google searches the myth outweighs the actual truth in your results – which is actually quite scary! If you were to type in “difference between physical mineral versus synthetic chemical sunscreens” on your google search, the first page would probably be filled with how “physical mineral suncreens form a shield to block out the rays, while synthetic chemical sunscreens sink into the skin, absorb the rays to turn it into heat and released from skin.” and will often follow with a diagrams like so:

I don’t even know how I can spread this information so that it becomes widespread to debunk this myth; if you are reading this, please feel free to share this article and correct anyone that tells you this myth. It is simply NOT true.

There has been actual proven studies backed by science using the proper amount of concentration that confirm that even a physical mineral sunscreen does in fact sink into the skin, absorb the rays, to turn it into heat to release from skin, just like synthetic chemical sunscreens do. And only a very small amount of it (approximately 5%) does the reflecting and scattering bit. So for Natural/Clean brands to take this and spin it with creative marketing to say that it doesn’t sink is wrong.

+DOI: 10.1111/phpp.12214

In fact, in 2013 the FDA banned the use of the word “sunblock” in any labeling claims which was initially meant for physical mineral sunscreens, because it was misleading to consumers in overestimating the effectiveness to the product making those very specific claims.

+FDA.GOV: “Questions and Answers: FDA announces new requirements for over-the-counter (OTC) sunscreen products marketed in the U.S.”

Other common myths are:
– you need to wait 20 minutes for synthetic chemical sunscreens to activate
– physical mineral sunscreens work immediately
– you need to apply synthetic chemical sunscreens on first
– you need to apply physical mineral sunscreens on last

These were all notions based off of the first myth on it’s behavioural characteristic that synthetic chemical sunscreens needed to be absorbed into the skin and bind for it to start working. Again, all false. ALL (be it physical mineral and/or synthetic chemical) sunscreens work immediately straight out of the bottle.

So now that everything you have heard/known about physical mineral versus synthetic chemical sunscreens have been lies, just what is the main difference? you ask.

The main difference to physical mineral versus synthetic chemical sunscreens are in their active ingredients. I will be referring to the FDA guidelines because both in the US and Canada (as Health Canada are subject to FDA regulations) and both countries deem sunscreens as an over-the-counter medication, therefore any sunscreens formulated outside of the US cannot make claims that their sunscreen is equal to a sunscreen formulated in the US. And the FDA only has a total of 12 approved ingredients (as of 2019) for sunscreens. In physical mineral (aka inorganic) sunscreens they contain active ingredients of; Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide. While in a synthetic chemical (aka organic) sunscreens contain either alone or in combination of the following: aminobenzoic acid (PABA), cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, avobenzone, trolamine salicylate, and ecamsule*. (However PABA and trolamine salicylate are not GRASE for use in sunscreens due to safety issues, according to the FDA as of 2019).

*ecamsule is patented by L’Oreal and approved by the FDA in 2006 so only available in products under the L’Oreal corporation.
+FDA.GOV: “FDA advances new proposed regulation to make sure that sunscreens are safe and effective”
+CANADA.CA Health Canada: “2018 report on compliance monitoring: Sunscreen testing”
+CANADA.CA Health Canada: “Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Regulations”

Can you believe that the only current active ingredients that protect us from UVA rays from products formulated in the North America approved by the FDA are the following: zinc oxide, avobenzone, mexoryl sx aka ecamsule* (which is patented by L’Oreal and only in their products), which means our options are quite limited if your skin tends to react from either of it. Whereas in other countries, there have been other proven UVA filters like Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M, Uvinul A Plus, etc,

+FDA.GOV: “Rulemaking History for OTC Time and Extent Applications”

Over the years there have been several new proven UVA filters while the FDA only ever approved three, so while there are more innovations to formulas outside of the US market, because the FDA sets really strict rules on claims and labeling particularly on sunscreens because they consider it to be a non-prescription drug. But especially set higher and stricter standards to the bigger corporations, also why the smaller indie brands (aka the Natural/Clean beauty brands) get away with alot of the creative marketing jargons – which literally infuriates me! Sorry, I digress.

+FDA.GOV: “Labeling and Effectiveness Testing: Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-The-Counter Human Use — Small Entity Compliance Guide”

Why am I debunking this? For one, I want people that use synthetic chemical sunscreens or any skincare products to feel less guilty or ashamed when using it.

If it works for your skin, GREAT! Don’t let these Natural/Clean beauty brands/enthusiasts tell you otherwise with their scare tactics. Even some of the Natural/Clean beauty enthusiasts can’t explain beyond their own reasons why it’s better for you (when sometimes it’s not), and often it’s just regurgitated information they heard/read or were told when converting over, which is actually no better than playing broken telephone, because there’s so much misinformation out there.

Second, sunscreens have the biggest and most widespread myths to ever exist (along with parabens, SLS, silicones and fragrance – and as I mentioned before – another day for these topics) all derived when Natural/Clean beauty came into the spotlight. But let me put this as gently as possible, there is no such thing as 100% Natural! Some of these words like: non-toxic, no-nasties, chemical-free, all natural, organic, etc., are words used when selling Natural/Clean beauty. But even natural ingredients have to be broken down/diluted with synthetic chemical ingredients, which in turn means there’s little natural in the final product itself. There are even scientists, chemists who will aruge that some of the “natural” ingredients can do more harm and often more toxic than synthetic chemical ingredients. And it’s truly creative marketing at its finest.

While it can be argued that the FDA and it’s regulations and approved ingredients list are quite dated, one can also argue that there’s also a very good reason for some of these ingredients to exist in your skincare products. And sunscreens have the best research of it’s kind, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Sunscreens with synthetic chemical ingredients can get to your bloodstream news when it first broke out, I just have one word fromy my reaction this “WOW”, it caused a wave of panic that had people literally throwing out their existing suncreens without any context and all from articles but not backed with any proven facts or data. You would think that these media outlets would do their due diligence and do their homework, but more often than not, and sadly that isn’t the case. First, topical products unlike consumed products (and even consumed products can get to our bloodstreams) – but what does that mean to you or me exactly?? What are the side effects? What are the short/long term effects? What are the pros and cons? Do you see the problem? These media outlets will report on the supposed news but doesn’t provide much else. And we as human beings will naturally panic at the mere thought of anything penetrating into our bloodstreams!! These tests were done on mice that was directly fed to them, and even the dosage/concentration was inaccurate – which makes or breaks the theory into actual facts or lies.

Especially in the world of sunscreens where it’s highly regulated by the FDA, down the percentage of the dose. So actual companies that develop products containing such ingredients and their researchers need to further test to confirm the accuracy of these testimonies. If it was actually proven as it was portrayed by the media outlets the FDA would have pulled them off the shelves immediately and would not have stated to continue using products containing those ingredients. There’s also controversy that it was those very people biased to Natural/Clean beauty that started this fear mongering rumor to get consumers to switch over. I can literally go on, but what you need to know, and what I hope that you can takeaway from this, is that, we all need to wear sunscreens and incorporate it as part of our morning skincare routine.

+CANADA.CA Health Canada: “Draft: Guidance document – sunscreen monograph”

Whether that by physical mineral or synthetic chemical, it doesn’t matter, the trickiest part is finding the right one that works for your skin, which means you will need to do a small trial & error with a few, to know what works best for your skin. Let your biases be gone and learn to listen to your skin. The good news is, is that there are so many sunscreens on the market that you have no excuse to NOT protect your skin.

What do you need to look for on the sunscreen labels? Something that has an SPF of at least 30 and that it says Broad Spectrum, so that you know it has UV filters that will protect your skin from both the UVA and UVB rays.

It sounds almost too simple, and yet to overlooked.

The views expressed on this site are that of my own and are provided for informational purposes only. I make no warranties about the suitability of any product or treatment referenced or reviewed here for any person other than myself and any reliance placed on these reviews or references by you is done so solely at your own risk. Nothing on this site shall be construed as providing dermatological, medical or other such advice and you are always advised to seek the advice of a suitable professional should you have any such concerns.