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    You may not think about sun protection or skin cancer often, but with such a high prevalence of the disease, it's a smart move. Now that you're thinking about the health of your skin, you should consider which type of sunscreen is right for you: mineral or chemical sunscreen.


    We all enjoy spending time with loved ones in the sun. A key factor in protecting our skin from the sun's damaging rays is sunscreen. But how do you choose between mineral versus chemical sunscreen? In order to protect yourself and your family from sun damage, it's important to learn about the distinctions between these two sunscreen types.


    Understanding the Need for Sun Protection

    More people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every year than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. While that statistic might sound intimidating, there is an upside. Skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. If you're diligent with sun protection and protective clothing when exposed to the sun, you can significantly reduce your risk.


    Understanding how the active ingredients in sunscreens work and other key differences between the two types of sunscreens can help you decide which product to use regularly.


    The active ingredients of each product do the work of filtering or blocking the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) light. This UV light comes through powerful rays that can damage your skin in various ways, including increasing your risk of skin cancer, hastening premature aging and damaging your skin via sunburns. UVA rays (and a smaller amount of UVB rays) can reach your skin even through the windows in your home, car and office. Although you may not get sunburned, skin damage can still occur. The most effective way to protect your skin is to apply an SPF 15 broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, whenever you're exposed to the sun, and apply an SPF 30+ sunscreen for any extended outdoor activities. And remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.


    Mineral Versus Chemical Sunscreens: How Do They Work?

    While both types of sunscreen offer protection against UV rays, they work differently to do the job. The active ingredients of mineral sunscreens, also called physical sunscreens, are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These compounds are sun deflectors that work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting and scattering the sun's rays.


    Chemical sunscreens contain a variety of active ingredients that are absorbed into your skin. They work by absorbing the sun's rays and rendering them inactive through a chemical reaction. Common chemical ingredients include:


    • Homosalate
    • Octinoxate
    • Octocrylene
    • Oxybenzone
    • Avobenzone
    • Octisalate


    Because mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin and don't require absorption to work, they are immediately effective once applied. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens need time for absorption and should be applied 20 minutes to 30 minutes before exposure to the sun.


    Pros and Cons of Chemical Sunscreen

    Because chemical sunscreens get absorbed into your skin, they tend to be lighter and easier to apply. Additionally, they don't leave a white or chalky residue and don't require reapplication as frequently as mineral sunscreens. Many people prefer the look and feel of chemical sunscreen products.


    The primary con associated with chemical sunscreen is the question mark regarding the long-term safety of its active ingredients. While there's some concern about the absorption rate into the bloodstream of some of the commonly used active ingredients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says more research is needed to verify any such claim. Further, most researchers say the known health risks of sun exposure far outweigh the potential risk of absorbing sunscreen chemicals.


    Another con to chemical sunscreen is that some people may experience allergic reactions or skin irritation. And lastly, some chemical sunblock ingredients can damage coral reefs and be toxic to marine life. Some coral reef tourist areas ban the use of chemical sunscreens.


    Pros and Cons of Mineral Sunscreen

    Many people are drawn to mineral sunscreens because they don't carry a potential risk of long-term chemical exposure. And, because they don't contain chemicals, they are suitable for young children and adults with sensitive skin or skin allergies.


    Further, mineral sunscreen is safer for marine life, including fish and coral reefs. In fact, many ocean destinations encourage the use of reef-friendly mineral sunblock products, and others, such as Hawaii, only allow reef-friendly sunscreens on their beaches.


    On the other hand, mineral sunscreens are thicker and harder to apply. They also tend to go on chalkier and leave a white residue that may not look so good in your selfies. Fortunately, there have been advances in mineral sunscreen products, with some coming in a tinted formula that can help mask the white hue.


    Protect Your Skin: Lather Up

    Choosing the right sunscreen for you and your family requires weighing the pros and cons of mineral versus chemical sunscreen types. After considering factors like your skin's sensitivity, the mechanism these types use to protect you from the sun, environmental impact, and your application preference, you can select the most suitable sunscreen for effective and comfortable sun protection. However, experts agree that the best sunscreen is the one you will use daily. So go forth, and pick your product! Your skin will surely thank you.


    Written by:  Joelle Klein


    These articles are intended for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in these articles. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise or medication regimen.


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