Sun protection has more benefits than simply protecting your skin during a day at the pool, and consumers are becoming increasingly aware of just how much SPF can do for their skin. Benefits like wrinkle and fine line prevention, treatment of acne scars, decreased inflammation, and protection from toxins that lead to skin oxidation are among just a few benefits that consumers can get from SPF skin care and beauty products.

But what happens when consumers are wary to put chemical SPFs on their skin? Chemical exfoliants, such as alpha-hydroxy-acids, are seldom marketed as harmful to the skin while chemical SPFs are not. There are more or less two kinds of SPF (which stands for sun protection factor) that separates skin care and beauty products: chemical and mineral. Mineral sunscreen ingredients, however, still have to go through some level of chemical processing in order to be used as an SPF. Chemical sunscreen, while different from mineral in how it prevents exposure to the sun, has its own set of pros and cons that should be considered when choosing an ingredient base for your product. We’ll break the details of chemical and mineral sunscreen down below, along with more information on what the benefits of SPF is and how the sun’s rays affect the skin.

SPF - The basics

spf benefits

SPF is becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in skin care and beauty products because consumers are learning about the importance of using SPF in their routine. Most SPF products need to be reapplied every couple of hours as they can lose their potency, especially on days where you plan to spend a lot of time in the sun. Because sun damage is associated with aging and oxidation of the skin, many skin care experte stress the importance of using an SPF every single day, regardless of whether or not you plan on spending a lot of time outside.

This means that the skin care industry has ample room for marketing the product, as it’s becoming increasingly present in daily routines. Very few skin care routines, if any, will not include an SPF. Korean Beauty, for example, includes an SPF as one of the final steps in a common daily routine. But while SPF works to protect your skin from UV radiation, it also works to prevent skin damage that leads to wrinkles, pigmentation, complexion changes, and inflammation—particularly on acne spots and blemishes.

About UVA/UVB radiation & skin

Radiation from the sun has long been proven to contribute to things like skin cancer and hyperpigmentation, but what many consumers are starting to learn is that UV (ultraviolet) radiation also contributes to what we often think is simply signs of aging. Skin that looks wrinkled or sallow often suffers from damage caused by long term exposure to the sun.

There are two types of Ultraviolet radiation from the sun: UVA and UVB. UVA rays cause sun damage to the skin in the form of aging and changes to the overall look and feel of your skin. These rays have longer wavelengths and can penetrate deeper into the skin, meaning they often create long-term damage rather than the short-term, but more noticeable effects from UVB.

UVB on the other hand has much shorter wavelengths, and is responsible for the redness and burning sensation that happens when you expose your skin to the sun for too long at one time. Consumers should be aware that while they may not see and feel sun damage immediately after exposure, it does not mean they have not suffered damage from UV radiation if their skin is exposed to UVA radiation on a regular basis.

Chemical vs. mineral: It’s about marketing

The two types of sunscreen on the market seem to create a divide among skin care consumers as to which is best. While chemical sunscreens have been deemed unsafe for marine life and should not be worn in the ocean, the products have little scientific evidence to back up claims that they may be unhealthy for your skin.

Chemical sunscreen refers to SPF products that are made from chemical compounds. Ingredients like oxybenzone (such as Oxybenzone from Coskin), octinoxate (such as Eclipsogen EHMC from Clariant), homosalate (like GalSORB Homosalate from Galaxy Surfactants), and octocrylene (like MaxcelTM OCL from Chemaxcel) are among a couple of the most common of these ingredients. Chemical SPF prevents sun damage by absorbing radiation before it can come into contact with your skin.

Mineral sunscreen (also often referred to as physical sunscreen) works a bit differently but still needs to be reapplied every couple of hours. The products, which are made from zinc oxide (such as UV Cut ZnO-65-AD from Grant Industries) or titanium dioxide (like Nano titanium dioxide dispersion from Shanghai Kingpowder), deflect UVA and UVB radiation to prevent them from ever touching your skin. These products are often less soluble on the skin, so many consumers don’t prefer them because they don’t absorb into the skin as easily as chemical products.

Essentially the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen is based upon a consumer preference, and the common marketing strategies behind each of the products helps define which is more popular at a certain time. Right now, companies like Goop and other popular skin care and wellness blogs are pushing mineral sunscreen products over chemical, but the reality is that both chemical and mineral active ingredients must undergo some level of chemical process in order to be used in skin care products.