We all understand the dangers of the sun. It’s no secret that prolonged exposure to UV rays leads to sunburn and increases the risk of skin cancer. It’s also common knowledge that protecting your baby’s skin with sunscreen is especially important.

But did you know that many sunscreens contain chemical ingredients that may have adverse health effects for you and your little one?

In this article, the baby experts at Mustela will give you an in-depth look at mineral vs. chemical sunscreen. Along the way, we’ll answer the following questions:

  • What is the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreen?
  • What is a chemical sunscreen?
  • Are chemical sunscreens safe for babies?
  • What is a mineral sunscreen?
  • Are mineral sunscreens safe for babies?

We know that your baby’s well-being is priority number one, so we’ll give you all the information you need to keep your little one safe in the sun.

mineral vs. chemical sunscreen should be considered when applying sunscreen to baby's skin

What Is The Difference Between Mineral And Chemical Sunscreen?

The main difference between chemical and mineral sunscreens can be found in their ingredient lists.

Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that may potentially cause health problems for you and your baby. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, use two natural minerals—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—as active ingredients. These minerals simply sit on top of your skin and protect it by reflecting away UV rays.

To better understand the differences between chemical and mineral sunscreens, let’s take a closer look at each.

What Is A Chemical Sunscreen?

A chemical sunscreen is one whose active ingredients are non-natural, chemical compounds. Here are a few examples of chemical ingredients commonly found in sunscreen.

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

Despite the fact that these compounds have all been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), research shows potential risks for several of them, including:

  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Padimate O

The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens, like the ones listed above, are effective because they absorb the sun’s UV rays. Then, through a chemical reaction, the sunscreen dissipates the UV rays. This means that your skin is protected because the UV rays never actually hit your body.

However, before these chemicals can offer any UV protection, your skin has to absorb them. This can cause irritation and discomfort, especially for children with sensitive skin.

Additionally, trace amounts of the chemicals found in chemical sunscreens can trickle into your bloodstream. Once in your bloodstream, they can filter into other bodily fluids, such as breastmilk. A study published by a team of scientists, led by Dr. Margret Schlumpf of the University of Zurich, found trace amounts of at least one sunscreen chemical in the breast milk of 76.5 percent of the women they tested.

Octinoxate was detected in a whopping 64.7 percent of the sampled women’s breast milk. Three other FDA-approved sunscreen chemicals—oxybenzone, octocrylene, and padimate O—were also found in significant amounts. This raises serious questions about breastfeeding safety.

At this point, you must be wondering whether or not these chemicals are safe for your baby. Let’s address that concern now.

Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe For Babies?

As we discussed in the previous section, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens often seep into your bloodstream. What happens then? Some of the compounds can affect the hormone levels in your body. For example, studies show that chemical ingredients in sunscreens can increase the risk of endometriosis in women, decrease sperm concentration in men, and lower testosterone levels in adolescent males.

If research found that these chemical compounds might negatively affect your health, why did the FDA approve them? The short explanation is that the FDA approved these chemicals when they first began regulating sunscreen in the late 1970s.

At that time, most of these chemicals had already been used in sunscreens for years. As such, they were approved without having to go through the strict approval process. In other words, they were grandfathered in.

Although recent research suggests that some of these chemicals are potentially harmful, the research is not yet conclusive. Scientists are still trying to understand the effects of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens. The FDA would need unquestionable evidence in order to reverse its approval and ban any single chemical from being used in sunscreens. That’s why they remain on the market today.

So, given the above information, are chemical sunscreens safe for babies? Unfortunately, we simply don’t know if chemical sunscreens are safe for young children. In fact, we aren’t even sure that they’re safe for adults! More research is necessary before we can draw any definitive conclusions.

All of this might sound concerning, but don’t worry! There’s a safer option available for protecting your little one’s skin from the sun: mineral sunscreen. Simply put, mineral sunscreens are safer alternatives to their chemical cousins.

What Is A Mineral Sunscreen?

A mineral sunscreen is just what it sounds like—a sunscreen that uses minerals as its active ingredients. The minerals most often used are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both of these ingredients occur naturally, although they can also be created synthetically.

mother and baby relaxing at the beach

Mineral sunscreens work in a completely different way than chemical sunscreens. Remember, chemical sunscreens penetrate your skin and offer protection by dissipating UV rays. By contrast, mineral sunscreens simply sit on top of your skin and reflect UV rays away from your body.

Mineral sunscreens are sometimes called physical sunscreens because they provide a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s rays. Think of these minerals as millions of tiny mirrors resting on the surface of your skin, bouncing away harmful UV rays.

Are Mineral Sunscreens Safe For Babies?

Sunscreens that contain only mineral-based active ingredients are safe to use on babies. This is indisputable.

The only thing to keep an eye out for is sunscreens that use both mineral and chemical ingredients. These sunscreens might advertise themselves as mineral sunscreens but may have chemical ingredients, too. As always, read the label and check the ingredients before putting any products on your baby’s skin.

If you’re looking for a sunscreen that’s safe for your child, try Mustela SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion. It has 100 percent mineral-based active ingredients that offer superior protection from UV rays. On top of that, the natural ingredients won’t irritate your baby’s delicate skin. Why take chances with a chemical sunscreen when there are safe, effective options already available?

Some corporations that manufacture chemical sunscreens have suggested that mineral sunscreens can also be absorbed by your little one’s skin. These companies claim that since the ingredients in mineral sunscreens are broken down into tiny pieces (called nanoparticles), they can easily seep into your baby’s skin cells.

However, this claim contradicts the findings of the international scientific community. A 2009 report published by the Australian Department of Health reviewed all major studies of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The conclusion was stated plainly:

“To date, the current weight of evidence suggests that TiO2 [titanium dioxide] and ZnO [zinc oxide] nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells, rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer (stratum corneum) of the skin.”

This is one case where the science is clear. Mineral sunscreens are the safest option for protecting your precious baby from the sun!

Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Additional Facts To Consider

In addition to the ingredients in mineral and chemical sunscreen, there are a few other factors to consider before deciding on a specific product.

First, some mineral sunscreens may leave a slight residue on your baby’s body since the minerals are not actually absorbed into their skin. Chemical sunscreens include ingredients called penetration enhancers, which help the chemicals make their way into your child’s skin. This makes it easier for chemical sunscreen to be rubbed in smoothly and transparently.

But remember—you don’t want your baby’s skin absorbing these harmful chemicals! The fact that mineral sunscreen may leave residue behind is just further evidence that they’re safer for you and your little one.

mother and baby playing at the beach

There’s one last thing to keep in mind when choosing a sunscreen. Make sure that your sunscreen is labeled “broad spectrum.” This means that the sunscreen blocks all types of the sun’s UV rays. Mustela SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen Lotion is the best option for a broad-spectrum, 100 percent mineral-based sunscreen.

We also offer a soothing After Sun Spray that’s perfect for everything from long days at the beach to short trips to your local park. Apply it to hydrate and refresh your baby’s skin after enjoying the sunshine.

We all know that the sun can damage our skin. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying the great outdoors with your baby! With a safe, broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, you can enjoy the sun with peace of mind.