Chemical or Mineral Sunscreens: Which Are Better for Children?

Knowing how to differentiate between chemical and mineral sunscreens is one of the important aspects of choosing a sunscreen for children.
Chemical or Mineral Sunscreens: Which Are Better for Children?

Last update: 18 September, 2022

When choosing chemical or mineral sunscreens, do you know which ones are better for children? The skin of infants and babies is much more sensitive than that of adults. Therefore, it’s important to take this into account in order to protect against possible damage from ultraviolet rays.

Children’s delicate skin and chemical or mineral sunscreens

Children’s skin is generally characterized by its smoothness and softness, unlike the skin of an adult. At the same time, the surface layer is thinner, with different water management and less lipid production.

Because of this, children’s skin is more prone to inflammation and irritation. In turn, the acid mantle is a defense mechanism of the skin against various infections.

Based on the susceptibility to infections, irritations, thermal or chemical aggressions, and the high permeability of the skin surface to topical agents, it’s best to opt for products that preserve the integrity of the skin.

Characteristics of chemical or organic sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen has the ability to absorb ultraviolet rays and neutralize them, releasing harmless heat.

This type of formulation can be uncomfortable and irritating to sensitive skin. In addition, it usually takes about 20 minutes to have an effect after application. Some of the components of chemical sunscreens are as follows:

  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Avobenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Oxybenzone

According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, all components of sunscreens can be chemically derived. Therefore, the consideration that physical sunscreens are natural is not so accurate.

A mother putting sunscreen on her baby girl's back at the pool.
Chemical sunscreens blend better with the skin, but they can also cause irritation because they’re made with dyes and preservatives.

The advantages and disadvantages of chemical sunscreens

From an aesthetic point of view, these products are much more elegant, blend better with the skin, and don’t stand out against the skin tone. In addition, their formulations are lighter, making them easier to blend with emollients or makeup.

However, organic sunscreens are often composed of multiple fragrances, dyes, and preservatives that develop skin irritation. In addition, the components enter the bloodstream and can cause unwanted effects on the body.

Characteristics of mineral or physical sunscreens

Unlike the chemical variant, mineral sunscreens act as a reflector. That is, they reflect or refract ultraviolet rays from the skin and work as a shield.

These products are recommended for sensitive skin, such as that of babies, because they’re more effective and don’t cause as much irritation. In addition, you don’t have to wait for them to work, as they exert their effects instantly. The most common components include the following:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide

Both components are FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approved and are considered effective and safe. They’re even responsible for leaving a whitish coloration on the skin.

Advantages and disadvantages of physical sunscreens

This type of formulation is non-comedogenic and tends to develop less irritation than chemical sunscreens. However, adverse effects are related to the use of nanoparticles, which have a more beneficial aesthetic effect.

Nanoparticles are particles that are tinier than skin cells themselves, giving them the ability to penetrate the skin and then the blood. This can result in reactions that increase free radicals and DNA damage.

Research from Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, & Photomedicine concludes that inorganic sunscreens develop significant skin protection by absorbing 95% of the sun’s rays.

You may be interested in: Apply Sunscreen for Moles and Freckles

A mother applying sunscreen to her son's face while sitting in the grass.
When choosing the right sunscreen for children it’s best to use choose one that’s a cream or lotion and not a spray. Correct application is key to guaranteeing your child’s protection.

What should I look for in an ideal sunscreen?

While the choice of which type of sunscreen to use is important, other aspects also play a role in considering the effectiveness of the sunscreen. For example, the correct application and administration of sunscreen are key to its efficiency.

It’s best to use creams or lotions, as sprays aren’t applied uniformly and properly. Therefore, you should apply a generous and uniform amount of sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure.

It should also be applied every two hours and after swimming or sweating. In addition, it’s important to use an SPF 50 or higher, which is water resistant and broad spectrum (UVB and UVA).

Chemical or mineral sunscreens

In conclusion, the use of physical sunscreens is recommended for atopic and sensitive skin, pregnant women, and children. In turn, there are formulations that are composed of the fusion of both products. This way, the irritant reactions of chemical sunscreens are avoided, while a lighter formulation is obtained.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Rai R, Shanmuga SC, Srinivas C. Update on photoprotection. Indian J Dermatol. 2012 Sep;57(5):335-42. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.100472. PMID: 23112351; PMCID: PMC3482794.
  • Moloney FJ, Collins S, Murphy GM. Sunscreens: safety, efficacy and appropriate use. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2002;3(3):185-91. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200203030-00005. PMID: 11978139.
  • Donaldson K, Stone V, Tran CL, Kreyling W, Borm PJ. Nanotoxicology. Occup Environ Med. 2004 Sep;61(9):727-8. doi: 10.1136/oem.2004.013243. PMID: 15317911; PMCID: PMC1763673.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.