woman laying in the sun

Discover the difference between Chemical & Mineral sunscreen

Is mineral or chemical sunscreen better for your skin? Learn how they both work and the benefits of each so you can decide which to use.


It is well known that sunscreen is important for anyone spending time in the sun to protect skin from harmful UV rays. Best practice is to wear it daily, even when it’s cloudy outside.

Daily sun protection will help protect your skin and decrease the risk of sun damage. On top of this, it helps to prevent premature skin ageing caused by sun exposure such as age spots, wrinkles and sagging skin. 

There are two key types of sunscreen, mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. They work in different ways and it is important to understand how they work and what benefits one has over the other. Here we will go through how both mineral and chemical sunscreen work, what their differences are and finish with which you should choose.

What is mineral sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen, which is often also referred to as physical sunscreen, stays on the surface of the skin and deflects the sun's harmful UV rays. 

The active ingredients in physical/mineral sunscreen are Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide. These minerals contain small particles that sit on the skin to create a physical barrier. This barrier protects the skin and causes UVA & UVB rays to bounce off it.

You often see mineral sunscreen referred to as sunblock, although you should know that no sunscreen can block out all the UV rays. 

What is chemical sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen differs, as it’s absorbed into the skin and protects by inactivating the UV rays through a chemical reaction. Chemical sunscreen is the most popular form of sunscreen and tends to be lighter and thinner.

The active ingredients most commonly used in chemical sunscreen include Avobenzone, Octinoxate and Oxybenzone. These ingredients work to inactivate the UV rays and convert them into a small amount of heat before they penetrate the skin. 

Be sure to look for a broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen, most are, but it is important to confirm. Broad-spectrum sunscreen means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

It is important to note that it takes 15-30 minutes for these to be fully absorbed into the skin, to provide the full intended protection. With this in mind, you should make sure to apply them in due time before exposing your skin to the sun.


ginger curly hair girl holding a Nivea SPF cream

There is no evidence that wearing chemical sunscreen is unsafe. For the most part, there is not one type of sunscreen that is necessarily better than the other, it comes down to preference and what is comfortable for your skin.

The chemicals within some sunscreens may irritate certain people's skin, especially small children or those with skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea. In these cases, it is recommended to use a physical sunscreen that sits on the skin's surface as these are usually better tolerated. 

NIVEA Sensitive Immediate Protect Sun Lotion SPF30 is a great option if you’re looking for a sunscreen that is dermatologically approved for sensitive skin, and offers immediate protection against UVA and UVB rays, as well as sun-induced irritations. Made with a fragrance-free and water-resistant formula, it's perfect for enjoying the sun, even with sensitive skin.


Although there is not one sunscreen that is better than the other, they do offer their own advantages.

Benefits of mineral sunscreen:

Immediate protection
Mineral/physical sunscreen once applied will offer instant sun protection, and will not require 15-30 minutes to take action.

Better for sensitive skin
As it sits on top of the skin rather than being absorbed, it is less likely to cause irritation. Mineral sunscreen is therefore generally considered better for children and those with sensitive skin.

Unlikely to clog pores
Due to it not deeply penetrating the skin it is less likely to clog pores, which can sometimes contribute to breakouts.

Won’t seep into the eyes
As mineral sunscreen sticks to the surface of the skin, it is less likely to run into the eyes or other sensitive areas which can sting and cause irritation. 

Considered better for the environment
Chemical sunscreen ingredients; Octinoxate and Oxybenzone are known to cause reef bleaching which is when coral dies and loses its colour. 

afro hair woman holding a Nivea SPF 50 cream


Mineral/physical sunscreen once applied will offer instant sun protection, and will not require 15-30 minutes to take action.

dark long hair girl holding a Nivea Q10 SPF face cream

Benefits of chemical sunscreen:

More water and sweat resistant
As chemical sunscreen is absorbed into the skin it tends to be more water and sweat resistant. It is often the choice for people who are typically exercising or spending time in the water.

Doesn’t leave white film/streaks on the skin
Chemical sunscreens tend to have a lighter formula and won’t leave a white film on the skin, unlike the denser physical sunscreens. 

Easier application
The thinner formulation of chemical sunscreen makes it easier to apply to the skin. Therefore smaller amounts are needed to cover large areas of the skin as it spreads more easily. 

Often mixed with other beneficial ingredients
Chemical sunscreen is often created with other ingredients like Peptides, Antioxidants and Enzymes that offer additional skin-protective properties.


Although chemical sunscreen is considered bad for the environment, this is not the case for NIVEA sunscreens. For many other chemical sunscreens, this is due to the chemicals  Octinoxate and Oxybenzone that cause coral bleaching. This occurs as a result of people wearing these chemical sunscreens while swimming in the ocean. As it is important to NIVEA to care for the environment around us, all NIVEA sunscreens are reef friendly. NIVEA sunscreens are specially formulated so they are free of these bleaching chemicals.


There is not one universal sunscreen that you should choose, instead, it depends on your individual skin type and preference. It may come down to whether you have sensitive skin, or if you are active and want the sun protection not to wash off as easily. By assessing your skin type and weighing up the benefits of each, you should have enough information to choose the best sunscreen for you.

NIVEA Protect & Moisture Lotion SPF50+ along with many other sunscreens are now considered to be hybrid sunscreens. This sunscreen provides the immediate UV protection that you expect from mineral sunscreens, while also offering benefits you see in chemical sunscreens such as being water resistant. It combines the broad-spectrum coverage of a mineral sunscreen whilst not leaving a visible film layer. Hybrid sunscreens are great for those that like the protection of mineral sunscreen but struggle with the visible white film these typically leave on the skin.

UV Face Specialist Triple Protect Sun Fluid SPF50+ is a great daily-use hybrid face sunscreen. While offering instant SPF50 protection its ultra-light formula is also absorbed into the skin so there is no visible white film on the skin. It also helps protect from UV rays, Blue light and pollution to help keep your skin looking youthful.

What is very important is the level of SPF sunscreen you choose to apply. SPF is the level of protection you are applying to your skin. It is recommended that if you are spending 
time in the sun, you should apply a minimum of SPF30 regularly to your skin.

woman at the beach applying Nivea SPF cream


There is not one universal sunscreen that you should choose, instead, it depends on your individual skin type and preference. 


All NIVEA sunscreens are formulated with love to nurture your skin and keep it safe. A wide range of sunscreen options, whether you need high SV protection or sunscreen for sensitive skin NIVEA has it. Applying sun lotion or sunscreen is recommended for all skin types, because NIVEA care products not only protect the skin against the sun, they also provide nourishment at the same time.