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chemical vs physical sunscreen: the facts

chemical vs physical sunscreen: the facts

Discover the features of and differences between both chemical and mineral or physical sunscreen, and when to use either. Both physical and chemical sunscreens can work by absorbing and reflecting UV rays. Given this, the differences between mineral vs chemical sunscreen aren’t immediately obvious. 

While some instinctively shy away from chemical sunscreens in favour of physical options, the formulations each have their benefits. To help you see the complete sunscreen picture, we’ve rounded up the pros and cons of both types of sunscreen. Read on to view our Anthelios sunscreen range, and shop with confidence when selecting sun protection for your family.

You can usually determine the type of sunscreen by looking at the consistency and packaging. Chemical sunscreens are typically less thick and more transparent, while physical sunscreens will list zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide in the ingredients. Read our Sunscreen Ingredients Guide to learn more. Ahead, see how to know if sunscreen is chemical or mineral, and which formulation is best suited to your skin type.

sunscreen for sun protection

what is mineral Sunscreen


Also termed physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreens contain particles of minerals – commonly titanium dioxide and zinc oxide – that usually sit on the surface of the skin. How does mineral sunscreen work? When in a thick white formula, they reflect UV while finer particles tend to absorb UV radiation. While physical UV filters provide sun protection on their own, they can also be paired with chemical filters in a synergistic way to create very high SPF sunscreens.

Features of a mineral or physical sunscreen include:


A thicker texture, which makes keeping track of application and reapplication easy

Supportive of sensitive skin types


Heavier than other sunscreen formulations

Thicker texture may be less suitable for oily or acne-prone skin

White appearance on the skin


Included in our range of sunscreen are products that combine both physical sunscreen and chemical filters.

Each of these Anthelios tinted moisturisers and BB cream contain both physical and chemical UV filters to provide very high broad spectrum protection.

For dry and sensitive skin types: Anthelios Ultra BB Cream SPF 50+ contains universal micro-pigments that adapt to all skin tones. With a light, hypoallergenic fragrance and antioxidant protection, it combines chemical and mineral filters to provide comfortable daily wear for normal to dry, sensitive skin.   

For acne-prone skin types: Anthelios Tinted Fluid Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ is a tinted sunscreen. It has a lightweight, matte finish, and uses both filtering systems for a unified coverage and protected complexion.

To reduce shine: Anthelios XL Anti-Shine Dry Touch Tinted Sunscreen SPF 50+ has a universal tinted finish that flatters all skin tones.

ALWAYS READ THE LABEL AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE. Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.


The vast majority of sunscreens fall into the chemical (also known as organic) category. These sunscreens contain sun filters that absorb UV light to protect skin.

Features of chemical sunscreen include:


A lightweight, non-sticky formula which provides breathable and easy application on skin.
No white residue left on skin
Provides very high broad spectrum protection


Some chemical UV filters can aggravate sensitive skin.


The Anthelios range of sunscreen feature chemical sun filters for every skin type. Providing broad spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB radiation, our modern formulas also hydrate the skin and supply other beneficial ingredients.

For normal to combination skin: Free from fragrance and parabens and formulated with antioxidant-rich thermal spring water, Anthelios Invisible Fluid Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ offers high-level protection for sensitive skin. Ideal for daily wear alone or under makeup, it also helps to protect against premature ageing and sun-induced pigmentation.

For oily & acne-prone skin: Lightweight and non-greasy, Anthelios XL Anti-Shine Dry Touch Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ is the ideal pairing for oily, acne-prone sensitive skin types. It includes mattifying ingredient Airlicium – an anti-sweat molecule that can absorb up to 150 times its volume in sebum, sweat and oil.

For dry skin: Dry skin is protected and nourished with Anthelios Ultra Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+. Light but moisturising, the formula delivers non-greasy, broad-spectrum protection without a masking effect. Glycerin hydrates the skin while thermal spring water provides comfort.

For water resistant protection: Anthelios XL Wet Skin Sunscreen SPF 50+ delivers very high broad-spectrum protection suitable for the entire family, with 4 hours water-resistance. Non-greasy, with an invisible finish, it can be applied to wet or dry skin.

ALWAYS READ THE LABEL AND FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE. Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.


So, is mineral or chemical sunscreen better? When comparing physical vs chemical sunscreen, there is no clear ‘winner’. Rather, it’s a personal decision that requires you to weigh up the unique needs of your skin and lifestyle.

La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios range uses both kinds of UV filters synergistically to achieve maximum efficacy in the most comfortable to wear formulas. The actives used are tailored to suit each specific product, with all formulas dermatologically tested to ensure tolerance for sensitive skin types.

Can I mix chemical and mineral sunscreen?

The La Roche-Posay sun protection range combines both chemical and mineral sun filters to ensure very high broad spectrum protection, so they can be used together.

Found this guide helpful? Keep reading to see whether to apply sunscreen before or after moisturiser.


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