Differences between physical and chemical sunscreen

Differences between physical and chemical sunscreen

There are numerous articles mentioning the role sunscreen plays in your skin care routine. Sunscreen helps protect you from overexposure to the sun’s damaging rays, which can contribute to fine lines and wrinkles, signs of premature aging, and skin cancer. But when choosing the right product, you have a few decisions to make. Are you slathering up with a physical or chemical sunscreen? Which one is better? Let’s figure it out in the article below!

Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen, sits on top of the skin rather than absorbing into it. They create a barrier on the skin’s surface that reflects UV rays to prevent damage and sunburns. There are currently only two FDA approved physical ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Children and people with skin sensitivities usually tolerate these formulas well. The consistency is often thicker than chemical varieties, so people with dry skin may prefer how moisturizing they are. People with normal or oily skin may find physical formulas too thick and heavy. However, Korean cosmetics brands and experts nowadays have successfully researched physical sunscreen formulas with lightweight texture, cruelty free and fast absorption such as:

Sur.medic Azulene Mild UV Tone-Up Sun Primer

- Dr.Jart+ Every Sun Day - Mild Sun

Missha All Around Safe Block Soft Finish Sun Milk

Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, absorbs into the skin. Then, they absorb UV rays from the sun, convert them to heat, and release them from your body so they can’t damage your skin and cause sunburns. These are FDA approved chemical sunscreen ingredients:

  • oxybenzone
  • avobenzone
  • octisalate
  • octocrylene
  • homosalate
  • octinoxate

People having sensitive skin might experience redness, inflammation or allergy to some ingredients of chemical sunscreen. Therefore, choosing the right products and “listening to your skin” are always the top priorities.

Some famous chemical sunscreen brands include:

AHC Safe On Light Sun Serum


La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt In Milk Body & Face Sunscreen

Which is better?

In fact, there is no clear winner between physical and chemical sunscreen. Considering these factors below will help you choose the best sunscreen for your skin:

  • Be sure it is labeled broad spectrum protection, for example: SPF30+/PA+++. This means it will protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
  • Look for a sunscreen that is water resistant. UV rays can penetrate through water.
  • Reduce potential irritation by selecting a fragrance-free sunscreen.
  • Non-comedogenic sunscreens won’t clog pores.

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