Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen: What’s the Difference?

Kanak Devnani, Aug 09, 2021

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, wearing sunscreen 365 days a year is essential! Whether it’s rainy or sunny, it is a crucial element in protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun and keeping it healthy. Yes, even on those cloudy days or if you are sitting indoors. While the daily routine is really that simple, on the other hand, like skincare, choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing as well. There is a lot of information on sunscreens that can circle your head. Like the different types, formulas and for whom or for what it is best suited. Physical, mineral? Chemical? And what do all those numbers on the bottle mean? There is no need to get nervous. That’s what we are here for! Below we break down everything you need to know about the different types of sunscreens and what to consider in choosing the best one for you.

Keep scrolling to understand the different types of sunscreens and choose the right one:

1. What are physical sunscreens?

Physical sunscreens are also known as mineral or natural sunscreens. They rely on minerals or ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that rest on the skin and deflect the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. They offer protection against UVA and UVB rays. It literally blocks UV rays by forming a physical shield that reflects them away from the skin. In general, physical non-comedogenic sunscreens are less likely to clog pores and are photostable. This basically means that they won’t degrade once the sun hits. Which makes it a great option for those with acne-prone, oily, or sensitive skin.

However, mineral sunscreens can sometimes feel heavy due to their thicker consistency and can often leave a white or gray tint or can easily rub or sweat. But the latest mineral sunscreens from today’s brands have updated their formulas to make them lighter and won’t leave a thick film or spray onto the skin. So it’s just a matter of finding the right product for your skin.

Bioderma, Photoderm Mineral Spray very high protection SPF50 + (source:

Bioderma, Photoderm Mineral Spray very high protection SPF50 + (source:

2. What are chemical sunscreens?

Compared to physical sunscreens, chemical sunscreens work by penetrating the skin and transforming ultraviolet rays into heat, and then releasing that heat from the skin. They contain organic compounds such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, and octinoxate. More stylish from a cosmetic point of view, they blend well with skin with their lightweight formula that covers a larger area at the same time. Which makes it easier to mix with other products like moisturizers and makeup. However, the only downside is that chemical sunscreens often contain more ingredients than physical ones. These include preservatives, dyes, and even fragrances that can irritate the skin. But brands have come a long way and often formulate their products without oxybenzone, a known irritant, leaving it in the past. Newer products on the market generally do not contain this ingredient, but they are still just as effective. But it does not hurt to always consult the list of ingredients before making the purchase.

Neutrogena, clear liquid face lotion, broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 Source:

Neutrogena, clear liquid face lotion, broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30 Source:

3. How to choose the right one?

While both options have their pros and cons, this can be a tricky question. It really comes down to your skin type and comfort level. For example, if you are prone to acne or breakouts, for any of the formulas it is best to look for a non-comedogenic one on the label. On the other hand, if you have darker skin, you might end up opting for a chemical sunscreen to avoid a white tint that comes with mineral sunscreen. But these also come with tinted options to solve the problem. Either way, whatever you choose, it’s always a good idea to patch test new products before applying it all over your face.

Next, the format type of your sunscreen comes into play. This refers to sprays, bars, lotions, creams, etc. and to the use of the correct amount. Of course, thicker creams and lotions will give you more coverage compared to sprays. And as a general rule of thumb, make sure your entire body is covered evenly and don’t forget to reapply – if you’re spending time outdoors, reapply your sunscreen every two hours. At the end of the day, you can use whatever type of sunscreen you want as long as it is wear sunscreen. Because you have to be the one who enjoys wearing a generous coat.

Beauty tip: Sometimes it is better to use both physical and chemical sunscreens on your skin because you will get both types of protection. If your skin tolerates both, you can use a combination sunscreen to get the best of both worlds and the best protection. Or just wear chemical sunscreen on your face and a physical version on your body!

Few factors to consider:

Regardless of which sunscreen you choose, there are a few crucial points that you should always keep in mind:

  • You need a minimum SPF factor of 30 for daily use. When applied correctly, it protects about 97 percent of UVB rays.
  • Choose water resistant formulas if you go to the pool or the beach. Keep an eye on how long it claims to last on damp skin and reapply as needed.
  • Dashboard spectrum sunscreens are essential as they protect you from both UVA rays, which cause signs of aging, and UVB rays, which cause burns.
  • Be aware of expiration dates! If the sunscreen has expired or has been spoiled for any reason, you should throw it away. The ingredients in the formula can break down and render them ineffective, which can irritate the skin.

What type of sunscreen do you prefer? Let me know in the comments below.

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