Chemical VS Physical Sunscreen – Which Sunscreen is Right for You?

Sunny and beach days are upon us and with so many sunscreens available in the market today, it can be difficult to choose the right one for you and it’s a fair concern to many of us. Sunscreens are divided into two major types – Chemical and Physical.

Knowing the differences between the two types is therefore essential when it comes to choosing a suitable sunscreen for your skin.

That’s why we are going to now break down the differences for you and list out the benefits and disadvantages of each type. 

Chemical Sunscreen

chemical physical sunscreen difference

Prevents sun exposure by absorbing UVA and UVB rays into the skin. Often, the sunscreen has a light texture, easy to blend and can be mixed with chemicals and skincare ingredients easily.

Hence, chemical sunscreens are a popular choice for facial sunscreen as they are formulated with nourishing ingredients for the skin. 

When Should I Apply Chemical Sunscreen? 

SPF 15 is sufficient if you are indoors most of the time. To avoid allergic rash or clogged pores, make sure to look at the ingredients thoroughly especially for sensitive and oily skin that are responsive to certain chemicals.

Chemical sunscreens must be applied 15 – 20 minutes before exposure to the sun and should be reapplied every 2 hours.

Sweat and water can reduce the absorption capacity of UV rays. 

Pros of Applying Chemical Sunscreen

  • Suitable to be applied on the face and with makeup
  • Thinner texture and therefore easier to spread on the skin like lotion, making it ideal for daily use
  • Enriched in nutrients, therefore, less product is needed to protect the skin
  • Easier to use with other products like peptides and enzymes, giving you an all in one product for a skincare boost 

Cons of Applying Chemical Sunscreen

  • Only becomes effective approximately 15-20 minutes after application 
  • Comes with an increased risk of irritation and allergies as a need to apply more frequently during the day. 
  • Chemicals and ingredients that are in the sunscreen can create additional opportunities for irritation and discomfort especially for people with sensitive skin. 
  • The longer you stay outdoors, the more you need to apply the sunscreen. This can lead to clogged pores and increase breakouts. Choosing an SPF level that is too high can also lead to skin irritation. 

Physical Sunscreen

what is physical sunscreen

Commonly used as a body sunscreen with mineral-based ingredients, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to block UV rays. 

Physical sunscreens work by staying on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays away from the skin.

They act as a coating layer to protect the skin and are naturally broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. 

When Should I Apply Physical Sunscreen? 

When going outdoors to the beach or for long exposure to sunlight, physical sunscreens will last longer.

Suitable for people who are sensitive to heat due to the UV reflection properties that are different from chemical sunscreens that absorb UV rays. 

Pros of Physical Sunscreen 

  • Contains fewer chemicals therefore less likely to cause irritation or clogged pores.
  • Offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays
  • Suitable for all skin types including sensitive skin
  • Long-lasting although may need to reapply if going to swim or when exposed to water and sweat
  • Your skin is protected from the sun as soon as it’s applied

Cons of Chemical Sunscreen 

  • Can be thicker, therefore, may require more effort to rub in 
  • Need to be generously applied to be fully effective
  • Can appear white or flaky on the facial skin. Not recommended to be applied with makeup. 
  • Can rub off, sweat off or rinse off easily. More frequent application is required 

How to Apply Sunscreen with Makeup?

What to Know Before Buying a Sunscreen? 

what is chemical sunscreen

Broad Spectrum Skin Protection

Sunscreens should have substances that protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. This type of sunscreen is called Broad Spectrum and should be tested and certified.

You can use the values of SPF and PA as an indication for the broad spectrum property as well. 

Fragrance-Free Formula 

Go for sunscreens that are fragrance-free. Lavender oil and citrus oil are known to trigger skin irritation when exposed to the sun.

Those with sensitive skin should pay special attention to fragrance-free labels on sunscreen. 

Does Not Cause Clogged Pores

Look out for Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as ingredients in the sunscreen. These are both common ingredients in physical sunscreens that will not be absorbed into the skin and therefore cause less clogged pores. 

Chemical Free Formula 

To be safe, choose sunscreens that do not contain oil whether it’s from plants, animals or minerals. Oil is often mixed in cosmetic products and is a factor that can lead to clogged pores, allergies, irritation and acne. 

Paraben-Free Formula 

Parabens are commonly used as preservatives in food, medicines and cosmetic products to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and mold.

With more health concerns nowadays, studies have also shown that paraben is a risk factor for cancer in women especially breasts cancer.

More and more people are interested in natural ingredients and products that are free of paraben. As expected, paraben-free sunscreens create more consumer confidence. 

SPF 30 or Higher

SPF 30 protects 97% of UVB, while an SPF that is higher than 30 protects up to 98%. Indeed, there is only a 1% difference. It is a misconception the higher the SPF is the better the sunscreen will be. 

Today, sunscreens are continuously being developed with many innovative formulas that address certain disadvantages.

For instance, physical sunscreens are now easier to apply even on the facial area while formulas in chemical sunscreens are becoming more gentle, hence, giving more options to those with sensitive skin.

Nonetheless, there are certain aspects that you should know before choosing your sunscreen that suits both your skin and lifestyle. 

What’s the Verdict? Which Sunscreen is Best?

chemical vs physical which sunscreen is best

Today, hybrid sunscreen offers a mix of chemical and physical sunscreens. Hybrid sunscreens can absorb radiation in itself and also have additional skincare ingredients.

When it comes to choosing a sunscreen, you need to consider the ingredients that best suit your skin type. Remember that a good sunscreen does not depend solely on the SPF. 

Oily Skin

Should be in gel form that is easily absorbed into the skin. The sunscreen should also be oil-free to help control the oiliness of the skin. Alcohol is one ingredient in sunscreens that help to reduce oiliness on the skin’s surface. 

Dry Skin

Choose lotion sunscreen to add moisture to the skin. For dry skin, avoid products that contain alcohol. 

Sensitive Skin

Sunscreens that are packed with natural ingredients are best for sensitive skin.

This means free of chemicals, perfume, alcohol and paraben. Look for sunscreens that are specifically for sensitive or baby skin. It is best to use gel or serum sunscreens to penetrate to the skin easily without causing clogged acne.

Plus, should avoid sunscreens that have a high SPF level or contain chemicals that can trigger allergies. Choose a sunscreen with a label that shows that it has been tested by a dermatologist for not causing the allergy. 

Allergy-prone Skin

Should be water-based or serum sunscreen that is not sticky, easy to spread and quick to absorb.

The sunscreen should not be mixed with perfume, alcohol, parabens, silicone oil or synthetic color to prevent skin irritation, clogged pores or dry skin. Just like allergy-prone skin, it is recommended to go for sunscreens that are produced with natural agreements to be safe. 

After reading this article, we hope you are now more confident when choosing your next sunscreen whether it’s chemical or physical.

Now you can see that it’s not only the SPF that indicates the quality of sunscreen but the most important step is to choose a sunscreen that is for your skin and protects against UVA that causes wrinkles, premature aging as well as UVB that causes sunburn.

Regardless of the type of sunscreen you choose, it should be waterproof and sweatproof. Happy tanning!

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