Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen, Explained

Find Out How Each One Works

By MEGAN POSTED ON August 21, 2020 0 comments 393 VIEWS

We all know that wearing sunscreen is a critical part of any skincare routine, but whether to opt for a physical or chemical version tends to be where things get hazy. What’s the difference? Is one better than the other? And how can I tell which is which?
We breakdown the “need-to-knows” so you can quickly decipher which type is best for you, once and for all.

Physical Sunscreen

How it works: Physical sunscreen, also called mineral sunscreen, sits on the top layer of your skin and reflects the suns’ rays.
Pros: It protects against rays as soon as it’s applied, meaning there is no need to wait before exposing yourself to daylight. It’s pretty comfortable on all skin types and conditions.
Cons: Although you’ll find new newer formulations that are sheer, in general, physical sunscreen tends to leave a white or tinted residue on the skin.
How to spot it: To identify this type of sunscreen, look for the words “mineral,” or “physical,” as well as active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Chemical Sunscreen

How it works: Using ingredients that absorb into the skin, chemical sunscreens transform UV rays into heat and release them from the body.
Pros: Along with tending to be lighter and more unnoticeable than physical sunscreen, most chemical sunscreens are more water- and sweat-resistant.
Cons: You’ll need to wait 15 to 30 minutes for sunscreen to absorb before exposing skin to daylight. It also tends to be slightly more irritating for sensitive skin types.
How to spot it: Check the ingredients list for one of these common active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate.

Which One Is Right For You?

There isn’t a “better” option out of physical or chemical sunscreen; it comes down to weighing the pros and cons and deciding based on personal preference. What is important is that you opt for a version that is at least SPF 30, and that you apply a generous amount (think around one teaspoon) to your entire face.

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