What is the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens?
Sunscreens are an essential part of our daily skincare routine, especially during the summer months. They protect our skin from the harmful rays of the sun, preventing sunburns, premature aging, and even skin cancer. There are two main types of sunscreens available on the market: physical and chemical sunscreens. While both serve the same purpose, there are significant differences in their formulation and how they work. Let’s take a closer look at the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens.
Physical sunscreens: blocking the sun
Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral or inorganic sunscreens, work by physically blocking and reflecting the sun’s rays. They contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which create a physical barrier on the skin’s surface to deflect harmful UV rays. This physical barrier blocks both UVA and UVB rays, providing broad-spectrum protection.
One of the advantages of physical sunscreens is that they start working immediately upon application. They do not need to be absorbed into the skin, making them suitable for sensitive skin types. Physical sunscreens are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions, as they sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed into it.
However, physical sunscreens can leave a visible white cast on the skin, especially if not properly blended in. This can be a concern for individuals with darker skin tones who may prefer a more transparent option. Additionally, physical sunscreens can be thicker and greasier in texture compared to chemical sunscreens, which may not be favorable for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
Chemical sunscreens: absorbing the sun
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, work by absorbing the sun’s rays rather than physically blocking them. They contain organic compounds such as avobenzone, octinoxate, or oxybenzone, which penetrate the skin and convert UV rays into heat, which is then released from the body.
Chemical sunscreens are typically easier to apply and offer a more lightweight, sheer finish compared to physical sunscreens. They are also less likely to leave a white cast on the skin, making them suitable for all skin tones. Chemical sunscreens can be formulated in a variety of textures, including lotions, gels, and sprays.
One potential concern with chemical sunscreens is that some ingredients have been linked to skin irritation and hormonal disruptions. For example, oxybenzone has raised concerns about endocrine disruption and is banned or restricted in certain countries. However, it’s important to note that most chemical sunscreens on the market have been tested and approved for safe use.
Choosing the right sunscreen
When choosing between physical and chemical sunscreens, it ultimately comes down to personal preference and individual needs. Some individuals may prefer physical sunscreens due to their immediate protection, gentle formulation, and broad-spectrum coverage. Others may opt for chemical sunscreens for their lightweight texture and transparent finish.
It’s also important to consider other factors when choosing a sunscreen, such as SPF (sun protection factor) and water resistance. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapplying every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
If you have specific skincare concerns or sensitivities, it’s always a good idea to consult with a dermatologist who can recommend the best sunscreen for your needs.