Physical or Chemical Sunscreen? Understanding the Differences
Physical versus chemical sunscreen?
Many people don’t realize there are actually two types of sunscreens. While both types provide SPF protection, the manner in which this happens is quite different.
Physical (or mineral) sunscreens (my personal choice) use mineral-based ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide that sit on top of the skin and deflect damaging UV rays away from the skin.
Chemical sunscreens, sometimes called organic suncreens, contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, and octisalate and absorb UV rays as they attempt to enter the skin.
In February 2019, the FDA began proposing changes in evaluating the safety of sunscreen ingredients. Currently the FDA has determined only two ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are safe and effective for sunscreen use.
Below is a brief summary of the pros and cons for each.
Provides protection as soon as it's applied
Less irritating for people with sensitive skin (especially those prone to rosacea and redness)
Less likely to clog pores
Safe for babies and during pregnancy (sunscreen of any kind is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age)
Applied as last step in routine, allowing nutrients and vitamins from your skincare to be absorbed into skin
Can look white or chalky on skin
Can be thicker and heavier to apply
Can rub off and sweat off more easily – need to apply more frequently
Thinner and spreads easier
Less is needed for full coverage
Absorbs directly into skin
Increased chance of irritation and stinging for sensitive skin due to multiple ingredients combined to provide broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection
May clog pores for those with oily skin
Need to wait about 20 minutes after application for it to be effective
NOTE: FDA’s research shows certain chemical ingredients in sunscreen are absorbed immediately into the skin and can remain in the body for extended periods of time. However, they do acknowledge additional studies need to be undertaken and are not stating that absorption equals risk. You can read more from the FDA in their article, Shedding more light on sunscreen absorption.
Mineral sunscreens are the last step in your skin care routine. They form a protective barrier blocking the sun's rays. This is another reason I like mineral sunscreens. Serums and moisturizers are loaded with anti-oxidants, vitamins, nutrients, and I want my skin to get maximum benefit from these products.
Since chemical sunscreens are absorbed directly into the skin, they should be applied first. This is because moisturizers contain occlusive ingredients which provide a protective barrier to seal in moisture (e.g., shea butter, argan oil, coconut oil, joboba oil ). Applying moisturizer first prevents the chemicals from being directly absorbed.
Sunscreen needs to be applied every day, rain or shine, and even indoors if you're near a window. UV rays can penetrate through windows, whether it’s an office window or your car window. Glass does block UVB rays (burning rays) but does not block UVA rays (rays responsible for aging skin).
Minimum SPF 30 is recommended. Don't forget to wear a hat and sunglasses!
Sun care recommendation: Illuminating Serum, ideal for aging and environmentally damaged skin. Vitamin C helps protect against photodamage, brightens and rejuvenates dull, sluggish skin, and helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Say hello to sun-kissed radiant and glowing skin!
For healthy-looking skin simplified: