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Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen...What's the diff?

Updated: Jan 6


Sunscreen is an essential part of any skincare routine, as it helps protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause sunburn, skin aging, and skin cancer. There are two main types of sunscreen: physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. While both types of sunscreen serve the same purpose, they work in different ways and have some distinct differences.


Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen, contains active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients work by sitting on top of the skin and physically blocking UV rays from penetrating the skin. Physical sunscreens are often preferred by people with sensitive skin, as they are less likely to cause irritation and are suitable for all skin types. They are also effective immediately upon application and do not need to be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure, as is the case with chemical sunscreens.


Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, contains active ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat, which is then released from the skin. Chemical sunscreens must be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure in order to be fully effective. They are often preferred by people with oily skin, as they tend to feel lighter and less greasy than physical sunscreens. However, chemical sunscreens can be irritating for some people, especially those with sensitive skin. They may also be less effective for people with darker skin tones, as the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens can sometimes cause a white cast on the skin.


There are pros and cons to both physical and chemical sunscreens, and the best choice for you will depend on your skin type and personal preferences. It is important to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and to reapply it every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating. It is also important to remember that sunscreen is just one part of a comprehensive sun protection plan, which should also include seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding being out in the sun during peak hours.

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