Skin Care

The Difference Between Chemical and Physical Sunscreens

Summer is here and that means one thing is for sure which is lots of sun exposure. While we love getting a healthy dose of Vitamin D, we also need to make sure to protect our skin before heading out into those intense summer rays. Applying daily SPF is a crucial part of preventing premature wrinkles, sunburns, and sun damage and with so many sunscreen variations to choose from, it can be a real guessing game trying to figure out exactly which product will protect your skin the best.

When it comes to sunscreen, there are dozens of different brands, SPF ratings, ingredients, and formulas that claim to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. All sunscreens fall under two categories: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. If you don’t know the difference between the two, I have broken it down so you can learn the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens, and which one will best keep your skin sun damage free this summer.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate and avobenzone which are organic compounds that work by creating a chemical reaction under the skin. These sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays into the skin, changing them to heat, then releasing them from the skin. Chemical sunscreens are lightweight, blendable, can be reapplied throughout the day and will layer seamlessly under makeup for daily wear. However, some skin types may be too sensitive for the ingredients in chemical sunscreens, can take up to 30 minutes to start working and usually only protect against either UVA or UVB rays, but not both. If you currently have damage-free skin and aren’t planning on jumping right into direct sunlight after applying, then chemical sunscreens are perfect for layering with other skincare products and will offer a decent amount of protection for daily use.

Physical Sunscreen

If you have ever seen an image of the quintessential lifeguard with white sunblock slathered over his nose, then you already have a pretty good idea of what a physical sunscreen is. This “lifeguard look” is the result of an ingredient called zinc oxide. If you are looking for a physical sunscreen, then zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both) will be the first ingredients listed on the product packaging. These ingredients are active minerals that sit on the surface of the skin and block incoming UV rays, then scatter them. Physical sunscreens work immediately after applied, are good for sensitive skin, and protect against both UVA and UVB rays, but zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have a whiteish tint and tend to be heavier and more apparent on the skin, which would be better for beach days, but not so great for layering under makeup. If you have some sun damage, opt for a physical sunscreen as it will help your skin avoid overheating internally which is a risk of using chemical sunscreens and can make discoloration worse.

Choosing The Right Sunscreen

Your choice of sunscreen greatly depends on the activity you intend to participate in after applying your SPF. If you’re planning on staying in most of the day, with short bouts of time in the sun like running errands or going to work, then a chemical sunscreen will do just fine and will be invisible under your makeup. If you’re heading out for a day at the beach or spending time in direct sunlight, then reapplying a physical sunscreen is your best bet. Better yet, keep an eye out for a sunscreen that has the best of both worlds (physical and chemical ingredients) so you can protect your skin both inside and out, no matter what kind of activity you’re doing. It may take some time to find what will work best for your skin type, but no matter what, make sure you’re applying some sort of SPF to keep those UV rays at bay and until next time, stay happy, healthy and beautiful!

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