Since we have already learnt some less known (or already known) facts about sunscreen in my Sunscreen 101 post, I thought I’ll make a separate detailed post about the Physical and Chemical sunscreens. Sunscreens being a very essential skincare step, the big debate comes to which one amongst Physical or Chemical sunscreen, is best for skin? Since choosing between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen plays a vital role, in this post let us see what to look for and which kind of sunscreen to pick.
Physical sunscreens are most commonly ‘Sun Shielders’ or ‘Sun Reflectors’, which create a barrier on the skin that filter out UV rays. They use mineral-based ingredients, like Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide which mainly work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UVA rays away from the skin. It is often referred to as a physical blocker.
PRO’S of Physical Sunscreen :
- Offers a natural broad spectrum protection, which gives protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Protects from the sun as soon as it’s applied, no ‘wait time’ needed.
- Less likely to cause a stinging, irritation on the skin, making it ideal for sensitive skin.
- Best for those with rosacea and redness, since it deflects the heat by the sun away from skin.
- Non-comedogenic; less likely to be pore-clogging, making it ideal for blemish-prone skin types.
- Safe for use on babies and during pregnancy.
CON’S of Physical Sunscreen :
- Leaves a white-ish cast on the skin, making some formulas incompatible for deeper skin tones.
- Tend to be thicker, which will require more effort to rub/massage into the skin.
- May be too chalky and opaque for daily use under makeup.
- Can rub off, sweat off and rinse off easily, meaning more frequent reapplication when outdoors is needed.
- Can create an occlusive film, which results in increased perspiration during physical activities and, therefore, causes it to wear off more quickly.
- Will be less protective if not applied generously and accurately since UV light can get penetrate through the sunscreen molecules.
Chemical Sunscreen, commonly called as ‘Sun Filters’ which are designed to absorb UV radiations upon contact. They penetrate deep into the epidermis and dermis layer of the skin. These contains organic (carbon-based) compounds, such as Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Homosalate and Avobenzone, which creates a chemical reaction and works by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin. It is often referred to as a chemical absorber.
PRO’S of Chemical Sunscreen :
- Have a thinner consistency, therefore, spreads more easily on the skin, making it more wearable for daily use.
- Less is needed to protect the skin because there is no risk of no spaces between the sunscreen molecules after application.
- The formula is easier to add additional treatment ingredients to, such as peptides and enzymes, which offer other skin benefits.
CON’S of Chemical Sunscreen :
- Requires 10-20 minutes after application to dry and create a protective film over the skin.
- Can possibly cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration due to a higher internal skin temperature (Yes, over-heated skin can make brown spots worse).
- The higher the SPF (such as formulas of SPF 50 or greater), the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin types.
- Increased chance of irritation and stinging (especially for those who have dry skin with a damaged moisture barrier) due to the multiple ingredients combined in order to achieve broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
- The protection it offers gets used up more quickly when in direct UV light, so reapplication must be more frequent.
- Increased chance of redness for rosacea-prone skin types because it changes UV rays into heat which can exacerbate flushing.
- The chemical ingredients oxybenzone and oxtinoxate have been banned in Hawaii for posing a risk of degrading coral reef when worn while swimming in the ocean. (This applies to water-resistant beach sunscreens only and not daily use sunscreens or makeup with sunscreen.) Pro tip: When at the beach, wear long-sleeve UV protecting swimwear to lessen sunscreen getting into ocean waters.
- Comedogenic; can be pore-clogging.
So, which sunscreen is best? Obviously the one which feels most comfortable on your skin. I’ll conclude it by saying Physical sunscreen is what one should be most preferring because I’ll not prefer a chemical sunscreen which penetrates deep into my skin causing all possible skin damages. If you’re an oilier skin type, you’ll enjoy wearing one that is lightweight and not greasy. If you consider yourself sensitive and your skin gets red easily, you’ll want to find one that doesn’t sting the skin or make it feel irritated. If you have clogged pores and bumps, you’ll obviously want one that doesn’t cause that. If your skin color is deeper in tone, you’ll want a sunscreen that doesn’t look chalky on the skin. Both chemical and physical sunscreens do a great job at protecting your skin from the sun, just find one that feels good on the skin. You’ll always want to check for the sunscreen’s compatibility by doing a patch test before using any new sunscreen all over your face.
I hope this post helped you! Thank you!
Thiss is your last point under CON’S of Physical Sunscreen :
“Will be less protective if not applied generously and accurately since UV light can get penetrate through the sunscreen molecules.
That is contrary to what I know about physical sunscreens. Including in your own diagram showing that physical sunscreen “reflect” actually they deflect the the uv rays. Yet your last point states there is “penetration.
UV rays do actually tend to penetrate into the skin..and physical sunscreen just creates a barrier. If its not applied properly then obviously the rays have the tendency to penetrate..
Sorry but that is still inaccurate. They wont penetrate Its just that the sunscreen will simply not protect if it isn’t present!