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Physical Vs Chemical Sunscreens: Which One Should You Pick?

Physical Vs Chemical Sunscreens: Which One Should You Pick?

We’ll be honest- the topic of sunscreen has gotten a bit complicated (or should we say heated) in the past few years. Whether indoors or outside, winter or summer, you should be wearing SPF to protect your skin – there’s no debate there. What’s not so widely agreed upon is what type of sunscreen to use: chemical sunscreen vs. mineral sunscreen.

While chemical sunscreens have been the gold standard for sun protection for years. Recently, physical formulas, otherwise known as mineral sunscreens, have grown in popularity and taken over the majority of the market. But if you’ve ever been confused about the mineral vs chemical sunscreen debate, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of SPF lingo out there. To clear the air, we’re listing down a guide to choosing between its two variants – physical and chemical.

What Is Mineral Sunscreen?


Also commonly known as a physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen is an SPF product consisting of active ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These ingredients form a physical barrier that reflects the light rays away from the skin. If you have sensitive skin or acne-prone skin, it’s best to go for a mineral sunscreen. Mineral sunscreens often get a bad rap for being goopy and sticky. However, the modern formulas are much more enjoyable to wear. They have come a long way from their chalky, white, hard-to-spread predecessors. Physical sunscreens are easy to apply and they look great! But still, even the modern formulations are even thicker than chemical sunscreens and may feel heavy to some people.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen is a category of SPF that uses active ingredients to absorb the sun rays, turn them into heat, and then release the heat through the skin. Oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, octixonate, and homosalate are a few ingredients that are commonly used in chemical sunscreens. As chemical formulas tend to be lighter, sheerer – so they are generally more favoured by consumers over th years. However, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens can be fairly irritating if you have acne-prone or sensitive skin. Chemical sunscreen has also been shown to have some adverse environmental effects. 


What’s The Difference Between Physical & Chemical Sunscreen?


The critical difference between these types of sunscreens lies in how they block rays. Physical sunscreens create a physical barrier to UV rays while chemical filters absorb and scatter the spectrum, hence the original name, sunblock. Mineral sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin and act as a shield, while chemical sunscreens sink into your skin and act more like a sponge. Physical sunscreens feel heavier on the skin and can leave a whitish cast. Though it works instantly, it needs to be reapplied frequently. Chemical sunscreens on the other hand last longer but need to be applied 20 mins before stepping into the sun. Folks with sensitive or acne-prone skin should take a test past for chemical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens are heavier and difficult to blend but new-age formulations offer tinted and matte physical sunblock to give the skin a smooth, even appearance. 

Who Should Use A Physical Sunscreen?

Anyone can use a physical sunblock as it tends to be less irritating. They offer the most broad-spectrum protection and are widely recommended to prevent year-round UVA damage, including brown spots, wrinkles, and photoaging. It’s a better fit for sensitive and acne-prone skin.

Who Should Use Chemical Sunscreens?

Colour matching the formula to the skin tone is the most significant concern in physical sunscreen. They often leave a white film-like residue on the skin. You can go for chemical sunscreens if you need a water-resistant formula. So if you play sports, sweat a lot, or are going swimming, it is better to use chemical sunscreens. Chemical SPFs are also easily absorbed into the skin and are preferred by those who want a fuss-free application and a seamless look. 



Featured Image: Pexels

16 May 2022
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