Physical or Chemical Sunscreen?

What’s better … physical or chemical sunscreen?

There is a lot of misused jargon in the SPF world. Most people generally intermix sunscreen and sunblock to mean the same thing … a product that has SPF in it and helps protect me from sun damage. However there are differences between them as we discussed here.

There are two types of sunscreens — Physical and Chemical. As their names suggest, physical sunscreens use physical UV filters (and often referred to as sunblocks) and chemical sunscreens use chemical UV filters. So physical sunscreens (also referred to as mineral sunscreens) have ingredients in them that deflect harmful UV rays from your skin and chemical sunscreens have ingredients in them that absorb the harmful UV rays before they hit your skin. Here are the pros and cons of each:

Physical Sunscreen Pros:

  1. UV Filters used (Titanium dioxide TiO2 & Zinc oxide ZnO) are generally chemically photo stable.
  2. UV Filters provide great sun protection against UVB radiation (the rays that cause sunburn).
  3. UV Filters are pretty safe and FDA approved.

sunscreen protection comparison

Physical Sunscreen Cons:

  1. Titanium dioxide may be problematic for some people. May cause acne breakouts if your skin is not compatible with mineral makeup or skincare products.
  2. UV Filters do not provide full spectrum sun protection from UVA radiation (the rays that cause premature aging of the skin).
  3. Product tends to be thick and opaque in color. Leaves whitish film on skin. Products are usually more greasy feeling.

Chemical Sunscreen Pros:

  1. UV Filters used (Avobenzene, Octylcrylene, Octinoxate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate to name a few) offer superior coverage against both UVA and UVB rays than compared to physical sunscreens.
  2. Product tends to be colorless, odorless, and in liquid form making it easy to apply over skin area.

Chemical Sunscreen Cons:

  1. UV Filters tend to irritate the skin more than the one’s found in physical sunscreens.
  2. Many chemical UV filters have not yet been FDA approved but are used in sunscreens world-wide. However, Avobenzene is both approved by the FDA of the USA and the Cosmetics Directive of the Europe Union as a sunscreen active ingredient in concentrations of 3% and 5% respectively.
  3. Many UV filters may cause contact dermatitis – red rash, itchy skin, blisters, burning skin and red bumps symptoms.

In summary, I prefer chemical sunscreens as they give complete Broad Spectrum (both UVA and UVB) sun protection and do not give my skin a white color tone. And to minimize any irritation the UV filters may cause on my skin if any (to this date I have not had any irritation from chemical sunscreens nor know anyone that has experienced irritation) I would choose products with Avobenzene in concentrations of 2.5% of less just to be on the super safe side. However if you are looking for a sunscreen that is safe to the environment, I would suggest this coral reef safe sunscreen!