There’s a misconception that sunscreen serves one purpose, but in actuality, it’s an essential part of any skincare routine. Sure, it protects the skin from the harmful rays of the sun, but what is that white stuff that you apply to your body and how does it all work?

According to experts, broad-spectrum sunscreens help reduce our risk of melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer. The most popular types of sunscreen today are physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.

Overexposure to the sun can cause wrinkles and fine lines, skin cancer, darker skin tones, and premature aging, therefore we should protect ourselves from UV rays. However, it’s important to understand the main difference between physical vs chemical sunscreen.

So, what are the ingredients and differences between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen for men and women?

Woman hand apply sunscreen on the beach


Should you buy a physical sunscreen or the chemical one? That is the question. In order to know what physical and chemical sunscreens are, it’s important to talk about the ingredients in each product.

Physical sunscreens or mineral sunscreens are formulated with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These active ingredients are clinically safe according to FDA (Food and Drug Administration). Micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sunscreens work by absorbing UV rays.

On the other hand, chemical sunscreen is made with active ingredients that effectively absorb UV rays including avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.

A chemical sunscreen is easier to apply than a mineral sunscreen because it doesn’t leave a visible film on your skin.

Which Is Better?

Lisa Rux advises wearing a physical sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 to ensure effective skin protection from UVB rays. The key difference between physical and chemical sunscreen is the formula. In physical sunscreens, the minerals stay on the outer layer of the skin to reflect UVA and UVB rays.

Whereas in chemical sunscreens, the ingredients are absorbed by the skin and convert UVA rays into heat while releasing them from your body.

To know which can block rays better and avoid sun exposure, there are pros and cons to consider when choosing between physical and chemical sunscreen. Unlike chemical sunscreens, here are some facts about physical sunscreen:

  • Doesn’t fully blend or absorb into the skin, hence the white or tinted cast of film layer left on the skin. Use matte and tinted versions for better results
  • Better for sensitive skin and acne-prone skin due to less irritating ingredients and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Physical sunblock is a great moisturizer but feels dense on the skin.

Chemical sunscreens tend to be better in terms of:

  • Water-resistant formulation ideal when swimming.
  • Chemical sunscreens sink quickly into the skin.
  • Perfect for those with an oily skin type, or who sweat a lot.

Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe to Use

Are Chemical Sunscreens Safe to Use?

A good sunscreen provides maximum skin protection and is safe to use for sensitive skin. Make sure to check the label and see if it’s non-comedogenic or won’t clog your pores, paraben-free, with SPF 30 or higher, oil-free, and with most broad spectrum protection which means it acts as a physical barrier and protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.

The safety of using sunscreens lies in their ingredients, and some chemical ingredients can actually be detrimental to health. The FDA has prohibited the use of trolamine salicylate and aminobenzoic acid in formulating physical sunblock as they can cause some side effects.

Final Thoughts

There is no conclusive evidence that says sunscreen chemicals have adverse effects due to active sunscreen ingredients used in chemical and physical sunscreen. Health experts recommend you apply sunscreen daily for maximum sun protection.

So which should you pick, physical or chemical sunscreen? If you’re health conscious, and lean towards an holistic lifestyle, we recommend the physical variety as these are typically formulated for those with sensitive skin. Don’t skip sunscreen, apply it consistently to avoid exposure to the sun’s rays which can cause a chronic skin condition and skin sensitivities.

Lisa Rux is a medical aesthetician with more than 21 years of experience and expertise in medical skin care. She provides safe and effective skincare products, as well as a wealth of knowledge in what she recommends, including physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.