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Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens + What Works Best?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens + What Works Best?

A great debate when it comes to sunscreen is whether or not to use a physical sunscreen or chemical sun protection product.

These days, most experts will agree that it mostly comes down to preference, as any form of sunscreen is better than none. However, just in case you’re the type who needs more details to make a decision, what follows is a helpful breakdown of the pros, cons, and other considerations for each. Let’s dive in, shall we?


What is Chemical Sunscreen?

As you can likely guess by the name, chemical sunblock refers to any product that contains chemical compounds. Common ones include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octinoxate, and others, which work by essentially absorbing UVA and UVB rays, converting them into a kind of heat energy that is then released back into the environment, rather than being absorbed into the skin.


Pros & Cons:

On one hand, many people will appreciate that chemical sun protectors are formulated to be lightweight and very comfortable on the skin. They tend to leave less white cast, blend well with other products, and spread easily, meaning you may not need to apply as much product.

On the other hand, chemical sunscreens have become controversial in recent years due to evidence that these types of filter ingredients can cause allergic reaction or irritation and can actually increase reactivity in the form of photosensitivity, leading to more dark spots. Additionally, there is concern about how these ingredients affect our skin and the environment over time due to their inorganic composition.


What is Physical Sunscreen?

At the other end of the spectrum, we have our physical sunscreens, which are mineral-based and use naturally-derived ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These types of formulas work by deflecting or blocking UV rays from penetrating the skin, and acting as a protective barrier of sorts.


Pros & Cons:

The main benefit of mineral sunscreens is that the ingredients tend to be more agreeable with most skin types, preventing redness and irritation in sensitive skin, as well as being less likely to clog pores in acne-prone skin.

One downside however, is that they tend to be less durable in wet conditions, meaning you’ll need to reapply more often at the pool, or when working up a sweat. The other problem prevalent with mineral-based products is that they require a thicker application and tend to leave a white cast on darker skin types.


Summing it All Up: Which option is best?
As you’ve probably gathered from all of the above information, both types of sun protection have their perks as well as their pitfalls. While the options may not be perfect, sunscreen is still your #1 defense against skin cancer, UV aging, and other damage to the skin.
Therefore, your best bet is to take your individual needs into consideration, try a few options, and stick with whatever you find works best for your skin.

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