Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen: Which One Is Right For Me?

When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, sunscreen is an absolute must. You can cover up your skin with clothing and shield your neck with hats, but sunscreen for face use is much more important than you might think. In this post, we’ll take a look at how different types of sunscreen work, chemical and mineral sunscreen ingredients, and what to look for in a sunscreen.

How Sunscreens Work

How your sunscreen works is going to vary depending on the type of sunscreen; aka whether it’s a chemical or a physical sunscreen.

Chemical sunscreens use (you guessed it) chemicals that are absorbed into the skin and convert UV light into heat. These types of sunscreens are incredibly popular because they’re usually more waterproof, and they can be used with a combination of other skincare products, including makeup. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a basic makeup foundation without some sort of SPF protection nowadays. The sunscreen included in these foundations is a chemical sunscreen. 

Here at Rejuvaskin, we follow dermatologists’ recommendations and suggest that individuals do not rely on their foundation for adequate sun protection. Foundation is usually only applied to the skin in thin layers and does not extend close enough to the neck and eyes to provide decent sun protection for those areas.

Physical sunscreens function completely differently, in that they sit on top of the skin and prevent UV light from ever reaching the skin. UV light bounces off of this sunscreen layer and never interacts with your skin’s cells一 as long as you apply it properly. Also known as “mineral sunscreen”, physical sunscreens are active right out of the bottle, but you may find that you get the best, most even coverage when you allow the product to dry for 10-15 minutes before going out in the sun. 

Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen Ingredients

Chemical sunscreens tend to use “chemically active” components like avobenzone, octinoxate, oxybenzone, and homosalate一 these are organic compounds with simple carbon structures. This chemical structure allows the product to be absorbed into the different layers of skin.

Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, use minerals like zinc and titanium oxides that create a physical barrier for the skin’s protection against UV rays. Mineral sunscreen ingredients will stick out to you on a label because they will sound like metallics.

What To Look For In A Sunscreen

There are so many different brands and types of sunscreen, and finding the right one for your skin may take some time. Generally speaking, if you have oily skin, you may want to find a sunscreen that doesn’t contain any added oils. If you have dry skin, on the other hand, you’ll want to use a product that doesn’t further dry out your skin一 you may even want to pick a moisturizing sunscreen.

As we mentioned before, however, we take our advice from the dermatologists & scientists in  the field. In recent years, many doctors have been recommending a physical sunscreen over a chemical, looking for either zinc or titanium oxides as the active ingredient.

This preference for physical sunscreens is because, unlike chemical ones, the sunscreen sits on top of your skin as a protective layer, without absorbing any of the harmful UV rays that chemical sunscreens take in. Recent research has also shown some concerns over possible carcinogenic ingredients, as well as environmental concerns.

The bottom line: whichever type you choose, some sort of sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.

Minimum SPF Value

An SPF value of 15 is recommended for daily use if you are simply going to work or running errands, in and out of buildings. If you will be intentionally out in the sun during peak hours, you should reach for something a bit higher: 30-50. Realistically, SPF above 30 provides minimal additional protection, so 30 is usually the most common SPF value. If you’re picking sunscreen for face use, SPF 15 would be sufficient if you will also be wearing a wide hat.

How Often Should You Use Sunscreen?

Dermatologists and skincare experts all agree that sunscreen should be worn daily in order to best protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays. It’s easiest to remember to apply sunscreen if you make it a part of your daily routine一 even if you don’t leave the house that day! Finding a sunscreen that also moisturizes or performs some other function will help you save time in your skincare routine.