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Sunscreen Office

Chemical Vs Physical Sunscreen: 6 Reasons Your Doctor Recommends A Physical Sunscreen

February 22, 2021

In the very public debate about whether you should use a chemical or physical sunscreen, our doctors weighed in with six reasons they recommend a physical sunscreen, even for clients with acne-prone skin types.

What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?

Before we delve into the benefits of physical vs chemical sunscreens, let’s clear up what these categories of sunscreen are.

Chemical sunscreens have active ingredients that are absorbed into the skin. These ingredients absorb the hazardous UV rays from the sun and scatter them to prevent damage to your skin.

Physical sunscreens, also known as “mineral sunscreens” or “sun blocks,” contain Zinc and Titanium Dioxide. These ingredients sit on the skin’s surface and provide a physical barrier that reflects the rays of the sun away from your skin.

Longer-Lasting Protection

As chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation, the active ingredients break down, and you have to reapply more often.

Physical sunscreens reflect UV rays away from the skin, so they tend to last longer and you don’t need to reapply as often. That is, unless it comes off by swimming, sweating or towelling. Then you should reapply right away.

Inflammation & Melasma

As the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays, they can also cause a heat response in the skin which can sometimes lead to inflammation and sensitivity.

Hormonal types of pigmentation, like Melasma, are sensitive to heat and inflammation. The heat response that can be caused by chemical sunscreens can also contribute to a flare up of Melasma.

The main ingredients in physical sunscreen are zinc and titanium – natural minerals that do not absorb into your system, and they don’t absorb heat. In fact, Zinc has natural anti-inflammatory properties for the skin, so it’s often a better choice if you’re prone to redness, inflammation or pigmentation.

Acne & Sensitivity

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, it may be tempting to reach for a lighter-feeling chemical sunscreen, but you should always check the ingredients first.

The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens vary by brand, but some of the most common ones (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate) have been associated with irritation, dermatitis and breakouts.

Chemical sunscreens are also more commonly formulated with unnatural emollients and preservatives that can occlude the pores, and occluded pores mean congestion and breakouts.

Although physical sunscreens tend to have thicker texture, the active ingredients are much less likely to block your pores or cause irritation. They also don’t absorb into the skin as much as chemical sunscreens do, so they also cleanse away more easily at the end of the day.


Unfortunately, most sunscreens aren’t great for the ecosystem, but some are worse than others.

Chemical filters such as oxybenzone have been proven so hazardous to marine life that Hawaii and many island nations in the Caribbean and South Pacific have banned it.

According to Craig Downs, the executive director of the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in America, one drop of oxybenzone in a swimming pool would be enough to harm the algae that coral and other sea life depend on1.

Double Duty

An additional bonus and beauty hack; physical sunscreens make a good primer underneath mineral makeup, mostly thanks to the zinc.

Most primers and pore concealers are made with dimethicone, a silicone-based emollient. It feels nice on application, but it doesn’t let your pores breathe. A zinc-based physical sunscreen, on the other hand, can help conceal pores without suffocating them so you get a smooth canvas for your makeup and skin that can breathe.

At the end of the day, whether you choose a physical sunscreen or chemical, The most important that you wear it every day. It’ll help you prevent skin cancer, pigmentation, damage to skin cells, premature ageing and so much more.



  1. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00244-015-0227-7?dom=pscau&src=syn

Are you concerned with pigmentation or sun damage in your skin?

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