Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens:  Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen Safety

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens: Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen Safety

There’s something magical about feeling the warmth of the sun on your skin. That is until you realize those delicious rays can seriously damage your body’s first and largest protective layer—your skin. Time in the sun is important. It’s good for the mind and provides necessary vitamin D. BUT, you need to do it safely. Daily sunscreen use lets you step into the sunshine with a layer of protection to prevent damage from harmful UVA and UVB rays.

There are two broad sunscreen categories from which to choose—physical and chemical. While the choice between the two used to be a matter of personal preference, we now know there are serious consequences to our choices in sunscreen. Keep reading to get the information on physical vs. chemical sunscreen and why you might want to switch your sunscreen for a formula that’s safer and better for you and the environment.

 Man Surfing with Sunscreen on his face.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens create a barrier between the skin and the sun’s rays. They’re more accurately called sunblock or sun protectors than they are sunscreen. These formulas contain two main sun-blocking ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

These powdery minerals prevent UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin and causing the kind of skin damage that leads to fine lines and wrinkles and contributes to the development of skin cancer. They need to be applied regularly, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, to replenish that barrier. The Journal of Investigative Dermatology has deemed zinc oxide safe, and titanium dioxide has gone under similar scrutiny and found to be safe and effective.

 Sunscreen squeezed into woman's hands.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens work a little differently than their physical counterparts. Rather than creating a physical battier, these sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UVA and/or UVB rays. These chemicals have a saturation point, which is why you need to reapply the sunscreen according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

The most common chemicals used in these types of sunscreens include homosalate,  octinoxate, avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, and/or octocrylene. However, these ingredients can be problematic. Many of them areabsorbed into the skin and remain in the body long after application, showing up in blood, urine, and breast milk. There’s growing evidence that some of these ingredients can disrupt the endocrine system, the system that controls hormones. Until it’s understood how these chemicals affect the body long-term, it’s best to avoid them.

 Two Skin Resource MD Sunscreens

What is Reef Safe Sunscreen  and Why Do You Need It?

Maybe you’ve heard the buzz about reef safe sunscreen, maybe not. If you haven’t, it’s time to start thinking about it. Everyone loves a day at the beach. However, enough people love the beach and visiting coral reefs that the ingredients from chemical sunscreens are damaging the reefs.

Physical sunscreens, aka sun blockers, do not harm reefs. Many beaches have banned chemical sunscreens to protect wildlife. Be careful about buying sunscreen labeled “reef-safe.” That term is not regulated by any governing agency. A true reef safe sunscreen only contains physical sunscreens as protectants. Always check the active ingredients.


When and Where Do You Wear Sunscreen?

Sunscreen is a vitally important step in your daily skincare regimen. Even on a cold, cloudy day, your skin gets exposed to and damaged by UV rays. You should wear a physical sunscreen every day (spring, summer, fall, and winter) on any part of your body exposed to the sun. That includes your neck, chest, arms, and legs. Everywhere.

However, different sunscreens may work better for different parts of the body. The best sunscreen for your face is one that’s moisturizing and gentle on sensitive facial skin, like SkinResourceMD’s Hyaluronic Facial Solar Protector. This tinted sunscreen  can double as a facial moisturizer, foundation (remember, it’s tinted), and anti-wrinkle treatment. That cuts three applications down to one in your morning routine.

Other parts of the body deserve just as much attention, though they may not be quite as sensitive (or need tinting). SkinResourceMD’s Essential Solar Protector provides similar physical protection that’s made for the entire body. Both of these physical sunscreens are reef safe and contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

 Woman applying sunscreen to child.

The Takeaway

Your skin plays an invaluable role in protecting your body from the elements, and it needs to last a lifetime. Daily care nourishes and strengthens the skin so that it can do its job to the fullest. Your skin routine doesn’t need to be complicated. A gentle cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen are all it takes. If that sunscreen happens to be a moisturizer and/or sunscreen, too, you can eliminate steps from an already simple process. Remember,  when you take care of your skin, it will take care of you.

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