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Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen Which One Should You Use?

When looking for the right sunscreen to use on the face, you might learn that there are two main types of sunscreen that you can use: physical and chemical. If you’re not sure which is best to use for the face or other areas of the body, the following is a breakdown of physical vs chemical sunscreen and the differences between them.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

One type of sunscreen you might consider is chemical sunscreen. The main difference between physical and chemical sunscreen is that while physical sunscreen blocks UV rays by providing a physical barrier for the skin, chemical sunscreen uses certain chemicals that are capable of absorbing these rays.

For example, chemical sunscreens may contain chemicals such as:

  • Octisalate
  • Octinoxate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octocrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Homosalate

If you want a sunscreen that absorbs into the skin and doesn’t leave an oily or greasy feeling, chemical sunscreen is a good option. It’s also ideal if you want a sunscreen that won’t come off if you engage in intense physical activity and sweat or perspire frequently. These sunscreens are also water-resistant, giving you more protection while swimming.

Is Chemical Sunscreen Bad?

Because of the use of chemicals, you might be concerned about the potential health risks associated with chemical sunscreens. Generally, it depends on the specific chemicals the sunscreen contains. Although there’s no evidence suggesting that chemical sunscreens are bad for the body, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned both trolamine salicylate and aminobenzoic acid (PABA) in chemical sunscreens.

Otherwise, chemical sunscreens are typically safe to use and won’t cause harm.

What Is Physical Sunscreen?

Physical sunscreens, unlike their chemical counterparts, add a protective coating to the skin that physically blocks the sun’s harmful rays. They do so through the use of various minerals that form a kind of shield. Many sunscreens use titanium oxide and zinc oxide, both of which the FDA considers safe to use.

Although they don’t absorb like chemical sunscreens, they are often better to use on the skin if you want to avoid potentially harsh chemical sunscreens.

Are Physical Sunscreens Better for the Face? 

As a treatment for the skin, physical sunscreens using zinc or titanium oxide tend to be better for you than chemical sunscreens. They offer certain benefits for the face and other areas of the body that you won’t find with chemical alternatives.

For instance, physical sunscreen is more moisturizing than chemical sunscreens, although this can lead them to feel heavier on the skin. It’s also less irritating than caustic chemicals, making physical sunscreen more suitable for people with sensitive skin.

However, physical sunscreen might not blend as well into your skin, forming a whitish mask on your face, but there are sunscreens out there that use colors that more closely match skin tones to help prevent this.

Which to Use: Physical or Chemical Sunscreen?

Chemical and physical sunscreens come with certain pros and cons, making each suitable for different people. If you have sensitive skin and want more moisturizing sunscreen, you may be better off using physical sunscreen. On the other hand, you might want to use chemical sunscreen if you need more protection while exercising and don’t have sensitive skin.

Ultimately, it comes down to what works best for you.

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