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Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen

Written by: Maureen A. Mooney, MD


Wearing sunscreen every day is not only the best way to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, but it also prevents you from getting skin cancer, dark spots, and wrinkles over time. However, most people don’t know that there are two different kinds of sunscreen to help forestall premature aging. These two types include physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreen is a lotion or cream that contains compounds such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that work by sitting on the surface of your skin to deflect UV rays away from your body with a reflective barrier. Zinc oxide-based sunscreens work like a shield and are currently the only sunscreen recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on babies.

Benefits of Physical Sunscreen

These mineral-based sunscreens are ideal for people with sensitive skin because they do not contain any harsh or irritating chemicals, and they are less likely to clog your skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the only sunscreen ingredients that are generally recognized as safe and effective by the FDA.

Additionally, these kinds of sunscreens last longer in direct UV light and start working the moment they are applied, so you do not need to apply them before going out into the sun to reap their full benefits. Physical sunscreens also tend to have a longer shelf life.

Cons of Physical Sunscreen

Although physical sunscreens provide numerous benefits for your skin by blocking out harmful UVA and UVB rays, they do have some downfalls as well, such as:

  • Rinses or rubs off easily, especially while sweating, meaning more frequent re-application may be necessary
  • Can leave a white film or chalky residue on the skin, and certain formulas are not compatible with darker skin tones
  • May not provide adequate protection if not applied properly across your skin

Try Physical Sunscreen from Cascade Eye & Skin Centers

Cascade Eye & Skin Centers believes in providing our patients with the best possible sun protection. Therefore, we offer a variety of physical sunscreens that can be purchased in our online store. Medical-grade physical sunscreen we offer includes:

Essential Defense Everyday Clear™ Sunscreen

This broad-spectrum sunscreen is ideal for oily and sensitive skin. It is lightweight and comes with zinc oxide and octinoxate formula. Equipped with SPF 47, this sunscreen offers a high level of protection against UVA rays. It also provides users with UVB defense. To purchase this sunscreen, click here.

Elta MD UV Daily

This moisturizing facial sunscreen comes in tinted and untinted formulas and can be used by itself or under makeup. Elta MD UV Daily sunscreen protects users from UVA and UVB rays and is sheer and lightweight. With 40 SPF protection, this sunscreen is perfect for everyday use. This sunscreen can be found in our online store by clicking here.

Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Body Shield Classic

This SPF 50 sunscreen is designed with EnviroScreen® Technology to offer 100% mineral protection from UVA and UVB rays as well as pollution, blue light, and infrared radiation. Furthermore, Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ is oil-free, hypoallergenic, and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. This dermatologist-recommended sunscreen may be purchased here.

Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Sunscreen Brush

This sunscreen brush is made of untinted sheer powder and is perfect for absorbing excess oil while providing all-mineral environmental protection. In addition, this sunscreen brush may help reduce the appearance of pores and leave the skin feeling fresh. This on-the-go product is perfect for those with oily and blemish-prone skin and is available for purchase here.

In addition to these sunscreens, we offer a variety of other products that can help keep your skin healthy and free of damage. To browse our complete line of sunscreens and other skin care products, visit our online store here. We are dedicated to providing our patients with the knowledge and products they need to maintain healthy and beautiful skin.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens also protect your skin from UV rays. However, this type of sunscreen works by absorbing UV rays. Often, chemical sunscreens contain ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone. When light hits the skin, these chemicals in the sunscreen create a chemical reaction where UV rays are converted to heat, which then dissipates from the skin.

Benefits of Chemical Sunscreen

Unlike physical sunscreens, chemical sunscreens are quick and easy to apply due to their thinner consistency. You also require less chemical sunscreen to protect the skin because you do not have to reapply as frequently since chemical sunscreens last longer.

Cons of Chemical Sunscreens

Due to the chemicals in these lotions, chemical sunscreens may irritate or cause reactions in people who have highly sensitive or acne-prone skin. The higher the SPF, the more likely it is that the sunscreen will irritate sensitive skin types. In addition, chemical sunscreens require at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to sun exposure for the sunscreen to begin working. Many chemical sunscreens are also marketed as water-proof; however, it is still recommended to reapply after excessive sweating or going in water.

Contact Cascade Eye & Skin Centers

Despite what type of sunscreen you decide to use, sunscreen is the most important step of your skincare routine. To begin optimizing your skin’s health and to learn how to maintain your skin’s youthful elasticity texture, contact Cascade Eye & Skin Centers today. There, you will have the opportunity to work with remarkable board-certified dermatologists, like Dr. Maureen A. Mooney, a fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery, the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, and the American Academy of Dermatology. Call (253) 435-5320 now to learn more, or click here to schedule a dermatology appointment online.

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