Whether you're sunbathing outdoors or curling up in a room with glass windows (yes, UV rays sneak through those too), sunscreen should always be an indispensable part of our skincare arsenal. It's undisputedly important when it comes to preventing unwanted sunburns, sun spots, photoaging and even skin cancer in the long run. However, choosing the right sunscreen can be overwhelming, with two primary types available: physical and chemical.
Below, we delve into the differences between the two sunscreen types, and why you might want to make the switch to a chemical sunscreen if you're looking to use one daily (which you should!).
What's the difference between physical and chemical sunscreen?
The key difference in the two camps lies in how they block UV rays from entering and damaging your skin. Physical sunscreen forms a protective barrier on the skin's surface, reflecting and scattering UV rays like a shield. It contains mineral-based ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – which is why they are sometimes also referred to as mineral sunscreens. These ingredients work by physically blocking and deflecting UV radiation, effectively preventing it from penetrating the skin.
Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, absorbs UV rays and converts them into heat energy, thus neutralizing their harmful effects. Chemical filters, such as avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone, are commonly used in these sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens tend to be lighter in texture and blend more seamlessly into the skin.
Both types of sunscreen will protect you from the sun equally well. However, when it comes to convenience, practicality and its appearance and effect on the skin, chemical sunscreen is becoming the preferred option by many dermatologists.
Chemical sunscreen sits better on skin
Chemical sunscreen tends be lightweight, making it excellent for daily wear. If you wear make-up, chemical sunscreen is also a fantastic primer for your make-up to melt into. We love using our Daily Hydrating Sunscreen SPF50+ as a base. Thanks to its light and hydrating formula infused with hyaluronic acid, it allows make-up to glide on easily over it, providing a seamless, second-skin finish. If you prefer a rosy tint to brighten your look, opt instead for our Tinted Glow Primer SPF30 Sunscreen.
Melatonin-friendly, no white cast
One of the most pesky limitations of physical sunscreen is the white, film-like layer it leaves upon the skin. Such white cast is particularly visible on melatonin-rich skin tones, therefore making it unsuitable for use on those with darker skin. Chemical sunscreens pose no such issue – the Daily Hydrating Sunscreen SPF50+ blends effortlessly, disappearing into the skin with no visible residue or greasy feel.
Lesser reapplications and longer wear time
Since chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin, they're the better option when it comes to wear time or if you're planning to do a physical activity that involves getting sweaty or wet. Physical sunscreens will wear off faster, so switch to a chemical alternative for lesser reapplications throughout the day. And if you're going for a swim, ditch your physical sunscreen completely and use a chemical sunscreen with a high protection grade against UVA rays (psst... the Daily Hydrating Sunscreen's PA++++, the highest UVA protection available).
Antioxidant protection against free radicals
As chemical sunscreen are often formulated with skincare in mind, most formulas contain other ingredients that are also beneficial for the skin. Apart from simply banning UV rays, our Daily Hydrating Sunscreen SP50+ is also charged with antioxidants from vitamin E and vitamin C-rich kakadu plum to protect the skin from wrinkling and hyperpigmentation caused by free radicals.
When is it better to use physical sunscreen?
Despite all its perks, it's important to note that a chemical sunscreen may not be a one-size-fits-all solution. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, turn toward a physical sunscreen instead. The goal with skin like yours is to avoid using unnecessary ingredients that could irritate it – and since chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin, it may not bode well for your complexion.
Physical sunscreens also fare better for those who are prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). They defend better against visible light, which is a key potential trigger of discolouration.
How to choose between physical and chemical sunscreen
With all that being said, experts agree that the best sunscreen is the one you actually use. And with that being said, why not choose an option that feels so good on your skin that you won't stop reaching for it?
To determine the suitable amount, employ the two-finger rule: squeeze sunscreen along your index and middle finger, then spread evenly across the face. Apply before skincare and make-up in the morning, and reapply accordingly throughout the day.
Written by: Celeste Lee