STOP looking at SPF and READ this before buying sunscreen🌞

rachel.wrachel.w
Jun. 17, 2020
Every other skincare product seems to put ‘natural’ or ‘natural mineral’ on its label. But what does it actually mean? Interestingly, for sunscreen, this refers to something very specific. Read on to find out how sunscreens work and how you should pick one that suits you.
If you’re a bit like me two years ago, you’ll think that high SPF equals good sunscreen. Put on that SPF 50 and feel like an invincible queen. I mean, sunscreen’s just that white stuff you squeeze from a tube and put onto your skin – how hard can it be? After I became obsessed with skincare though, I discovered that that was only half the story. It turns out there are actually two types of sunscreen. Luckily for you, I’ve geeked out on all this stuff so you don’t have to. Behold! Your majesty presents: physical vs. chemical sunscreens.
Physical 🆚 chemical sunscreens
Physical sunscreens, sometimes referred to as ‘natural’ or ‘mineral’ sunscreens, contain active mineral ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Once spread over your skin, these ingredients act as a repellent shield, deflecting and scattering harmful UVA and UVB rays. They take effect pretty much as soon as you apply them, but you do need to be careful to lather it on regularly if you’re engaged in an activity which will cause you to rub or sweat it off.
Physical sunscreens often feel heavier and in general, active minerals also offer less protection than chemical absorbers against UVA. The silver lining – the formulas out there these days have improved significantly and feel a lot lighter. If you want to avoid that white masking effect, you can also go for matte and tinted versions. Although physical sunscreens are less likely to clog pores, they are more moisturizing so you might still want to choose carefully if you’ve got oily or acne-prone skin.
Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contain carbon-based compounds like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate and octinoxate. Instead of repelling and deflecting UV rays, these chemicals seep into a deeper layer of the skin to absorb harmful UV rays and transform them into heat, allowing it to dissipate from the skin. Because it doesn’t need to sit there physically defending the surface of your skin, you won’t get that white masking effect either.
However, you do need to put it on earlier – in general about 20 minutes before sun exposure, and you’ll need to reapply it once every two hours or so. Chemical sunscreens tend to be thinner, lighter and non-sticky, so are considered more suitable for daily use. Besides, it’s also easier to add other ingredients such as peptides and enzymes to the formula. However, some people, especially those with sensitive skin, have reported irritation and allergic reactions from using chemical sunscreens.
Should I choose a physical or chemical sunscreen?
It’s actually not so much a question of either or, but a question of if and when. 
If you’ve got sensitive skin, you might want to opt for physical sunscreens, whereas if you’ve got oily or acne-prone skin, you might want to choose a chemical sunscreen instead. If you’re going somewhere where it’s going to be difficult to keep reapplying sunscreen, or you’re just the type (like me) that tends to forget, you might want to stick to a physical sunscreen so you’re over and done with in one go. When you’re going to the beach for a swim, or will engage in an activity that’ll make you sweat a lot and cause your sunscreen to rub off (like beach volleyball), go for a chemical sunscreen instead.
If you do choose a physical sunscreen, make sure you look for one that contains zinc oxide, which is much more effective and complete in its protection against UVA compared to titanium oxide.
But in truth, it really doesn’t have to be one or the other. As long as your skin is compatible with the different formulas, I’d recommend using a combination of both types of sunscreens to get both outer and inner protection. Also, you don’t have to mix your own sunscreen concoction either – there are combination sunscreens readily available for you to choose from.
Some final words
You should hopefully now have a pretty good idea whether a physical or chemical (or both!) sunscreen’s more suitable for you. But don’t let this article detract you from the basics. In choosing a sunscreen, something with SPF 30 or higher is recommended. But SPF’s just part of the equation; you also want to make sure that your sunscreen is broad spectrum, protecting you from both UVA and UVB, fragrance-free, noncomedogenic (doesn’t clog pores), is oil and paraben-free. 
What’s your favourite sun protection, both for daily use and for a day at the beach? Share your thoughts below!
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