Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen

Sunscreens which to choose?

First let’s understand how sunscreen works and how its beneficial to the health of your skin. Sunscreens contain UVA and UVB filters that reflect and absorb harmful UV rays, which cause premature skin aging and skin cancer. You know you need to wear it daily, but between physical and chemical sunscreens, how do you know which one is best for your skin type, as all sunscreens are not created equal.

These two types of sunscreens which have differences and similarities achieve the same goal and both will do a great job protecting your skin when applied correctly, however there are pros and cons to either one.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical Suncreens, also referred to as organic sunscreens work by absorbing the suns UV rays. They are lightweight and easily absorbed, without leaving white residue; however need to be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure to ensure complete UV coverage.


  • Skin is protected from the full spectrum of UVA rays
  • Offers more coverage from UVB rays
  • Colorless
  • Tends to be thinner and easy to apply.


  • Not immediately effective.
  • Can possibly cause an increase in existing brown spots and discoloration due to a higher internal skin temperature. (Over heated skin can make brown spots worse, such as melasma)
  • Increased change of irritation and stinging (for those who have dry skin with a damaged moisture barrier) due to themultliple ingredients combined in order to achieve broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
  • The higher SPF, the higher the risk of irritation for sensitive skin.
  • Must reapply frequently
  • Increased chance of redness for rosaccea-prone skin types
  • May clog pores for oily skin
  • Can cause stinging if it drips into the eyes from sweat

Overall, chemical sunscreens work great to protect the skin from the sun, but possibly causing damage due to it creating free radicals.

Physical Sunscreens:

Physical sunscreens are classified as an inorganic (mineral) sunblock and work by deflecting UV rays from the skin. Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UVA rays away from the skin and are referred to as physical blockers.


  • Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and is naturally broad spectrum
  • Effective immediately after application, no wait needed.
  • Last longer when in direct UV light
  • Less likely to cause irritation to sensitive skin
  • Better for those with heat-activated skin (those with rosaccea and redness), as it deflects the heat and energy given off by the sun away from the skin
  • Less likely to close pores, making it ideal for blemish prone skin types
  • Sun does not degrade physical sunscreen
  • Safe for babies and during pregnancy
  • Longer shelf life


  • Needs frequent reapplication when outdoors as needed
  • May leave a white-ish cast on the skin for medium to dark skin tones. (However, most Physical Sunscreens now come in tinted formulas and will accommodate all skin tones)
  • Tends to be thicker and may require more effort to rub in

Overall physical sunscreens may be a better option, as unlike chemical sunscreens, physical sunscreens do not cause damage to the skin. This alone may be a reason enough to choose physical sunscreen over chemical sunscreen.

Physical and chemical sunscreens have pros and cons. Depending on your skincare needs will determine which sunscreen is right for your skin. Please make your consultation with one of our professional skin care professions at Sanctuary Salon & Med Spa so they can assist you with your skin care needs in choosing the sunscreen that will best for you.