Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen
As reported by the Skin Cancer Foundation, when used as directed, sunscreen can help decrease your risk of skin cancers and prevent premature aging of the skin.
But a common question remains, is it okay to absorb chemical sunscreen into your skin?
Sunscreen products include active ingredients that help block UV radiation from reaching and damaging your skin. However, not all sunscreens are created equal. There are two different types of sunscreens— physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens.
You know that wearing sunscreen is important, but choosing the right sunscreen can be complicated. Which one is right for you?
What Is Chemical Sunscreen?
A chemical sunscreen works by absorbing the sun’s UV rays, creating a chemical reaction based on the ingredients within chemical sunscreens. Once absorbed into your skin, chemical sunscreens change these UV rays into heat, which is then released from your skin.
Although chemical sunscreens are shown to be effective, they are more likely to irritate your skin compared to physical sunscreens. However, in recent years, there have been some concerns surrounding the safety of chemical sunscreens, particularly in terms of potential free radical damage. There have also been many incidences of irritation. Unfortunately, the higher the SPF, the greater the risk of irritation for those with sensitive skin.
A study released in 2019 found that it took just one day of use for several chemical sunscreen ingredients to enter the bloodstream at levels high enough to trigger a government safety investigation. Researchers found that three of the ingredients studied continued to rise as daily use continued, remaining in the body for at least 24 hours after sunscreen use ended.
What Is Physical Sunscreen?
Physical sunscreen, also known as mineral sunscreen, creates a barrier on your skin. This makes it an optimal choice for those with sensitive skin or heat-activated skin conditions.
Physical sunscreen ingredients include minerals such as non-nano zinc oxide and non-nano titanium dioxide. These formulations physically block and scatter the sun’s rays before they can penetrate your skin. Think of physical sunscreen as a shield. This is why they are sometimes referred to as “physical blockers”. Simple enough, right?
In addition to these active ingredients, a high-quality physical sunscreen will also often be made with ingredients you know and trust— including shea butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil. You’ll feel good about using it.
The Benefits of Mineral Sunscreen
- Being thicker and whiter than chemical sunscreen, many people love that they’re able to see if any areas that mineral/physical sunscreen has rubbed off, or wasn’t applied to begin with. This helps ensure that all sensitive areas are protected.
- Less irritating. Compared to chemical sunscreens, mineral/physical sunscreens are better for sensitive skin types.
- Mineral sunscreens are often void of nasty ingredients that may harm both you and the environment.
- Mineral sunscreens naturally offer broad-spectrum protection — meaning, it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Protects your skin as soon as it’s applied. There’s no need to wait for it to take effect (unlike chemical sunscreens which need to absorb into your skin before you can go outside).
The Best Physical Sunscreen
Here’s what to look for when seeking the best physical/mineral sunscreen:
1. A broad-spectrum physical sunscreen
UV radiation from the sun includes ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). When sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection, this means it uses UV filters to protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- UVA is most common, leading to premature aging of the skin
- UVB is the most dangerous, which is what leads to sunburns
2. Look for a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and indicates how much protection a sunscreen has against UV rays. When you use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, you will effectively block 97% of the sun’s harmful rays. An SPF of 30 is especially necessary if you are outdoors for an extended period, in activities such as hiking, distance running, swimming, or any other outdoor sport. It’s also important to have an SPF of at least 30 when working outdoors.
Sunscreens that are labeled as water-resistant are often effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming or intense sweating. There are also sunscreen products that are very water-resistant, staying effective for up to 80 minutes, including All Good Sport Mineral Sunscreen.
4. Environmentally friendly
Plant-based formulas are good for both you and the environment! Sadly, chemical sunscreens are made with ingredients such as avobenzone and octocrylene— both of which are harmful to coral reefs. In fact, sunscreens with these ingredients are banned in Hawaii. This ban followed a 2018 law banning oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens.
In contrast, the list of “reef-friendly” ingredients in physical sunscreens is short and sweet:
- Non-nano zinc oxide
- Non-nano titanium dioxide
All Good cares about good ingredients, good business, and a well-cared-for planet. Over the years, we have created a collection of sunscreens for everyone in your family. Our formulations include all the “good stuff” you can actually pronounce, resulting in a product we’re proud to offer!
Check out our entire line of mineral sunscreens including sport, kids, and tinted!
The mission began with Caroline, a massage therapist and outdoor enthusiast who, after working in emergency care on an ambulance, had the vision to create a product that would harness nature’s power to heal. Since her All Good Goop Healing Balm in 1997, the company continues to grow with a diversity of body care offerings inspired by the very first product. Your purchase of All Good products directly supports environmental restoration and education projects through our partnership with 1% For the Planet.