Physical SPF VS. Chemical SPF

Stacey Lanter

Posted on April 05 2018

Physical SPF VS. Chemical SPF


With so many sun protection products on the market it's often confusing to choose which ones are the best for your skin. So, what's the difference? 

      Sun protectants come in many formulations. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are physical or "active mineral" blocks.  These work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect damaging rays that cause aging and sun damage. The pros of using physical sunscreens is that they protect against both UVA and UVB rays and are naturally a broad-spectrum protectant.  Unlike chemical spf physical blocks protect from the moment you apply them with no wait time needed.  Physical sunscreens also will have better longevity while in direct UV light, however will need to be reapplied more often if you are doing physical activities where you perspire or water activities.  Physical blocks are far less irritating on the skin and will not cause breakouts or acne like chemical sunscreens.  They are also a much better choice for those with rosacea due to its heat deflecting properties.  On the comedogenic scale physical blocks are less likely to cause clogged pores so is clearly the best choice for oily or acneic skin types.  Physical blocks also maintain a longer shelf life.         

Now onto the chemical sunscreens.  These sunscreens contain carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone which create a chemical reaction and work by changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin.   The cons of using chemical spf's is that they can actually increase pigmentation/brown spots or discoloration especially for those who have melasma.  Chemical spf's must be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure as they are slower to begin to work.  With chemical spf’s ingredients you have a much higher increased chance for irritation and breakouts.  Chemical spf's are especially bad for people who have dry skin with a damaged moisture barrier.  The higher the spf formulation, the higher risk of irritation for sensitive skin types.  I would recommend an spf 30 as it has been proven that anything over a 30 simply doesn't give you that much additional protection.  As with any spf you must remember to reapply throughout the day and apply minimally every couple of hours when outdoors.  You must also remember that sun protection products do have an expiration date.  Rule of thumb is that the shelf life is typically one year.   


Love & Light,

Lanter Cosmetic Labs

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