difference between physical and chemical sunscreen

Physical and Chemical Sunscreen: Difference & Which Better?

Physical and Chemical Sunscreen: Difference & Which Better?


The two most common types of sunscreen are physical and chemical sunscreen. So, what is the difference between them?

Each option has its own unique pros and cons, and knowing the difference can save your skin this summer and beyond.


What’s the difference?

Chemical sunscreens are absorbers of UV rays as they attempt to enter 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 damaging UV rays away from the skin.

Both of them have their own set of pros and cons.

difference between physical and chemical sunscreen


Physical sunscreen


  • Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and is naturally broad-spectrum
  • Protects from the sun as soon as it’s applied, no wait is needed
  • Lasts longer when in direct UV light, but not when wet or sweating
  • Less likely to cause a stinging irritation on the skin
  • Less likely to be pore-clogging, making it ideal for acne-prone skin
  • Longer shelf life


  • Tends to leave a white ashy appearance, especially on darker skin types
  • Feels heavy
  • You need to re-apply frequently since it rubs off easily
  • You need to apply a generous amount for more efficiency


physical sunscreen


Chemical sunscreen


  • Easy to apply because it has a thin texture
  • Does not leave a white film on your skin
  • Chemical sunscreens offer a broad spectrum of protection to the skin by shielding it against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Easier to use alongside other skin products that nourish your skin


  • The ingredients start to degrade when exposed to UV rays
  • It takes at least 20 minutes for chemical sunscreen to work after application
  • It might contain potentially harmful chemical ingredients, which increases the risk of free radical damage
  • High chances of irritation


Can you mix physical and chemical sunscreen?

You can mix physical and chemical sunscreen to protect the sun both at the surface and below. 

There is also some sunscreen that is a combination of the two.

Also read: 7 Best Sunscreens for Face in Dermatologist Opinion


Is physical or chemical sunscreen better?

Both types of sunscreen are designed to work differently, so it depends on various factors. 

For example, if you have acne-prone or oily skin, then chemical sunscreen will likely suit you better. On the other hand, physical sunscreens offer more protection from UV light.


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