It’s no secret how important sunscreen is for daily use to protect you from skin cancer and ward off common signs of aging. However, with so many different types of sunscreens out there, it can be tough to choose the right one. A common question fielded by dermatologists is “What’s the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens?”—and more importantly, which is better? Here’s a closer look at the info you need to make the right decision for your skincare routine.

How Sunscreen Works

Both physical (mineral) and chemical sunscreens work to prevent the skin from absorbing harmful UV rays. However, they achieve this in different ways. Physical sunscreens create a mineral barrier that reflects light and absorbs UV rays. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays through a chemical reaction after they’ve absorbed into the skin.

Key Differences Between Physical and Chemical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens are often touted as safer sunscreen options, but that’s not necessarily the case. Chemical sunscreens are considered safe and effective by the FDA, although some concerns have arisen due to the presence of Benzene in some popular brands of sunscreen. So, if you do select a chemical sunscreen, you should ask your doctor or dermatologist for some brand recommendations.

Chemical sunscreens do offer an advantage of requiring less frequent application and being more resistant to water and sweat. They also tend to rub into the skin quicker, although mineral sunscreens have evolved to be easier to apply than the thick, goopy products you may remember from your childhood. Physical sunscreens offer immediate protection, while chemical sunscreens need about 30 minutes to absorb into the skin and deflect the sun’s rays.

Choosing What’s Right for You

Most dermatologists agree that the best sunscreen is the one you’re going to wear every day. Whether it’s a spray-on, tinted, chemical, or physical variety, consistent application is the key. Still, there are a few things to look for in any sunscreen you choose. Select one offering broad-spectrum protection of SPF 30 or higher so that you’re shielded from UVA and UVB rays. You should also check how long your sunscreen offers water- and sweat-resistance, so you know how often to reapply.

Want to check in with a doctor to make sure you’re using safe, effective products for your skin? Connect with MeMD to see a medical provider anytime, anywhere with no appointment necessary.


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