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The Sunscreen Debate: Chemical vs Physical- Which Is Better?

Sunscreen, the undoubted most important skin care product you can own, is proven to be the most effective way of preventing visible signs of aging. A whopping 90% of early onset aging is caused by sun damage to the skin, not to mention it is the only way to prevent sun induced skin cancer.

However, like all skin products, not all sunscreens are created equal. On the market today there are two types of formulations- physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Both can be safe and effective depending on your skin concerns- read on to find out which is right for you!

Physical Sunscreen

What is it?

Physical sunscreen sits on the top of the skin and uses minerals (most commonly titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) to reflect the sun’s rays away from the skin. The formulation blocks or scatters UV rays before it can penetrate the skin.


  • Broad spectrum (blocks UVA and UVB rays)

  • Works instantaneously

  • Better for sensitive skin types - is highly unlikely to irritate the skin

  • More moisturizing

  • Helps limit rosacea and redness due to deflecting the suns rays

  • Longer shelf life

  • Unlikely to clog pores (does not deeply penetrate the skin)


  • Not ideal for swimming as it can be rubbed off more easily (when in contact with water or sweat) than chemical sunscreen

  • Requires more frequent reapplication

  • Not ideal for use under makeup

  • Pores can appear as white spots when sweating

  • *Requires more effort to fully rub in and often leaves white streaks on skin

**Newer formulations on the market have created matte or tinted versions that have less of a white cast

Chemical Sunscreen

What is it?

Chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin, and then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body. It does this by using chemical carbon compounds that help convert the UV radiation into heat. The most commonly used chemicals include oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate.


  • Thinner formulation which allows for easier application

  • Does not cause significant streaking/white spots

  • More resistant to sweat or water (makes it more ideal for swimming or athletes)

  • Often contains additional skin care ingredients such as peptides

  • Smaller amount is typically needed because it is easily spread on skin


  • Takes 20 minutes following application to skin to begin being effective

  • Often can drip into the eyes, causing irritation and stinging

  • Can clog pores which may exacerbate acne

  • Increases chance of redness in rosacea prone skin types

  • More likely to irritate skin (higher SPF formulations often are more irritating)

  • Banned in places such as Hawaii because they are not considered “reef safe” and can damage the oceanic ecosystem

Which Sunscreen Is Best For Me?

Choosing the best option for you is going to highly depend on your daily routine. A physical sunscreen is best used for regular daily wear, however If you are often physically active outside, or having a beach day, a chemical sunscreen would likely be your best option. Finding a sunscreen that feels good on your skin, is always going to be the best option. Most importantly remember to apply a sunscreen every day, with a minimum of SPF 30, and remember that you can in fact get burned when it's cloudy outside!

Here at Pink Mingo Skincare, we use and recommend our SunMoist SPF 30 Sun Block. It is a hybrid of chemical and physical sunscreen ingredients. The two main actives are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, both physical sunscreen ingredients- and the only two that the FDA publicly recommends to be safe and effective. However, it also contains octyl salicylate and avobenzone, two ingredients that are considered to be safe by the Environmental Working Group. The addition of these helps to promote absorption and penetration into the skin, and prevents those annoying streaky white lines.

Now that you know the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen, let us take the next step in preventing aging and promoting healthy skin - book now!

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