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Sunscreen Face-Off: Chemical vs. Physical

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I would hope that these days we are all fully on board with the fact that we need sunscreen – not just for a day at the beach or pool, but every single day.  Ultraviolet (UV) rays are going strong no matter what time of year and daily sun protection is key for keeping your beautiful skin from turning into a leather bag AND keeping you healthy!  Long-term unprotected sun exposure contributes to premature aging, wrinkles, brown spots, and freckles (OK some freckles are cute).  We are constantly on the hunt for serums and magic potions to reverse signs of aging, when all along a little sunscreen does wonders in slowing down the development of those fine lines and wrinkles.  As if that wasn’t enough, although it is one of the most preventable types of cancer, skin cancer is on the rise.

Let’s talk UV. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB.  UVA rays penetrate deep through the skin and contribute to wrinkles and premature aging.  UVB rays are the ones that either tan or burn us on the top layer of our skin.  Guess what?  They are both linked to cancer.  Moral of the story?  Wear sunscreen!  It’s so easy these days to find facial moisturizer and makeup with SPF already built in that you have no excuse!  IMPORTANT: Don’t ever use expired sunscreen.  I’m not normally so locked into expiration dates, but when it comes to sunscreen, once the formulation has broken down you are getting absolutely no sun protection.  Just don’t do it.  It really is the equivalent of wearing nothing at all.  All that said, let’s break down the types of sunscreen and the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed choice about what’s right for you.

Physical vs. Chemical

A physical sunscreen contains active mineral ingredients that create a blocking barrier on top of your skin that essentially deflects UV rays.  Common Ingredients to look for: Titanium Dioxide, Zinc Oxide

The Good:

  • Protects against both UVA and UVB – naturally broad spectrum
  • More sensitive formula for those with sensitive skin and/or prone to acne skin
  • Protects from the sun immediately without having to wait for it to absorb into your skin
  • Longer shelf life

The Bad:

  • It can be thicker and hard to rub in and as a result can sometimes leave you with a whitish tint on your skin
  • Rubs off and rinses away more easily so more frequent re-applications may be required

My top pick: Goddess Garden Organics Everyday SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen (this actually rubs on smooth and smells amazing!)

A chemical sunscreen contains a combination of two or more of the common ingredients listed, and unlike the physical (mineral) sunscreen, protects the skin by absorbing UV rays instead of blocking them.  Common Ingredients to look for: Oxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Octinoxate

The Good:

  • Protects against both UVA and UVB
  • The most common type of sunscreen on the market and therefore easily accessible and usually more affordable
  • Formula is thinner and rubs into the skin smoothly and easily
  • Sheer and easily applied under makeup

The Bad:

  • Many of the common ingredients, oxybenzone for example, have concerns related to hormone disruption
  • Need to wait 20 minutes to allow the formula to settle on the skin before sun protection begins
  • More irritating to those with sensitive skin and stings like hell when it gets in your eyes (you know what I’m talking about!)
  • Can clog pores for those with oily skin

My top pick: Nature’s Gate Aqua Block (this one is actually very good for sensitive skin unlike the normal cons of chemical sunscreens)

The choice is yours, but please choose something!  Suncare should be a part of your daily skincare routine, no matter how cloudy the day is.

Check out my post from a few weeks back on my favorite sunscreens!


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