The Difference Between Chemical and Physical Sunscreen

SPF all year round

We hope you’ve been protecting your skin with SPF all year round. Nonetheless, with the holiday season nearly here we thought now would be a good time to really start getting the message home about sun damage and protecting your skin.

Sun damage can create all kinds of problems related to skin ageing, from hyperpigmentation to wrinkles and sagging skin. But unprotected sun exposure can also cause severely more dangerous health risks such as skin cancer. So, sunscreen is an essential product to protect and defend your skin.

However, did you know there are two types of sunscreen you can use? There are chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens available on the market. But which is better for you and your skin type?

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen


First off, physical and chemical sunscreen differ greatly in their appearance. Physical sunscreen is a thick, milky white formula that needs to be thoroughly and generously rubbed in. Chemical sunscreen tends to be a thinner, clearer formula that is easily absorbed into the skin.

Skin Type

Those with acne skin or other sensitive skin conditions may consider chemical sunscreen better for them but in actual fact, it’s not. Physical sunscreen is recommended for sensitive, acne-prone and rosacea skin. This is because it is less likely to clog pores and exacerbate skin. Plus, it can deflect the heat from the sun away from the skin, to keep you cooler and soothe rosacea. ย On the other hand, chemical sunscreen transforms UV rays into heat energy, meaning that for those with rosacea-prone skin, there is a higher chance of flare-ups. Additionally, the various ingredients required in chemical sunscreen to ensure broad-spectrum protectionย results in a higher likelihood of irritation for sensitive skin


Whilst your skin may absorb chemical sunscreen more easily, it takes approximatelyย 20 minutes for itย to become fully effective. In contrast, once physical sunscreen is properly applied, it instantly protects the skin from the sun. What’s more, physical sunscreen remains effective for longer when in direct sunlight, in comparison to chemical sunscreen, which requires more frequent re-application to remain useful.

chemical vs. physical sunscreen

However, when the body gets wet or sweaty, physical sunscreen is no longer effective. Any physical activity can easily make it rub off. Plus, if not applied properly and thoroughly, you cannot be assured of total protection from physical sunscreen. In comparison, chemical sunscreen leaves no risk of UV rays getting between patches and into the skin, as the molecules in its formula have no spaces to allow UV penetration. Meaning protective coverage is easier to acquire.

Overall, physical and chemical sunscreens both have their pros and cons. They are both efficient in their own ways but depending on your skin type and sun protection requirements, you need to make a judgement call on which is best for you.

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