Physical or Chemical Sunscreen? Pick it right.

Sunscreen is an important step in maintaining the health and beauty of the skin. Vitamin D from sun exposure is vital but prolonged exposure to UV rays may cause premature aging, sun burns, irritation and is even linked to skin cancer. So a balanced sun exposure is essential.

Sunscreens are extensively used today but are we using the right ones to get the right protection? Let’s find out the difference between the physical/mineral sunscreens and chemical sunscreens-

>> Major difference is in the UV filters they use. Straight forwardly put, Physical sunscreens have natural agents like zinc and titanium oxide(naturally occurring minerals) whereas Chemical sunscreens use chemicals like octylcrylen, avobenzene, octinoxate, oxybenzone, salicylate, cinnamates, etc.

>> Physical sunscreens reflect, scatter and block the UV rays as they just form barriers and don’t penetrate the skin whereas the Chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays thereby preventing them from penetrating the skin.

>> Physical sunscreens are generally stable(don’t breakdown) whereas some Chemical sunscreens are not photostable(break into free radicals under sun exposure) and hence penetrate the epidermis and dermis and may accumulate in body fat and breast milk.

>> In Physical sunscreens, the UV filters namely zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are FDA approved. Zinc oxide is generally safe and suits even very sensitive skin but titanium dioxide may breakout some. Chemical sunscreens can cause skin irritation, allergies, breakouts as they generate free radicals. Many chemical sunscreens in Europe and Asia have UV filters that are not FDA approved. Also, prolonged usage may lead to early onset of puberty, low sperm count and breast cancers.

>> Physical sunscreens start protection immediately on application whereas Chemical sunscreens requires a 20 minutes waiting time for activation.

>> Physical sunscreens may be thick, opaque and leave a white cast or tint(improved formulae are coming up in this category) whereas Chemical sunscreens are mostly colourless, runny, lightweight and very comfortable to wear.

>> In Physical sunscreens, zinc oxide protects entire spectrum of UVA and UVB but titanium dioxide filters only UVB and not entire spectrum of UVA. Chemical sunscreens can give entire spectrum coverage which depends on the particular active and its stability.

>> Physical sunscreens will last longer in direct sun but not when doing physical activities as they get washed off with water and sweat easily. Some Chemical sunscreens may have waterproof feature and may be convenient in such cases.

>> Apart from the main UV filters, below are some ingredients which an ideal Physical sunscreen doesn’t have but found in most Chemical sunscreens:
Petrochemicals – to make product feel emollient. This is a potential carcinogen, clogs pores, causes skin irritation and acne.
Silicone – usually dimethicone to create smooth feel and provide water resistant qualities
Synthetic preservatives – parabens, MIT to increase shelf life. These are neurotoxic, cause allergies, fetal impairment, hormonal disruption
Synthetic fragrance – causes headache, nausea, asthma, dizziness, irritation

My verdict – Physical sunscreens are a safer bet. There are improved formulae now available in this category. Check out honest reviews of my favourite sunscreen

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