Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Key Differences, Ingredients & Uses

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Sunscreen is one of the most important elements of a skincare routine as it provides SPF protection for face and whole body but with so many products in the market, it can be confusing to pick one.
Questions like- what should I choose between physical sunscreen or chemical sunscreen or what the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen is or physical vs. chemical sunscreen is common amongst skincare enthusiasts
In this blog, we will discuss what physical and chemical sunscreen is, their differences, and the benefits they offer so that you can make the right choice!

What Is Physical Sunscreen?

Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreen, contain ingredients that physically block or reflect sunlight away from the skin, protecting it from dangerous UV rays. If you want to use a physical sunscreen, seek zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as components as they are the best sunscreen ingredients as well as the safest physical sunscreen ingredients. These substances will form a protective barrier over the skin when applied.

What Is Chemical Sunscreen?

A chemical sunscreen contains chemical UV filters which work by absorbing UV rays, converting them into heat and releasing them from the skin surface. Benzophenone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, benzotriazoles, cinnamates, and PABAs are some of the main compounds to search for in chemical sunscreens that protect the skin from the sun.

Ingredients To Look For In A Physical Sunscreen And Their Benefits:

Titanium dioxide:

Titanium dioxide is a UV-filtering ingredient that is typically included in baby sunscreen or mineral sunscreen for sensitive skin and people with sunburns and eczema.

Zinc oxide:

Zinc oxide is a mineral that may be found in sunscreens in acceptable amounts of up to 25%. It has the potential to be damaging to the environment. This chemical is also often seen in baby sunscreens.

Key Advantages of Physical Sunscreen:

  • They offer excellent protection: Mineral sunscreen contains minerals that filter both UVA and UVB rays, making it particularly efficient in protecting the skin from cancer-causing radiation.
  • They start working as soon as you apply them: Physical sunscreens are effective from the time they are applied because they provide a physical barrier against the sun.
  • They are ideal for those with sensitive skin: Mineral sunscreen for sensitive skin is the ideal choice because mineral sunscreen does not enter the body, it is less likely to irritate the skin, clog pores, or produce redness.

Key Disadvantages of Physical Sunscreen:

They get removed easily:

Physical sunscreen is more likely to fall off when you're doing sports or going for a swim, so you'll need to reapply it more frequently.

They leave white cast:

In their wake: Physical sunscreen creates white lines on the skin, which some people find unpleasant.

Ingredients to look for in a Chemical Sunscreen and Their Benefits:


Avobenzone is an oil-soluble substance that absorbs UV radiation of various wavelengths. This substance is divisive, and it isn't always thought to be safe. This should be avoided by pregnant and lactating mothers.


Octinoxate is a UV-B ray-blocking compound. Octinoxate can only be used at particular concentrations for safety concerns. This chemical should also be avoided by pregnant and lactating mothers.


Oxybenzone is a UV-A-absorbing chemical molecule. Again, this compound needs to be avoided by pregnant and lactating mothers.


PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) is a molecule that occurs naturally in the body and helps to block UV radiation.

Key Advantages of Chemical Sunscreens:

It is a lot easier to use: Chemical sunscreens are often easier to apply and do not leave cast as physical sunscreens do.

Key Disadvantages of Chemical Sunscreens:

Need more time to absorb:

Chemical sunscreen takes around 20 minutes to enter the skin, thus it does not provide rapid protection.

When exposed to direct sunshine, the amount of protection decreases:

When you're outside, you'll need to reapply chemical sunscreen more frequently.

It is possible that it's not as ecologically friendly: Some chemical sunscreens can contaminate the ocean ecology, causing harm to delicate places such as coral reefs.

Other Things to Look for When you are going to buy sunscreen

SPF, Broad Spectrum, PA rating, Waterproof Formulation, Chemicals, and Nature-derived Ingredients are all terms to check for when comparing sunscreens.


It is one of the most significant elements in sunscreen since it indicates how effective it is at protecting you from the sun's damaging rays. The greater the SPF, the more effective it is in protecting you from UVA radiation. Choose your best SPF sunscreen based on your needs.

Broad Spectrum:

It is a word that may be unfamiliar to you. However, a high SPF is insufficient to protect against the sun's rays. What about UVA rays, because SPF only protects against UVB? The 'broad spectrum' sunscreens are the ones that protect you from both UVA and UVB rays, and you need them. 

The PA rating:

It is another criterion for determining the efficacy of sunscreen. The amount of "+" indications used to assess sunscreen. The PA rating is a Japanese method of determining how effective a sunscreen is in blocking UVA rays. However, you can never be too confident about the protection, so search for broad-spectrum protection to be on the safe side.

If you want to swim, the water resistance face sunscreen will assist in retaining the sunscreen covering your body for longer. Of course, no sunscreen is completely waterproof, but it will provide you with a window of a few hours to reapply. Sunscreens are usually effective for two hours, but some varieties may provide up to four hours of protection thanks to natural SPF components.

Choose ingredients that aid in boosting SPF. Always choose a sunscreen that has more natural components and a higher SPF rating. These will aid in increasing the effectiveness of the sunscreen's other components, resulting in improved protection. In addition, the skin receives increased hydration, moisturization, and nutrition with little to no irritation (depending upon a specific natural ingredient that you might be allergic to).

Things To Keep In Mind While Selecting A Safe & Clean Sunscreen:

While selecting the best sunscreen, make a note of your skin type and choose or avoid the ingredients accordingly.
If you have sensitive skin, stay away from oxybenzone and instead use a physical sunscreen.
For fair skin, look for a sunscreen with a high SPF and a formula that also protects against blue light (for everyday usage, whether you're at your computer or out in the sun).
If you have oily or acne-prone skin, stick to oil-free, matte sunscreens as part of your daily skincare routine.
Avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone, octinoxate, or zinc oxide if you're in or near the water with a coral reef since they can be hazardous to the ecosystem.
Avoid oxybenzone if you're pregnant or going to donate blood.


Physical vs Chemical sunscreen is all over the skincare industry. But there is no obvious winner in the battle between physical and chemical sunscreens. Both physical and chemical sunscreens have advantages and disadvantages, and selecting the best sunscreen may require some compromise. The sunscreen you will use is the most effective. Sunscreen is the most effective way to protect your skin from sun damage. Physical sunscreen, on the other hand, is likely to be preferable for persons with sensitive skin because it has a lesser chance of irritating your skin.

But it is important to note that sunscreen isn't the only way to protect yourself from UV rays. Even if you use a high-SPF sunscreen, you may still end up with a harsher sunburn and more long-term skin damage than you anticipated.
It's crucial not to rely solely on high-SPF sunscreens. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to sun protection. Sunscreen is only one component of a comprehensive plan that should also involve seeking shade and wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and UV-blocking eyewear.



    Always buy sunscreen with SPF 30 or more as it blocks more than 95% of the harmful UV rays.


    Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2-3 hours in the daytime for protection against UV rays.