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The Difference Between Chemical Vs Physical Sunscreens By The Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center Of Wilmington

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen – What’s the Difference? And Which is Better?

No matter your skin color or skin type, wearing sunscreen to protect yourself and prevent skin cancer is essential. However, with the variety of sunscreen choices, which do you choose? What is best for optimal sun protection: chemical vs physical sunscreen? 

The dermatologists at The Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center of Wilmington cover the difference between these two sunscreen choices, the pros and cons of each, whether or not a chemical sunscreen is good for your skin, and which you should choose for skin protection.


Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen 

The primary difference between chemical and physical sunscreen is how they protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays. Aside from the way they work, chemical and physical sunscreens can also impact the skin differently, which is why it’s important to learn about the ingredients within each sunscreen category. 


What is a Chemical Sunscreen? 

A chemical sunscreen is a type of sunscreen that protects the skin by absorbing the UV radiation. Instead of damaging the skin, UV rays are absorbed and the molecules of the sunscreen are destroyed. Some common chemical ingredients are avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. 


What is a Physical Sunscreen? 

Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb the UV rays, physical sunscreens (which are also commonly referred to as mineral sunscreens) create a barrier on the skin that reflects the UV rays. The most common minerals used in physical sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. 


Which is Better – Chemical or Physical Sunscreens? 

There are a few key things to know about each to determine which is best for you. Take a look below to discover the pros and cons of both chemical and physical sunscreens. 


1. Chemical Sunscreens are More Water- and Sweat-Resistant 

Generally, chemical sunscreens are more water- and sweat-resistant. Thus, if you’re typically exercising and sweating quite a bit or spending ample amounts of time in the water, choosing a chemical sunscreen over a physical one might be best. 

That said, physical sunscreen formulas are getting better and better year after year. You’ll find that many physical sunscreen products are both water- and sweat-resistant nowadays, but often not as well as a chemical sunscreen. 


2. Physical Sunscreens are Less Irritating. 

In many cases, the chemicals in various chemical sunscreens will irritate and aggravate the skin, especially for children, people with a chronic skin condition (i.e. eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea), or those with sensitive skin. 

If you have sensitive skin, physical sunscreens are often the better choice, as they sit on top of the skin rather than sinking into the skin like chemical sunscreens. 


3. Chemical Sunscreens Have a Lighter Formula. 

Many who use chemical sunscreens prefer the lighter formula that goes on easier and smoother than the thicker physical sunscreen formulas. This is typically ideal for those who have oily skin, while people with dryer skin may benefit from the thicker, more moisturizing physical sunscreens. 

Furthermore, another downfall of physical sunscreens is that they often leave a white cast on the skin due to the dense formula and mineral ingredients. 


4. Physical Sunscreens are Better for the Environment. 

Overall, physical sunscreens tend to be better for the environment, as many chemicals used in chemical sunscreens have been attributed to coral bleaching and environmental harm. This includes common chemical ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate. 

Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose which sunscreen is best for you and your unique skin! And in addition to wearing sunscreen daily, we recommend following our exceptional skin cancer prevention tips


Healthy Skin at The Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center of Wilmington 

Do you need more information regarding skin protection? Would you like to schedule your skin cancer screening, which is essential for preventing and detecting skin cancer? 

Get in touch with the exceptional team of board-certified dermatologists at The Dermatology & Skin Surgery Center of Wilmington in Wilmington, NC! We’re happy to help you take care of your skin for a better well-being. 

Schedule an appointment online or get in touch by calling (910) 782-0028


The Dermatology and Skin Surgery Center of Wilmington is passionate about preventing and treating cancer. If you have questions about what you can do to reduce your risk, or you’re ready to schedule your yearly skin cancer check-up, call us at (910) 782-0028 today. 

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