Chemical and Physical Sunscreen

With summer approaching in the Southern hemisphere, getting the correct type of sunscreen for you and your family is as important as getting that bikini body ready for the beach. There are literally thousands of sunscreens on the market so how do I find out which one is suitable for me? Let me give you some guidance and background on sunscreens.

First of all, I would like to put a disclaimer out there. I am not a dermatologist, a doctor or a licensed aesthetician. All the information I provide below is from my own research and my own experiences. Different products work differently on different people and different people have different allergies and preferences. If you are unsure, please consult your doctor or pharmacist or dermatologist.

OK, so why do we need sunscreen and when do we need it?

UV rays from the sun from the sun cause premature ageing by creating free radicals, which are unstable molecules that break down collagen in the skin. There are two types of UV rays that breach the ozone layer and cause damage to the skin: UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate the layers of the skin, causing most premature ageing. UVB rays cause tanning and burning on the upper layers of the skin. Both UVA and UVB rays are linked with skin cancer and long-term harm for your health. The UV filters in sunscreens prevent this damage from happening by forming a protective layer on your skin, either deflecting or absorbing the harmful UV rays. It is important to wear sunscreen while you are outdoors and even when you are indoors because UVA rays can penetrate through glass windows. There are products and procedures out there that can turn back the effects of sun damage, dark spots and photoaging, but there is nothing better than prevention. It is much easier to prevent than it is to reverse the effects.

So, what is the difference between physical (also called mineral) and chemical sunscreen?

Physical sunscreens use UV filters that reflect, scatter and block the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients that absorb UV radiation, preventing them from penetrating the skin. While all physical UV filters block from both UVA and UVB rays, most chemical UV filters protect one or the other, not both. Some widely available sunscreens contain both physical and chemical ingredients to provide broad-spectrum protection.

List of common ingredients in Physical and Chemical Sunscreen:

Sunscreen UV filters

What are the pros and cons with physical and chemical sunscreen?

Insert table here.

Personally, I apply a minimum SPF30 sunscreen every single day even when I know I will be indoors in an overcast sky. If my day moisturiser contains sunscreen but is not at least SPF30, I will apply a separate sunscreen on top because the amount of moisturiser you use on your face is not going to provide the minimum amount of sunscreen you are supposed to wear. You are supposed to apply about 2mg of sunscreen per cm2 of skin area which is about 1/4 teaspoon for the entire face (that is quite a lot). However, by applying an SPF50 sunscreen over an SPF15 moisturiser does not equal to SPF70. You will just achieve SPF50.

Here are some comparisons of sunscreens I rotate around. It’s a mixture of physical and chemical sunscreens.

L-R: Clinique Pep-start Daily UV Protector SPF50, AHC Natural Shield Sun Stick SPF50, Dermalogica Pure Light SPF50, Dermalogica Solar Defence Booster SPF50.

Clinique Pep-start Daily UV Protector SPF50 is a very pleasantly fluid physical sunscreen that contains zinc and titanium oxides. It has a sheer tint which provides a healthy glow to the skin. Lightweight texture is good for normal and combinations skin.

AHC Natural Shield Sun Stick SPF50 PA+++ is a Korean brand sunscreen in a stick packaging. There isn’t much information online about this product or the brand and I bought this online because it was an interesting product. However, I believe it is a chemical sunscreen because it is clear (slightly yellow tinted). It applies like a stick foundation to provide clear protection without white cast. It is however a little oily before it gets absorbed so beware if you have oily skin!

Dermalogica Pure Light SPF50 is a moisturiser with chemical UV filters. It has a white fluid-lotion texture and it feels lightweight on the skin. It has skincare benefits to help brighten the skin over time.

Dermalogica Solar Defence Booster SPF50 is a sunscreen booster with chemical UV filters. It has a thicker fluid texture and can be mixed with your moisturizer, foundation, BB cream or applied directly. It has a medium thickness so I would prefer not to put too many layers on over this.

L-R: The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-protection essence SPF50, YSL UV Protection SPF50, Loreal UV Perfect Advanced Watery Gel SPF50, Missha All-round Safe Block Water-in-sun SPF30, Lancome UV Expert 12Hr+ Active Beauty Shield SPF50

The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-protection Essence SPF50 is a super lightweight and fluid sunscreen that is also an essence. It claims to have multiple skincare benefits as a hydrating essence, antioxidant protector, brightener and a sunscreen. The fluid consistency is a pleasure to use and when you spread it, it feels almost watery but it does leave a sheen on the face which may be avoided if you have oily skin. Main ingredients are Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate (aka Octinoxate) and Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (aka Avobenzone) which makes this a chemical sunscreen.

YSL UV Protection SPF50 is a light/medium weight sunscreen lotion. It has a light fragrance of expensive skincare and provides a good even layer of product on the skin without looking greasy. It has PA++++ which is a Japanese way of indicating UVA protection. The more +, the better the protection from UVA rays. This is a chemical sunscreen that also acts as a hydrating primer.

Loreal UV Perfect Advanced Watery Gel SPF50 is another ultra lightweight sunscreen fluid that reminds me of many Japanese sunscreens (i.e. Shiseido, Biore, etc.). They have a watery texture and it feels refreshing on the skin an is dry/powdery to the touch when settled onto the skin. It isn’t really a gel, but I would definitely agree on the “watery” description. If you have combination/oily skin, this would be a good one to go for, but it does not provide oil control (does not claim to anyway) but you can always apply a sebum-controlling primer or foundation or powder over it. It does leave a slight white cast since this has a combination of chemical and physical UV filters.

Missha All-round Safe Block Water-in-sun SPF30 has a slightly lower SPF rating, but still a good physical and chemical hybrid sunscreen. It has a bit of a lotion texture that is not as watery or lightweight as the L’Oreal or Body Shop one, but it does make a good makeup base with a “tone-up” effect (super popular in Korea where their skincare or primer products lighten their skin complexion, aka white cast. They love it). It does need a bit of time to sink in and leaves a healthy glow to the skin which some combination/oily skin can powder over to tone it down.

Lancome UV Expert 12Hr+ Active Beauty Shield SPF50 is a creamy chemical-based sunscreen with a high SPF50 PA++++. I believe many Lancome products have been formulated for Asian skin or the Asia market, in particular, their whitening or sun care products which is why they provide the PA rating. This small little tube of sunscreen is great for keeping in the handbag and very pleasant to apply. The texture is creamy but not thick, it smells nice but not overpowering.


So overall, I use a mixture of physical, chemical and hybrid sunscreens because there are different formulations out there that claim to do different things. Some provide skincare benefits, some brighten the skin, some also acts as a primer, some are 2-in-1 moisturiser products, the list goes on. I think the most important thing is to actually apply the sunscreen and reapply as required. It is also a trial and error on what your skin is irritated to as well in these ingredients (personally I am not irritated to any) and you that you need to remove your sunscreen as if removing foundation at the end of the day.

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