Blog > Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which One Should You Use?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which One Should You Use?

Physical and chemical sunscreens offer varying protection from the sun. Learn the differences between the two, plus the pros and cons.
Woman sitting on the beach applying sunscreen

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We’ve all come to realize, perhaps now more than ever, how important it is to protect our skin from the sun.

So, whether you’re squinting through the windshield on your morning commute, breaking a sweat on an AM jog, or ticking off your to-do list around the city, sunscreen has (hopefully) become a non-negotiable step in your daily skincare routine.

But as important as this step is, it doesn’t make choosing the right sunscreen any less daunting.

The market is chock-full of choices—from chemical to physical sunscreen, broad-spectrum lotions to water-resistant ones. This can make finding the perfect match feel like an overwhelming task.

We get it, and we’re here to help. We’ve put together this straightforward guide on sunscreens to help you cut through the confusion and feel confident choosing the right sunscreen.

What is SPF?

SPF, or sun protection factor rating, protects your skin against sun damage. It’s measured by numbered ratings that indicate the amount of additional time you may stay in the sun without getting burned based on your skin’s natural resistance to ultraviolet (UV) rays. For example, if you could last 10 minutes without burning, an SPF of 30 would allow for you to safely remain in the sun 30 times longer, allotting you 300 minutes, or five hours. However, when using this formula, you should also consider other factors, such as water and sweat, which decrease the effectiveness of the product.

UVA, UVB, and UVC Rays: What’s the Difference?

The sun emits three types of ultraviolet rays: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). Among these, UVA and UVB rays pose the most danger, while UVC rays are entirely absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere and don’t pose a significant concern.

UVA radiation is composed of long-wave rays that penetrate deep into the skin. These rays cause your skin to tan, but they’re also responsible for wrinkles and premature aging. On the other hand, UVB radiation consists of short-wave rays that primarily affect the superficial layers of the skin.

To effectively shield your skin from the detrimental effects of solar exposure, it’s imperative that your sunscreen provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for the label “broad spectrum” on sunscreen, as it indicates protection against these harmful rays.

Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreens

So, now that you know the importance of sunscreen, how do you know which type to use? While there are many different formulas on the market, there are two basic types: chemical and physical. Both have pros and cons, so the optimal choice for you will depend on your skin type and personal preferences. Here are some of the differences to consider.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens absorb into your bloodstream through your skin. They create a chemical reaction that transmutes UV rays into heat and then releases them from the body. If sunscreen is made with ingredients like oxybenzone or avobenzone, it’s a chemical sunscreen.


  • Chemical sunscreens are fast-absorbing and lightweight.
  • They don’t leave streaks or visible marks on the skin.
  • This type of sunscreen may be better for everyday wear, as it blends into your skin seamlessly.
  • Many water-resistant or waterproof options are available, improving beach coverage and minimizing the number of applications needed.


  • Typically, chemical sunscreens are only effective 20 minutes after application.
  • They’re more prone to cause allergic reactions and flushing.
  • Chemical sunscreens can clog pores.
  • The shelf-life is limited.

Physical Sunscreens

On the other hand, the skin won’t absorb physical or mineral-based sunscreens like it absorbs chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens rest on the top layer of your skin, creating a barrier to block the sun’s rays and reflect them away from the body. The most common active ingredients in physical sunscreens are titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.


  • Physical sunscreens are effective immediately after application.
  • These sunscreens are better for sensitive skin types.
  • Since the sunscreen isn’t entering through your pores, it’s less likely to cause breakouts.
  • Physical sunscreens tend to have a longer shelf-life than chemical sunscreens.


  • Since they sit on top of the skin, they’re not fast-absorbing and can feel heavy.
  • They tend to leave a noticeable white cast on the skin.
  • They can be challenging to apply evenly.
  • Though water-resistant brands are available, zinc washes off easily from water and sweat, requiring more applications.

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How Often Should You Wear Sunscreen?

Every day! The best way to prevent aging and skin cancer is with the consistent application of sunscreen. The sun’s rays emanate through the windows in your home and car, as well as shine through the clouds on overcast days. Even the blue light emitting from your laptop and smartphone can cause aging, so make applying sunscreen a daily habit.

How to Apply Sunscreen Effectively

A good rule of thumb is to apply a finger’s worth to each appendage, or a shot glass complete for your entire body. Rub it in to make sure you have an even application. Allow time for it to sink in, and then apply a second layer to ensure you’re covered. We recommend reapplying it every two hours or after swimming or sweating to remain protected. Finally, make sure to keep your sunscreen out of the sun to preserve the ingredients’ potency.

The Bottom Line

Whatever sunscreen you choose to use, the most important thing is that you use one consistently. Skin cancer is prevalent, and protecting yourself is the best way to prevent exposure to cancer-causing rays. Just because the sun isn’t shining doesn’t mean you should skip the SPF. Every little action you take to protect your health now has a monumental impact on the quality of your future.

Looking to optimize your health further? Start your journey today with our quick health and wellness assessment. It can provide valuable insights into your overall health and help guide you on the path to achieving your goals.

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

Tags:  Lifestyle
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