The Difference Between Physical & Chemical Sunscreen

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Sunscreen is tricky. There’s so much competing advice on which type to use, which to avoid (some say all) and how to use it. Learning about sunscreen also has the added downer of being deathly boring (it’s very scientific and we all associate it with our parents forcing us to slip slop slap as children). But bear with me, this is important.

Australians must prioritise sun protection.

It’s a cross we have to bear more than other countries. We have the highest rates of skin cancer in the WORLD here due to our exposure to harsher UV rays. We know skin cancer can kill us. We know we can avoid it with a little daily effort. And problematically, many of us rely on (chemical) sunscreen to protect us from sunburn as we enjoy outdoor lifestyles.

Before falling back on sunscreen, we should get into the habit of staying out of the sun in between the harshest UV hours (between 10am and 4pm); wearing wide brim hats, sunnies and light fabric long-sleeved tops, such as those crinkly linen shirts European men get around in (except ours will be buttoned right to the top to protect our vulnerable decolletage, not sexily unbuttoned in a deep V like theirs).

Chemical versus physical sunscreen

Most easily available supermarket brands are chemical sunscreen. They work by doing their best to absorb the UV rays as it reaches our skin. It has some real issues.

I’ll spare a scientific exposition, but it contains toxic chemicals that we tend to steer clear of when we’re looking for natural products. It is absorbed through the skin and enters the bloodstream. You’ll be able to spot it due to ingredients such as Oxybenzone, Homosalate and Octinoxate.


natural sunscreen

Then there’s physical, also known as mineral, sunscreen. This works by reflecting the UV off your skin. It’s way more natural than its chemical cousin and is the safer option for the whole family.

As recent convert to physical sunscreen Zoe Foster Blake notes, it also has the added benefit of being effective even when applied over the top of other skincare, like moisturiser and serum. See her blog post for more info here. Look out for titanium oxide or zinc oxide ingredients, which tells you it’s a physical sun protector.

Here’s the best path

There are people out there that just won’t touch the stuff, even the physical types. Their argument is certainly sound. The less interfering with nature the better. And the human body benefits from the Vitamin D exposure, direct to skin.

But this is only good for twenty minutes maximum per day, and not in the hottest hours. Rather than being a staunch sunscreen avoider, use an organic physical sunscreen (stay tuned for my list of top performers) if you’re exposed when you shouldn’t be.

As the classic old saying goes, ‘Happy epidermis, happy life’.

Image source: Hello Fashion Blog

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