Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen: what’s the difference?

Chemical vs Physical sunscreens Free Spirited Sisters

Growing up in Australia, you are well aware of how powerful the sun can be. We were always in the sun as kids and it wasn’t really a priority to be sun-smart like it is now. It wasn’t until the (very catchy!) Slip Slop Slap campaign came along that it became mainstream to be more aware of the sun and how to keep the harmful UVA and UVB rays from damaging our skin. If you haven’t heard of Slip Slop Slap it stands for Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen and Slap on a hat. It has more recently been amended to include Seek some shade and Slide on some sunnies. I still to this day get mixed up which one is which… do I slap on sunscreen or slop it?! When it comes to sunscreens though, many contain toxic ingredients that can actually promote skin cancer growth and production of free radicals in the body. So what to do?

What’s the difference?

There are two forms of active ingredients in sunscreens: mineral and chemical filters. The main difference between the two is that chemical filters absorb the sun’s rays whereas, mineral or physical filters reflect the rays. Some brands of sunscreen use a mixture of both.

Chemical sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens are the most commonly used and usually have a thinner consistency. They should be left on the skin for 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Some of the chemicals have been found to be absorbed by the body and show up in urine and breast milk. Studies have shown that some chemical filters can mimic hormones, particularly in relation to reproduction and development. There are a number of chemicals used but the main ones to steer clear of are oxybenzone, octinoxate and homosalate as they have been related to skin allergies and for being hormone disruptors. It’s also important to be aware of the inactive ingredients that make up a large percentage of the product.

Mineral or physical sunscreens

These are known as the more natural of the sunscreens and are made with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Zinc oxide is most commonly used as it reflects the UVA and UVB rays while titanium dioxide only reflects UVB. Both don’t penetrate the skin and are effective immediately on application. They do however have to be applied more often as they can become ineffective after getting wet or sweating. There is less risk of irritation so they are recommended for people with sensitive skin and for children. More and more natural sunscreens are appearing on the market and although they may be a little more expensive, it’s worth it for peace of mind.

Some is better than none..

In the end, it’s better to have some sun protection than none at all. Personally, I just feel more comfortable having fewer chemicals being absorbed by my body on the reg.


Katie x

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