Chemical Sunscreen vs. Physical Sunscreen – Pros and Cons

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You should be putting on sunscreen anytime you go outside, even if it’s not for very long. Your skin can be harmed by UV rays in a very short period, which is why sunscreen should be an integral part of your daily skin care routine.

Not all sunscreens are the same, though. While browsing products, you’ll likely see some referred to as “chemical” sunscreens and others are referred to as “physical” sunscreens. The crucial difference lies in how these sunscreens protect your skin. It’s important to be informed about what you’re putting on your skin. This guide will give you all the information you need to choose the right product for your skin’s needs.

How does chemical sunscreen work?

Essentially, chemical sunscreen uses certain carbon-based compounds to change harmful UV rays into heat, and then release that heat into the air. Chemical sunscreen absorbs into your skin and uses a chemical reaction to keep it protected.

How does physical sunscreen work?

Instead of chemically changing UV rays, physical sunscreen literally blocks them physically, using active mineral ingredients to deflect them off your skin. Rather than absorbing into your skin, physical sunscreen sits on top of it, forming a barrier between your skin and damaging UV rays.

The pros and cons of chemical sunscreen

When weighing your options, consider the pros and cons of chemical variations.


  • Because chemical sunscreen sinks into your skin, you’re less likely to feel oily from the mixture.
  • You won’t have to reapply chemical sunscreen quite as often, because it’s resistant to external factors.
  • If you’re swimming or exercising vigorously throughout the day, chemical sunscreen will still reflect UV rays, because it’s actually soaked into your skin.


  • While the chemicals used are carbon-based, those with especially sensitive skin may have allergic reactions to some chemical sunscreens.
  • You’ll have to wait about 10 minutes after applying to go outside, to allow it to soak into the skin.
  • Because of how it absorbs UV rays and converts them into heat, chemical sunscreen can overheat your skin if you’re in an especially warm climate.

The pros and cons of physical sunscreen

As with chemical variations, physical sunscreen has both pros and cons to consider.


  • Physical sunscreen is much less likely to irritate sensitive skin because the formula doesn’t require chemical compounds.
  • As soon as it’s applied, your skin will be protected from the sun; no waiting is necessary.
  • Because it relies upon a physical barrier rather than a chemical reaction that must be preserved, physical sunscreen has a much longer shelf life than chemical sunscreen does.


  • You’ll need to reapply frequently, as it’s liable to rub off if you sweat too much or if you go into the water.
  • It’s easy to apply too little, especially if you’re used to chemical sunscreen, because it needs to be applied more generously.
  • If it’s not rubbed in thoroughly, which can take some time, then you may see a chalky and opaque film over your skin.

Which one is best for me?

Everyone needs to apply sunscreen before heading outside, as it’s a crucial part of taking care of the skin. Even if you can’t stand the feeling of physical sunscreen and thus choose to use a chemical sunscreen, that’s better than not wearing sunscreen at all! Similarly, swimmers, runners, and other athletes may choose chemical sunscreen for its moisture-resistant properties.

However, physical sunscreen is the most popular choice because it’s gentler on the skin. For young children or adults with sensitive skin, physical sunscreen is much less likely to cause a rash or other reaction. Especially if you choose physical sunscreen that’s fragrance-free and organic, you’re likely to be able to apply it generously without worry.

Nurture My Body’s 100% Organic Fragrance Free Sunscreen checks off all the boxes. It’s safe for sensitive skin, but still carries SPF 32, more than enough to keep you safe outside. If you want a product specifically for young children, then Nurture My Body’s Organic Baby Sunscreen is an SPF 32 zinc oxide formula that’s precisely what you need. No matter what, make sure every member of your family applies sunscreen before going out!

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