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Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens: Which Will Protect Your Family from Sun Damage this Summer?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens: Which Will Protect Your Family from Sun Damage this Summer?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens

Summertime is here, and with so many family-friendly outdoor activities available, it’s time to protect yourself and your family against potential sun damage.

Sunscreen is usually the first line of defense when it comes to sun protection, but with so many options, which should you use?

Physical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens (sometimes referred to as inorganic sunscreens) use physical UV filters and protect your skin by deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays.

The Pros

  • Physical sunscreens don’t wear off as quickly so they can last longer than chemical sunscreens.
  • They start to work immediately and generally do not require as much (if any) re-application as chemical ones.

The Cons

  • Physical sunscreens are a bit thicker, so they tend to leave a white streak after application (kind of like when lifeguards apply them to their noses).
  • They feel a bit greasy after application.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens (or organic sunscreens) use chemical UV filters and protect your skin by absorbing the sun’s rays.

The Pros

  • Chemical sunscreens generally offer more coverage against UVA and UVB rays.
  • They’re usually colorless and odorless, unlike physical sunscreens.

The Cons

  • Chemical sunscreens can take up to 20 minutes before they’re effective, and they must be re-applied more often.
  • Some chemical ingredients produce free radicals, which can cause skin damage, irritation and aging.

Most dermatologists recommend sunscreens with SPF 30 for the average person, as those with a higher SPF do not provide a significant increase in protection.

For more information, check out EWG’s guide for the best and safest sunscreens.

Got any more helpful tips to prevent sun damage? We’d love to hear from you! Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.


EWG: 2015 Guide to Sunscreens
The Wall Street Journal: Chemical vs. Physical: Which Type of Sunscreen Is Best?
REI: Sun Protection Basics
Web MD: What’s the Best Sunscreen?

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Ruthann Hendrickson
Ruthann Hendrickson(@ruthykay)
6 years ago

A really good option for a physical sunscreen is Lemongrass Spa’s sport sunscreen. Love it!

Stephanie Gough
Stephanie Gough(@squelmo)
6 years ago

I’m on the fence about sun screen. I’ve read they contain endocrine disrupting chemicals… I’m always weary of the fact the block out UVB as it’s exposure to these sun rays that allow out body to produce the important vitamin D… what does everyone else think?

4 years ago

Hi there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after checking through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Nonetheless, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be bookmarking and checking back frequently!

4 years ago
Reply to  Smithg173

Welcome to the Movement! We’re glad you’re here and thanks for your encouragement!