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Chemical versus Physical Sun Protection: What’s the Difference?

August 8, 2012

When you’re lathering yourself up with sunscreen, you probably don’t think about how it works. You just know that you put it on your skin and, if used correctly, you protect yourself from sun damage. But do you know that different ingredients in sunscreen provide different kinds of protection against UV rays? Some ingredients in sunscreen are chemically able to block the sun, while others are physically preventing rays from touching your skin. Here’s a bit of information about the two, including benefits and disadvantages of each.

Chemical: Chemical blockers include ingredients like oxybenzone and avobenzone. These chemically protect the skin at a cellular level, which means that this kind of sunscreen must touch the skin directly. If your sunscreen lists these chemicals, wear this beneath any moisturizers, bronzers, and makeup. Apply this to your bare skin and allow about half an hour for the stuff to soak down into those cells before heading out into the sun. However, there is a con to this deep level of protection; if you have sensitive skin, you might want to steer clear of chemical blockers, since they are known to cause irritation. On the other hand, this formula is less white because of its focus on cells below the skin’s surface, so you won’t look quite as pasty when you’re out for the day.

Physical: Physical blockers include ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These formulas act as a physical shield on the surface of your skin, preventing those unwanted UV rays from absorbing into the skin. If your sunscreen contains these chemicals, make sure it is the last thing you apply before going outside. Since it blocks the sun, it needs to be the closest thing between your skin and the sun. This kind of sunscreen is usually deemed more effective than chemical blockers, and it also has a longer shelf life and longer wear time on the skin. However, physical blockers are more likely to rub off with water and sweat than chemical ones, so there are benefits and risks with both options.

For the best protection, look for sunscreens that contain both chemical and physical blockers or apply both at the same time to receive the unique protection that each can provide. Just remember to put the chemical blocker on first and the physical one on at the end of your skincare routine. And if you want protection without risks or side effects, play it safe and just wear sun protective clothing! No reapplications, no irritation on your skin, and no fears of looking white and sticky – just reliable protection all day long. Look at our fun styles of shirts and jackets that will fit into your everyday life at!

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