Ultimate Guide to Physical and Chemical Sunscreens: Which is Better?

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Now that British summertime is in full swing, it's important to keep our skin protected against powerful sun rays. When choosing a sunscreen, it’s important to understand the differences between physical and chemical sunscreens to make an informed decision. Both types offer UV protection, but they work in different ways and have distinct benefits.

Physical Sunscreens

What They Are: Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, contain active mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays away from the skin.


  1. Immediate Protection: Physical sunscreens provide immediate protection upon application, unlike chemical sunscreens that require about 20 minutes to become effective.
  2. Less Irritation: They are less likely to cause skin irritation, making them ideal for sensitive skin.
  3. Broad-Spectrum Protection: Physical sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
  4. Photostable: They do not degrade under sunlight, maintaining their effectiveness longer.
  5. Environmentally Friendly: Physical sunscreens are typically safer for marine life and coral reefs.
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For an effective physical sunscreen, consider a daytime moisturiser with mineral SPF protection, which offers broad-spectrum protection with natural ingredients.

Chemical Sunscreens

What They Are: Chemical sunscreens contain organic (carbon-based) compounds such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, and octinoxate. These compounds absorb UV radiation, convert it into heat, and release it from the skin.


  1. Absorption Time: They require about 20 minutes to start protecting the skin.
  2. Higher Irritation Potential: Chemical sunscreens can cause irritation and are more likely to trigger allergic reactions.
  3. Frequent Reapplication: They can degrade faster when exposed to sunlight, necessitating more frequent reapplication.
  4. Environmental Concerns: Some ingredients in chemical sunscreens are harmful to coral reefs and marine life.

Scientific Evidence Supporting Physical Sunscreens

Studies have shown that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are effective at blocking a wide range of UV radiation. Research published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology confirms that mineral sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritation and are suitable for people with sensitive skin or conditions like rosacea and eczema.


Understanding the differences between physical and chemical sunscreens helps you choose the best protection for your skin. Physical sunscreens provide immediate, broad-spectrum protection with fewer side effects and environmental concerns. Make the switch to a physical sunscreen to protect your skin and the planet.

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