Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen

by Penny Lynch

CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS – when used as directed, are generally considered safe and effective in protecting the skin from the harmful effects of UVA and UVB radiation. The potential risks associated with chemical sunscreens are minimal for most people.  However, it’s important to be aware of the following considerations:

1.  Skin Irritation: Some people may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions to certain chemical sunscreens. Common symptoms may include redness, itching, or a rash. If you have sensitive skin or a history of skin allergies, it’s advisable to patch test a small area of skin before applying the sunscreen to larger areas. 

2. Hormonal Disruption: Certain chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, have been found to have weak estrogenic activity and can potentially disrupt hormone balance in the body. However, the concentrations used in sunscreens are generally considered safe for most people.  

3. Environmental Impact: Some chemicals used in chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been found to be harmful to coral reefs and marine ecosystems when washed off in the ocean. These ingredients have been banned or restricted in certain regions to protect marine life.  

Sunburn due to not using cream with sunscreen protection

PHYSICAL SUNSCREENS – also known as mineral or natural sunscreens, are generally considered safe and suitable for most people, including those with sensitive skin or a history of skin allergies. Some reasons to consider using a physical sunscreen: 

1. Broad-spectrum protection: Physical sunscreens contain mineral compounds, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which act as physical barriers on the skin’s surface. They provide broad-spectrum protection, meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. 

2. Gentle on the skin: Physical sunscreens are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions compared to chemical sunscreens. The mineral particles in physical sunscreens are typically larger and sit on the surface of the skin, reflecting and scattering UV radiation away. This makes them less likely to penetrate the skin and cause irritation. 

3. Immediate protection: Physical sunscreens offer immediate protection upon application. There is no need to wait for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin before sun exposure. 

4. Environmentally friendly: Physical sunscreens are considered environmentally friendly because they do not contain chemicals that have been found to harm coral reefs and marine ecosystems. They are a preferred option for those concerned about the impact of sunscreen on the environment. 

Whichever sunscreen you choose, it’s crucial to use them as directed, applying an adequate amount and reapplying regularly, especially after swimming or sweating, to maintain proper sun protection. 

Whether you prefer chemical or physical sunscreens, they are crucial in maintaining healthy skin and reducing the harmful effects of the sun, which in itself cancause sunburn, premature aging, and an increased risk of skin cancer. 

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