Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen: Which is Best for You?

Skin Cancer Screening Sarasota, FL

One of the things we love about caring for patients is seeing their skin transform. As much as we enjoy restoring the appearance of youthful skin after sun damage and aging have destroyed it, we also prioritize prevention and maintenance.

You may realize that going into the sun without proper protection (such as sunscreen, wide brim hat, sun protection clothing with UPF, and sunglasses) will sabotage the effort you put into looking good. Furthermore, unprotected UV exposure creates a substantial risk for skin cancer. Why live with susceptibility when you don’t have to? Here, we discuss the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen products, including details that will help you choose which is right for you.

Chemical Sunscreen

A chemical sunscreen works by absorbing the UV rays, transforming these UV rays into heat, and then releasing the heat from the skin. There are several ingredients in chemical sunscreens that work well to protect your skin, such as avobenzone, octisalate, and octinoxate.


  • No streaks or white residue on the skin.
  • Additional substances, such as peptides and enzymes, can be added to a chemical sunscreen to nourish and protect the skin simultaneously.
  • Some last longer even if you get wet.


  • The transformation of UV light to heat can worsen brown spots by super-heating skin cells.
  • Higher potential for irritation in individuals with a compromised protective skin barrier.
  • Frequent application is necessary to sustain protective benefits.
  • It takes 30 minutes for the sunscreen to work.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens differ from chemical sunscreens because they contain ingredients, like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, that create a layer on top of the skin to deflect and scatter UV rays, instead of allowing them to penetrate the skin. Basically, damaging rays of sunlight bounce off the skin rather than get absorbed and transformed into heat.


  • Immediately effective and longer lasting (unless it gets wet).
  • Ideal for people with heat-activated skin conditions like rosacea.
  • Good for people with sensitive skin.


  • The protective barrier might be visible.
  • Degrades when wet, which may mean frequent application.

The skin fares much better when treated with appropriate protective and nourishing substances. If you have already begun to notice the signs of sun damage on your skin, contact our Sarasota office at (941) 379-6647. Together, we can develop a treatment plan that is ideal for you.

Posted in: Skin Cancer, Skin Care

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