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Sunscreen: Chemical vs Physical... What's the Difference?


Did you know… there are actually two completely different categories of sunscreen? There’s “chemical sunscreen” and “physical sunscreen.” Chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate, octinoxate, and homosalate. Physical sunscreens are typically either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. There’s some major differences between the two and our estheticians prefer one over the other so we wanted to break down the details for you to make the best choice for your skin.


SPF or sunscreen is an essential part of your skincare routine. It protects your skin from sun damage, which can make a huge difference for your skin, particularly as you age. Many beauty products have SPF in them for this reason. We carry a line of sun-specific skincare products called Suntegrity, which includes a BB cream tinted sunscreen and a matte tinted sunscreen that works as a replacement for a light coverage foundation. We love these Suntegrity options for women who don’t want to have to think about adding a sunscreen into their daily routine.


Alright, let’s break down the major differences between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. The biggest difference is how they interact with the sun. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays, while physical sunscreens reflect them away. Chemical sunscreens also need 15-30 minutes to absorb into the skin prior to exposure to the sun in order to be fully effective. There aren’t any proven issues with chemical sunscreens, however, there are documented concerns such as that they may damage the coral reefs, and that they are present in our bloodstream. Despite those concerns, they have never been declared toxic and are regularly used for their ease.


The main reason we are team physical sunscreen, particularly the zinc sunscreen that we use, is because of what we see in the treatment rooms. There are often issues with breakouts or irritation caused by chemical sunscreens, particularly expired chemical sunscreens. Products like the Suntegrity ones mentioned above do not cause breakouts or irritation, and in fact, offer quite the opposite. Zinc is actually a powerful mineral in healing the skin and fighting bacterial infection.


You may have leaned away from using physical sunscreens in the past, because they were once believed to be chalky and not blend into the skin well. Modernized zinc products have improved immensely and non-nano size zinc oxide (the ingredient in Suntegrity) is the best known physical block ingredient to provide broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection and super anti-oxidants and amino acids to enhance that protection and help with skin repair. This is why we’ve chosen Suntegrity as our SPF brand here at skin&tonic. Suntegrity was developed to honor the memory of those who have lost their lives to skin cancer. The founder, who lost her mom to skin cancer, researched other sunscreen brands and didn’t find one that was as safe for the skin as she wished. So she created her own. Suntegrity is a holistic, mineral sun care line that has been awarded “Champion” Status by the EWG/Compact for Safe Cosmetics.


In addition to the tinted BB cream and matte tinted face cream mentioned above, we also carry Suntegrity’s body sunscreen, sport sunscreen, and non-tinted face primer sunscreen, which is designed to be worn either on its own or as a primer for makeup. If you have any questions about the differences in sunscreen types, what will work best for your skin or the different options we have here at skin&tonic, ask your esthetician at your next visit. You are also always welcome to email or call us with any skincare questions.



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