MPH Blog

Sunscreen Ingredients: Chemical vs. Physical

Summer means endless sunshine, time away from work or school, and some quality moments shared with friends and family at the beach or pool. Whatever the activity, going outdoors and enjoying the sunshine can be great for your health! Equally important is having proper sun protection. While you likely know you should always wear sunscreen when going outside, you may not put much thought into what type of sunscreen you are wearing.

Not all sunscreens are the same. Many use different ingredients that can affect people differently. Individuals who want to be completely natural often look for “chemical-free” sunblock. However, most sunscreens or sunblocks will have some type of chemicals in them, even if they claim to be chemical free. With sunscreen, it’s just a matter of which product better fits your needs. Rather than looking at sunscreen ingredients as chemical vs. non-chemical, it is more conducive to view them as chemical vs. physical.

Physical Sunscreens

Physical sunscreens protect your skin by deflecting the sunlight. These are generally stable sunblocks with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as the primary ingredients. Titanium dioxide primarily blocks UVB rays, while zinc oxide protects against both UVB and UVA rays. Because physical sunscreens is not absorbed into the skin, it is a much better option for those with sensitive skin.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens use chemical filters and are sometimes called organic sunscreens. This form of sun protection works by absorbing the sun’s rays and converting it to heat that is spread across the skin. The primary ingredients include oxtinoxate, octocrylene, octisalate, avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, and helioplex. While effective, chemical sunscreens can cause slight irritation. Do your eyes ever sting after applying sunblock? It’s because of the chemicals found in it. Avobenzone is a notoriously unstable ingredient that breaks in the sunlight and must be reinforced. However, the chemical filters provide more coverage against UVB and UVA rays.

While protection against the sun is important, knowing the ingredients that are in your sunscreen can help you choose the right product for your needs. At Monterey Park Hospital, we want you and your family to safely enjoy the sun this summer. Proper sun protection can help prevent painful sunburns, skin damage, and potential skin cancer. Take a closer look at your sunscreen next time you pick some up from the store!

This article contains general information about medical conditions and treatments. The information is not advice and should not be treated as such. The information is not intended to replace the advice or diagnosis of a physician. If you have any specific questions about any medical matter you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.