• Halle

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreens: What's the Difference?

Updated: Dec 12, 2019

There's no debate on the importance of wearing sunscreen. Even on cloudy days or in the winter, sunscreen is essential in protecting your skin from harmful UV rays. Not only can prolonged exposure to the sun's rays cause early aging, it can increase your risk of skin cancer and nobody wants that. So now that we've covered that, it's time to pick your sunscreen. But should you reach for a chemical or a physical sunscreen? What even is the difference between the two?


I've done some research since I didn't really know the difference either and I wanted to make an informed choice. I've tried both a chemical and a physical sunscreen and there are notable differences between the two. But aside from texture and overall feel, what are those differences? Let's break it down.

Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens: They employ minerals like zinc and titanium oxide to sit on top of the skin and block UVA and UVB rays from penetrating the skin.

  • UPSIDES: Physical sunscreens work as soon as they're applied and they're unlikely to clog the pores since they don't sink that far down into the pores. They also are great for sensitive skin types and they can reduce redness as they deflect heat.

  • DOWNSIDES: Physical sunscreens are known for leaving a white cast on the skin that must be massaged in more thoroughly to get rid of, and when you sweat the white can reappear in the pores. And oftentimes, we consider these physical sunscreens to be greasy and hard to wear under makeup.



Chemical Sunscreens: They convert UV radiation into heat that is expelled from the body by way of chemical carbon compounds. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens are oxybenzone and octinoxtate.


  • UPSIDES: The formula is generally thinner and doesn't leave white streaks. It absorbs quickly into the skin and you generally need less of it since it's easily spreadable. It's great for active folks who might be sweating throughout the day since it absorbs more deeply into the skin. Many chemical sunscreens contain other ingredients like peptides and growth factors which provide skincare benefits to the skin. Additionally, their quick and deep absorption makes them great to wear under makeup.

  • DOWNSIDES: Chemical sunscreens take about 20 minutes to start working, which isn't ideal if you wanna get out the door quick. They might not be best for people with sensitive skin since the chemicals can cause irritation and they could even exacerbate rosacea or redness. Chemical sunscreens also require more frequent application because they lose potency in direct UV exposure.

I have tried both chemical and physical sunscreens but, based on this research, I think I might stick with my current physical sunscreen. While I loved my Glossier Invisible Shield due to its clear gel formula and quick absorption, I find that my Shero Science Mineral Sunscreen leaves my skin feeling soft and surprisingly not greasy. Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which is the best choice for your lifestyle and your skin.


We all need to be protecting our skin from the sun's harmful rays so either choice will be better than nothing. Hopefully this helps make your decision easier so you can keep your skin healthy as the weather gets warmer!


*If you want to give the Shero Science Mineral Sunscreen a try (I definitely recommend, I really do enjoy it so far), use our discount code SHEROES930 at checkout!

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