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Physical vs Chemical Sunscreen

Which is right for your skin type?

Most people know (even if we don’t always remember!), we should be wearing sunscreen to protect ourselves from the suns harmful rays. Especially living here in the beautiful Whitsundays in the tropics as Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.

As well as the extremes of sun exposure, there are day to day issues which can be caused by those pesky tanning rays – UVR is the primary contributor to premature aging. One of the chronic effects resulting from repeated exposure to UV radiation (UVR) is premature aging of the skin – degenerative changes accumulate over time and are largely irreversible.

So, the sun = harmful, but that doesn’t mean that finding a sunscreen that is right for you is straightforward (generally a broad-spectrum formulation (meaning UVA and UVB protection) with a high Sun Protection Factor SPF is always best but beyond that...), especially when it comes to your face. Many day to day sunscreens will clog your pores and be too heavy and greasy for your skin. And that is why having a specifically formulated facial sunscreen is best for preventing breakouts and sensitivity, as well as feeling much lighter and fresher on your face.

A question that we commonly get asked is the difference between physical and chemical sunscreen.


A physical sunscreen uses minerals (such as zinc oxide) to deflect UV rays away from the skin. This will literally sit on the skin and block and scatter the UV rays before they can penetrate the skin.

There are several benefits of using a physical sunscreen:

  • Blocks both UVA and UVB rays (all physical sunscreens are broad spectrum)
  • Works straight away when applied
  • Unlikely to irritate the skin, great for sensitive skin types
  • Unlikely to clog skin pores as it does not deeply penetrate the skin
  • Can limit rosacea and redness as it deflects heat from the skin

However, there are some cons to physical sunscreen:

  • Can be rubbed off more easily than chemical sunscreen, especially when it comes in contact with water or sweat (requiring reapplication)
  • Can leaves white streaks on the skin
  • Not ideal for use under makeup


Chemical sunscreens use chemical carbon compounds that convert UV radiation to heat, which is later released from the body. Common ingredients of chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone or octinoxate.

Some benefits of chemical sunscreens include:

  • A thinner formulation makes application easier
  • Does not cause significant streaking or white spots
  • Smaller amounts are needed to cover large areas of the skin (spreads easily)
  • Often found contain other skin care ingredients like peptides and growth factors which can provide added benefits
  • Is more resistant to sweat or water compared to a physical sunscreen

Drawbacks of chemical sunscreens:

  • They only start to be effective 20 minutes after application to the skin
  • More likely to irritate the skin (with higher SPF formulations often being more irritating)
  • Protection levels begin to drop when in direct UV light (requiring more frequent reapplication)
  • Increases the change of redness in rosacea-prone skin types
  • Can clog the pores, and thus exacerbate acne
  • Often can drip into the eyes causing irritation/stinging


The sunscreen which is best for you depends on your activity, and also your skin type. We have 4 main sunscreens in our Dermalogica range. Dermalogica’s professional sunscreens accommodate your specific needs, allowing you to apply sun protection whilst actively treating skin issues including aging, oiliness and sensitivity.

Protection 50 Sport & Solar Defense Booster - Chemical Sunscreens

Protection 50 Sport SPF50 - is 40 minute water-resistant for face and body. Sheer solar protection with Oleosome microspheres to help enhance SPF performance and counteract moisture loss triggered by extended daylight exposure. The lightweight formular helps neutralize damageand bind moisture to skin without a greasy after feel.

Solar Defense Booster SPF50 - adds the critical UV defense to your moisturizer or foundation for all skin conditions. Sophisticated, non-chalky folmula forms an invisible shield against skin damage with Green Tea and Grape Seed extracts. Antioxidant vitamins C and E help improve skin smoothness and softness while providing added defense against skin-agingfree radicals.

Super Sensitive Shield & Oil Free Matte - Physical Sunscreens

Super Sensitive Shield SPF30 - ideal for sensitized, reactive and recently resurfaced skin. Natural mineral sunscreens help create a physical shield against photo damage. Contains Dermalogica exclusive UltraCalming complex with oat and botanical actives to help minimize discomfort, burning and itching. Sheer formula provides optimal hydration and helps protect and reinforce barrier lipids, which are often compromised in sensitized skin conditions.

Oil Free Matte SPF30 - helps prevent shine on oily and break-out prone skin. Lightweight and ultrasheer formula contains an advanced blend of Zinc, Gluconate, Caffine, Niacinamide, Biotin and Yeast Extract. Oil-absorbers help maintain an all-day matte finish, preventing shine without any powdery residue.

So the conclusion is..SPF is pretty important for keeping your skin happy, so we should try our best to include it in our daily ritual as often as possible!

The Beauty Room Team xo

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