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Chemical vs Physical Sunscreens – What You Need to Know

Every spring as outdoor activities start I dig in my beach bag looking for any type of sunscreen I have on hand. I also notice that I have way more sunscreen than I need and most (if I’m being honest) isn’t as safe as I’d like. So I wanted to figure out which type sunscreen would be the safest for our family. I think I’ve mentioned a few times now that I’m turning 45 and my skin is feeling it.


I wish I knew what I know now 30 years ago when I would lay on my friend’s roofs lathering my body with Cisco to help me tan faster.  Yes, I really did that. UGH!!! Now that I realize that the best way to keep skin looking young is by protecting it from UVA and UVB rays. Both types of rays cause damage to the skin and linked to cancer and long term harm to your health.

So now that we know that protecting our skin is the way to go, which type of sunscreen is best and safest? When shopping around you will see two types of sunscreens, Physical and Chemical. On the surface you might think you are purchasing a safe sunscreen but if you don’t know what ingredients to look for then things can get confusing. So let’s break it down.

boys surfing


Chemical Sunscreen use active ingredients that absorb UV radiation, preventing them from penetrating the skin. As the chemical filters break down they release heat and only filter one or the other but not both UVA and UVB rays. Did you catch that first part? Chemical sunscreens ABSORB into your body so that means all those nasty ingredients in those chemical sunscreens are absorbing into your body too.

Physical Sunscreen use UA filters that reflect and block the sun’s rays and protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Since physical sunscreens reflect and the sun they don’t absorb into your skin at all. Physical sunscreen also known as mineral sunscreen actually sits on top of your skin and made of natural ingredients that will not break down unlike chemical sunscreen.


Avoid any skin or lip product whose label includes retinyl palmitate, retinol or vitamin A. Avoid oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and can disrupt the hormone system.


Look for products with zinc oxide, 3 percent avobenzone or Mexoryl SX. They protect skin from harmful UVA radiation. Check out the sun safety tips for more information.

What’s going in my beach bag this summer?

I love sunscreen sticks, it’s perfect for my boys, they are old enough to apply it themselves and it’s easy enough to carry not only in my beach bag but it my purse or sports bags so we can easily apply to our face.

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreens - What You Need to Know

This lotion sunscreen is super lightweight, water-resistant and formulated with non-nano zinc oxide to blend seamlessly into skin without leaving white streaks. This is huge for my boys because they hate looking like ghosts on the beach while surfing. How dare I try and protect their skin while trying to look cool. But, now I can easily protect our skin against both UVA and UVB rays and looking cool at the same time. Whew! Load off my mind for sure. As a bonus the sunscreen has Aloe that helps hydrate skin, while antioxidant-rich green tea and blood orange extracts fight free radicals. So, it continues to help our skin even after we are out of the sun.

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreens - What You Need to Know

 What I love most about the Beautycounter sunscreen and products in general is that every ingredient is screened for safety and sourced sustainably to meet their standards. Instead of using a potentially harmful sunblocker like oxybenzone, Beautycounter uses non-nanoparticle zinc oxide, an effective mineral that works by reflecting UV light rays. Plus, minerals are great for people with sensitive skin because it tends to be less irritating. Zinc oxide is also better for the ocean than oxybenzone, which recent studies have shown may be harmful to coral reefs.

Regardless of age, it’s important to remember that sunscreen is an excellent addition to your everyday skincare routine. You can find many lotions and even make up that has sunscreen built into the formula but don’t forget to look at the ingredient list closely so you are purchasing products that contain the RIGHT ingredients. Wondering if wearing a hat, staying out of the sun during certain hours of the day or whether waterproof sunscreen is better than check out these summer sun myths that will answer all your questions.

Beautycounter sunscreen promotion from me

Want to get sunscreen for FREE?

When you make a Beautycounter purchase through my site and spend $150 or more I will send you the Stick Sunscreen as a special “Happy Summer” gift from me. Trust me, it’s going to be your new favorite thing this summer.



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2 Responses to Chemical vs Physical Sunscreens – What You Need to Know

  1. Hilary May 19, 2017 at 6:16 am #

    I’m so glad you did this post! I try to get what seems to be the best sunscreens for my kids and end up mixing the paraben free with whatever I can grab at the moment. I’ll have to give Beauty Counter a try.

  2. Jen June 7, 2017 at 6:22 am #

    Thanks for sharing these ideas. If you’re interested, this would make a great addition to my weekly Wednesday Be Clean Be Green With Kids Link Up (I know you have so many other posts that would be great as well). Thanks for sharing!

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