Figuring out the right sunscreen for your skin is one of those eternal summertime worries. You’re wearing a lot more sunscreen and having to reapply it constantly to make up for the sun beating down on you constantly. There are two major classes of sunscreens available on the market: chemical and physical. The UV filters used in the sunscreen determine whether it is chemical or physical. Each of these has particular benefits, but there are also things that you need to be aware of to make an informed decision. We’re going to look at two common UV filters to see what they offer you and what might count against them. One thing to note before we go any farther though is that some protection will always be better than no protection and you shouldn’t shun one class of sunscreen in favor of wearing none. Remember that your skin needs the extra defense most of the time.
This compound is a frequently used chemical UV filter. Chemical filters, when applied to the skin, sink into the upper layers and provide an additional layer of protection for your skin. They operate in a very particular way though. Most people think sunscreen helps to deflect the sun’s rays, but in this case, it simply absorbs them to prevent them from reaching further into your skin. Some chemical filters can deflect the rays, but they are relatively small in number. Avobenzone is fairly representative in that it doesn’t sink too deeply into the skin, but goes just far enough that it is capable of helping. Lower quality chemical UV filters have been known to penetrate deeper into the body and linger though. As a compound, avobenzone is widely used and considered more or less healthy for routine use.
By contrast to chemical UV filters, physical UV filters like zinc oxide are not engineered to sink into the skin. In fact, they are often too large on a chemical level to actually get past your skin’s normal defenses. This removes the worry some people have of chemical sunscreens staying in their skin even after breaking down. Physical blockers also work as most people think they do and simply reflect the sun’s UV rays instead of absorbing them. This is why they sit on top of the skin instead of being absorbed by it. The downside to this is that, unlike chemical blockers, physical blockers are particularly prone to streaking and are a bit more difficult to spread across your skin. This can be alleviated by making sure you use a quality product though.
Chemical vs. Physical
Ultimately, this discussion really is just over where chemical or physical blockers in sunscreens are more effective. The answer is that physical blockers are a bit more effective and have fewer concerns, but the concerns with most chemical sunscreens are minimal. Each class of product is capable of providing you with adequate sun protection providing you make sure to follow the general rules when picking a sunscreen. An SPF of at least 30 is required to actually provide your skin with noticeable protection. You also want to ensure the product offers broad spectrum protection to block both UVA and UVB rays so that your skin gets the most defenses as well. Availability is generally going to be the only deciding factor on whether you use a chemical or physical blocker though. Admittedly, anyone with sensitive skin will likely want to favor a physical blocker to minimize potential skin reactions.
Avobenzone and zinc oxide are two of the common UV filters used in sunscreen today. Each one can protect your skin adequately. The nitpicky details are where the decision on which to use is made though. Zinc oxide, like most physical blockers, provides the least potential for interaction with the skin and is therefore better for your skin. You aren’t permanently ruining your skin if you have to use a chemical UV filter-based sunscreen though. The biggest thing is simply to wear your sunscreen.