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image via Love Kevin Murphy

Just like any skincare product, when it comes to sunscreen there are dozens of different brands, SPF ratings, ingredients, and formulas that claim to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Despite the huge array to choose from, finding the right sunscreen can be as easy as choosing between two simple sunscreen categories: Physical and Chemical. If you don’t know the difference between the two, don’t worry, here’s our rundown on physical vs chemical sunscreens and which one will best keep your skin damage-free this summer.

What are chemical sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like octinoxate and avobenzone. These are organic compounds that create a chemical reaction, changing UV rays into heat, then releasing that heat from the skin.

Chemical sunscreens are generally very lightweight and blend-able, and can layer seamlessly under makeup for daily wear.

It is important to not that while chemical sunscreen may offer more coverage against UVA and UVB rays than physical sunscreens, they can take up to 30 minutes to start working. For everyday use chemical sunscreens are perfect for layering with other skincare products and will offer a good amount of protection.

What are physical sunscreens?

Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both) will be two of the first ingredients listed on the product packaging of physical sunscreens. In basic terms, these ingredients sit on the surface of the skin, forming a physical barrier, reflecting incoming UV rays.

Physical sunscreens work immediately after applied, are good for sensitive skin, and effectively protect against both UVA and UVB rays. However, the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in physical sunscreens have a white-ish tint, and tend to be thicker and more apparent on the skin, which means they might be better for beach days and not-so-great for layering with makeup.

Which to choose?

Both sunscreen kinds are effective when applied correctly and safe. Whatever your personal preference, the experts agree that what matters is ensuring broad spectrum protection (from both UVA and UVB rays) and using whatever you choose diligently. One last tip? Never underestimate the sun-blocking power of a summer sunhat!