How to Pick a Sunscreen: Chemical v Physical

The sun is out, which means it’s time to stock up on sunscreen! Although you’ve probably heard someone say this to you a thousand times, the value of sunscreen really can’t be overlooked. You wouldn’t leave your house without your pants, and sunscreen shouldn’t be any different! However, new trends in chemical sunscreen may have you a little confused when you go to choose a product that’s perfect for you.

Truth is, there are benefits and disadvantages to both physical and chemical sunscreen. Let’s take a look at each to see exactly which one you should choose.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreen is what most people have in mind when they think of sunscreen. It blocks the sun’s harmful rays by using physical mineral blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. That is why this type of sunscreen is often referred to as “sunblock” or “mineral sunscreen.”

Some benefits of physical sunscreen include: it is safe for pregnant women and babies; it is the best choice for people with sensitive skin and rosacea; it is less likely to clog pores; and it works as soon as you apply it.

Some downsides of physical sunscreen are that some formulas and brands have a thicker consistency, which can often leave a white, pasty look on your skin. Physical sunscreen can also be difficult to apply, which can lead to gaps where sunlight can penetrate. Although it works instantly,it’s not waterproof, and you will need to reapply if doing water sports or perspiring.

Chemical Sunscreen

While physical sunscreen blocks the sun before it ever gets to your skin, chemical sunscreen allows your skin to absorb the rays without the harmful effects of UVA or UVB. It uses carbon-based compounds such as octinoxate, avobenzone and oxybenzone that absorb into your skin, allowing you to process the rays and then release them as heat.

Something people like about chemical sunscreen is the formulas are typically lightweight and blend well with other skincare and cosmetic products. It also covers the skin easily and completely, with less application. Possibly the biggest benefit is that it is waterproof, which is a good option for swimmers or people that do a lot of physical activity and people who live in warmer climates.

There are some concerns about chemical sunscreen’s safety. The concern is that the chemicals absorbed into the skin can be harmful or dangerous to the wearer. The American Academy of Pediatrics does say that it is safe, but they advise people to avoid using sunscreens with oxybenzone on children or pregnant and lactating women. Another concern is that some formulas and brands tend to clog pores, which makes it a less-appealing option for people with oily and acne-prone skin.

Whether you choose chemical or physical, here are some things to always look for when picking a good sunscreen.

– Protects from both UVA and UVB light (both can cause cancer)
– Protects from HEV light (from electronic devices)
– Free of fragrance, oil, and parabens
– Non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores)
– SPF 30 or higher


Here are a couple of my personal favorite sunscreens that we carry at MeiRai Medical Aesthetics (all of which fit the qualifications above):

1) ZO Skin Health Sunscreen + Primer SPF 30

I apply this before any makeup because it is a very lightweight formula that also acts as a primer for any other products you want to apply to your skin afterwards. Whether that be foundation, concealer, or even just a moisturizer and powder. On days that I don’t want to wear any makeup, I just apply this. It has a slight tint and is very mattifying which leaves me with a light, fresh look. For people that are not into chemical sunscreens, this is a physical sunscreen.

2) Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50

I love this sunscreen because you can apply it over makeup throughout the day! The soft brush makes it easy to apply, and the powder helps to reduce any shine you might have on hot summer days. Also, if you prefer physical sunscreen, all of the Colorescience products are mineral, physical sunscreens and have other benefits for your skin.

3) Colorescience Total Eye 3-in-1 Renewal Therapy SPF 35

I apply this on top of the ZO Sunscreen+ Primer. I love this sunscreen because it provides protection to the skin around your eyes, which is often forgotten. This formula also helps combat dark circles, puffiness, and fine lines and wrinkles. Like all Colorescience, it’s also a physical sunscreen.

4) ZO Skin Health Daily Sheer Sunscreen SPF 50

This is an excellent option for those who prefer a chemical sunscreen. ZO makes all of its chemical sunscreens without oxybenzone, one of the chemicals purported to be harmful to the environment. It provides a sheer, matte finish which is great for applying other products on top, and, as a chemical sunscreen, it provides great water and sweat resistance.

5) ZO Sunscreen + Powder Broad-Spectrum SPF 40

This is ZOs newest addition to their sunscreen line! This powder sunscreen has a hint of color and is available in three shades: light, medium, and deep. It not only absorbs surface oils to minimize shine, but also helps the skin maintain hydration. Along with Colorescience Sunforgettable, this is a top choice for hotter, summer months since it can be applied over makeup and easily re-applied throughout the day.


There are pros and cons to both chemical and physical sunscreens. The choice depends on your skin type and lifestyle. If you have any further questions, you can always come in to see me or one of our other associates, and we can help you in our decision.

Chloe Wells is one our talented aestheticians who works under the direction of Dr. Yun. Born and raised in Douglas County, she is licensed in the state of Oregon. Since joining the MeiRai team, she has gone to numerous skin care courses and received several other certifications related to medical aesthetics. You can schedule your appointment with her or any of our other professional staff through online booking, Facebook, or by contacting MeiRai Medical Aesthetics via email or phone.