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Sunscreen - Physical vs Chemical - What’s the Difference?

As the weather's been heating up, so does the sunscreen debate. We all know that wearing sunscreen daily year-round is incredibly important in protecting your skin from the harsh NZ sun. However, some of us might not understand the difference between a physical and chemical sunscreen.

Physical sunscreens work by sitting on the surface of your skin and protect it by reflecting UVA and UVB rays away via mineral filters (zinc oxide and titanium oxide). These products don't absorb into the skin but remain on the surface. Essentially, they create a physical barrier between your skin and the sun.

So what about Chemical sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin, absorb the UVA/UVB rays, convert them to heat, and release them from the body. You have to put chemical sunscreen on at least 20 minutes before heading outside, so it has had the chance to absorb into your skin. 

The pros of a chemical sunscreen are that it’s not as thick, making it ideal for daily wear and spreading easily onto the skin. The pros of a physical sunscreen is that it can be less irritating for sensitive skin types, and tends to be more attractive for those who value natural ingredients. The ingredient zinc oxide found in physical sunscreens also blocks the widest spectrum of UVA and UVB rays, and you’re instantly protected after application. 

Both chemical and physical protect you from the sun, so that's the most important thing - but now you know the difference, you can choose what suits you and your skin best! 

Our top two sunscreen picks this summer are: 

Elta MD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 is a 100% physical sunscreen in a tinted, moisturising base. You're pretty much protected from the moment you put it on. Elta MD Pure is definitely our top sunscreen pick for your face. Its gentle for even the most sensitive skin types, including post-procedure skin. UV Elements has a universal tint that beautifully enhances most skin tones for a more youthful appearance and best of all it provides you with the ultimate sun protection. 

Coola Mineral Body Sunscreen SPF 50+ provides hydrating, chemical-active free sun protection for even the most sensitive skin. It has a high percentage of zinc oxide, is antioxidant-enriched, vegan, paraben-free and one of our favourites. We know the word “chemical” gets a bad rap, and you might be flinching at the idea of slathering your body with chemicals. However, you should know that Coola's Classic Collection only uses chemical actives that are FDA approved and are reef friendly!

Shop the COOLA range here and our Elta MD range online here.