Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Not all sunscreen is created equal

blog sunscreen chemicals

Skin cancer is the number one cancer in the United States, but also one of the most preventable if you apply sunscreen before heading out into the sunshine each day. Before throwing a bottle into your grocery cart, consider the different options available.

There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Both types protect your skin from the sun, but they do so in different ways. A physical sunscreen works much like a shield by blocking the sun’s rays from your skin. Chemical sunscreens work as a sponge, by absorbing the sun’s rays, and in some instances they contain chemical filters that also scatter the sunlight.

Chemical sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen is the most common type of sunscreen. It contains a range of ingredients such as oxybenzone and homosalate that, when combined, protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays. And while protection from the sun is always better than no protection, some of the ingredients in chemical sunscreens are considered endocrine disruptors. This means they can interfere with the body’s hormones, and produce free radicals when they come into contact with the skin. Most people use chemical sunscreens because they’re easier to apply and provide broad-spectrum protection.

Physical sunscreen

Physical sunscreen uses minerals, not chemicals to protect against the sun – either zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These two types of minerals physically block UVA and UVB rays. Once applied correctly, physical sunscreen provides immediate protection. It is recommended that people with sensitive skin use physical sunscreen, as the ingredients are natural. Physical sunscreen often leaves a white tint on the skin and has a thicker consistency than chemical sunscreen. 

Although experts recommend using physical sunscreen for sun protection, the most effective type of sunscreen is one that you will use correctly.

Whatever type of sunscreen you choose, look on the label for broad-spectrum protection and choose an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Always remember to reapply often for the best protection.

Learn more about smart sunscreen use.