What is Chemical Sunscreen: Is It Bad For Me?

What is Chemical Sunscreen?

Buying sunscreen can be a confusing business. With such a huge range of options to choose from, it’s natural to question their effectiveness. Not to mention, which of the sunscreens available are actually safe to use.

Are chemical sunscreens badHow do chemical sunscreens work? Which is safer in terms of chemical vs physical sunscreenHow to know if your sunscreen is chemical? All equally important questions, when considering the criticality of protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

But before weighing into the mineral vs chemical sunscreen debate, it’s worth considering why it is that we use sunscreen in the first place.

Chemical Sunscreen

Why Use Sunscreen?

Each year, the number of new cases of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed increases exponentially. While most cases caught early can be treated successfully, many thousands prove fatal.

Soaking up the sun can be one of life's undeniable joys, but can also be hazardous to your health. Exposure to ultraviolet radiation in the form of UVA and UVB rays can cause irreparable harm to the skin, and is a known skin cancer risk factor.

Sunscreen is designed to provide the skin with additional protection from the sun’s harmful rays, but is only effective when the right product is used the right way.

What is the Difference Between UVA, UVB and UVC?

There are three types of radiation emitted by the sun:

  • UVA: Accounts for 95% of the radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, and is a type of radiation that has been linked with an elevated skin cancer risk.
  • UVB: These rays are responsible for the reddening and burning that occurs due to overexposure to the sun, likewise heightening the risk of developing skin cancer.
  • UVC:UVC radiation is filtered completely by the earth’s atmosphere, and therefore doesn't pose a risk to the skin as it never reaches the earth’s surface.

The only effective sunscreen is, therefore, a product that provides effective protection from both UVA and UVB rays. These products are sometimes referred to as ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreens, but it is still essential to read the label to ensure you are fully protected.

An easy way to remember is UVA= Ageing and UVB = Burning. However both can cause cancer.

sunscreenWhat Do SPF Numbers Mean?

SPF numbers indicated on sunscreens indicate the level of protection they provide. For example, if you were to apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30, this means it will take your skin 30 times longer to redden and burn than it would if you wore no sunscreen at all.

If you would normally start to see your skin reddening after 10 minutes spent in the sun, SPF 30 would extend this time to 300 minutes. Even so, this does not mean that spending hours lying in the direct sun is a good idea – irrespective of the SPF level of your sunscreen.

No sunscreen in existence can provide complete protection from the sun’s rays, so common-sense precautions should always be taken.

What is the Difference Between a Physical and Chemical Sunscreen?

There are two main types of sunscreens available today:

  1. Chemical Sunscreens

By far, this is the largest and most widely available category of sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV light emitted by the sun and transforming it into heat, which is then released.

In terms of how to know if your sunscreen is chemical, the presence of any of the following indicate that it is a chemical sunscreen:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Octisalate
  • Octocrylene
  • Homosalate
  • Octinoxate
Chemical sunscreens are massaged into the skin and gradually absorbed, usually providing their full level of protection at around 20 to 30 minutes. They are 

available in a wide variety of creams, lotions and sprays, and are comparatively affordable in nature.

On the downside, most chemical sunscreens lose their effectiveness quite quickly, and therefore need to be ‘topped up’ regularly. There are also some who do not like the ‘greasy’ feeling associated with these types of sunscreens.

  1. Mineral Sunscreen

The second category is mineral sunscreen – aka physical sunscreen. These products work in a different way, absorbing and subsequently deflecting the sun’s UV rays away from the skin. It acts as a physical barrier.

The presence of either of the following two compounds indicates that you are using a mineral sunscreen:

  • Titanium dioxide
  • Zinc Oxide

Physical sunscreen has the benefit of being effective as soon as it is applied. It can also be longer lasting in ideal conditions, and is much less likely to irritate the skin.

However, mineral sunscreen has little to no water resistance, and can therefore be compromised through exposure to moisture or sweat. Frequent top-ups may therefore be required, and large quantities may need to be applied to the skin to ensure adequate protection.

What is the Best Chemical Sunscreen?

The best chemical sunscreen is a sunscreen that goes on easily, offers protection from the sun at a higher level and is long-lasting. A high SPF is essential, as is a good degree of water resistance.

It is also important to look at the formulation of a chemical sunscreen, in order to ensure there is nothing in its composition that could harm or irritate your skin.

Vivier Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 is one of the most fantastic products of its kind currently available. This high-end facial sunscreen offers broad spectrum UVA/UVB and SPF 30 protection, in the form of a fast-absorbing lotion that can be used under makeup. Kind and gentle to the skin, Vivier Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 is ideal for normal to oily skin types, and for those who are prone to acne breakouts.

Best Chemical Sunscreen

How Much Sunscreen Should I Apply?

Last up, the appropriate quantity of sunscreen to use often varies from one product to the next. It is therefore important to read the manufacturer’s guidelines carefully, and to apply your sunscreen with due care.

Even so, research suggests that up to 70% of adults do not use enough sunscreen when out and about. As a general rule of thumb, half a teaspoon should be sufficient for the face and neck, one tsp for the arms and two teaspoons for the legs.


For more information on any of the above or to discuss chemical sunscreen in more detail, contact a member of the team at My Skin Shop today via emailphone call, or text message.