Chemical v.s. physical sunscreen: Is one better than the other?

Summer is just around the corner and while many of you are getting ready for your beach holi-yay, don’t forget to put on your suit of sunscreen armour to protect your skin from the heat waves. Trust us, it should be second on your summer survival list (water is the first, of course!

You probably know the importance of applying sunscreen daily, but if you’re clueless on the types of sunscreens available and which one is right for you—keep reading as we break down the two types of sunscreen that are in the market: organic (a.k.a. chemical) and inorganic (a.k.a. physical). Let’s dive right in to find out how each works and which you should pick to give your skin a peace of mind!

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Organic (chemical) sunscreen

No, we’re not talking about going chemical-free. 

When you walk through a department store, the “organic” label you see typically indicates that the product is naturally produced. However, this is not the case with sunscreens—instead, they follow the definition as in chemistry: products using chemicals that primarily contain carbon (e.g. oxybenzone and octinoxate).

Question: Why do you need carbons in your sunscreens?

It’s because of their structure! Carbon compounds follow a conjugation pattern (i.e. they alternate between single bonds and double bonds), thus giving electrons in the molecule the ability and room to run around. The larger the conjugation pattern, the more freely these electrons can roam, and they are able to absorb smaller amounts of energy with longer wavelengths. 

Conversely, a compound that doesn’t have conjugation (and consequently does not allow the free roaming of electrons) only absorbs larger amounts of energy with shorter wavelengths like UVC—which barely affects your skin anyway, as it doesn’t reach the Earth.

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To absorb the truly damaging types of UV rays, which have lower energy levels but longer wavelengths that can penetrate your skin (i.e. UVA and UVB rays), you’ll want molecules with greater conjugation patterns—and this is where carbon-containing sunscreens come in.

Once these molecules take in the extra energy from UV rays, they become unusually excited and enter a state of destabilisation. They thus release the same amount of energy back from your skin into the environment, though this time in a less harmful form (e.g. heat energy) to avoid damaging your skin. Yay for broad spectrum protection!

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Inorganic (physical) sunscreen 

As you can guess, inorganic sunscreens are UV filters that don’t contain carbon compounds. They instead use mineral-based active ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which form a barrier to prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin—hence the name “inorganic” or “physical” sunscreen.

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With these mineral particles, inorganic sunscreens possess a mechanism that organic sunscreens don’t: scattering. They essentially provide your skin with a layer of barrier and act as a mirror so that damaging UV rays bounce against the mineral particles and move away from the skin instead of penetrating your skin.

But that’s not all that they can do! Like organic sunscreens, inorganic sunscreens work by absorbing in the UV spectrum as well. While they don’t have the same conjugated patterns, they act like semiconductors that absorb UV rays and convert the energy into less harmful forms.

And voila, your skin remains clear and healthy, with minimal traces of UV damage!

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Organic v.s. Inorganic sunscreen – which is better?

When it comes to sensitive skin, inorganic sunscreen is the winner. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are generally classified as safe and effective, and don’t usually cause any irritation, stinging or allergic reactions. On the other hand, organic sunscreens may cause skin irritation as some common ingredients, such as oxygenzone and dibenzoylmethane, have been found to cause allergic reactions.

If you’d like to avoid sunscreens that leave an unsightly white cast, organic sunscreens are your better choice. The formulations are usually clearer, thinner and easier to spread, making them less likely to feel heavy or appear chalky. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for inorganic sunscreens: in their quest to scatter UV light, they end up scattering visible light as well, thus creating that dreaded Casper the Friendly Ghost look.

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So which should I choose?

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Why not get the best of both worlds with ést.lab’s SunShield collection? A perfect blend of organic and inorganic UV filters, the SunShield SPF 50*** and SunShield Aqua SPF 50*** combine all the advantages of both sunscreen types with none of the drawbacks. 

The SunShield SPF 50*** is a water and sweat-resistant sunscreen with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection that is suitable for normal, dry and ageing skin. 

Containing Vitamins C and E, this multi-tasking sunscreen doubles up as a tinted moisturiser for brightening, anti-ageing and antioxidant benefits. Better yet, its smart colour-adaptive technology allows it to blend to your skin tone without leaving an ashy cast, while providing your skin with a buildable coverage.

If you’re looking for a hydrating sunscreen, reach for the water-based SunShield Aqua SPF50*** that has a lightweight and breathable formula.

Refreshing and hydrating, this sunscreen is non-comedogenic and non-greasy, making it the ideal choice for acne-prone, oily, or younger skin. On top of that, it is tinted to conceal blemishes and provide your skin with sheer, natural coverage while still allowing your pores to breathe.

Both sunscreens are specially formulated for all skin types, including sensitive skin, ensuring an irritation-free experience. And don’t worry about blue light either—both have you covered with their anti-blue light technology!

Remember: sun damage may not be immediately visible, but it contributes up to 90% of the skin ageing. Prevention is always better than cure, so slather on your sunscreen and get your shields up before it’s too late!

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In good hands,