Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen: How to choose?

Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreen: How to choose?

Since ancient times, humans have used veils, brimmed hats, and umbrellas to keep sunlight from damaging their skin. Plant extracts, such as that from chestnuts, were used by indigenous people as a means of sun protection.[1] Commercial sunscreens were first developed in 1928, and starting with the Second World War, they became part of a soldier’s gear, especially for those in tropical areas. [2] Sunscreen kept them from getting sunburns and painful blisters. 

Apart from this, sunscreen has also been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancers, both melanoma and nonmelanoma.[3] The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 as part of their skin cancer prevention approach. 

However, there are so many sunscreens hitting the market each year, ranging from physical sunscreens to organic sunscreens to chemical sunscreens. How do you choose the right one for yourself? 

Physical sunscreen vs. Chemical sunscreen

Both chemical and physical sunscreens can keep you safe from ultraviolet radiation. However, it is important to understand the differences in their composition and how they work.

Physical sunscreen is one that sits on top of the skin as a protective layer that deflects harmful UV rays. A good example of this are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and they are also referred to as mineral sunscreens. 

Sunblocks that are formulated with titanium dioxide, such as F Bright UV Base, have a higher refractive index than others. It reflects multiple wavelengths of energy including blue light, UV radiation, and infrared radiation away from the skin without altering your skin composition.[4]

A chemical sunscreen contains organic compounds, such as oxybenzone, homosalate, and octocrylene that absorb UV rays as they enter the skin. These utilize a chain of chemical reactions to convert the energy of the sun into heat, which is then released through the skin into the environment. 

Physical Sunscreen is Suitable for Sensitive Skin and those with Eczema 

Inorganic compounds like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are not chemically reactive, and therefore are less prone to create an allergic reaction and heighten toxicity concerns. The sunscreen sits on top of your skin as a face mask over your face. 

The National Eczema Association (NEA) only approves physical sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide for eczema patients. It is preferred because chemical sunscreen can be irritating and should be avoided by those with sensitive skin. 

The American Academy of Dermatology also suggests avoiding products with oxybenzone and mexenone, commonly found in chemical sunscreen, on sensitive skin. If you have experienced stinging skin or redness with sunscreen, they recommend using a physical sunscreen that only contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.[7]

No White, Ghost-Like Film

Often in travel TV shows or documentaries, you can see people in Myanmar wearing yellow face paint on their cheeks. It is a Burmese beauty secret, called thanaka paste, made from the ground bark of assorted local trees. It’s said to prevent sunburn, reduce skin oiliness, and keep mosquitoes away. [8]

Thanaka paste resembles sunscreen in that it leaves a chalky, white film on your skin. This is particularly noticeable on darker skin tones. Certain sunscreen formulas with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide can also leave behind a white, ghost-like film on your skin because they are naturally white. On top of that, the hard-to-spread texture makes it difficult to dissolve into your complexion.  

However, the innovation of nanoparticle formulas has significantly enhanced their cosmetic appeal.[9] Nowadays, most physical sunscreens do not leave white streaks on your face. Also,  many of them, including F Bright UV Base,  have added skin benefitting ingredients, that help with specific skin concerns like dehydration, dullness, and wrinkles. F Bright UV Base is a non-tinted sunscreen with natural beige colour that can even your skin tone. No colouring is used in this product.



In our world today, sensitive skin and eczema has become unprecedentedly common and troubles many of us with itchy, blotchy skin. Learning about the properties of different types of sunscreen can help you find the best options for your skin type. 

One of these is F Bright UV Base. Formulated with titanium dioxide and other nourishing ingredients, it’s the perfect fusion of sunscreen, skincare, and makeup base, suitable for all skin types and skin tones. 

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