Why you should consider a physical sunscreen this summer.

Despite there being a gazillion skin care products on the market, there’s one dermatologists, skin experts and beauty junkies unanimously rave about – sunscreen. We all know we should use it. Preferably every single day.

Now the conversation is shifting to what type of sun protection we should be slathering on our limbs now the mercury’s rising.

More and more skin care brands are releasing physical sunscreens (they’re called this because they physically block UV rays – reflecting them off the skin).

Look, there’s nothing wrong with using your regular chemical versions (that rely on a range of chemicals to absorb or scatter UV rays) but there are growing concerns some of the filters they contain could generate free radicals (which aren’t good for your skin or your overall health) or potentially disrupt hormones.

Looking to try something new, I decided to give physical sunscreen a go. I’m sold. If you’re politely nodding yet secretly thinking ‘would someone please explain the actual differences between chemical and physical sunscreen?’, here’s what you need to know.

Chemical sunscreen.

How it works: By either scattering or absorbing the sun’s rays. To do this, they rely on chemicals like Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, OxyBenzone and Homosalate.

How to use it: If you’re wearing it on your face (if you’re not you should be!) put it on first, before moisturiser and makeup. It takes 20 minutes before your skin is protected, so factor this in before heading outdoors. Chemical sunscreens are basically invisible once applied which makes them pretty damn easy to use on a day-to-day basis.


Best for: Days spent lazing at the beach inhaling Paddle Pops, or workout sessions. This is because chemical sun protection is way more resistant to water and sweat than its physical counterpart, which means you won’t have to reapply as often.

Physical sunscreen.

How it works: It starts working the second you put it on and uses physical and mineral filters to reflect UV rays. The main active ingredients are usually Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide.

“Physical sunscreens are unlikely to cause irritation; most of the organic sun care brands are physical. If they do make you break out, it’s likely the titanium dioxide, not the zinc oxide,” Marie Jenkins, founder of Australian natural skincare company Kosmea, told Mamamia

How to use it: Put it on after applying moisturiser and before your foundation. Traditionally physical sunscreens have been more dense and more likely to leave you with a white sheen over your skin, but thanks to micronized forms of their ingredients many brands are now near invisible.

Best for: Because it’s not as resistant to sweat and water, it’s best for days when you’re not out in the sun for hours at a time, unless you’re committed to reapplying frequently. Zinc Oxide is a main ingredient in a lot of baby skincare products, so you can be sure it’s great for anyone with sensitive skin (and good for pregnant women). Another bonus is that it’s got a longer shelf-life than chemical sunscreen.

Co-founder of natural skincare company WotNot, Sinead Roberts, says that if you’re wearing sun protection under makeup – whatever type it is – wait until it’s had time to sink in properly.

“What is important is to always allow the sunscreen to absorb into the skin before applying makeup. Otherwise it can be rubbed off,” she explains.


Keen to try one? Here are our pick of the best to start slathering.

WotNot 30+ SPF Natural Sunscreen, $28.99.

Image: Supplied.

This broad spectrum protection sunscreen is gentle enough for bubs and contains soothing certified organic aloe vera.

Natural Instinct Invisible Natural Sunscreen SPF 30, $15.95.

Image: Supplied.

This contains Zinc Oxide and is free from petrochemicals, mineral oils, sulphates, parabens and, well, over 400 potentially harmful ingredients. Nice.

MooGoo Natural Sunscreen SPF40, $19.90.

Image: Supplied.

Not tested on animals. Tick. Gentle enough for adults and kids. Tick. Free of parabens. Tick. (Post continues after gallery.)

Aspect SPF15 Hydra Shield Lotion, $77

Image: Supplied.

Perfect for office days where you know you’ll be inside most of the time, this lightweight option contains natural moisturisers to keep your skin hydrated. Smells like a bouquet, too. 

Invisible Zinc Facial Moisturiser UVA/UVB, $35.95.

Image: Supplied.

Unlike many physical sunscreens, this daily face protector won't make you look like a ghost. I use this every morning and it sits beautifully under my makeup.


Kosmea Moisturising Lotion SPF 30, $44.95.

Image: Supplied.

Containing cucumber extract, aloe vera and green tea extract along with zinc oxide, this physical sunscreen not only protects your skin, it'll give your skin a big, hydrating, anti-ageing hug. Doesn't hurt that it smells heavenly either.

For more from Edwina Carr Barraclough, follow her on Facebook here.

Image: iStock.