Are you using the right sunscreen?

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Sunscreen is one of those products that on the surface seems to be simple, because sunscreen is sunscreen, right?


There are different three types: physical, natural and chemical and once you throw in jargon like SPF, broad-spectrum, UVA, UVB and nanoparticles, you can be forgiven for having absolutely no idea which type is best for you and your skin type.

We interviewed three experts to help you make the right decision the next time you want to stock up on this summer year-round staple.

Physical sunscreen

By Marie Jenkins, founder of Australian natural skincare company, Kosmea.

Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing (or sometimes scattering) UV rays. They rely on chemicals like Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, OxyBenzone, and Homosalate and Helioplex to absorb or scatter the UV rays your skin is exposed to. There is growing concern that some of these chemical filters used can generate free radical damage (“bad”), and some are even thought to be endocrine disruptors, which means they’re messing with your hormones. I would avoid OxyBenzone personally.

Physical (or mineral) is when the UV is reflected off the skin, and doesn’t absorb into the skin. 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.

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Physical sunscreens start to work immediately and require no re-application, unless water or sweat or tears interferes with your original application.
Physical sunscreens are thought to be more effective, overall, at blocking the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Other benefits include a longer shelf life and longer wear time on the skin, although they’re not as resistant to water and sweat as chemical blockers.

For sensitive skins I would recommend natural broad-spectrum physical sun screens such as zinc oxide; this broad-spectrum sun screen reflects both UVA and UVB rays.

Natural sunscreen

By Irene Falcone, natural skincare expert and founder of toxin-free beauty website,

Is natural SPF just as effective as other types? What’s the difference? Active ingredients in sunscreens come in two forms, mineral and chemical filters. Both of these use a different mechanism for protecting skin and preventing sun damage. The most common or ‘mainstream’ sunscreens contain chemical filters which usually includes a combination of active ingredients like octocrylene, oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, homosalate and octinoxate.


On the other hand mineral sunscreens, or ‘natural sunscreens’ use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to protect the skin and this is just as effective as the ‘mainstream’ sunscreens, just be sure to check for an SPF rating and not just the words ‘sun protection’.

Will it make me break out? No, not at all! Ensure you use a natural sunscreen that is hypoallergenic, non comedogenic, non-greasy and light so it won’t clog your pores which is what usually leads to breakouts. Also ensure to allow the sunscreen to set in to your skin before applying makeup or anything else.

Is natural SPF better for sensitive skin types? Sensitive skin can be unpredictable but typically yes it can be better for sensitive skin types as there are less toxins, fillers, fragrances and preservatives which can all trigger reactions.

Chemical sunscreen

By Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica

What’s the difference between physical and chemical sunscreen? The two main categories for sun protection are synthetic/chemical or organic filters, such as the cinnamates, which absorb UV light; and mineral/physical or inorganic filters, such as titanium dioxide, which mainly reflect UV light. Frequently, both types are used in combination for optimum effect in a product. If you think of organic filters as sponges, mopping up the UV radiation, and inorganic filters as mirrors, bouncing UV straight back off the skin.

In general, physical blockers (zinc oxide) offer a broader spectrum of protection than chemical absorbers, but have in the past had the undesirable quality of having a dense white appearance when applied. That said – the new micronized forms of these ingredients are incredibly light in texture and have little to no surface appearance.

What is the best type of sunscreen for sensitive skin? One is not necessarily better than the other in performance, but physical sunscreens are recommend for those with more sensitive skin as they can tolerate the UV screening agents over the chemical ones. Personal taste plays a big factor; some people don’t like the feeling of and slight ‘chalkiness’ that a physical sun screen has on the skin surface.

The know common irritants within sunscreens are; a) Artificial fragrance, a known skin sensitising agent  which can cause skin rashes and irritation and it’s also photo sensitive (causes pigmentation) so is to be avoided.

b) For those with Rosacea, dermatitis or highly sensitive skin chemical sun screens can be irritating to the skin so it is advised to use physical sunscreens such as Zinc oxide as an alternative.

The bottom line

Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all. If you’ve got sensitive skin, and for typical out-and-about usage, opt for something natural and physical. However, if you’ll be playing sport or going swimming, a chemical sunscreen is going to protect you better. Just make sure you reapply it regularly. Any sunscreen you buy should offer broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection, and it should have an SPF of at least 15.

What sunscreen do you use?