There are a multitude of ingredients and many different types of sunscreen out there, so this article will try to simplify what ingredients to look for and when you should use them. What ingredients to look for will depend on what situations you will encounter throughout the day, and with this in mind, one of the most important things to be aware of when choosing a product is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens.

Physical Sunscreen Ingredients

Physical sunscreens use ingredients that physically block or reflect sunlight from the skin in order to protect it from the harmful effects of UV radiation. The ingredients to look for if you are interested in using physical sunscreen are zinc dioxide or titanium dioxide. When applied these ingredients will act as a protective layer above the skin.

The main benefits of these mineral ingredients are:

  • They provide fantastic protection. The minerals in physical sunscreen block out both UVA and UVB rays, which make them very effective at protecting the skin from cancer causing radiation.
  • They work immediately upon application. Because they provide a physical barrier against the sun, physical sunscreens will be effective from the moment they are applied.
  • Great for sensitive skin. Physical sunscreen is not absorbed by the body which makes it much less likely to irritate the skin, clog pores or cause redness.

Some of the disadvantages of physical sunscreens are:

  • They come off more easily. If you are playing sport or going for a swim physical sunscreen is more likely to come off, meaning you will need to reapply it more regularly.
  • They leave white streaks. Physical sunscreen leaves white streaks that some might consider unappealing.

Chemical Sunscreen Ingredients

Chemical sunscreen protects the body by converting UV radiation into heat, which is then released from the body. Chemical sunscreens can have a long list of chemicals that protect the skin from the sun, some of the common ingredients to look for are benzophenone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, benzotriazoles, cinnamates and PABAs.

The main benefits of chemical sunscreens are:

  • Easier application. Chemical sunscreens are generally easier to rub in and do not cause streaking the same way that physical sunscreen might.
  • More resistant to sweat and water. Chemical sunscreens are more effective when swimming or doing physical activity.

The disadvantages of chemical sunscreen:

  • Need time to absorb. Chemical sunscreen needs about 20 minutes to absorb into the skin, which means that protection is not immediate.
  • Protection levels drop when exposed to direct sunlight. This means that you need to reapply chemical sunscreen more frequently when outside.
  • Might not be as environmentally friendly. Some chemical sunscreens can flow into the ocean ecosystem and damage sensitive areas like reefs.

What else should you look for in an effective sunscreen?

No matter which sunscreen you choose you should look for the following key factors:

  • TGA approval. Sunscreen is highly regulated in Australia, so looking for TGA approved sunscreen will ensure you are getting a quality product.
  • Broad spectrum. Broad spectrum means that it protects from both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • SPF 30+. Finding a sunscreen that is 30+ or more will ensure that the sunscreen provides an effective level of protection.
  • Water resistance. While there is no waterproof sunscreen, finding a water resistant one will provide you a little longer protection while swimming.