Summer is here, and with it comes the increased need to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Sunscreen is a critical tool in our arsenal against UV damage, but not all sunscreens are created equal. There are two main types: chemical sunscreens and physical barrier sunscreens. Understanding their differences can help you choose which is best for your skin and lifestyle.

Chemical Sunscreens

What Are They?

Chemical sunscreens, or organic sunscreens, contain active ingredients that absorb UV radiation. Common ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These chemicals penetrate the skin and absorb UV rays, converting them into heat and releasing them from the skin. I personally cannot wear chemical sunscreens because they make my skin itch.


  1. Cosmetic Appeal: Chemical sunscreens are often formulated to be lightweight and less visible on the skin, making them more appealing for daily use. They are less likely to leave a white cast, which is particularly advantageous for people with darker skin tones.
  2. Ease of Application: They are generally easier to rub into the skin and are available in various forms, such as lotions, creams, sprays, and gels.
  3. Water-Resistant Formulas: Many chemical sunscreens are designed to be water-resistant, making them suitable for swimming or sports.


  1. Skin Irritation: Chemical sunscreens can sometimes cause skin irritation, particularly for sensitive skin or conditions like rosacea.
  2. Allergic Reactions: Ingredients like oxybenzone can cause allergic reactions in some individuals.
  3. Environmental Concerns: Some chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, have been shown to contribute to coral reef bleaching and harm marine life.

Physical Barrier Sunscreens

What Are They?

Physical barrier sunscreens, also known as mineral-based or inorganic sunscreens, contain active ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These minerals sit on top of the skin and act as a physical shield, reflecting UV rays away from the skin.


  1. Broad-Spectrum Protection: Physical sunscreens provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays as soon as they are applied.
  2. Gentle on Skin: They are less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions, making them ideal for people with sensitive skin or those prone to conditions like eczema.
  3. Environmentally Friendly: Mineral sunscreens are generally considered safer for the environment and are less likely to harm marine ecosystems.


  1. Texture and Appearance: Physical sunscreens can be thicker and more challenging to rub into the skin. They often leave a white or chalky residue, which can be a drawback for people with darker skin tones. Our newest LimeLife formulation alleviates this problem and is excellent for all skin tones.
  2. Frequent Reapplication Needed: Because they can be easily rubbed off, physical sunscreens must be reapplied more frequently, especially during activities involving sweating or water exposure. 

Making the Right Choice

Choosing between chemical and physical sunscreens largely depends on your skin type, lifestyle, and environmental considerations. Here are a few tips to help you decide:

  1. Sensitive Skin: Physical sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are generally the safer bet if you have sensitive skin or are prone to irritation.
  2. Daily Use: A lightweight chemical sunscreen might be more convenient and cosmetically appealing for daily use under makeup.
  3. Outdoor Activities: If swimming or sweating, look for a water-resistant formula. Both chemical and physical sunscreens offer water-resistant options, so read labels carefully.
  4. Environmental Impact: If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of your sunscreen, opt for reef-safe, mineral-based sunscreens that do not contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone or octinoxate.


Both chemical and physical barrier sunscreens have their unique advantages and drawbacks. The key is to find a product that offers effective sun protection while meeting your specific needs and preferences. Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use consistently, so choose one that fits comfortably into your routine. No matter which type you choose, applying sunscreen daily and reapplying as needed is crucial for protecting your skin from the harmful effects of the sun.

Stay safe and enjoy the sunshine responsibly!