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Chemical vs. Physical Sunscreen: Which is Best for Sun Protection?

Every single day starts with sunshine and even the dimmest light in winter turns out to be essential for all living creatures on the planet. But despite its necessity in our daily lives, sun exposure can also have harmful effects on our skin. Every bit of sunlight contains two types of ultraviolet (UV) rays and we must be guarded against them because these types of radiation can potentially change the way our skin cells behave.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun can cause not only sunburns but also skin aging, wrinkles, and skin cancer. There are many ways to protect ourselves from ultraviolet radiation. We can try to limit our sun exposure by staying indoors between 10 am and 4 pm, which is when ultraviolet rays are strongest, but given that it’s unrealistic to avoid sun exposure completely during that time, using sunscreen regularly even when indoors is essential if we want to stay protected.

Chemical vs. Physical sunscreen

Choosing the right sunscreen for you would depend on your skin type and when and how are you planning to use your sunscreen. There are two types: chemical and physical – both with their own advantages and disadvantages. Physical sunscreen relies on mineral ingredients that physically deflect the UV rays. On the other hand, chemical sunscreen is based on organic compounds that absorbs the UV rays and scatters them.

Physical sunscreen also referred to as sun blocks uses minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to block the harmful rays.  Physical sunscreen when applied stays on top of the skin and blocks the UV rays.  It is safe for babies and women who are pregnant.  Upon application, it immediately protects your skin.  Dr. Beber recommends physical sunscreen on new scars as it is less likely to be irritating.  Sensitive skin and rosacea skin would also benefit from physical sunscreens.   Frequent re-application is important as it can be rubbed off easily. 

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, contains chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octisalate, and avobenzone. These compounds of ingredients change the UV rays into heat, scattering them from the skin.  Chemical sunscreens tend to be easier to apply and a small amount goes a long way.  One disadvantage of chemical sunscreens is its possible irritation factor. Care is needed when used on children, sensitive skin and around the eyes.  Chemical sunscreen must be applied 20 minutes before exposure to the sun.  There is an increased risk of chemical sunscreens blocking pores and causing more redness on someone who already has sensitive skin. 

SPF protection and scar healing from surgery

Scar healing is yet another compelling reason to adopt sunscreens into our daily routine. All scars arising from procedures such as breast augmentation, breast reduction, and tummy tuck need to be protected from the sun’s harmful rays. These new surgical scars are more sensitive than the rest of your skin and to achieve the best possible result, application of sunscreens with SPF 30 or more is very important. When your new scar is exposed to the sun without protection, it can become brown in color. Since these areas are especially sensitive, Dr. Beber recommends a physical sunscreen with a broad spectrum of protection (protecting you from both UVA and UVB). Re-application is key especially if you’re sweating or rubbing it off accidentally. 

For more information on how to protect and improve the appearance of scars please contact Dr. Beber’s office at 416-466-5023 or visit www.torontoplasticcosmeticsurgeon.com.

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