Protecting our skin from harmful sun rays, particularly in the summer months, is a crucial component in caring for our skin health and overall wellness. Dangerous UVA and UVB rays can not only lead to sunburns, age spots, and fine lines; but increase our risks of skin cancer. In order to avoid the sun’s impact on the skin, we can take the proper precautions and wear protection. Liquids, oils, sprays, and even gel sticks line shelves of drugstores and supermarkets. While you may be looking strictly at the SPF numbers, there may be a few more label details to look over before purchasing a product. One difference to note is the contrast between sunblock and sunscreen.
More than a variance in advertising campaigns and brand verbiage, products labeled sunblock and sunscreen have both physical and chemical compounds that separate the two formulas from one another; and each plays their part in protecting our skin from the sun.
What is Sunblock?
Like the name suggests, sunblock acts as a blockade from the sun’s rays. A sunblock formula lays a protective surface over the skin to deflect the rays and keep them from ever making contact with your skin’s surface. Sunblock is a physical sun protectant that is traditionally made from ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. As sunblock depends completely on covering the skin to shield from the sun, it’s imperative that it be dispersed evenly. (All over the body — not to miss a spot!) You may notice this formula is quite thick and can leave residue on the skin’s surface.
What is Sunscreen?
One of the most popular and widespread sun protectants is sunscreen. As sunblock is referred to as a physical formula, sunscreen is noted as a chemical formula. Instead of deflecting the sun’s rays, sunscreen absorbs them; modifying the wavelengths into unharmful beams that prevent burning and sun damage. Scientifically speaking, sunscreen exchanges the sunlight and transforms the UV rays into heat before the rays hit the dermal layer of the skin. Sunscreen is typically made from ingredients like: avobenzone, oxybenzone, para-aminobenzoic acid, benzophenones (to block against UVA rays); and salicylates or cinnamates (to block against UVB rays).
Should I Use Sunscreen or Sunblock?
While both sunscreen and sunblock protect against UVA and UVB rays (make sure to select broad-spectrum sunscreen), there are a few occasions when a particular formula should be selected.
- Unable to Reapply: If you’ll be in the sun for longer periods of time without the time to reapply (such as running a marathon), it might be smart to use sunblock — as sunscreen requires reapplication every two hours.
- Taking Photos: If you’re looking to capture your latest Instagram beach photo or presenting at an outdoor work event, you may want to choose sunscreen. Sunblock can leave heavy residue and give your skin a long-lasting white tint from the formula.
- In Water: The chemical compounds in sunscreen are more likely to breakdown when exposed to water; so we recommend bringing along sunblock to the pool or ocean. Additionally, some sunscreens have chemicals that can harm the ocean’s ecosystems.
- Need Instant Coverage: If you haven’t given yourself 20-30 minutes for your skin to absorb sunscreen, you may want to choose sunblock (as it provides coverage as soon as it’s applied).
- Sensitive Skin: Sunblock’s formula is best for those with sensitive skin. Its ingredients are known to cause less allergic or reverse reactions.
What’s your favorite skin protection for the sunny summer days?
Cover Image by Jernej Graj