Traveling to Europe with four young boys may sound like a crazy idea, but it was...
What’s the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen? Can you use physical or chemical sunscreen for the face under makeup?
In order to answer these questions and more. I created a sunscreen rubric to judge aspects of sunscreen that I care about and to explain my reasoning for how I ranked the 12 sunscreens I test. I share 6 physical sunscreens and 6 chemical sunscreens. Some are favorites from the past and others are brand new.
“As the mercury rises new sunscreens rain down!”
As the mercury rises new sunscreens rain down! I get excited about the innovations that are developing as more and more people learn to wear sunscreen year-round, not simply when it’s hot. If you’re unaware, daily sunscreen year-round is my number 1 skincare tip.
If you truly want to change your skin: improve texture, lines, and photodamage then you need to find a sunscreen that you will wear every day, not simply when you are poolside. Since sunscreen is by far, the best antiaging product I can use, I buy a lot of sunscreens; and friends, the sunscreen in 2021 is phenomenal!
I needed a way to compare, contrast and rate these as objectively as possible so you could easily assess which ones you would actually use. It doesn’t matter how protective sunscreen is if you won’t wear it.
“It doesn’t matter how protective sunscreen is if you won’t wear it.”
Just because something rates lower or higher in this rubric does not mean it’s not a good sunscreen. All of the sunscreens listed are great for different reasons and I will explain each one and why I think it has value.
Before we compare and contrast the best sunscreens in 2021I want to go over commonly asked questions about sunscreen.
What’s the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen?
Simply put, physical sunscreens are made up of minerals that block sunlight, while chemical sunscreens are formulated to absorb sunlight, and thru a chemical reaction create and dispel this byproduct as heat.
PHYSICAL sunscreen is made up of minerals such as titanium dioxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO). This is why you will see physical sunscreen and mineral sunscreen interchanged. Physical sunscreen is an actual barrier to the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. These rays, if not blocked, will penetrate deep into your skin, causing photoaging; these rays will expedite the breakdown of collagen, in turn causing wrinkles, lines, and uneven skin tone. Physical sunscreen is like wearing actual armor or shielding, similar to wearing a hat on your head to protect your scalp.
Physical sunscreen works immediately because like an umbrella, hat, or shirt; once you wipe on the physical formula you are shielded. This is a huge pro to physical sunscreens, with no wait time.
TIP: A quick way to know if you have a physical or chemical sunscreen is if the instructions provide a wait time before going into the sun. If there is no wait time, then you have a physical sunscreen.
Another positive is that typically people who break out from wearing sunscreen tend to do better with mineral-based sunscreens rather than chemical-based ones. However, acne-prone people can have issues with physical sunscreens and I’ve included the reasoning for this occurring.
ACNE PRONE SKIN: If you break out from physical sunscreens it’s most likely due to titanium dioxide which is non-comedogenic (in theory should not clog your pores). These minerals are not pore-clogging but could be skin irritating which then could lead to more breakouts.
Patricia Wexler, (MD, a board-certified dermatologist) says,
“The oils in the SPF can clog the pores, while the mineral ones can irritate the sensitive skin types, inflaming the skin leading to inflammatory lesions”
Wexler suggests, if you are breaking out from a physical sunscreen it could be due to the non-active ingredients coupled with the mineral, titanium dioxide. These are the ingredients to avoid if your skin is acne-prone and you want to wear physical sunscreen.
CHEMICAL sunscreens have chemicals that actually absorb the UVA and UVB rays preventing them from affecting your skin. Chemical sunscreens have been more successful than physical sunscreens over the past decades because typically chemical sunscreens have been easier to use and wear. They are typically clear and absorb into your skin which is a massive pro. While physical sunscreens have always had a white cast and have been traditionally chalky; this has changed drastically and I’m excited to show you how sheer a physical sunscreen can be. A couple of drawbacks to chemical sunscreens:
Personally, I like both, either physical sunscreen or chemical sunscreen. However, as physical sunscreens are becoming so good I’m wearing them more often and you will see in my rubric I rank physical sunscreens above chemical ones.
Can you use a physical or chemical sunscreen for the face under makeup?
Yes of course. Either formula will work under your makeup. You will need to try some to decide if your foundation is working well in this combo. I’ve had many failures when layering SPF, Primer, and Foundations, but I’ve also found great successes. You will need to test to find your combo. Although this might seem like a waste, it’s not, because when you find your ideal SPF for under your makeup you will be more likely to wear your sunscreen daily and this will save you $1000’s of dollars in the future, as well as help you avoid skin cancer.
If you’re struggling to find the right sunscreen for under your makeup try looking at the foundation you use and see if your loved brand offers a primer with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. This NYX Bare With Me daily moisturizer has 30 SPF with UVA and UVB protection and will layer well with NYX foundations.
In this youtube video, I share more insight on my 12 sunscreens for 2021; you can watch me apply these sunscreens and judge for yourself which ones you think would work best.
Here is a quick table to help you see how I compared them, then we will look at each one and I will speak to its rating and what I like and dislike about it.
These are not in order of rank but rather categorized by “Mineral” or “Chemical”, the first 6 being mineral (ie Physical sunscreen) and items 7-12 being Chemical sunscreens.
I’ve used the Elta MD sunscreen for years. It’s effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays, plus it has a luminous finish and is in the mid-price point range. It’s an all-around great physical sunscreen to provide you great protection while not completely killing your budget.
In theory, powdered sunscreens are great because you can reapply them during the day while touching up your makeup. The issue I have with these powdered sunscreens is that you need a lot to actually get the SPF 50 protection it claims. I think of this as extra protection, you can matte down your foundation using it like translucent powder, and top it off throughout the day. This should not be your only SPF as I do not believe anyone is applying enough to get full protection.
This is one of my favorites! I actually should have ranked it higher in my rubric on price because the bottle is actually much larger than other bottles selling around the same price point. I should have divided the price by mL so I could have been more accurate in comparing pricing. This bottle is 100 mL and its price is $50 which is steep, but when divided it comes out to .50 cents per mL. Whereas Eleven which we will get to is also $50 but only has 30 mL so its price per mL is $1.67, which’s more than 3xs the cost. The finish is beautiful and absorbs almost completely sheer. ISDIN is a Spanish brand from Spain.
Of all my sunscreens, this is my favorite finish. It’s by far the most expensive per mL (so it should have gotten a 1, I’m not sure why it has a 2, brain fog is real). The Eleven sunscreen is by Venus Williams and has 25% Zinc Oxide. Immediately you are thinking this must be so thick but on the contrary, it’s very loose and runny.
Ava Isa is identical to the above Eleven sunscreen in nearly every way. The SPF, the 25% Zinc Oxide, and the bottle. Exactly the same! Ava Isa has been $5 less expensive than the Eleven sunscreen. So Ava Isa is a better buy for the same exact thing. The only difference is one bottle is red and the other is white.
The Oganacell sunscreen is from Korea and has peptides to tone up and improve the quality of your skin. At only $36 and an SPF 50 plus peptides and it has a neutral finish I can see many people liking this sunscreen.
This is an SPF 50 oil from Supergoop. I would say this is for your body and not your face. It has that greasy finish of your favorite sunbathing oil from years ago…but you don’t do that anymore…well maybe with this glow oil you can get more lounge time pool or beachside this summer. It will protect your body and give you that slick oily look!
Mesosys SPF 40 is made for use after microneedling. Many of you who are in my private app Natural Kaos as well as follow me on YouTube know I microneedle my face all the time, some sessions deeper than others. This SPF is meant to soothe and protect your skin immediately following a microneedling appointment or DIY session at home.
This Mesosys Tint SPF 30 is also meant to aid you in recovery following microneedling. This version is tinted so you can wear this as your skin coverage and sun protection during the days following your most recent session.
I wanted a waterproof sunscreen this year to ensure that during pool and beach days I have longer-lasting coverage. *Waterproof sunscreens do rub off and need to be replied. I decided to get this Missha Sun Milk Waterproof SPF 50 because I love Missha sunscreen as well as being ultra-affordable at under $20. In 2020 I was at one of the many Missha shops in Seol Korea, there I tried my first Sun Milk product and I was blown away at its sheerness. I now have all 3 available in the US and (the one I bought in Korea is not available).
Missha Essence is another beautifully made and affordable sunscreen from Korea. It contains flower extracts, is a non-greasy formula and it moisturizes your skin. It’s very affordable at under $20, provides long protection, and is super lightweight, like its namesake, an essence.
This SPF video is LIVE so if you want to watch and see how the SPF looks on my skin please check it out.
Traveling to Europe with four young boys may sound like a crazy idea, but it was...