Sunblock Vs Sunscreen – Which Is Better? What Is The Difference?
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Sunblock vs sunscreen? It’s very common to use these 2 words interchangeably. But did you know that there is actually a difference between them?

And it’s not just what the manufacturer fancies putting on the label! So which is which? More importantly, which one do you need?

You’ll find the answers in this post!

Table Of Contents:

Types Of Sunscreen (How Does Sunscreen Work)

There are 2 types of sunscreens available in Malaysia. Physical or chemical – and each have a different way of protecting your skin from the sun!

Before you can understand which sunblock is best, you need to know what makes them different!

1. Physical Sunscreen (Sunblock)

Physical sunscreens (aka mineral sunscreens) commonly feature zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Or both!

This gives the sunblock an opaque consistency, usually white. And thicker than a chemical sunscreen!

Sunblocks work by scattering and thus, physically preventing UV rays from penetrating into your skin! As you can see, this is where the term “sunblock” comes from!

Sunblock Is Usually In A Cream Or Lotion Form
Sunblock Is Usually In A Cream Or Lotion Form – photo credits (pexels-moose-photos)

Pros:

  • These ingredients are non-irritable – that’s why baby sunblocks (for ages above 6 months) only use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide! (Source)
  • And are reef-safe!
  • Effective against UVA and UVB rays!
  • Non-comedogenic (won’t clog up pores)
  • Immediately effective

Cons:

  • Frequent application required
  • Thicker texture that is not easy to spread
  • Tends to make your face look shiny/ or leaves a white cast

Note: It may be tempting to get a physical sunscreen in spray or powder form for easier application. But don’t! To reduce breathing in nanoparticles from these sunscreens!

2. Chemical Sunscreen (Sunscreen)

On the other hand:

Chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin so that they can in turn, filter/ screen UV rays that enter your skin.

Yes, that does mean that some UV rays absorb into your skin.

Common active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone or avobenzone. Other less common ingredients like PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) can give rise to contact allergies. (Source)

Pros:

  • Matte finish
  • No white cast
  • Usually affordable
  • Easier to apply
  • Lightweight

Cons:

  • Frequent application too
  • Doesn’t protect against all types of UV rays
  • Releases heat (bad for sensitive skin)
  • Can be comedogenic
  • Usually not reef safe

3. Combination

Many newer sunscreens in the market tend to combine both types of sunscreen!

That’s not necessarily more effective! And may cause irritation to your skin!

Sunscreen Should Be Applied Often For Maximum Protection
Sunscreen Should Be Applied Often For Maximum Protection – photo credits (pexels-armin-rimoldi)

Sunblock Vs Sunscreen (Physical Sunscreen Vs Chemical Sunscreen)

An overview:

Category Physical Chemical
Common Active Ingredients Zinc Oxide,
Titanium Dioxide
Ethylhexl Methoxycinnamate,
Avobenzone,
Oxybenzone
Function Physical barrier Absorbs UV rays (into skin) and then, break them down
Advantages Suitable for sensitive skin,
Reef safe
Lightweight and easy to apply,
No white cast,
Cheaper
Disadvantages Leaves a white cast,
Harder to apply,
Usually more costly
Not reef safe,
Irritates sensitive skin,
May disrupt female hormones (in the long run)

Sunblock VS Sunscreen Which Is Better?

So which is better, sunscreen or sunblock?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD):

It doesn’t matter as long as the sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays (i.e. broad spectrum)!

And that the sunscreen you use has an SPF rating of at least 30!

Being water resistant is a bonus!

But application is just as important as the sunscreen! It’s advisable to apply sunscreen regularly throughout the day! Every 2 hours if you are swimming or sweating!

Other Tips On Using Sunscreen/ Sunblock

  • Cover up – sunglasses, hat, long sleeves and pants
  • Stay indoors from 10am to 3pm if you can help it

That said, there are situations where a sunblock or sunscreen is better than the other:

  • Sensitive skin types tolerate physical sunscreens/ sunblocks over chemical sunscreens
  • Children should use physical sun blocks
  • If you have rosacea, you may want to use a sunblock too to avoid oxybenzone, preservatives, or fragrances (commonly in sunscreens)
  • For swimming in a natural water source (chemical sunscreens are not good for marine life!)
  • Prefer a matte finish for your oily skin – chemical sunscreens are usually better at not looking shiny on top of your skin! They feel lighter too.
Most Physical Sunblocks Are Safe For Children
Most Physical Sunblocks Are Safe For Children – photo credits (pexels-juan-salamanca)

Why You Need Sunscreen

Damage from the sun’s UV rays builds up in your skin throughout your whole life.

And wearing sunscreen daily minimizes the damage significantly!

  • UV rays are a proven carcinogen!
  • The ozone layer is depleting; UV rays are even more dangerous
  • To avoid a sunburn
  • Reduces your chances of getting skin cancer
  • Protects your skin from premature aging (e.g. age spots, leathery skin, etc)

But What If You’re Always Indoors?

If you are near a window all the time, you need sunscreen too!

The only way you are completely safe from the sun’s UV rays is:

  • If you are in a windowless room
  • Or have UV-blocking curtains!

And not to freak you out:

But some indoor lights may emit small amounts of UV rays too.

What If It Is A Cloudy Day?

Clouds do not provide adequate protection from UV rays! UV light just passes right through them!

Beaches Are Not The Only Reason To Apply Sunblock
Beaches Are Not The Only Reason To Apply Sunblock – photo credits (pexels-andrea-piacquadio)

Sunscreen Terminology

Regardless of the type of sunscreen, these terms still apply:

What Is SPF?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) only represents the protection against UVB rays:

SPF Level % Of Protection For UVB Rays
15 93
30 97
50 98

So you see, higher doesn’t necessarily mean better or longer protection!

The Skin Cancer Foundation advises a minimum of SPF 30 (plus broad spectrum and water resistance) if you’re going to be outdoors for prolonged periods! (Source)

Note: A high SPF lasts for the same duration as a low SPF.

What Is PA+++?

A Japanese measure of protection against UVA rays. More “+ “ means the product has better protection.

Other countries like UK, USA, Australia and Germany have adopted this system too.

But:

Since Japan was the first to have PA++++ ratings, not all countries have updated their system accordingly.

So a product with PA+++ may not actually be worse than one with PA++++. Depending on the country of origin.

What Is Broad Spectrum?

Always go for a sunscreen with “Broad Spectrum” on the label.

That means the sunscreen protects your skin against both types of UV rays –UVA and UVB!

  • UVA rays – cause premature aging
  • UVB rays – burn your skin

Excessive exposure to either will cause skin cancer.

Note: UVC rays exist too but the Earth’s own atmosphere protects us from these. (Source)

Water Resistance

The keywords are water resistance, not waterproof!

A water resistance of 40 minutes will likely mean reapplication. If possible, go with a product that states 80 minutes water resistance if you will be sweating or swimming!

Use Water Resistant Sunscreen For Water Based And Other Strenuous Outdoor Activities
Use Water Resistant Sunscreen For Water Based And Other Strenuous Outdoor Activities – photo credits (pexels-elle-hughes)

Conclusion

And now you know the difference between sunblock and sunscreen! Plus what their individual advantages and disadvantages are!

All the better to find a sunscreen that is most appropriate for you!

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Janice

Wanted to be an author as a kid, got a D in English (First Language), but somehow now a content writer with an engineering background. Bakes, does yoga, plays the piano, reads, and most other introverted indoor hobbies. Also an active volunteer at Zero Waste Malaysia. Linkedin.