What's the difference between and chemical and physical sunscreen?
"Physical sunscreens work by reflecting UV rays away from the skin, whereas chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UV, before converting it to heat and releasing it from the skin," Women's Health Beauty Editor Erin Docherty explains. "Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (you might also hear them being referred to as ‘natural’ sunscreens), whereas chemical sunscreens contain carbon-based substances such as avobenzone, oxybenzone and ecamsule."
What is a natural sunscreen?
“Natural sunscreens usually refer to mineral sunscreens such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that offer excellent physical protection from harmful UV radiation. When using this type of sunscreen, always ensure it is at least SPF30 or SPF 50 for adequate protection,” Dr Leona says.
“However, beware of ‘natural sunscreen’ products that actually refer to and use plant extracts and essential oils as their active sunscreen ingredient. Many of these do not meet Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) standards or meet the recommended minimum SPF30 needed in Australia to adequately protect your skin from harmful UV radiation."
Is physical sunscreen or chemical sunscreen better?
"One is not necessarily better than the other, however different formulas might work best for different skin types," Erin says. "For example, if you have sensitive skin, rosacea or dermatitis, you’re probably better going with a physical sunscreen, as chemical filters can commonly cause irritation and redness. If you find your sunscreen tends to make you break out, it’s probably more about the base of the sunscreen as opposed to the actual ingredients. Opt for a lighter formula like a spray and look for formulas that are ‘non-comedogenic’ or ‘non-acnegenic.’”
"One advantage of physical sunscreens over chemical sunscreens is their additional protection against visible light," dermatologist Dr Leona adds. "Excessive skin exposure to visible light causes skin DNA damage that leads to premature skin ageing."
The best physical sunscreens in Australia
1. Ultra Violette Clean Screen SPF 30 Mattifying Mineral Skinscreen
This cult-favourite beauty brand is renowned for their sunscreens. Their physical sunscreen features soothing natural ingredients like cucumber and organic green tea combined with zinc oxide, which makes for an effective sun protection option for anyone with skin concerns like breakouts, eczema, rosacea or dermatitis. The mattifying formula is also stellar under makeup.
Best for: Sensitive skin, oily skin, under makeup
Reviewer verdict: "I've been using clean screen for 4 months now and my skin looks the best it ever has. I suffer from Rosacea and live on the Sunny Gold Coast. I never liked typical mineral sunscreens: too thick, white cast, smelt bad, felt heavy on the skin. This one is like nothing else. Goes on smooth, feels light, no rubbing in, no white cast. But best of all my Rosacea is much much better. More effective than IPL, Laser or cremes. It is a winner."
2. Invisible Zinc Sheer Defence Moisturiser SPF 50
Invisible Zinc are the OG when it comes to mineral sunscreen in Australia. The formula is lightweight and easily absorbed, with tinted options (in light and medium) for extra coverage as well as body and sport products.
Best for: Sensitive skin, dry skin, vegans
Reviewer verdict: "It’s excellent. Doesn’t leave the face all white and it feels light too. Was easy to apply makeup on top, else, just add some lip gloss and you’re right to go. Better than I expected."
3. Medik8 Physical Sunscreen SPF30
Aside from it's sun protection properties, Medik8's physical sunscreen formula is fortified with anti-pollution and anti-A.G.E technology to help combat environmental aggressors and reduce lines and wrinkles.
Best for: Anti-ageing, all skin types
Reviewer verdict: "This is an awesome sunscreen! It is not oily and greasy at all, so sits well underneath make up and doesn't pill when make up is applied on top. It does not have artificial fragrance although does smell a bit like almond essence. I love the texture and performance of this sunscreen."
4. Sukin SPF30 Sheer Touch Facial Sunscreen
Sukin's slightly tinted physical sunscreen is non-greasy and easily absorbed, perfect for daily use. The zinc based formula also includes an antioxidant rich blend of rosehip oil, green tea and cucumber to moisturise your skin.
Best for: All skin types
Reviewer verdict: "My face looks so fresh and clean, hides my blemishes and leaves my skin feeling sooo smooth at the end of the day. Doesn’t look or feel heavy! Absolutely LOVE this product!! Definitely will buy again!"
5. Ocean Australia SPF 50+ Face Sunscreen
Reef friendly, ethically produced and Aussie made – Ocean Australia's SPF 50+ range has easily absorbed and richly hydrating options for your face, body and the kids.
Best for: All skin types, vegans
Reviewer verdict: "It has a super moisturising formula that I found absorbed really easily. It has that classic sunscreen scent so it's one i'd save for beach trips."
6. Natural Instinct Invisible Natural Sunscreen SPF 30
Free from man-made synthetics, artificial fragrances, parabens and sulphates, Natural Instinct's sunscreen is ideal for sensitive skin types. It's also chock full of jojoba oil, shea butter and vitamin E helps to deeply moisturise.
Best for: All skin types
Reviewer verdict: "I've recently discovered I’m allergic to chemical sunscreens, this natural one is easily absorbed and as mentioned in other reviews it has a really nice smooth texture. It does leave a bit of a dusty zinc film, but it absorbs after a while. No smell, doesn’t make me itchy, stops sunburn, a winner!"
7. Moo Goo Natural Sunscreen SPF 40
Moo Goo is beloved by those with sensitive skin and complaints like eczema and prides itself on the moisturising yet non-greasy nature of its natural sunscreen. This natural sunscreen can be used on your face and body, but does the formula takes a little longer to soak in.
Best for: Sensitive skin
Reviewer verdict: "This Natural 40+ Sunscreen requires a little more time applying, but it truly is invisible! Safe for babies, children and adults its non-greasy, matte finish is also perfect under makeup!"
8. O Cosmedics Mineral Pro SPF 30+
O Cosmedics Mineral Pro is a delicious smelling daily moisturiser that's lightweight, fast absorbing and dries clear, so it's perfect to wear under makeup. It's a natural, physical sunscreen that also contains resveratrol – an antioxidant which has anti-ageing properties.
Best for: Any skin type
Reviewer verdict: "My favourite sunscreen. It feels so light and smooth."
9. Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield SPF 30
Dermalogica's physical sunscreen is on the more expensive end of the spectrum but it's a super effective option for sensitive skin types. Their "ultra calming" formula contains oat and botanical actives to help minimise discomfort and protect your skin's barrier to improve hydration. Reviews can be mixed on this product with some struggling to absorb the formula so perhaps try a tester before making the investment.
Best for: sensitive skin type
Reviewer verdict: "There aren't many physical sunscreens on the market, but this one by Dermalogica is great, especially for sensitive skin. I apply it after my moisturiser (I have really dry skin) and it acts as a primer for my foundation which is fantastic. My make up still looks good at the end of the day. There are only two downsides, the price (so expensive for a small bottle) and it does leave a bit of a white cast on my face if I don't put any foundation on top."
10. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Lotion SPF50
Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Lotion's is a super affordable physical sunscreen that's backed by the Eczema Association of Australasia.
Best for: Sensitive skin type
Reviewer verdict: "Because its Zinc based it's going to be thicker than conventional sunscreens. Just have to have patience to apply and wait till it soaks in."
11. Wotnot Natural Sunscreen for Family SPF 30
Wotnot's natural sunscreen has a super moisturising formula with Certified Organic ingredients including Aloe Vera, jojoba oil and shea butter.
Best for: Kids
Reviewer verdict: "Excellent protection and nourishes my dry skin at the same time. Doesn't leave a white layer on the skin which I noticed in other brands."
Always read the label and use only as directed.