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By Danielle Wachowski, LE

SPFs are available in two different forms, chemical and physical, it’s important to know the difference between the two so you are able to educate your clients.

Some Exposure To Sun

Ultraviolet (UV) light is responsible for 90% of visible changes to the skin. Photo aging is a direct result of cumulative sun damage you’ve been exposed to throughout your life. UV rays damage DNA, and melanocytes are triggered to produce melanin, brown packets of protein, the process that gives you a tan, which is really just your skin attempting to block the radiation from penetrating your skin and damaging DNA.

Let’s Get Physical

A physical SPF does not have a time requirement for application prior to sun exposure. The SPF ingredients are usually a combination of Zinc and Titanium Dioxide. Zinc blocks both UVA and UVB rays, making it a more desirable than Titanium Dioxide, which mostly blocks UVB rays, however….

Titanium Dioxide is also anti-pollution and great in mineral makeup, and a perfect second layer of physical protection and age prevention.

Zinc and Titanium Dioxide protect from hyperpigmentation, heat, and UV radiation by forming a physical shield on the surface. This shield keeps the skin cool, prevents pollution from absorbing, and is very helpful for clients with impaired barrier function, acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation.

Physical sunscreens aren’t absorbed by the skin, aren’t degraded by sunlight, and more stable over time.

Chemistry 101

Chemical sunscreens must be applied at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure in order to provide intended benefits.  Chemical SPFs find their effectiveness with ingredients such as:

  • Oxybenzone
  • Avobenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Benzene

As with any type of synthetic ingredient, those used in chemical SPF’s may cause irritation to certain skin types.  While some studies have shown specific ingredients to be toxic in large quantities, the FDA and Cosmetic Ingredient Review have determined their safety in cosmetics and personal care products*.

How It Works

Chemical SPF must be applied 20 minutes prior to exposure so the chemicals can be fully absorb into the epidermis and surround skin cells, forming a screen.

These SPFs filter for a period of time which is determined by the SPF#, the chemicals get broken down by the heat of the UV radiation and are then absorbed by the body.

Chemical Sunscreen prevents burns, not tans. The screen allows heat and UV radiation to pass through our skin, so the melanocytes will be alerted and the dermis compromised with UVA rays. If you choose chemical, just know that anything higher than a SPF 30 represents more chemicals and only 1% more overall protection.

To make it easier for you to explain the differences to your clients, a physical SPF is an opaque shield that reflects the sunlight away from the skin, while a chemical sunscreen is a filter that diminishes UV radiation as it enters the skin.


* https://www.chemicalsafetyfacts.org/benzophenone/

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Danielle Wachowski, LE

Danielle Wachowski is a licensed esthetic expert with proven success in both consumer skincare sales and the professional esthetic industry. After becoming a licensed esthetician, Danielle’s clinical achievements were recognized by Sephora; who recruited her to lead their quality and beauty division…Read More.

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