When those dreamy pictures of sunshine and palm trees become a reality… or at least the sunshine part, there’s no palm trees in my garden. Yours? *winks*… it’s time to ramp-up the suncream application. This can be a nightmare if you have sensitive skin. Extra products, means more stuff on your skin that could cause a freak out.
This is why, the best kind of sun protection for sensitive skin is sunblock.
Want to know exactly why and just how to choose one? I have you covered…
What The Heck Is Sunblock?
Did you know there are 2 families of sun protecting ingredients? Personally, I had no clue until I became a cosmetic chemist and really looked into these things. There’s lots of words that get used to refer to, ‘that cream in the yellow/orange bottle’. Suncream, sunscreen, sunblock, sun protection, sun fluid… very fancy ‘eh!
There’s only 2 names that tell you more about the actual cream;
These my friend, are the 2 families of sun protecting ingredients.
But, what are they? What do they mean? How do they help me?
Sunscreen and sunblock ingredients defend your skin from sun damage, but they do it in different ways. It’s like ordering take-out to eat in your comfy pants or dressing-up to head out for a fancy dinner. You still succeed in your goal of food, but both experiences have different benefits ‘eh *smiles*.
- Sunscreen ingredients react with UV light to make it harmless.
- Sunblock ingredients reflect UV light, keeping it away from skin.
Sunscreen ingredients are a bit like those self-warming hand heaters. The ones where you flip a tiny disc inside the packet, followed by crazily instant heat. Sunscreen does nothing until it sees a UV ray. When it bumps into its one true love, things get ‘heated’ and chemistry happens. In non-romantic talk, sunscreen sucks up the energy of a UV ray, making it harmless to your skin. When it does this, the energy breaks down the sunscreen ingredients into something new. This is why you have to reapply sunscreen, it gets used up.
Sunblock ingredients are like having lots of tiny, tiny mirrors all over your skin. Ever seen a solar farm? That’s what sunblock would look like on your skin, times a bazillion in magnification. Sunblock ingredients don’t react with UV light like sunscreen. Instead they save their energy and give it the, ‘talk to the hand’ treatment. This is why sunblock lasts longer than sunscreen.
Want a handy reminder? I’ve pulled together a freebie, 1-page crib sheet that explains exactly how to de-code a bottle of sun protection. If you’ve found yourself puzzled by the difference between suncreams in the past, this is for you!
Why Is Sunblock Best for Sensitive Skin?
Sunblock is the best sun protection for sensitive skin for lots of reasons. You’ve probably already guessed a few!
- Sunblock is made from minerals naturally found within skin.
- It’s pretty inert, which means it doesn’t react with stuff.
- It’s based on a mineral that helps skin heal.
- It lasts longer than sunscreen.
- It’s an FDA registered skin protectant.
- They are broad spectrum! (download the sun protection crib sheet if that makes no sense)
You might be wondering what these magic ingredients are. ‘N let’s face it, it’d be helpful to know a few to check whether you’re holding a sunscreen or a sunblock. Not every brand is as helpful as labeling them with their family name. There’s gotta be room for some fancy marketing speak too ‘eh *winks*.
The family of sunblock ingredients is small. Which is kindly, friendly on our brain cells!
- Zinc oxide
- Titanium dioxide
If you’re holding a sunscreen, you’ll see some of these ingredients on the list;
- Ethylhexyl Salicylate
- Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate
- Octyl Methoxycinnamate
- Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane
There are lots of others. These are some of the most common and you’ll usually find at least one of the bolded options in a sunscreen.
While you can make a sunblock from zinc oxide that protects from UVA & UVB damage (I explain the difference in the sun protection crib sheet). You need more than 1 sunscreen ingredient to do the same. Some of these only protect against one kind of UV light. Others protect a little against both.
The blend of ingredients in a sunscreen is really important which is why, some suncreams will also contain sunblock ingredients.
I know those ingredients lists can be a bit daunting. So let me walk you through a couple…
Have a go at guessing whether each is a sunblock or sunscreen before you scroll past the ingredients list.
Did you take a guess? No peeking ‘eh *winks*.
This pick is a sunscreen. There’s no confusion there. Zinc oxide, our favourite sunblock ingredient is definitely not on the ingredient list. There’s also a party full of sunscreen ingredients (the bolded ones).
Let’s take another go…
Got your answer in mind?
This example is a mind boggle. You might’ve been confused because the product names itself a sunscreen. Did you see that? You might’ve looked at the ingredients list and been confused to find just sunblock ingredients.
Let me clear this up for ya. This example is definitely a sunblock.
It really is a little strange that Aveeno choose to call this a sunscreen. I’d take a guess that they are trying to avoid being associated with the ‘white-cast’ some sunblocks create.
This is the one downfall of sunblock, sometimes it can leave a white cast on skin. This can make you look audition ready for Casper the ghost. hmmm… not what you were going for? Thankfully there are lots of new sunblock formulations that make this effect minimal.
Final guess who…
What a breath of fresh air this one is ‘eh!
Sometimes companies will list out the active sun protecting ingredients separately from the rest of the cream. This is so helpful!
This suncream is definitely a sunblock. One that’s specially made to avoid white cast.
Best for sensitive skin. Tick. Sunblock ingredients only. Tick. Avoids the Casper look? Tick.
Why Sunblock Is the Best Sun Protection for Sensitive Skin
The difference between using a sunscreen or a sunblock is a bit like ordering takeaway pizza or chinese that comes with free prawn crackers! Sunscreens do their job well, a lot of people even prefer them as they never leave a white cast. BUT. Sunscreen ingredients do nothing else other than defend skin from UV damage. While that is no small thing, sunblock ingredients go the extra mile. They have the prawn cracker freebies that are perfect for sensitive skin.
If you have very sensitive skin, your skin might even react to sunscreen ingredients, or the chemicals they turn into when reacting with sunlight. This is another reason why sunblock is the best sun protection for sensitive skin, it doesn’t react with anything, your skin included.
Which brand of sun protection do you use? What was it that made you choose it? Chat to me in the comments below…
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who is more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She is founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.