Summer is here and the sun is out in force! And with it comes questions
about how to enjoy the weather without turning our skin into leather. One of the questions that comes up most often is, “What are the differences between physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens, and which one should I use?”
This question came to Felipe Jimenez (see video inset), Ph.D., the Chief Scientific Officer at Envy Medical, Inc., a company based in Southern California that specializes in professional grade skin care treatments and products. Dr. Jimenez explained, “A chemical sunscreen contains oil based ingredients that get absorbed into skin. When you go outside, what these chemical sunscreen ingredients do is that they absorb the energy from UV rays in sunlight, and they evenly disperse this energy throughout the skin.”
In doing so these chemical based sunscreens may work effectively in preventing a sunburn. However as Dr. Jimenez explained, the process of absorbing the rays and dispersing the energy can still trigger hyperpigmentation in the skin, and, while they may stop the burning rays from damaging your skin cells (sunburn), many chemical sunscreens are not broad spectrum protectants and therefore may not absorb some damaging rays that can break down collagen and elastin in the skin, leading to long term photo damage and skin that looks prematurely aged.
So how do physical sunscreen agent’s compare?
“A physical sunscreen, like the Lumixyl MoistureLock Sunscreen, contains either zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide,” explained Dr. Jimenez. “They function to essentially mirror-away, or prevent the entry of the energy from these UVA/UVB rays into skin. So by preventing this energy from entering the skin you essentially prevent photo-damage and hyperpigmentation from happening altogether.”
This makes sense, because the reason we call them “physical sunscreens” is that zinc and titanium are minerals, that when spread evenly across the skin, act as a shield, so that the rays bounce off them like a ball bounces off a concrete wall – physically blocked. Chemical agents work entirely differently as Dr. Jimenez explains in the short video answer, by absorbing into your skin and then absorbing the energy of the sun rays. Still, that leaves concerns about how good those chemicals may be for your skin, and the fact that the energy is largely dispersed into the surrounding skin where it can trigger hyperpigmentation anyway – even though you are not getting burned.
There are other concerns with some of the chemicals used in sunscreens. Oxybenzone, for example, is one of the more popular chemical agents found in retail shelf sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group reports that, “Oxybenzone is a sunscreen ingredient associated with photoallergic reactions. This chemical absorbs through the skin in significant amounts. It contaminates the bodies of 97% of Americans according to Centers for Disease Control research.” They point to concerns that the chemical tends to accumulate in the body over time, and may disrupt the hormonal system.
This risk is debated by manufacturers and dermatologists, some believing the risks are small, and others believing that any risk is too much. But one area that there is universal agreement on, is that physical sunscreens are both safe and effective. The key is to find well formulated sunscreens with Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide, that go on elegantly, and Envy Medical, Inc’s Lumixyl MoistureLock Sunscreen SPF30 is formulated to be just such a product.