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Skin Cancer and Sunscreens

Lets begin with a question. Do you know the difference between Chemical sunscreen and Physical?  I am a BIG Fan of Mexoryl, which is owned bu L'Oreal and has been in sunscreen all over the world for the last 15 or so years, just NOT in the U.S.A.   I buy the L'Oreal b rand when in europe, I order Anthelios brand, with SL & XL from Canada. I can also find it here in upscale pharmacy's we have in the city. You do pay more because it is imported,but I am trying to make sure I protect myself the best with the best I can buy to prevent skin cancer and aging. 

Chemical sunscreens contain special ingredients that act as filters and reduce ultraviolet radiation penetration to the skin. These sunscreens often are colorless and maintain a thin visible film on the skin. These sunscreens usually contain UVB absorbing chemicals and more recently contain UVA absorbers as well.


Physical Sunscreens, most often referred to as sunblocks, are products containing ingredients such a titanium dioxide and zinc oxide which physically block ultraviolet radiation (UVR). Sunblocks provide broad protection against both UVB and UVA light.


I have only used sunscreens with MEXORYL SL & XL as ingredients for the last 10 years, As far as I am concerned, as a Licensed Esthetician, I feel the safest with MEXORYL SL & XL and only with these two ingredients. OUR Lovely FDA only approved one of the Mexoryls about three years ago. The SL,  to have the BEST BROAD SPECTRUM coverage, we need to have both SL & XL. I personally feel the lobby groups for avobenzone,titanium oxide and or zinc oxide did not want to be put out of business( ok a bit harsh) but I feel they put pressue on the FDA to NOT approve both.  So they did not approve XL  only SL.

Check out this blog: 

Without going into the virtues of either form of sunscreens, a simple explanation of the 2 different types of sunscreens in the market is as follows.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical Sunscreens are so called because they contain synthetic chemicals which absorb UV rays thereby absorbing radiation. These chemicals work by absorbing UVA or UVB but usually also contain ingredients to block UVA rays. According to the American Melanoma Foundation:-

Examples of chemical sunscreens are La-Roche-Posay Anthelios XL 50+, Lancome UV Expert, L’oreal UV Perfect (Mexoryl) and the new Eucerin White Solution (Tinosorb S). Also any sunscreen containing Avobenzone, Oxybenzone or Octorylene are chemical sunscreens.

Physical Sunscreens

Physical Sunscreens are also known as sunblocks. What these creams do is contain ingredients like titanium oxide or zinc oxide which physically block and scatter the sun rays. The American Melanoma Foundation states:-


Physical sunscreens, because they form a layer on the skin, tend to leave a whitish cast on the skin and you really need to clean them off properly because it sticks to the skin so many people don’t quite like using them for this reason. (Note: Using Cleansing Oils and the double cleansing method help remove stubborn sunscreen) Also, a point to note that if you are going to be taking photographs, you should avoid products containing Titanium Oxide or Zinc Oxide because your face will look unnaturally white as the flash or light will reflect off these blockers.

Which type of sunscreen is better – Chemical or Physical?

This is an ongoing debate.

On the one hand, research shows that Chemical sunscreens generate free radicals which can cause skin aging. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens like Mexoryl are photostable which means they do not degenerate under sunlight and you need not reapply throughout the day. Texture wise chemical sunscreens tend to feel lighter on the skin. The Australia Cancer Council has an article on this too.


As for physical sunscreens, because of aesthetics (the white cast and thickness of formula) people may not be applying enough to offer the full protection that physical sunscreens can offer. The recommended amount to apply is 1 tablespoon of sunscreen. If you’ve tried to abide by that rule, you’d know its a LOT of sunscreen. Otherwise, physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide seem to be trumping all other types of sunscreens in offering full UVA and UVA broad spectrum sun protection.

However, I do notice that some sunscreens are now combining both chemical and physical sunblocking properties. These sunscreens have chemical filters but also contain titanium or zinc oxide. These I believe may offer better sun protection and might make better sunscreens that those that are just purely chemical or purely physical. But this is my untrained view only.

For the face, I am presently using chemical based sunscreens in the form of L’oreal UV Perfect and more recently, Eucerin White SolutionThe Eucerin White Solution hasTinosorb S as its primary ingredient, but I also noticed that in the ingredient list is listedTitanium Oxide which is a physical blocker. I wonder if this might be why I’m finding it so much better for me. I don’t get the warm feeling on the face as I get with other sunscreens after being out in the sun a lot.

For the body I’m using the Australian Cancer Council Everyday sunscreen, which I find very good. Perusing the ingredient list, I see that it looks like a chemical based sunscreen. However, the Ultra version has similar ingredients with added Zinc Oxide, so the next time I get a bottle I might try that one.

Let me just say that I’m not a sunscreen nor skincare expert. Whatever information I have here is based on the reading I have done on and offline. A blogger who has much more comprehensive information on sunscreens is Sesame of VivaWoman so do head on over to her site to read more on this subject of sunscreens.

Whichever you choose, wear sunscreen daily

I’m still learning more about sunscreens everyday but whichever one you choose to go for, whether chemical or physical, I am a strong advocate of using sunscreens daily to prevent skin damage and premature aging. Truly, saying that sunscreens break you out or that it makes you oily is not an excuse not to apply sunscreens. There are many forms of sunscreens in the market that you can try, some of which are in an oil free formula or spray on formula which are less oily. The key is to find a formula that works for you from the many in the market. Even if you aren’t concerned about skin aging, skin cancer or the health of your skin is something sunscreen can help with too.

With Australia having one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world I tend to trust their research and information more than others and I tend to trust their sunscreens better too because of their stringent controls. I’d adopt the call by the Australia Cancer Council in helping to prevent skin cancer:-

SLIP on sun protective clothing and sunglasses when going out

SLOP on the sunscreen – preferably a broad spectrum one

SLAP on a hat

I have been using sunscreens and practicing (some) of the SLIP SLOP SLAP practices from the time I was a kid. My mom is something of a radical for the time and used to slather us with sunscreen every day especially during our swimming lessons and nag us into staying out of the sun at noon and to wear a hat or carry an umbrella when we go out.

Until today, the distinctive smell of Coppertone brings back memories of childhood and swimming lessons! I used to hate it, but I do have her to thank now for people not being able to guess my true age; and she truly doesn’t look her age too! :)

Do you use Sunscreen daily? What’s the sunscreen you are using?

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