What's the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen? Can you use physical or chemical sunscreen for the face under makeup? In 2021 what are the Best Sunscreens for your face?
In order to answer these questions and more. I created a sunscreen rubric to judge aspects of sunscreen that I care about and to explain my reasoning for how I ranked the 12 sunscreens I test. I share 6 physical sunscreens and 6 chemical sunscreens. Some are favorites from the past and others are brand new.
"As the mercury rises new sunscreens rain down!"
BEST SUNSCREEN 2021
As the mercury rises new sunscreens rain down! I get excited about the innovations that are developing as more and more people learn to wear sunscreen year-round, not simply when it's hot. If you're unaware, daily sunscreen year-round is my number 1 skincare tip.
If you truly want to change your skin: improve texture, lines, and photodamage then you need to find a sunscreen that you will wear every day, not simply when you are poolside. Since sunscreen is by far, the best antiaging product I can use, I buy a lot of sunscreens; and friends, the sunscreen in 2021 is phenomenal!
SUNSCREEN REVIEW RUBRIC
I needed a way to compare, contrast and rate these as objectively as possible so you could easily assess which ones you would actually use. It doesn't matter how protective sunscreen is if you won't wear it.
"It doesn't matter how protective sunscreen is if you won't wear it."
My sunscreen review rubric rates these 12 sunscreens on 4 criteria:
TYPE: Physical versus Chemical sunscreen
PRICE: Expensive versus Affordable
TIME: Length of protection.
FINISH: Glow versus Greasy
Just because something rates lower or higher in this rubric does not mean it's not a good sunscreen. All of the sunscreens listed are great for different reasons and I will explain each one and why I think it has value.
Before we compare and contrast the best sunscreens in 2021I want to go over commonly asked questions about sunscreen.
PHYSICAL V. CHEMICAL
What's the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen?
Simply put, physical sunscreens are made up of minerals that block sunlight, while chemical sunscreens are formulated to absorb sunlight, and thru a chemical reaction create and dispels this byproduct as heat.
PHYSICAL sunscreen is made up of minerals such as titanium dioxide (TiO2) or zinc oxide (ZnO). This is why you will see physical sunscreen and mineral sunscreen interchanged. Physical sunscreen is an actual barrier to the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays. These rays, if not blocked, will penetrate deep into your skin, causing photoaging; these rays will expedite the breakdown of collagen, in turn causing wrinkles, lines, and uneven skin tone. Physical sunscreen is like wearing actual armor or shielding, similar to wearing a hat on your head to protect your scalp.
Physical sunscreen works immediately because like an umbrella, hat, or shirt; once you wipe on the physical formula you are shielded. This is a huge pro to physical sunscreens, with no wait time.
TIP: A quick way to know if you have a physical or chemical sunscreen is if the instructions provide a wait time before going into the sun. If there is no wait time, then you have a physical sunscreen.
Another positive is that typically people who break out from wearing sunscreen tend to do better with mineral-based sunscreens rather than chemical-based ones. However, acne-prone people can have issues with physical sunscreens and I've included the reasoning for this occurring.
ACNE PRONE SKIN: If you break out from physical sunscreens it's most likely due to titanium dioxide which is non-comedogenic (in theory should not clog your pores). These minerals are not pore-clogging but could be skin irritating which then could lead to more breakouts.
Patricia Wexler, (MD, a board-certified dermatologist) says,
"The oils in the SPF can clog the pores, while the mineral ones can irritate the sensitive skin types, inflaming the skin leading to inflammatory lesions"
Wexler suggests, if you are breaking out from a physical sunscreen it could be due to the non-active ingredients coupled with the mineral, titanium dioxide. These are the ingredients to avoid if your skin is acne-prone and you want to wear physical sunscreen.
Mineral and soybean oils
And cocoa butter
Sodium lauryl sulfates
CHEMICAL sunscreens have chemicals that actually absorb the UVA and UVB rays preventing them from affecting your skin. Chemical sunscreens have been more successful than physical sunscreens over the past decades because typically chemical sunscreens have been easier to use and wear. They are typically clear and absorb into your skin which is a massive pro. While physical sunscreens have always had a white cast and have been traditionally chalky; this has changed drastically and I'm excited to show you how sheer a physical sunscreen can be. A couple of drawbacks to chemical sunscreens:
Chemical sunscreens are more acne-prone
You have to wait 20 minutes for chemical sunscreens to absorb prior to sun exposure.
Personally, I like both, either physical sunscreen or chemical sunscreen. However, as physical sunscreens are becoming so good I'm wearing them more often and you will see in my rubric I rank physical sunscreens above chemical ones.
SUNSCREEN UNDER MAKEUP
Can you use a physical or chemical sunscreen for the face under makeup?
Yes of course. Either formula will work under your makeup. You will need to try some to decide if your foundation is working well in this combo. I've had many failures when layering SPF, Primer, and Foundations, but I've also found great successes. You will need to test to find your combo. Although this might seem like a waste, it's not, because when you find your ideal SPF for under your makeup you will be more likely to wear your sunscreen daily and this will save you $1000's of dollars in the future, as well as help you avoid skin cancer.
I've seen makeup primers that include SPF.
If you're struggling to find the right sunscreen for under your makeup try looking at the foundation you use and see if your loved brand offers a primer with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. This NYX Bare With Me daily moisturizer has 30 SPF with UVA and UVB protection and will layer well with NYX foundations.
In 2021 what are the Best Sunscreens for your face?
In this youtube video, I share more insight on my 12 sunscreens for 2021; you can watch me apply these sunscreens and judge for yourself which ones you think would work best.
2021 SPF COMPARISON
Here is a quick table to help you see how I compared them, then we will look at each one and I will speak to its rating and what I like and dislike about it.
These are not in order of rank but rather categorized by "Mineral" or "Chemical", the first 6 being mineral (ie Physical sunscreen) and items 7-12 being Chemical sunscreens.
My sunscreen rubric is quite simple and I made this graphic to help illustrate my thought process:
First I rated them based on if they were a Mineral (physical) or Chemical Sunscreen
MINERAL = 2 Points
CHEMICAL = 1 Point
Second, I assessed them based on price. Obviously, if it's expensive I consider that a negative as SPF should be priced that you use enough to make the block effective. I have 2 sunscreens for under $20.
Under $20 = 5 Points
Under $30 = 4 Points
Under $40 = 3 Points
Under $50 = 2 Points
Under $60 = 1 Point
Third, I gave more points to sunscreens that gave longer protection. In my collection, there are only 2 sunscreens that have an SPF 30.
Over 70 = 5 Points
Over 60 = 4 Points
Over 50 = 3 Points
Over 40 = 2 Points
Over 30 = 1 Point
Fourth, the finish of sunscreen is very important and to me. I value a glowing finish more than a neutral, matte, or greasy one. If you like a matte look then simply look at the sunscreen's finish number and if it's a 2 then I considered the finish to be matte.
Glow = 5 Points
Luminous = 4 Points
Neutral = 3 Points
Matte = 2 Points
Greasy = 1 Point
Fifth, I totaled each item based on my score system. I did not place them in order from best to worst, because as I explained earlier I really like all of these sunscreens, the number attributed to them is based mostly on my preference. In fact, my favorite sunscreen is not ranked the highest based on this rubric because its price is high and therefore it only received 1 point in that category.
MINERAL = 2
PRICE = 3
TIME = 4
FINISH = 4
I've used the Elta MD sunscreen for years. It's effective at blocking UVA and UVB rays, plus it has a luminous finish and is in the mid-price point range. It's an all-around great physical sunscreen to provide you great protection while not completely killing your budget.
MINERAL = 2
PRICE = 1
TIME = 5
FINISH = 2
In theory, powdered sunscreens are great because you can reapply them during the day while touching up your makeup. The issue I have with these powdered sunscreens is that you need a lot to actually get the SPF 50 protection it claims. I think of this as extra protection, you can matte down your foundation using it like translucent powder, and top it off throughout the day. This should not be your only SPF as I do not believe anyone is applying enough to get full protection.
MINERAL = 2
PRICE = 1
TIME = 5
FINISH = 4
This is one of my favorites! I actually should have ranked it higher in my rubric on price because the bottle is actually much larger than other bottles selling around the same price point. I should have divided the price by mL so I could have been more accurate in comparing pricing. This bottle is 100 mL and its price is $50 which is steep, but when divided it comes out to .50 cents per mL. Whereas Eleven which we will get to is also $50 but only has 30 mL so its price per mL is $1.67, which's more than 3xs the cost. The finish is beautiful and absorbs almost completely sheer. ISDIN is a Spanish brand from Spain.
MINERAL = 2
PRICE = 2
TIME = 2
FINISH = 5
Of all my sunscreens, this is my favorite finish. It's by far the most expensive per mL (so it should have gotten a 1, I'm not sure why it has a 2, brain fog is real). The Eleven sunscreen is by Venus Williams and has 25% Zinc Oxide. Immediately you are thinking this must be so thick but on the contrary, it's very loose and runny.
MINERAL = 2
PRICE = 2
TIME = 2
FINISH = 5
TOTAL = 11
Ava Isa is identical to the above Eleven sunscreen in nearly every way. The SPF, the 25% Zinc Oxide, and the bottle. Exactly the same! Ava Isa has been $5 less expensive than the Eleven sunscreen. So Ava Isa is a better buy for the same exact thing. The only difference is one bottle is red and the other is white.
In my opinion, the Eleven sunscreen and the Ava Isa sunscreen are identical. Ava Isa is $5 less than Eleven.