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Sunscreen vs sunblock: What is better to protect your skin?

Sunscreen vs sunblock can often get confusing. Know the difference between the two and what offers better protection from harmful sun rays.
Difference between sunscreen and sunblock
There is a minor but important difference between sunscreen and sunblock. Image courtesy: Freepik
Shruti Bhattacharya Published: 21 Apr 2024, 10:30 am IST
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Medically Reviewed by

Did you also think that sunscreen and sunblock are the same? It’s time to recheck facts and know the difference the two sun protection products. People often use these terms interchangeably, but there is a technical distinction between them. Sunscreen blocks out the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation, whereas sunblock reflects it away from the skin. Both the products help to reduce sunburn and wrinkles, but what let us find out the difference between sunscreen and sunblock.

What is sunblock?

Sunblock is called a physical sunscreen. According to a study published in the American Academy of Dermatology Association, sunblocks are usually made up of micronized titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, micronized zinc oxide. These particles usually block the sun rays, the ultraviolet rays, and they form like a physical cover or a block. Moreover, these physical sunscreen helps to reflect the sun rays by blocking them from penetrating the skin. Plus, sunblocks are very popular and considered safe for children, during pregnancy, or people with sensitive skin or who are allergic to other components.

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is usually called chemical sunscreen. It usually contains one or more active compounds, such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate, which convert UV radiation into heat and release it from the body, according to a study published in the American Academy of Dermatology Association. When applied to the skin, it is first absorbed by the skin and then stops UV radiation from penetrating and potentially damaging the skin.

Woman applying sunscreen
Using a sun protection product is important for your skin. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Difference between sunscreen and sunblock

“Sunscreen absorbs UV rays, but sunblock physically blocks them. Sunblock comprises inorganic minerals, whereas sunscreen contains organic filters. While sunscreen tends to blend in more naturally, sunblock can leave a noticeable white cast on the skin. Sunblock is generally water-resistant, making it an excellent choice for water-based activities. Sunscreen may require more regular reapplication because it degrades over time, whereas sunblock is effective until wiped off,” says dermatologist Dr. Seema Oberoi Lall.

Sunscreen vs sunblock: Pros and cons

Here are some of the pros and cons of sunscreen and sunblock, as explained by the expert.

Benefits of sunblock

1. Gentle on skin
Physical sunscreens are considered to be a better option for sensitive skin as they are believed to cause less discomfort or allergic reactions.

2. Starts the effect right away
When you apply physical sunscreen on the skin, it quickly starts its function to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

3. Protection
It offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB ray protection.

Side effects of sunblock

Sunblock may have some side effects such as acne, rash, inflammation of hair and skin irritation. Some physical sunscreens may leave a slight white cast on the skin due to the mineral nature of their active ingredients. This white cast may be more visible on the skin sometimes.

Benefits of sunscreen

1. Lightweight and absorption
Chemical sunscreens have a lighter texture and penetrate more easily into the skin than physical sunscreens.

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2. Doesn’t leave residue
As compared to sunblock, sunscreen doesn’t leave any white cast on the skin.

Side effects of sunscreen

1. Potential irritation
Certain chemical sunscreen components might cause allergic reactions or skin irritation in certain persons. So, it is highly advisable for people with sensitive skin to not use chemical sunscreen.

2. Requires time to activate
Chemical sunscreens must absorb into the skin for 20 to 30 minutes after application before they begin to work.

Woman with sunscreen
Choose the right product for your skin type. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Sunblock vs sunscreen: What is better?

The type of sunscreen to use depends on various factors, such as your skin type, age group, and exposure to sunlight. For children or individuals with sensitive skin, a physical sunscreen or sunblock may be more effective. If you are engaged in outdoor activities, sports, swimming, trekking, hiking, or are suffering from a disease that worsens with sun exposure, it is recommended to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that contains both physical and chemical components to get better protection. For acne-prone skin, a lotion-based, watery sunscreen would be ideal, while those with dry skin might prefer a greasy one. To decide which type of sunscreen or sunblock suits you best, consider your skin type, age group, and amount of sun exposure.

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About the Author

Shruti Bhattacharya is a content writer and editor for over 2 years. She specialises in writing on a variety of topics such as wellness, lifestyle, beauty, technology and fashion. Her current focus is on creating factually correct and informative stories for readers. ...Read More

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