In a recent video, I talked about the advantages and disadvantages of organic (chemical) vs inorganic (physical) sunscreens. One of the big drawbacks of inorganic sunscreens is that they tend to have significant white cast, which is when the sunscreen leaves a white layer on your skin. Out of the two inorganic filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), titanium dioxide tends to give a stronger white cast. It’s also more photoreactive and doesn’t give much protection against UVA, so zinc oxide tends to be the more popular choice.
While my preference is for organic sunscreens, a lot of people like inorganic sunscreens (often due to sensitivities to organic sunscreens). I decided to review three popular inorganic zinc oxide-only sunscreens in Australia to see if I was missing out.
The most important thing about sunscreen is protection, and all three deliver well here. In Australia, SPF labelling regulations classify sunscreen into brackets, which is why they all have round SPF numbers. SPF 50 means SPF 50-60, while SPF 50+ is the highest classification allowed, and means at least SPF 60. In my opinion anything above SPF 30 is acceptable for daily use, so these all work.
Are chemical or physical sunscreens better? I touched on this in my Sunscreen and Make-up video, but a lot of people have been asking me to talk more about it, so I’ve expanded on the topic in this post, which comes in video form as well!
Click here for the video – scroll down for the blog post “summary” version with references and product recommendations (which is still somehow 1500+ words long…).
What Are Chemical and Physical Sunscreens?
The active ingredients in sunscreens are often divided into two categories:
Physical sunscreen ingredients (more correctly known as inorganic sunscreen ingredients) are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
Chemical sunscreen ingredients (more correctly known as organic sunscreen ingredients) are everything else.
You can have sunscreens containing only organic filters, only inorganic filters, or a combination of both.
The reason organic (carbon-based) and inorganic (not carbon-based) is a better classification than chemical/physical is that there’s overlap between how they work. Both types work by absorbing UV and turning it into heat. Inorganic sunscreens also scatter and reflect about 5-10% of the incoming UV, as do some particulate organic sunscreens like Tinosorb M, so really they should be classified as both chemical and physical.
Differences Between Chemical and Physical Sunscreens
The big differences between them that you should consider are:
SPF 50+ is pretty common with both types of sunscreen, but broad spectrum protection (that includes protection against longer wavelengths of UVA) is where there’s a difference.
Organic sunscreens give higher, photostable protection from UVA if you use newer filters like Tinosorbs S and M, and Uvinul A Plus (not yet available in the US). The more common avobenzone gives really high UVA protection, but it breaks down in UV so you have to be diligent about reapplication (although some formulas stabilise avobenzone so it breaks down slower, and you should diligently reapply sunscreen anyway if you’re spending a lot of time in the sun).
Bondi Sands make some of my favourite fake tan products. Here in Australia they’re pretty affordable and easy to find. Since I’m pretty slapdash at applying fake tan, I much prefer gradual tan products – that way all my uneven applications can average out over a few days, and no one has to see me as a splotchy oompa loompa (although that tends to happen regardless). Bondi Sands has a huge range, including 6 different gradual tan products at the moment, all of which contain both dihydroxyacetone for rapidly developing colour, and erythrulose for a longer-lasting tan. Here’s my review of 4 of them: Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam, Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam for Men, and Everyday Liquid Gold Gradual Tanning Oil.
Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk
Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk (375 mL, $17.99 AUD at Priceline, $29.99 at Amazon) was my first Bondi Sands product. As I’ve reviewed before, has a light cocoa butter scent that effectively masks fake tan smell. It dries quite quickly, and is reasonably moisturising, which is important because well-moisturised skin makes the tan apply more evenly and fade more slowly.
Since I last reviewed the Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, Bondi Sands seems to have changed the bottle from round to flat. It still has the convenient pump lid that’s a winner when you’re trying to juggle mitts and sticky skin. It also applies nicely with your hands as well, if you don’t have a mitt handy.
Everyday Gradual Tanning Foam (270 mL, $19.99 AUD at Priceline, $29.99 at Amazon) has the same cocoa butter scent as the Everyday Gradual Tanning Milk, but in a watery foam format. It’s a clear liquid that comes in a bottle with a foaming pump on top. It works a lot better with a mitt than bare hands, since the foam dies down into flat liquid pretty quickly. I found it easier to spread than the milk but it didn’t give quite as intense a tan, probably because it was very easy to apply a lot less. Applying two layers made a big difference, and didn’t take any more time because it dried so quickly.
This performed surprisingly well moisturisation-wise, even though I wasn’t expecting too much from such a light textured product. Price-wise it works out to be dearer than the Milk, but the convenience factor makes up for that in my opinion.