Educational Series: Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen

by | 4 October 2022

It’s a question that is as old as time – chemical vs physical sunscreen, what’s better?

The answer is quite simple. Whichever formulation works for you! Both are made up of a chemical composition, just like everything we come into contact with on a daily basis in our environment. Think of a flower you see on your morning walk to a glass of water you drink and sunscreen is no exception!

Let’s reflect back to science class where we learnt about the periodic table. The periodic table contains all chemical elements that are organised in increasing atomic number. For example, Titanium (Ti), Zinc (Zn) and Oxygen (O) are found on the periodic table of chemical elements AND when added to a formulation together, they form Titanium Dioxide (TiO2) and Zinc Oxide (ZnO) which are two of the main sunscreen ingredients found in a physical sunscreen! Therefore, it is the labelling, wording and marketing of sunscreen formulations that have created confusion for consumers.

At dermaviduals, we prefer to reference SPF formulations as organic and inorganic.

So, what does that mean? Within the skincare industry, approved UV filters are separated into two categories: ‘organic chemistry’ (meaning carbon-based); and ‘inorganic chemistry’ (meaning mineral-based metal oxides such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide). It is important not to get confused by the word ‘organic’ as it’s often be misrepresented by claims of being a ‘natural’ alternative. These terms can be extremely misleading when used in reference to sunscreen.

In Australia, the use of the term ‘organic’ is highly regulated by the ACO (Australian Certified Organic association). ‘Organic’ simply refers to chemical sunscreens that contain carbon based ingredients. The only way a sunscreen formulation could call itself organic, is by using organically sourced ingredients, other than its ‘actives’. And, unfortunately, there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ sunscreen however, finding an SPF formulation free from unnecessary ingredients such as – conventional emulsifiers, preservatives, colours and fragrances – is easy when you are working with dermaviduals!

So how do SPF ingredients work?


First, we need to understand why we are wearing sunscreen! UV radiation is part of the natural energy produced by the sun. On the electromagnetic spectrum, UV light has shorter wavelengths than visible light, so your eyes can’t see UV, but your skin can feel it. There are two types of UV light that have been proven to contribute to the risk for skin cancer:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength. It has the ability to reach the dermis, contributing to the damage of dermal proteins which is associated with skin ageing.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength. It is associated with skin burning.

While UVA and UVB rays differ in how they affect the skin, they both do harm. Unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB damages the DNA in skin cells, producing genetic defects, or mutations, that can lead to skin cancer and premature ageing.

Most manufacturers of inorganic sunscreen will have you believe that their formulation has the ability to reflect 100% of UV. However, around 5% of UVB (the UV that promotes burning) is actually reflected with the remaining 95% being absorbed – just like with an organic sunscreen!

So, which is better?


It comes down to personal preference. What truly matters is that you’re wearing an SPF formulation correctly and in accordance with rules specified by the Cancer Council Australia.
This means:

  • Following the directions on the label
  • Practising sun avoidance
  • Reapplying frequently
  • Wearing sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat

Pairing your SPF formulation with additional antioxidants helps to further support cellular protection throughout the day. Pair it with our Mask with Vitamins or Vitamin Cream Mask throughout the day for that additional protection!

dermaviduals Suncream SPF 15 is the perfect option to protect the skin from the harsh UV experienced throughout Australasia. Suncream SPF 15 provides 93.3% protection from UVB-radiation allowing you to remain in the sun around 15 times longer before erythema (sun burn) will develop. This fast penetrating and easily spreading formulation is made to be used on the face and body to reduce your risk of burning and prevent premature ageing. Our organic suncream formulation is reef safe and contains some of the most advanced sun protection ingredients available. We know you will love it!

To find out more about dermaviduals Suncream SPF 15, connect with your local dermaviduals stockist today!