Sunscreen Types and Formulations


Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays before they can cause damage. They contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Chemical sunscreens are easier to rub into the skin than physical sunscreens, and they do not leave a white cast.1,2


Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, sit atop the skin and deflect UV rays. They contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide as active ingredients. These sunscreens are thicker and can leave a white cast on the skin, although tinted formulations are becoming more popular. Physical sunscreens are better for individuals with sensitive or acne-prone skin.1,2


Lotion/cream formulations are typically easy to spread across the skin, and it’s not very likely to accidentally miss any spots while applying. However, these formulations are not great for covering the scalp, and some of them can clog pores, although there are noncomedogenic options. You should apply about 1oz of sunscreen lotions to your body.


Spray sunscreens are more lightweight than lotions.3 However, it is much harder to know whether you have applied an adequate amount of spray sunscreen, especially on windy days. Also, it is important to remember that you must rub it into your skin. Never spray sunscreen directly into the face; instead, spray onto the hands and rub into the face.2,3


Powder formulations are a particularly useful reapplication option for the scalp and face, particularly for those who wear makeup. Powder sunscreens are often mineral sunscreens, so they benefit those with sensitive skin as well. This formulation is not an ideal first layer of sunscreen due to the high amount of powder needed to provide full protection, and it is difficult to determine if you have applied an adequate amount.3


Stick formulations can be a useful, portable option for the face, lips, hands, and ears. Older stick sunscreens were known for clogging pores and having an unpleasant texture, but recent iterations have improved upon these faults. It can be easy to apply too little with stick sunscreens, so it is recommended to pass it across the face four times, then rub it in for even coverage.3


  1. Gold WR. Which sunscreen is best for you? Dermatologists on what to look for. TODAY. 17 May 2022. Accessed 14 Jul 2023. 
  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Sunscreens FAQ. Accessed 14 Jul 2023.
  3. Petrarca M. Lotion, spray, powder, stick, gel: which sunscreen is right for you? Everyday Health. Reviewed 5 Aug 2022. Accessed 14 Jul 2023.  

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