What is the difference between physical, chemical and biological sunscreens?


Also known as mineral, organic and antioxidant filters

When you buy a sunscreen, the most important thing to look at is the protection factor (which must be high or very high and broad-spectrum, that is, against UVB, UVA, IR, and visible light).

Then there are aspects such as the format (cream, spray, stick, etc.) and cosmeticity. There are those who want dry touch and those who cannot live without oil.

The options in this sense are very wide and affect the price, even the age range or gender of the person who is going to use it. But they are nothing more than usage preferences.

The least you should care about unless your skin is very sensitive or intolerant is what type of filter a cream has.

There is important mental cocoa in whether mineral filters or organic ones are better.

“Someone’s head might explode when they learn that the so-called “organic” is also called “chemical” and that the physical filters are called minerals.

Let’s start at the beginning. There are two ways to protect the skin from the sun using sun filters. Pilar Alamillo, Pharmacist Master in cosmetics and dermopharmacy, responsible for the brand selection and staff training at Skinfinity, a website with personalized and professional cosmetic advice that brings different beauty concepts from different parts of the world to Spain, easily explains the difference between them :

Inorganic, physical, or mineral filters

Before they were called physical and are also known as ” minerals ” they are ideal for children and sensitive skin. The most common are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

How they work: When UV radiation hits these molecules, they absorb ultraviolet energy, produce a series of changes in their electrons, and release radiation with a shorter wavelength (energy).

The best and the worst: They are very respectful to the skin and act by creating a physical screen. But, after application, they leave the skin a bit whitish and, in general, are heavier textures.

Organic, chemical filters

They used to be called “chemicals”, they are carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen molecules and there is a great variety: Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octocrylene, Tinosorb S, Tinosorb M.

They have better cosmeticity, they spread better and they do not leave a whitish appearance.

How they work: When UV radiation hits them, the molecule absorbs UV radiation and transforms it into heat. They are not a physical shield but act by chemical reaction.

The best and the worst: They do not leave white marks and, therefore, their cosmetic acceptance is better. Although children and very sensitive skin react to them and should not use them.

Biological filters

There would be a third form of sunscreen that, although it does not block the action of the rays, also does its part in protecting the skin.

From Cantabria Labs they explain:

“Biological filters are in charge of helping to stop the incidence of solar radiation on the skin, reducing its penetration and, therefore, helping to stop its harmful effects.

The need to have this type of filter is that solar radiation, in addition to generating direct damage to our cells, also causes the release of a large number of free radicals, which, in turn, react with different structures of our body, altering them and generating damage.

This is where biological filters come in, which are restorative and antioxidant substances for the skin, mostly obtained from plants. Its incorporation into sunscreens has been seen to increase their efficacy and safety, improving the natural antioxidant protection of our skin and helping to repair sun damage.

To be considered filters, they must be antioxidants that have demonstrated photoprotective efficacy. Among the best known, with demonstrated photoprotective efficacy, we find Polypodium leucotomos, vitamins C and E, green tea, astaxanthin, genistein, and silymarin, among others.


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