Riddle us this: Have you ever slathered on a seemingly innocent sunscreen to your super-sensitive skin, only to have your face erupt in redness, irritation, and stinging? Yeah, we’ve been there, and it sucks. But trust us when we say not all sunscreens are hiding in dark corners, waiting to destroy your skin—you may just be using the wrong type of sunscreen, namely a chemical formulation instead of a physical formulation, and yes, there’s a big difference between the two.
Alright, so we all know that both chemical and physical sunscreens protect your skin from harmful UV rays, preventing skin cancer, dark spots and premature aging (yes, we are founding presidents of the Sunscreen Fan Club), right? But you may not know that both work in totally different ways, and are not suited for all skin types. In a nutshell, physical sunscreens, which are formulated with either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, tend to be thicker and more opaque (think: the sunblock on a lifeguard’s nose) and sit on top of your skin to form a ray-deflecting barrier, like a shield. Chemical sunscreens, however, have a bigger concoction of micro ingredients, like avobenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate, which slowly sink into your skin to absorb and destroy UV rays.
OK, cool, but what does this have to do with you and your sensitive skin? Well, although chemical sunscreens tend to be more cosmetically elegant, and, thus, more popular, their mix of skin-penetrating ingredients can be hella irritating to sensitive skin types. And while either choice will still protect your face from the sun, you may want to switch to a physical sunscreen if your skin tends to freak out at anything harsher than a gust of air.
Luckily, though, it’s 2017, and physical sunscreen formulations have come a long way since “Baywatch” days, feeling more silky and sheer than ever before. And to prove it, we’ve rounded up the seven best physical sunscreens that will make even your angry, hard-to-please, baby-like skin happy. Click through them all, below, and welcome to the Sunscreen Fan Club.