Physical Sunscreen Smackdown

Physical sunscreens use ingredients that physically block or reflect UVA and UVB rays. Kind of like a hat for your skin. Or a glove for your face. Or something. Chemical sunscreens try to trap and degrade harmful sunlight before it affects your skin. It’s a much more complicated process which makes chemical sunscreens prone to expiration and oxidation. Physical sunscreens stay good forever and simply stop Mr. Sun in his tracks.

So why have chemical sunscreens at all? Because a physical sunscreen is always going to be thicker than a chemical sunscreen. There’s also that so cute whitish cast from zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little bit of pretty, though, physical sunscreens really do the job.

Thank You Farmer Water Sun Cream SPF 50

Physical sunscreens often suffer from a white cast, but Thank You Farmer Water Sun Cream blends bamboo water, phyto-oligo oil, and centella asiatica extract to maintain a more liquid consistency. It has a fresh, floral scent which is a welcome relief from the typical “sunscreen” smell. It works best with oil-based foundations and should be thoroughly massaged into the skin prior to makeup application.

SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50

Cult status product for sure, and what SkinCeuticals product isn’t? But is the product worth the hype? Physical Fusion UV Defense is definitely a solid product, feels great on the skin, application glides like butter, and keeps the skin red-free for a whole day. While it’s not water resistant (you’ll need Sport UV Defense for that) it still provides excellent protection through mild sweat and exertion. Of all the physical sunscreens reviewed here, this one was the easiest to cleanse off at the end of the day. That’s a definite plus in my book because extracting nasty plugged pores from your sunscreen is not the way to spend your summer. Final verdict? If you can afford it, go for it—especially if you have acne-prone skin.

Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46

I really, really, really wanted to like this product. Another beauty editor darling, Elta MD UV Clear specifically targets sensitive skin and promises to provide smooth sailing despite daily sunscreen application. The inclusion of niacinamide in the base does help soothe redness or flushing if you have rosacea. If you’re prone to closed comedones, though, watch out! Even though this sunscreen is smooth and silky, it sticks to your skin and seeps into your pores. Despite double-washing and every facial cleanse trick known to man, this sunscreen gives me massive clogged pores, every time. If you don’t have any acne, though, this is the most natural looking physical sunscreen with barely a trace of whitish cast.

Badger Baby Active Mineral Sunscreen spf 30

The worst. Seriously. Don’t buy. It’s like spreading diaper rash cream on your face. It’s environmentally friendly and organic and all that, but how this sunscreen is even remotely popular is absolutely baffling.

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