Allure Cosmetic Surgery

What’s the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

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The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends sun protection daily to protect your skin from UV rays. As we go into summer, this advance is more crucial than ever.

You may have heard the words sunscreen or sunblock used interchangeably. However, it’s important to know that sunscreen and sunblock are two different things. While both products work to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, the ways they accomplish that goal are very different. Let’s look into the differences between sunscreen and sunblock.


Sunscreen (also known as chemical sunscreen) is a form of sun protection that relies on a chemical reaction between the sunscreen and incoming UV rays. Sunscreens often contain oxybenzone, avobenzone, methoxycinnamate, and octyl salicylate. These organic compounds penetrate the skin and absorb UV rays before they cause damage to the skin. Sunscreens are the most common over the counter products.


Sunblock, like the name suggests, works by blocking harmful UV rays from penetrating the surface of the skin. The primary active ingredients in sunblock are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, minerals that work to create a physical barrier to thwart UV rays. Unlike sunscreen, sunblock stays on the surface of the skin, forming a barrier. This is why it’s often referred to as “physical sunscreen”. It can also be referred to as mineral sunscreen because of the zinc and titanium minerals found in it.

Which is better?

Since both sunblock and sunscreen are effective at protecting skin from the UV, neither is better or worse for you on paper. However, one may work better for you depending on your skin type.

Individuals with reactive and sensitive skin often do better with sunblocks instead of sunscreen. This is because zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to be less irritating to the skin than sunscreens. Sunblocks are also typically free of preservatives or fragrances, which are commonly found in sunscreens.

While sunblock is better for sensitive skin, many people opt for sunscreen over sunblock because of how it goes on the skin. Due to how the zinc oxide sits on the skin, sunblock may leave a white-cast or faint white streaks once it’s applied. In contrast, the chemicals found in sunscreen sink into the skin nicely, making sunscreen translucent and hardly noticeable. While this difference doesn’t affect how well either protect the skin, the white-cast can be an annoyance for some, especially those with darker pigmented skin.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Whether you choose to use sunblock or sunscreen, it’s important that you choose sun protection with an adequate SPF (sun protection factor).

The SPF number you see on your bottle or tube of sunscreen/sunblock isn’t arbitrary. It indicates how long it will take your skin to redden in the sun with that sun protectant on.

For example, sun protection products with SPF 50 means it will take 50x longer for the sun to burn than without that protection. The same goes 30, 15, etc.

Contrary to popular belief, a lower SPF doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is less effective than one with a higher value. The difference is the frequency you’ll have to reapply it.

Also contrary to popular belief, once you get above a certain value, having a higher SPF doesn’t mean much.

For example, SPF 30 filters 97% of UVB rays. SPF 50 filters 98% of rays, and SPF 100 filters roughly 99%.

Dermatologists recommend using sun protection daily and reapplying often. That means even when it’s cloudy. That means even during the winter here in Washington, you should be applying sun protection. Wearing layers of clothing and using brimmed hats to cover heads is also an effective way of protecting the skin.

At Allure we offer several sun protective products.

If you’ve experienced sun damage to your skin and are looking for ways to lessen the effects, please feel free to schedule a no-risk consultation with our team at Allure. We look forward to working with you soon!

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