sunscreens: about

Mostly physical ones, though there’s also some more general stuff too, for fair balance.
Post contents in brief: introductory preambling-around rambling stuff–physical vs. non-physical sunscreens–sunscreen in general (inc. non-physical)–resources: further information about sunscreens (inc.  particulars about products)–resources: the same, for all-physicals–application–removal.

See here for more stuff on actual products as used by Yours Truly, and other suggestions on products and selecting them, inc. tips on what to look for in ingredient lists (inc. how to tell if a physical sunscreen is coated). Intended to complement or supplement the links to further online resources further down in this present post. [See also: all posts about sunscreens on here] 


I use physical-only sunscreens, i.e. containing titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, and no other filters (what I’m using currently is here). This is because my skin is OK with them but reacts to everything else I’ve tried. I am of course happy to continue to experiment on myself, in the name of science and self-sacrifice for fellow sensitives everywhere. Within reason…

Zinc oxide has been my most reliable and best-tolerated sunscreen; except for the eye area, where titanium dioxide seems to work better (and be less drying), or a ZnO+TiO₂ combination. But I’ve also found that in the short term–about a day–I can handle octinoxate (a.k.a. octyl methoxycinnamate) in combination with ZnO; discovered when faced with choice of borrowing sunscreen or burning. Didn’t have immediate contact dermatitis, was fine for the day; used the next day had irritation outbreaks around nose, forehead, and cheeks by the evening. (Ever since then, I carry sunscreen around with me…) Octinoxate and ZnO is a good combination in terms of photostability and protection, with the octinoxate boosting the ZnO. My main reason for not using octinoxate is an environmentalist one, re. effects c/o water-cycle and food-chain on other animal life. But the combination might be worth a try for others with similarly fussy skin???


  • PHYSICAL (in the scientific sense of how they work, not interacting with radiation but physically reflecting it off the skin)
    = inorganic (in the proper chemical sense of not being hydrocarbon-based compounds).
    = mineral: occur in rocks.

    • There are two, and only two (at present, etc.) in existence: ZINC OXIDE (ZnO) and TITANIUM DIOXIDE (TiO₂)
    • May be natural or artificial / man-made / synthesized in a lab
    • Same stuff either way: “a rose is a rose is a rose” … “by any other name would smell as sweet.”
    All  other sunscreen “actives” are
    CHEMICAL (in the scientific sense of how they work, undergoing a chemical reaction)
    = organic (in the chemical sense of hydrocarbon-based compounds).

    • May be natural or artificial; indeed, many are naturally sourced (ex. from cinnamon bark, shea butter), and many “natural” / “organic” / otherwise “green” sunscreens are at least in-part chemical. Hence why you’ll see many more sunscreens for sale in shops and online than I’ll be talking about.
    • There will be more on roses being roses and remaining that way elsewhere on this blog.
  • Except TINOSORBS which are somewhere between the two.
  • Sunscreens may be all-physical, all-chemical, or a combination of the two.
    Beware of finished sunscreens being labelled “physical” when they are in-part, rather than entirely, physical-sunscreen-based. This is incorrect and misleading.
    As ever: logic and language–here, especially semantics, syntax, and pragmatics–matter.
  • Particle size and coating matter. You will see scare-mongering about nanoparticles being evil. The jury may be out on how small one can go with TiO2, but there are legal limits to size, and ZnO is notoriously inert. If you are still worried about nanoparticles, read this excellent book. I tend to look out for Z-cote and/or T-Lite, ideally with at least some part of the formula being the Max versions.
    Further on which see: BASF: Z-Cote Max and Kobo: ZnO; and BASF: T-Lite Max and Kobo: TiO2 Dispersions; also Yun Shao and David Schlossman, Kobo Products, Inc., USA, Effect of Particle Size on Performance of Physical Sunscreen Formulas.” PCIA Conference – Shanghai (1999).

While physical-only s/s tend to be good on very sensitive skin, and have good UVB protection, they usually have lower UVA protection (and lower PPD rating) than non-physical ones.


(not just physical ones)

The following resources may be as useful to you as this here present physical sunscreen stuff, or even more useful, depending on your skin’s particularly sensitivities: the current highest PPD sunscreens are at least part-chemical, featuring the following newer (heck, not that cutting-edge, been around for some years now…) actives:

Current EU regulations insist on PPD/UVA protection being at least 1/3 of declared SPF/UVB. On which somewhere between most and all physical-only sunscreens (thus far) fail. Hence, incidentally, why it’s somewhere between nearly and totally impossible to find physical-only sunscreens for sale in the EU (in regular B&M shops anyway, and a few salons aside).

including particulars about products

  • Wikipedia article on sunscreen (and links from there to individual sunscreen actives)
  • Skinacea on sunscreen (decent basic introduction), UV filter charts, and some product recommendations (a small selection, but generally well-received)
  • Cosmetics business (2011-04-14): piece on cutting-edge newest filters and some predictions
  • BASF Sunscreen Simulator (used to be CIBA)
  • For the smoothest, silkiest, mattest, most beautiful, elegant, fluid, gorgeous sunscreens in all existence: go to Japan and Korea. Well, in person would be nice; but not always possible.
    Depending on where you live, some may be found in local stores, specialist Japanese and Korean shops, and East Asian superstores. Some of these sunscreens are all-physical, but most are a physical/chemical combination (often zinc oxide and octinoxate); usually high SPF and fairly high PPD; the lovely texture made to cope with high temperatures and high humidity, tend to be very sweat- and water-resistant, will need an oil cleanser to remove, and possibly a second cleanser afterwards too (depending on the sunscreen in question, your skin, what else is on your face, and so on). Useful resources and reviews from:

    • RatzillaCosme: the best, most comprehensive, well-researched, well-written, serious, and–dare I say it–authoritative online resource I’ve yet encountered (in English, or indeed anything else I read, which unfortunately doesn’t include Japanese and Korean) on all matters pertaining to Japanese and Korean skincare and cosmetics.
    • Ratzilla: Where to buy? “English-language e-tailers who sell Japanese cosmetics and ship internationally”
  • MakeupAlley notepads:
  • also, not just on sunscreens but more generally:

including, again, product particulars

Here on Gingerrrama: “sunscreens: products

More MUAing again…

  • claredoll77 has a good list of sunscreen links at the end of her notepad
  • elf_107: good list of all-physical sunscreens
  • jmango: list of Physical Only Sunscreens
  • Nora80: scroll down to section on physical sunscreens
  • sunscreendata: PPD information for ZnO
  • zincsunscreens: 13% ZnO or more OR ZnO as only filter


  • Rough rule = 1/4 teaspoonful for face, same again for neck.
  • Don’t forget ears: especially the top, and behind, where they flap around in the wind.
  • Plus hands, feet in sandals, and indeed any other areas exposed to sunlight.
  • Watch out for parts hit by sun most directly, such as down the back of the neck/upper back, shoulders, and calves.
  • I tend to use a bit more that the 1/4 teaspoonful – a US quarter-sized blob for face and ears, placed in palm of hand, and from there dotted (via finger-tip) onto forehead, nose, each cheek, chin, tops of ears. Another same-sized blob for throat, bosom, back of neck.
  • Patted in for more liquid sunscreens – a sort of smoothing motion; rubbed in for thicker ones. Very thick ones may need to be rubbed in a second time once settled and sunk in a bit first. Currency conversion: GBP 10 p, EUR 50 c, CAN 25 c.
  • One advantage of physical sunscreens is that once on and working, skin fees cool to the touch; check skin temperature regularly – at least every hout – and if skin starts to feel warm to the touch, time to apply more sunscreen and maybe take further evasive action.


  • This will depend on the kind of base used (oils, silicones, etc.) in that specific formula. Alas, one of the commonest causes of clogging (and consequent dislike of a product) is incomplete removal.
  • Generally, I’ve found that many come off well with a decent basic cleanser and warm water; often with my laziest-routine-options, unscented wipes/ baby wipes) or witch-hazel on a cotton-wool pad (or home-made equivalent).
  • If the stuff’s more stubborn, cleanse twice. Gently, mind. I often clean with oil first. The regular multi-purpose oil, then emulsify with cleanser, rub around a bit, rinse off, wash again with the regular cleanser, follow with witch-hazel (or other toner).
  • Another option: cleansing oils (DHC, Garden of Wisdom, Silk Naturals, etc.).

One comment

  1. Clare

    Great post. While I don’t do well with chemical filters oxeybenzone and avobenzone, the rest don’t bother my skin in terms of irritation, but I mostly eschew use of them for other reasons. For instance, no one has ever really answered to my satisfaction if chemical or combo sunscreens must be reapplied after every 2 hours (which would involve a 20 min indoor interval for product absorption), or whether photostable, means photostable as in longer than for 2 hours. Many sources state chemical sunscreens must be applied every 2 hours, not just if sweating, swimming etc has occurred, but just reapplied every 2 hours. And it’s my understanding that non-photostable sunscreen can be more damaging than none at all. So, I just avoid the whole confusion and use mineral sunscreens. But I would really love to know if some chemical filters (not avobenzone and oxeybenzone) actually don’t need to be reapplied every 2 hours in order to remain stable. *gasps for breath*. Thanks for the great post,

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