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Sunscreen vs. Sunblock: What’s the Difference?

By Catherine Roberts

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jenny Liu, MD

Baby, it’s hot outside, but on scorching days do you lather on the sunscreen or the sunblock? Is there really a difference when it comes to effective sun protection? Let’s find out…

How Sunscreen Works…

When it comes to the difference between sunscreen and sunblock, many of us use the two products interchangeably, when they’re supposed to be used for entirely different sun protection purposes.

Let’s start with sunscreen, a product that helps to minimize damage of harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and physical.

How Sunblock Works…

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation and turn the energy into heat so it doesn’t cause damage on our skin.

Physical sunscreens are like a wall and block the UV rays from entering our skin.

Sunscreen Ingredients

When it comes to sun-protecting abilities, sunscreen and sunblock are both effective. However each product utilizes a totally different set of chemicals to get the job done.

Chemical sunscreen ingredients are commonly found as avobenzone, oxybenzone, octisalate and so on. Physical sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titantium dioxide.

Sun Protection Preference

All sunscreens are effective. Physical sunscreens are better suited for sensitive skin and babies. The most important thing is to apply daily, use SPF 30 or higher, and make sure to apply an adequate amount.

MD, Board-Certified Dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology

Dr. Jenny Liu is a board-certified dermatologist and an assistant professor in the Twin Cities. Her academic interests are complex medical dermatology, ethnic dermatology and medical education. She uses her blog and Instagram ( to educate others on all things dermatology and share her own tips and tricks regarding skin care.

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