Sunblock vs Sunscreen: What is best for your skin health?

sunblock vs sunscreen

Sunblock vs sunscreen, what should I pick?, I am sure this would have happened to you.

That you have just stepped into the pharmacy or your nearby supermarket to buy sun protection as the sun is roaring at its best with its sweltering heat and you want some sun protection.

But every product you pick up either say ‘Sunscreen’ or ‘Sunblock‘- and you start wondering to yourself,  ‘Aren’t sunblock and sunscreen the same thing?” or “Is there a difference between sunblock and sunscreen?‘, ‘If it is so, then what it is and what to choose between the two?’ 

You might be surprised but there is an obvious difference between the two and you need to know to get the best possible sun protection from the scorching heat of the sun, especially in the summers.

So, do you want to know what is the best choice for your sun protection, sunscreen or sunblock? Then don’t miss on below to find the key differences between the two that are important for your skin health.

Why sun protection is important?

importance of sun protection

This is a very pertinent question as to why you need sun protection in the first place? Why it is important for your skin health?

The most important reasons to use sun protection are these.

1. Harmful UV rays of the sun can cause cancer – It has confirmed a number of times that the harmful UV rays of the sun are the most serious threat of causing skin cancer.

2. Prolonged exposure to sun leads to body sunburns – While prolonged sun exposure surely leads to skin cancer in extreme cases, in normal circumstances a normal sunburn can lead to damage to our skin cells and blood vessels.

3. Exposure to the sun can lead to premature aging & wrinkles


Research evidence – research study conducted in Caucasian women found prolonged UV exposure leads to the appearance of aging signs, wrinkles, pigmentation and deformation in skin texture.

Now, I am sure you would have properly understood that sun protection is incredibly important regardless of what means you employ. But what is the best choice for sun protection? Sunblock or sunscreen. 

Let’s find out the differences between the two below and let me help make you an informed choice.

Sunblock vs Sunscreen: what are the key differences?

Sunblock and sunscreens are different in many ways. Although both offer basic sun protection, but they vary in their ingredients and composition, their application and their degree of sun protection. Let’s discuss each of these differences in little detail. 

1. Sunblock vs sunscreen: difference in composition

Composition of sunblocks


Sunblocks are mainly composed of titanium oxide or zinc oxide as their main active ingredient giving them a fairly thick opaque consistency but this could make it a little bit difficult to spread over the body for some people.

Also, having a fair degree of opaqueness makes them clearly visible on your skin surface which might not be cool for some people and you can easily observe it on different body parts of people sitting on the beach like their noses, faces, chin, etc.

However, there are some sunblock brands that are lesser opaque and are less-visible on body surface

Composition of sunscreens

The active ingredients of sunscreen that absorb harmful UV rays are generally Oxybenzone or avobenzone. Other less common ingredients in sunscreen are PABA ( para-aminobenzoic acid) to which most people are allergic and prefer sunblock over PABA-containing sunscreens.

Also, some sunscreens are composed of artificial or natural insect repellent chemicals and most have fragrances and oils added to them.

Before you decide to buy, it is recommended to properly check out its label as this would help you in avoiding any fragrances or oils that you don’t want or are allergic and most often, leaving out those that contain insect repellent chemicals.

Finally, since nowadays most of the market is flooded with a blend of sunscreen and sunblock, you have to be extra mindful about the possible problematic ingredients that these both can contain, given your sensitivity to allergic reactions to some of their chemicals

2. Sunblock vs sunscreen: difference in the type of sun protection

A lot of people have this belief that both sunscreen and sunblock offer the same type of sun protection, which is in fact, not true at all. They have clear differences in their degree of sun protection.

How Sunblocks protect? 

Sunblocks mainly protect your skin mainly by “Blocking”  the harmful rays of the sun from penetrating your skin surface. 

Particularly, they are designed to protect your skin from the burning harmful UVB rays of the sun and that’s why they have a thicker consistency than sunscreens.

 In short, sunblocks, as the name indicates, literally block the sun rays and you can call them ‘physical barrier’.

How Sunscreens protect?

 Sunscreen is the most common form of sun protectants as they work by filtering out or screening out the sun’s UVA(Ultraviolet type B) rays. 

In other words, it is a kind of chemical sunscreen that is more focused on shielding you from harmful sun rays by observing and reflecting them, not completely blocking them out, unlike sunblocks.

3. Sunblock vs sunscreen: difference in use & application

Since both sunscreens and sunblocks inherently have a different level of composition and sun protection, hence there is a difference in their use and application too. Let’s find it out.

How sunblocks are used & applied?

Since sunblocks are a type of physical barrier which means you just need to layer them off your skin surface and spread out evenly without rubbing it and you are good to go out in the sun as you’re now protected. 

Also, since they are a physical barrier, you don’t need to wait on and worry about them being absorbed into your skin as they are not meant to be.

How sunscreens are used & applied?

For sunscreens, the case is very much different from subblocks. Since they don’t work by acting as a barrier and completely blocking out the sun, therefore, you don’t need to worry about their even spreading out as they work mainly by spreading out itself and absorbing inside your skin surface. 

That’s why you are always advised to apply them for about 30 minutes before you went out in the sun so that you give your sunscreen ample time for penetration and to work with its full potential.

Normally, you should look out for applying an ounce of it at least on a full sunny day and gently slather it on your skin surface for its optimal protection.

Sunblock vs sunscreen: terminologies you need to know

What’s SPF?: what does it stand for?

This is the most crucial piece of information that you need to know about sunscreens and sunblocks.

SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor”. SPF of you sunscreen, in layman’s terms, is a rough estimation of the time UV radiations of the sun requires to start burning out your skin. 

In other words, it is the time period after which your sunscreen needs to be reapplied as it wears out and loses its effectiveness and protection. The higher the SPF, the greater the timeframe of sun protection. Let me clarify that by giving you an example.

For instance, let’s say you have sunscreen which mentions itself as SPF 30.

It means that, if normally, without sunscreen protection, your skin starts to burn out in 20 minutes, then with sunscreen on, it would take about 30×20=600 minutes (about 10 hours) in the sun before you start burning out your skin in the sun.

That’s why you have often heard to use a sunscreen with a higher SPF as a higher SPF sunscreen would mean more time in the open sun without fearing burning out of your skin.

UV rays: the difference between UVA & UVB

difference between UVA and UVB rays

The light from our sun is not just a simple one-of-a-kind light. Rather, normal sunlight is composed of visible light, heat and UV radiation. UV rays or the “Ultraviolet rays” is further divided into three categories, UVA, UVB, and UVC.

Let’s discuss each of these types and briefly explain the differences between the three and how are they related to sunscreen and sunblocks.


UVA rays, Ultraviolet rays type A are the most common types of UV radiation as they form the majority (95%) of sun rays reaching our earth’s surface.

UVA rays are longer wavelength rays that are able to penetrate deep into the skin which makes them largely responsible for on the spot tanning, wrinkle forming, premature aging and developing skin cancer. Sunscreens protect mainly from these UVA rays.


UVB rays or Ultraviolet rays type B, are the lesser common types of UV radiation, have medium-to-short wavelengths that don’t penetrate our skin surface that deeper and easily blocked by the sun protectants. Sunblocks mainly protect our skin from these UVB rays.

However, unprotected exposure to these types of rays can still lead to skin burning, suntanning, premature skin aging and developing signs of skin cancer.


UVC rays or Ultraviolet rays type C is a type of UV rays that don’t reach our atmosphere as they are completely blocked out by it. However, unnecessary artificial exposure to these UVC rays can lead to the same type of damage that UVA and UVB rays do to your skin surface.

Other important label information on sun protectants

sun protection labels

1. Water-resistant

Another terminology that you need to know before you jump in the water on the beach and mentioned on most of the sun protectants is ‘water-resistant’.

It essentially means minimal time spent in water before your sunscreen or sunblock loses its effectiveness. Generally, most types of sun protection last for about 40-60 minutes or maximum at 80 odd minutes. 

Note please: The FDA will no longer allow manufacturers to say their products are waterproof.

2. Broad-spectrum sunscreen

Broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock means that your sunscreen or sunblock would protect your skin from both UVA & UVB rays and you don’t need to buy and apply each separately.

That’s why you are often advised to use a sunscreen or sunblock that is Broad Spectrum to save both money and time.

3. Sports friendly

A term mentioned on most of the sun protectants implies its usefulness during sports time and is appropriate for protection against water and sweating involved in most sports. However, the FDA hasn’t approved this term for sun protection,

4. Sensitive skin

This term in sun protectant implies the product is safe to use for sensitive skin people and doesn’t include allergic reaction causing ingredients like PABA, fragrances, oils, etc.

So, it is always recommended to carefully read the labels to avoid any irritation-causing ingredients. However, the FDA hasn’t approved the term “sensitive skin” for sun protection.

Sunblock vs sunscreen: which one you should use?

when to use sunblock or sunscreen?

Which one you should choose between the two depends upon

  • Your individual preference or personal needs
  • Your type and level of activity out in the sun
  • Your skin type

When to use Sunscreen?

  1. For shorter brief exposure to the sun- Use a  simple sunscreen with a low SPF if you brief exposure to sun or hardly have to spend an hour outside in the sun as using sunblock for this little period is very much likely to make your face look greasy which you might not want to.
  2. For a longer period use a high SPF, broad-spectrum sunscreen – For longer periods of exposure to the sun like your beach day, you are advised to use a sunscreen that is both high SPF and broad-spectrum for effective protection.

When to use sunblock?

  1. For a longer period of exposure to the sun – If you are going to spend your whole day on the beach, you are better advised to use a broad-spectrum sunblock that blocks all types of UVB rays altogether. However, broad-spectrum sunscreen with high SPF can do this too. But, again, the choice is yours.
  2. Use sunblock if you have sensitive skin- If your skin is fairly sensitive, you need to avoid potential allergic reaction causing sunscreen ingredients and use a good sunblock which has zinc oxide and titanium oxide as less irritating ingredients.

Final verdict: Should you use sunblock or sunscreen?

when to use sunblock or sunscreen?

1. Always wear some sort of sun protection.

It is always advised to use some sort of sun protection, regardless of whether you are going to the beach or not because UV rays, especially UVA rays, don’t need direct exposure to reach out to you as they can easily penetrate your windows pane easily, damage your skin and cause potential sunspots.

2. Always try to choose a broad spectrum high SPF sun protection.

In case if you are not specific about your choice of either of these sun protection, there are plenty of products available in the market which are broad-spectrum and work both as sunscreen and sunblock.  This will not save your money but your precious time too.

Sunblock vs sunscreen: pros & cons

pros and cons of sunblock and sunscreen


Sunblock pros

  1. It is best for prevention against sunburns
  2. It completely blocks all harmful sun rays
  3. It is sensitive skin-friendly as it does not cause allergic reactions
  4. It doesn’t need to be applied again and again
  5. You don’t have to wait for them to start protecting your skin. Just slather them on your skin and you are protected


Sunscreen pros

  1. Sunscreen gets easily absorbed and does not give spots of white cream
  2. It gets easily absorbed deep into your skin layer so you don’t have to spread it out that much.
  3. It’s non-greasy and therefore does not affect your makeup
  4. It can help you in getting tan due to sun rays absorption properties.
  5. Some of the ingredients in sunscreens can cause allergic reactions


Sunblock cons

  1. Being thick in nature, it appears as white visible spots that may look ugly sometimes.
  2. Being greasy in nature, it can interfere with your normal makeup
  3. Due to its complete blocking features, it prevents tanning

Sunscreen cons

  • It’s not too thick, which is what makes it ideal for everyday use.
  • It’s not greasy, which means that it won’t affect your makeup routine
  • You have to wait for at least 30 minutes after you have applied on it to start protecting yourself.
  • Under the intense sun, it can lose its solid protection.


Sunscreen and sunblock are both very good sources of sun protection. 

The American Academy of Dermatology does not recommend choosing one over the other as far as both of these are broad-spectrum i.e offer protection against both UVA and UVB sun rays, has SPF of at least 30,  water-resistant, convenient and healthy for your skin type and applied in the correct way.

sunblock vs sunscreen: differences and similarities


 Q: How long does sunscreen last?

Ans: How long does sunscreen last depends on its SPF. The higher the SPF, the longer does it last. A sunscreen of SPF 30 lasts longer than a sunscreen with SPF 15; A sunscreen of SPF lasts longer than a sunscreen with SPF 300.
For example, Let’s say you have sunscreen which mentions itself as SPF 30.
It means that, if normally, without sunscreen protection, your skin starts to burn out in 20 minutes, then with sunscreen on, it would take about 30×20=600 minutes (about 10 hours) in the sun before you start burning out your skin in the sun.

Q: Does sunscreen prevent tanning?

Ans: No, sunscreen does not prevent tanning. It is very misconception that sunscreen prevents ‘darkening’ or ‘tanning’.
This is not true at all.A normal sunscreen has ‘UV absorbers’ which absorbs some of the UV harmful rays, letting them reach your skin but making them less damaging for your skin.

Hence, sunscreen would allow at least 2-3% of UVA rays to reach your skin but not in their harmful strength to allow you to get that “golden or darker tan.

Q: Which is better between sunscreen and sunblock?

Ans: None is better than the other if it is a broad spectrum i.e offers protection against both UVA & UVB, fits your individual preference or personal needs, adequately caters to your activity level out in the sun and does not cause an allergic reaction to your skin type. The choice is purely yours.

Q: Which is better SPF 30 or SPF 50?

Ans: There is not much of a difference between the two as because while SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. So, the difference between 30 and 50 is only about 1 % which is marginal.

A sunscreen with SPF 30 and broadspectrum is better than a sunscreen or sunblock with SPF 50 but not being broad-spectrum based.

Therefore, there is no hard and fast rule for choosing between these two. However, SPF 50 is better than SPF 15. So, this information is clearly not enough to form a good decision.

Q: What is the highest SPF sunblock?

Ans: sunblock with SPF 100+ is the highest SPF sunblock.

Q: Does high SPF sunscreen prevent tanning?

Ans: No, sunscreen with high SPF does not prevent tanning. It is a very common misconception that sunscreen prevents ‘darkening’ or ‘tanning’.
This is not true at all. A normal sunscreen has ‘UV absorbers’ which absorbs some of the UV harmful rays, letting them reach your skin but making them less damaging for your skin.
Hence, sunscreen would allow at least 2-3% of UVA rays to reach your skin but not in their harmful strength to allow you to get that “golden or darker tan.

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