Sunscreen vs. Sunblock: What’s the Difference?

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…


1. 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 filters, or screens, the sun’s harmful UV rays as a form of sun protection. Sunscreen, unlike sunblock, still allows some of the sun’s rays to penetrate the skin.

2. How Sunblock Works…

Unfortunately, according to many dermatologists, including research from the Division of Dermatology at the University of British Columbia, sunscreen is often used when sunblock is more appropriate.

Sunblock, as opposed to sunscreen, works to physically reflect the suns rays when it’s applied topically over the skin, completely blocking damaging UV rays from piercing the skin. The bottom line when it comes to usage is to remember that sunscreen and sunblock are not one and the same, but used as different forms of sun protection.

3. 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.

Sunscreen works to absorb damaging UV rays so they can’t penetrate the skin using ingredients like PABA, or para-aminobenzoic acid. This natural, water-soluble substance is commonly found in many foods in addition to sunscreens.

4. Sunblock’s Protective Elements

In comparison, sunblock products are thicker and more opaque because they incorporate ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium oxide or zinc oxide as the sun shield.

This explains why sunblock isn’t as easy or consistent to smooth over the skin. Research from the American Melanoma Foundation (AMF) claim this thicker consistency is the reason why sunblock is able to physically stop UV radiation from reaching the skin.

5. Sun Protection Preference

In the end, experts from the American Academy of Dermatologists say that using sunscreen vs. sunblock is all about your personal preference—that is as long as you’re applying a product with a minimum of 30 SPF, which refers to the product’s effectiveness in thwarting damaging ultraviolet B (or UVB) rays. For instance, you may dislike the thick consistency of sunblock and reach for sunscreen instead to avoid the laborious application and embarrassing white streaks left behind by sunblock.

Or you many choose sunblock over sunscreens due to a PABA allergy or sensitivity.  In this case, opt for PABA free sun protection, but be sure to check your labels carefully to avoid an allergic reaction that’s more painful than a nasty sunburn. For an even tan, another option is a less visible sun block spray that’s lighter in texture—or a product blend that combines sunscreen and sunblock that applies to the body and face more evenly.