Sun Cream vs. Sunscreen: Understanding the Difference


When it comes to sun protection, the terms “sun cream” and “sunscreen” are often used interchangeably. However, there are subtle differences between the two. In this article, we will delve into the dissimilarities between sun cream and sunscreen, helping you make an informed choice when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.

What is Sun Cream?

Sun cream, also known as sunblock, refers to physical sunscreens that work by creating a physical barrier on the skin’s surface. These sun creams contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that reflect UV radiation away from the skin. Sun creams are effective immediately upon application and are known for their ability to provide broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

Key Features of Sun Cream:

  • Physical barrier on the skin.
  • Contains mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  • Reflects UV radiation away from the skin.
  • Provides immediate and broad-spectrum protection.

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen, on the other hand, refers to chemical sunscreens that work by absorbing UV radiation and converting it into heat, which is then released from the skin. Sunscreens usually contain organic compounds like avobenzone, octinoxate, or oxybenzone. They require approximately 15-30 minutes to become effective after application, as the ingredients need time to interact with the skin.

Key Features of Sunscreen:

  • Chemical compounds that absorb UV radiation.
  • Convert UV radiation into heat.
  • Require time to become effective after application.
  • Provide broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Choosing Between Sun Cream and Sunscreen

The choice between sun cream and sunscreen depends on personal preference, skin type, and specific needs. Here are a few factors to consider:

Skin Sensitivities

Sun creams, with their mineral ingredients, are generally better tolerated by sensitive skin types. They are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions compared to sunscreens that contain chemical compounds. If you have sensitive skin, opting for sun cream might be a safer choice.

Immediate Protection

If you need immediate sun protection, sun creams are the way to go. As soon as you apply a sun cream, it forms a protective layer on the skin, reflecting UV rays away. Sunscreens, on the other hand, require some time to interact with the skin before becoming effective.

Cosmetic Considerations

Some individuals find that sunscreens have a more lightweight and cosmetically elegant texture compared to sun creams, which can feel heavier on the skin. If you prefer a lighter feel or want to wear sunscreen under makeup, sunscreen might be the better option.


Sun cream works as a physical barrier, reflecting UV radiation away from the skin, while sunscreen absorbs and converts UV radiation into heat. Choosing between sun cream and sunscreen depends on factors such as skin sensitivities, the need for immediate protection, and cosmetic preferences. 

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