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Sunscreen vs. Sunblock - There’s A Difference

by kelly / April, 20 2016 01:30

The temps are heating up across the country so this week we are going back to the sunscreen basics. I'm going to do a quick 101 on the difference between sunscreen vs. sunblock. Yes there actually is a difference between the two even though almost everyone uses the two words interchangeably.

The Quick and Dirty

Commonly "sunblock"; refers to a mineral sunscreen (like our products) while "sunscreen" refers to a chemical sunscreen.

Although from a legal standpoint, the word "sunblock"is no longer supposed to be used – the U.S. Food and Drug administration (FDA) only allows the term "sunscreen" to be used.

Why Should You Care About the Difference

Don't you want to be the smartest person at the party? As I mentioned above, technically in 2011 the FDA passed regulation prohibiting companies to identify a product as a sunblock. Why did they do this?

Well the FDA believes the word "sunblock" causes consumers to overestimate the effectiveness of products. For example people often forget that sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every two hours. In fact, all sunscreen brands are required by the FDA to put this language on our labels.

Despite this ban by the FDA, the word sunblock is still part of our everyday vernacular and that probably won't change. So I think it's important to understand the difference since on the web, in magazines and else where you'll still hear the term "sunblock".

What Is the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock

The majority of people probably think the two words are the same but traditionally there has been a difference.

Sunscreens can be classified into two categories: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin and absorb UV rays to protect the skin from the sun. Chemical sunscreens also use chemical UV filters. To see full a list of the chemical UV filters check out the list here.

Physical sunscreens, those that only use zinc and/or titanium as their UV filters, are commonly called "sunblock" because they prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin. Sunblock sits on top of the skin and reflects the UV rays away. Many people will use the words physical sunscreen, mineral sunscreen, physical sunblock, sunblock, and mineral sunblock interchangeably to describe physical / mineral sunscreen.

How to tell you if It's a Sunscreen or Sunblock: Read the Label

So the best way to tell is to check the "Active Ingredients" on the label. If it says anything other than zinc and/or titanium it's a chemical UV filter.

Now some sunscreens use both mineral and chemical UV filters. So are these sunscreens or sunblocks? Well, according to the FDA everything is a sunscreen and nothing is a sunblock. However, commonly you'll see people refer to these as sunblocks. Personally I feel this is disingenuous. Anything that has a chemical UV filter shouldn't be called a sunblock.


To find out even more on how chemical v. physical sunscreens work - read our helpful post: How Sunscreens Work: Mineral vs. Chemical.

Just in case you forgot, all Block Island Organics sunscreens use zinc ONLY as our UV filter so our sunscreens would be categorized as a sunblock / physical sunscreen.

Now that you know so much about sunscreen vs. sunblock - feel free to share with your friends and blow their minds, ha!

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