What’s the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

The words sunscreen and sunblock are used equally, but is there a difference between the two? Generally, the thought is that they are the same, and that as long as it protects the skin, and you are not burned after a day in the sun, your skin is protected. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Sunscreen and sunblock are actually two varying types of sun protection with different types of coverage. So, which one should you choose? Read about the similarities and differences below.


lady with sunscreen on nose

Sunscreen is a chemical defense blend that absorbs and filters out harmful ultraviolet radiation before they inflict harmful and lasting damage to the skin. In simple terms, it acts like a window shade or a hat partially shielding the skin from the sun’s dangerous rays.

Sunscreens usually contain, “benzophenones, cinnamates, salicylates, etc.” which work to absorb and release the energy from UV rays as heat. To make sure your skin has the best product working for it, look for sunscreens that have broad-spectrum on the label. Broad-spectrum means they protect against both UVA and UVB radiation

As a side note, you may think that your primer, foundation, or your moisturizer that says it includes sunscreen or sunblock is a safe substitution. That is incorrect. While it does provide some type of protection, it tends to be a watered-down version that does not contain the best formula, ultimately, making it ineffective. The sunscreen in foundation, primer, and/or moisturizer does not provide the same degree of protection as sunscreens or sunblock so it can not and should not be substituted.


Sunblock tends to include products such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which does not blend into the skin like sunscreen. Sunblock sits on top of the skin and is generally non-transparent. In some formulas, it is thick, difficult to spread, and will leave a noticeable white residue. 

Sunblock acts as a protective barrier reflecting the sun rays and preventing harmful UV rays from penetrating and damaging the skin and reduces the chances of contracting skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, “products with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide may be less irritating and thus a good choice for those with sensitive skin, babies and toddlers.”

Sunscreen or Sunblock? 

skinmedica collection on table

So, the question remains, which should you use as sun defense? Both are necessary and ideal if you want refuge, but there are a few factors you want to take note of depending on your skin needs. If you have sensitive skin or skin that is at risk of burning, sunblock is the safer option.

However, if your skin is resilient and you are at less of a risk of burning while in the sun, you might be okay with just applying a healthy amount of sunscreen. You do need to make sure your sunblock or sunscreen has an SPF of at least 20, protects against UVA and UVB rays, and you reapply every hour, or whatever instructions the product suggests. 

Looking for a new sunscreen? SkinMedica and SkinCeuticals offer several promising options for sun protection. 

SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 offers broad-spectrum ultraviolet A/B physical protection that includes zinc oxide and plankton extract which is a paraben-free and non-comedogenic formula that works for all skin types.  

SkinMedica Essential Defense SPF 32 Sunscreen is a lightweight tinted formula created for the highest level of UVA protection and UVB coverage. 

SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 34 defends your skin against infrared damage while simultaneously providing a rejuvenating boost. This sunscreen provides maximum “broad-spectrum sun and antioxidant protection against UVA/UVB rays, free radicals, and environmental aggressors”.

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