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Sunscreen/sunblock: the difference and what you should know for your health


happy kid in the sunSunlight is both beneficial and hazardous to our skin. Sunshine aids vitamin D absorption and helps boost and energize your mood! It can also burn your skin and lead to cancer later in life without proper protection. With the skin being the largest organ of your body and the most sun-exposed, sun protection is crucial for everyone, particularly during the summer months, but year round is necessary depending on your lifestyle.

We know how important sun protection is, but how can you know which products are safe and suitable for your family? While you can enjoy some fun in the sun, let’s be smart about it this summer!


The sun emits two kinds of rays, UVA and UVB, or Ultra Violet rays. Type A is a long wave ray which penetrates deeper into the skin causing spots, wrinkles, and premature aging. UVA rays are present year round and are more abundant than UVB rays.  Type B rays are shorter wave rays which cause burn and tan on the skin. UVB rays are also more intense during midday, summertime months, at higher altitudes, and closer to the equator. This type also assists the body in making vitamin D.  

Sun protection comes in two forms: chemical and physical. Physical sunblock deflects UV rays while chemical sunscreen absorbs into the skin, thus absorbing and scattering the rays. SPF (sun protection factor) is also a key player in sun protection; with numbers ranging from about 15 spf to 100.


Sunblock incorporates physical ingredients that actually block the sun, both UVA and UVB. It is usually a much more dense lotion than a sunscreen. The main active ingredients should be minerals known as Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide, or both combined. Zinc oxide is also the main ingredient in diaper rash cream and is soothing to the skin.

Sunblock might be a better option for your family if you have a member with sensitive skin or for babies, because zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are less irritating than other ingredients found in sunscreen. Sunblocks can leave a white cast, due to the opaque nature of the minerals, and could be a bit more difficult to apply since they are thick. Combining with a lotion can help with the application.


Blocking the SunSunscreen consists of chemicals which absorb into the skin and absorb UVA and UVB rays. Because of the absorption dependency, sunscreen needs to be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure to become effective, as specified on the bottle. Some of the most common chemical sunscreen ingredients include: Octylcrylene, Avobenzone, Octinoxate, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate, and Helioplex.

Sunscreen is usually runny and less opaque, applying fairly clear. Sunscreens are also available in aerosol sprays. Chemical sunscreens can cause irritation and are more prone to cause allergic reactions, so be sure to test a small spot on your child’s inner elbow.

Sunscreens are easily applied and can offer longer protection.Sun block and sunscreen are often combined for both topical in internal sun protection benefits.


SPF numbers can often be a determining factor in choosing a sunscreen. SPF ratings measure the time you can remain in the sunlight before burning with sunscreen on, compared to being without it. When looking for an SPF, look for one that is also water resistant, as most are today. Sunscreen should still be reapplied ever 1-2 hours for optimal protection since no sunscreen is fully waterproof or sweat proof.

Looking at the numbers can be a bit confusing, but don’t get caught up on what number might be best. Higher SPF doesn’t mean more protection than lower SPF, nor does it mean you can go longer periods of time before reapplying.  Lower SPF can give just as much protection as a higher SPF, for example, SPF 30 blocks about 97% of rays while an SPF 50 will block about 98%. Choose a sunscreen no lower than SPF 30 and no higher than SPF 50.


Broad Spectrum

Be sure to look for a sun pretection product that is braod spectrum, meaning that it guards against both UVA and UVB rays. Zinc oxide in sunscreens and sunblocks alike is one of the best and most potent forms for blocking UVA rays. Choose one that contains at Zinc oxide alongside Titanium dioxide or other chemical sunscreens.

Vitamin D deficiency and how much time is okay without skin protection:

The body needs vitamin D to absorb phosphorus and calcium from food. These minerals are essential for healthy bones and organ function. Short periods of sun exposure (about 10 to 15 minutes for people with lighter skin). daily with no sunscreen amid the summer months (April to October) are adequate for most individuals to make sufficient vitamin D. Studies suggest that the most productive time of day for vitamin D to be produced is between 11am and 3pm.

Nano-particles (mineral sunblock)

Nano-particles refer to the particle size of the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. In terms of diameter, fine particles cover a range between 100 and 2500 nanometers, while ultra-fine particles are sized between 1 and 100 nanometers.

The smaller the particle size is, the superior the SPF protection is. Nano particles are used primarily to eliminate the thick white cast that is often an inconvenience with mineral sunblocks as well as provide lasting protection. While this may seem like a good choice, studies are finding that nanoparticles are small enough to penetrate cell membranes, rendering them potentially harmful.

While it is still in debate, minerals in sunblock should be non-nano particles. Non-nano means that the particle size of the minerals is larger than the skin pore, allowing it only to sit on the skin surface.

  • Which type (chemical/physical) is best for babies, kids, and different ages and activities?

It’s recommended to choose a physical (or chemical-free) sunscreen which contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Also, its recommended to limit sun exposure for babies under 6 months. When that’s not possible, protect your baby’s skin with sunblock and a beach hat.








  • How much should you apply?

To ensure that you get the full protection of a sunscreen, you need to apply at least 1 oz for your body – about a shot glass full. Most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than the advertised amount, which also means less protection. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around one half to one quarter of an 8 oz. bottle, that is quite a bit!

Apply your sunscreen about 30 minutes before heading outside to allow time for it to bind or absorb into your skin. Reapply at least ever 2 hours and every hour for intense activity that causes perspiration. Apply immediately after swimming.

Protecting ourselves from the damage of the sun is more important today than every before. The UV radiation is more intense today than in years past, so be sure to grab your sun protection of choice, stay hydrated, and wear protective, breathable clothing when you head outside! We hope this information about sun protection products can help you chose the best option for your family.




Our address & contact details


Postal Address

506 East Hastings Rd.
Suite B
Spokane WA 99218

Phone & Email

Phone: 509.252.4746
Fax: 509.789.1640

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M-W 7:00am - 3:30pm
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Fri: By Appointment Only - Surgery Days
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