What is the difference between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

Many people use the terms Sunscreen and Sunblock interchangeably. After all, it appears that they both have the same function, so does it even matter? Actually, it does matter! It is a very common misconception that both products are created equally. The truth is that Sunscreen and Sunblock offer two entirely different forms of protection against the sun.

Lets take a look at the key differences between Sunscreen and Sunblock.

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen does not completely block out the rays from the sun. To put it simply, Sunscreen acts as a barrier because it is designed to filter out harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun. The Sunscreen absorbs harmful UV rays before they can reach and damage your skin.  This means that while you are protecting yourself from most of the sun’s rays, you are sill allowing some to penetrate. Sunscreen also contains different chemical ingredients than the ones found in Sunblock. Sunscreens contain ingredients like PABA, which may irritate some people’s skin.

How can you identify sunscreen? The easiest way to identity Sunscreen is to look at the label on the bottle. If the product comes with an SPF rating on its bottle, then you are using a Sunscreen.  Another way to identify sunscreen is to check the consistency. Sunscreen usually has a consistency that is similar to lotion.

What is Sunblock?

Like Sunscreen, Sunblock contains a different set of ingredients. Sunblock products typically contain titanium oxide or zinc oxide.  These ingredients are specifically designed to block out the sun from reaching the skin in the covered area, rather than filter out the sun’s rays.

You be wondering how you can identify Sunblock. Have you ever encountered someone smearing thick cream all of their body? If you have, you have correctly identified Sunblock.

Should I use Sunscreen or Sunblock?

Now that you know the key differences between Sunscreen and Sunblock, you may be asking “which product is right for me?” There are a few factors you should keep in mind. First you need to remember that you need a product that offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. This is highly recommended for those that have an unusually high sensitivity to ultraviolet rays.

The American Academy of Dermatologists suggests that everyone should use a Sunscreen with an SPF level of 15 as an everyday precaution against skin damage. Experts also recommend a product with higher SPF levels for fair skinned individuals who are more prone to sunburns.

You also need to remember that some people are allergic to the ingredients found in sunscreen; so if you find that sunscreen irritates your skin, then perhaps you should choose sunblock as an alternative.


In the end, it comes down to your matter of preference and level of necessity. While it is true that both Sunscreen and Sunblock are effective forms of protection against the sun, it is imperative that you recognize and understand the difference between the two. Doing so will help you pick a form of protection against the sun that works for you. If you’re having trouble deciding, you should know that many brands now offer products that are a combination of both Sunscreen and Sunblock.

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