Suncreen vs. Sunblock – What’s the Difference?

Suncreen vs. Sunblock – What’s the Difference?

by Posted on: May 2, 2012Categories: LiveWell 24/7   

Sunlight provides our bodies with vitamin D, but it can also deliver harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV rays are absorbed into the skin, potentially causing wrinkles and skin cancer. Sunscreens and sunblocks effectively protect the skin against these damaging rays. Knowing the differences between sunscreens and sunblocks can help you choose the most appropriate product.

What’s the difference?

Sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UV radiation and reduce the amount that reaches the skin. Sunblocks physically prevent UV radiation from reaching the skin. Sunscreens tend to be transparent and are invisible when applied, whereas sunblocks are thicker, remain visible when applied and are more difficult to wash off than sunscreens.

Sun protection products should protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA rays affect the outermost skin layers, causing aging and wrinkles. UVB radiation damages deeper skin layers, potentially causing skin cancer. The amount of protection offered by sunscreens is measured in sun protection factor (SPF) units. The SPF level of a particular product indicates how long a person can remain in the sun without becoming burned. For example, if you use a product with an SPF of 20, you may stay in the sun 20 times longer than if you did not use any sunscreen. The higher the SPF level, the greater the protection from UV radiation. Sunblocks provide more protection against UV radiation than sunscreens, but sunblocks are not measured with SPF units. Sunblocks protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreens protect against UVB, but not all offer protection against UVA radiation.


  • Use SPF of at least 15–higher for people with light skin.
  • Sunscreen must be reapplied after swimming or sweating, even if the product is waterproof
  • Sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun
  • Sunblock is effective as soon as it is applied and can be applied immediately before sun exposure
  • People who are especially sensitive to the sun should use sunblocks

Don’t forget to use sun protection all year long, whether the weather is sunny or cloudy!


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