The difference between sunscreen, sunblock and suncream
Sunscreen, sunblock and suncream
The terms sunscreen, sunblock and suncream are often used interchangeably. But do they actually mean the same thing? According to the Oxford dictionary…
- Sunscreen is a cream or lotion rubbed on to the skin to protect it from the sun
- Sunblock is a cream or lotion for protecting the skin from the sun and preventing sunburn
Suncream is a creamy preparation spread over the skin to protect it from sunburn
So, based on these definitions, the difference between the three terms is minimal. It isn’t unusual to hear the words sunblock and sunscreen used interchangeably, but according to some people, sunscreen and sunblock are two very different types of sun protection.
According to Healthline sunscreen is a chemical defence, penetrating the skin and absorbing the UV rays before they reach and damage the dermal layers while sunblock is a physical way to defend against UV rays where mineral particles sit on top of the skin and acts as a barrier. However, there are two problems with this:
- Some sunscreens use a combination of both chemical and physical UV filters.
- According to a scientific paper by Cole et al. (2016), the definition for ‘sunblock’ was subsequently dropped in the 1999 Final Rule for Sunscreen Products primarily to recognise that the term ‘sunblock’ suggested total protection which was not appropriate for any sunscreen.
Is there a difference between Sunscreen SPF and Sunblock SPF?
According to the Cancer Council SPF50+ filters out 98% of UVB radiation, while SPF30 blocks out 96.7% of UVB. So regardless of the SPF value of a sunscreen, sunblock or sun cream, some radiation is still reaching your skin. Based on that, we think it’s more appropriate to use the term sunscreen.
I couldn’t find a whole lot on the history and use of the term suncream but I think sunscreen more accurately describes the purpose of sunscreen which is to screen a proportion of the sun’s rays before they reach your skin.
Non-nano zinc oxide is the only active ingredient we use in our sunscreen. It is a "natural" sunscreen made with a mineral (or physical) UV filter that provides great protection for your skin whilst being much safer for the environment than chemical UV filters. Our sunscreen is broad-spectrum sunscreen meaning it gives extra protection because it filters out both UVA and UVB rays. This is important because:
- UVA radiation goes deep into the skin, causing long-term damage such as wrinkles, blotchiness, sagging and skin cancer. We call this UVA for ageing. Learn more about sunscreen and ageing.
- UVB radiation gets into the top layer of skin and can cause sunburn, skin damage and skin cancer. We call this UVB for burning.
Our sunscreen meets the AS/NZ 2604:2021 (SPF certification) and ISO 24444:2019 (broad spectrum certification) sunscreen standards. Always check that your sunscreen is SPF certified.
Melanoma (skin cancer) is the most common form of cancer in Aotearoa New Zealand and UV rays are the primary cause of premature ageing. So if you take one thing away from this blog it’s that you should wear sunscreen on your face, neck and other exposed skin daily!
Cole, C., Shyr, T., & Ou‐Yang, H. (2016). Metal oxide sunscreens protect skin by absorption, not by reflection or scattering. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine, 32(1), 5-10. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12214.