Natural vs. Chemical Sunscreen: What’s Up With That?

What is a “natural” sunscreen?  What is a “chemical” sunscreen?  Does it matter? Is sunscreen safe? Is it effective?

imageI got these questions a lot when practicing, and I continue to get them from friends and family. Over the next few weeks, I will be putting up a series of posts providing some insights that may get you closer to answering these questions.

First up, what is a natural or chemical sunscreen?

This is primarily determined by a sunscreen’s ingredients and how it works.

Typical Sunscreen Ingredient List


  • Zinc oxide
  • Titanium dioxide


  • Octylcrylene
  • Avobenzone
  • Octinoxate
  • Octisalate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Homosalate
  • Helioplex
  • 4-MBC
  • Mexoryl SX and XL
  • Tinosorb S and M
  • Uvinul T 150
  • Uvinul A Plus

How They Work


  • Deflect or block the sun’s rays.


  • Absorb or filter the sun’s rays.


The label for a natural sunscreen typically includes some variant on “natural,” including “naturally-derived,” “naturally-sourced,” “mineral,” “physical blocker,” “sunblock,” “sensitive” (but be sure to read the label, as this can go either way) and “inorganic.”

A chemical sunscreen may have a natural ingredient, but it more than likely has a combination of chemical ingredients. But you won’t see the words “chemical,” “synthetic,”organic,” or “partially natural”on their labels. But the “active ingredients” on the label will let you know.

Examples of Natural Sunscreens

  • Sunology Natural Sunscreen For Body, SPF 50
  • BurnOut Kids Physical Sunscreen, SPF 35
  • California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30+

Examples of Chemical Sunscreens

  • No-Ad Sport, SPF 50
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin, SPF 30
  • La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk

Coming Up

That’s all for now – keep an eye out for my next post in the series, which will discuss safety, derivations (organic vs. inorganic), and efficacy.

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Categories: Skin Cancer, Sun Protection


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