Natural Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Should You Choose?

Natural Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Should You Choose?

When it comes to sunscreen, there are so many choices it can be overwhelming. From the SPF rating to the list of ingredients to the type of sunscreen it is — physical? chemical? mineral? what does it all mean?! — the whole process might make you want to stay indoors and avoid the sunshine altogether. But not to worry. We're here to help.

Given that we know it's just as important to be mindful of what we put in our bodies as much as what we put on our bodies, it's a good idea to consider natural sunscreens that use truly natural ingredients and forgo potentially harmful chemicals.

But not all "natural" sunscreens are created equal. Words such as "natural" are not regulated by the FDA, so it's every person's responsibility to read the list of ingredients and understand the differences among sunscreens. Knowing what to look for (and what to avoid) will help you make the best decision.

Broad Spectrum

Natural Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Should You Choose

While there are countless options when it comes to sunscreen, one thing is certain: Regardless of where you live or what season it is, dermatologists agree that wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen is a must on any day you plan to be outside. That's because sun exposure comes in many forms, whether it's from the driver's seat of your car, reflected off the snow, or directly from the sky on a warm summer day.  

So what exactly is broad-spectrum sunscreen? It's a full-spectrum sunscreen that protects skin from both types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB. These UV rays not only damage skin by causing premature wrinkling, sagging, and dark spots, but they also increase the risk of skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States.

It's also important to dispel the myth that you don't need to worry about sunscreen if you have a darker skin tone. Not true. Even if your skin has lots of melanin, that doesn't mean you're immune to the sun's damaging rays. You might not burn as easily as someone with fairer skin, but dark skin is not impenetrable. Everyone should wear sunscreen with a minimum SPF 30 rating. Opt for a higher SPF, such as SPF 50, if you plan on swimming or being outdoors for an extended period of time.

Physical Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen

It's one of the most common questions about sunscreen: Should I wear physical sunblock or chemical sunscreen? While we lean toward natural selections, we want you to be informed and decide for yourself.

Physical Sunblock

Natural Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Do You Choose?

  • Often called natural sunscreen or mineral sunscreen, physical sunblock uses the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredient to create a protective barrier against sun damage.
  • Read the entire product label and make sure there are no chemical fillers — look for skin-nourishing natural ingredients (and organic ingredients when possible) such as shea butter, olive oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil, red raspberry seed oil, and vitamin E that work together to improve UV protection.
  • Try prepping your skin with the non-greasy Bright Daily Squalane + Facial Oil Blend, which is loaded with antioxidant-rich rosehip oil and combines vitamins C and E to combat free radicals caused by UV rays.
  • This type of sunblock is often used as a baby sunscreen and is best suited for sensitive skin types because zinc oxide reflects the sun's UV rays rather than absorbing chemicals into the skin.
  • Along with sun protection, zinc oxide can also alleviate mild skin irritations — no wonder it's long been used as an ointment for diaper rash.
  • Zinc oxide often leaves a white residue on skin, so don't be shocked if you end up with a bit of "ghost face."

Chemical Sunblock

Natural Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which Do You Choose

  • Much like a sponge, chemical sunscreen protects skin by absorbing the sun's UV rays with chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, homosalate, octisalate, and avobenzone.
  • Because chemicals can also penetrate the epidermis and dermis and enter the bloodstream, there is controversy about using these common sunscreen ingredients — while they are approved by the FDA, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit activist group, cites laboratory studies showing oxybenzone can cause allergic skin reactions and hormone disruption.
  • Be cautious of mainstream drugstore brands with labels that say "natural" but contain the aforementioned ingredients as well as synthetic fragrances (parfum), silicones (dimethicone), and dyes.
  • This type of sunblock tends to rub easily into skin and doesn't leave a white residue.
  • If using a chemical sunblock, consider a deep pore-cleansing treatment such as the Brilliant Bamboo Charcoal Facial Sheet Mask that will detox your skin, remove excess oil, and soothe with aloe vera.

Your Sunscreen Checklist

Natural Sunscreen vs Chemical Sunscreen: Which Should You Choose?

  • Make sure it's a broad-spectrum SPF, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Look for water-resistant sunscreen to effectively shield you from the sun and be sure to reapply every couple hours if you are swimming or exercising.
  • Apply sunscreen after you've put on your face moisturizer — Feel Beauty's fast-absorbing Balanced Moisturizing Balancing Cream is suitable for all skin types and provides a smooth surface before sunscreen lotion application.
  • Don't forget your lips — use a lip balm with at least SPF 20 and then top with our Pure Anywhere Balm for the perfect finish.

Made in the Shade

Natural Sunscreen vs Chemical Sunscreen: Which Should You Choose

It's clear that no matter what time of year, sunscreen isn't optional — it's essential. And now that you know a bit more about why natural sunscreen might be the ideal choice, you'll want to pair it with the best natural moisturizer for your skin type. Adapting your daily skincare routine will help protect you from the damaging effects of the sun all year long. Here are some other simple things you can do to save your skin:

  • Wear a hat. Choose one with at least a 3-inch brim for optimal sun protection for a look that is as smart as it is stylish.
  • Wear UPF clothing. Just as sunscreen offers protection against the sun's UV rays, clothing with a UPF rating defends against the sun.
  • Use an umbrella. Not just for rainy days, umbrellas (or parasols) are perfect for protecting your skin from those pesky rays.
  • Stay in the shade. Doesn't get much easier than that.


Correction: This article originally referred to mineral oil and petrolatum as pore-clogging, when in fact, they are both non-comedogenic.

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