The Difference Between Natural & Regular Sunscreen

by Lindsey Rose Black
Smiling Female Putting Sunscreen Before Sunbathing
AleksandarGeorgiev/E+/Getty Images

If you're starting to shop for spring break and feeling totally confused when you hit the sunscreen aisle with its seven million different options, you're not alone. And if you're wondering, "What's the difference between natural sunscreen and regular sunscreen?" and I'm about to break it down. There's no one right option, but being informed about both will let you make the best choice for you and your skin!

The obvious difference between natural and "regular" sunscreen is in the ingredients and how they work to shield you from the sun. Natural sunscreen uses physical UV filters like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (literally just grounded up minerals), whereas chemical sunscreens opt for chemical UV filters like octylcrylene, avobenzone, and Helioplex. The natural UV filters work by reflecting the sun's rays, whereas chemical filters absorb sun rays into their compounds so your skin doesn't get burned.

Before I get to the questions below to help you determine the right sunscreen choice for you, I want to point out that although both natural and chemical sunscreens are considered "safe" by the FDA, not all are equal in terms of UV protection. As noted in EWG, the FDA requires a sunscreen meet a list of requirements to be considered "broad spectrum" (meaning it will protect you from both UVB and UVA rays). To get the best UVA and UVB protection, look for a "regular" (aka chemical) sunscreen with avobenzone, or a natural sunscreen with zinc oxide.

Trying to figure out what's right for you? Check out the questions below and see.

1. Do You Have Sensitive Skin?

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 30, $22, Amazon

Simpler is generally better when it comes to products for sensitive skin, and natural sunscreens are less likely to cause irritation.

2. Do You Want To Use Sunscreen Under Makeup?

Neutrogena Sunscreen Lotion Sensitive Skin SPF 60, $10, Amazon

While I personally like mineral makeup with sunscreen built-in (I'm looking at you, Bare Minerals!), natural sunscreens are often a bit "chalkier" and don't go on your skin as smoothly as their chemical counterparts. For silky makeup application, you might want to consider chemical sunscreen.

Bare Escentuals Mineral Veil Minerals, $23, Amazon

3. Do You Need Sunscreen To Work Right Away?

Are you kind of a last minute person? If so, natural sunscreens will start protecting your skin against the sun's rays immediately upon application, whereas chemical sunscreens take at least twenty minutes to become effective.

Images: Getty Images; Courtesy of Brands