Testing Natural Vs. Regular Sunscreen For A Day Helped Me See The Benefits Of Both Types

If you've ever wondered what the difference is between natural sunscreen and regular sunscreen, you're not the only one. Many people, yours truly included, are unsure about what kind of sunscreen they should be using. You may have already heard that physical (or "natural") sunscreens contain physical UV filters like zinc oxide, whereas most other sunscreens contain chemical UV filters like helioplex. The main difference in how each type of sunscreen works is simple: physical sunscreen literally blocks the sun, whereas chemical sunscreen absorbs the sun. Each has their pros and cons, but physical sunscreen (particularly zinc oxide) is considered to be better for those with sensitive skin.

So I understood the basic theory behind the two different types of sunscreen. But the only way to know if something works for you is to test it in your everyday life, right? I decided to wear a natural sunscreen on one arm and a regular sunscreen on the other for an entire day in order to test the difference between them.

The sunscreens in question are Badger Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream (the natural or physical sunscreen) and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55 (the chemical sunscreen).

Badger Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Cream, $15, Amazon

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55, $7, Amazon

I've been a fan of the Neutrogena sunscreen for years; it's probably my favorite drugstore sunscreen. It has a really nice, powdery scent (not at all like most sunscreens) and as the name promises, a sheer, dry finish.

The Badger sunscreen is a relatively new addition to my sunscreen collection (yep, I'm a dork) but it's already become a favorite. I love the natural lavender scent and how gentle it is.

So let's get started comparing these two! First off, their consistency. Below is Badger on the left and Neutrogena on the right:

As you can see, the Badger sunscreen is much thicker in consistency. It has more of a thick paste consistency, so much so that it's a little difficult to squeeze out of the tube, whereas the Neutrogena has a thinner, runnier consistency that makes it much easier to apply.

Below is my left arm after applying the Neutrogena sunscreen:

Below is my right arm after applying the Badger sunscreen:

If you compare the two photos you can probably detect more of a white cast on my right arm than on my left. This white cast is typical of physical sunscreens, which is why many people prefer to use chemical sunscreen. I can definitely say that the Badger sunscreen was much harder to apply compared to the Neutrogena sunscreen, which was absorbed very quickly.

After applying sunscreen on each arm, I went outside to walk my dog multiple times over the course of the day. I kept a close eye on each arm to see how each sunscreen fared as time passed.

I definitely noticed while I was out in the sun that the Badger sunscreen looked shiny and felt greasy and that the Neutrogena sunscreen, while a little shiny in the sun, had much more of a matte appearance and felt much dryer to the touch. At the end of the day, the Neutrogena was all but invisible but the Badger sunscreen was still shiny and had pooled into a white puddle around my inner elbow.

So you're probably thinking right about now that the Neutrogena sunscreen won, right? (Also, this would probably be a good time to mention that both sunscreens were equally adequate at the main part of their job: namely, keeping me from sunburn.) Well, you might be surprised to hear that I've decided to keep both sunscreens in regular rotation.


The fact is, the physical sunblock in the Badger sunscreen is much less irritating when I use it on my sensitive, rosacea-prone face. The zinc oxide in it is so gentle it's used on babies for diaper rash. (Plus I do worry about free radicals from chemical sunscreen). So even though it's a pain to rub in properly and often leaves me looking pasty and greasy, I tend to use it most days when I'm at home.

When I'm going out in public or wearing makeup, however, I opt for the Neutrogena sunscreen. It looks great on its own (as in, you can barely detect it) and also works as an excellent base under makeup.

So if you've ever wondered about the difference between natural and regular sunscreen, I hope this answered your question. Now go forth and be protected from the sun.

Images: Kelly Dougher; Giphy