Dermatologists Weigh in on Natural Sunscreens

Natural sunscreens have gained popularity as consumers become more conscious about the ingredients in their skincare products. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which use synthetic compounds to absorb UV rays, natural sunscreens rely on mineral-based ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to physically block harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In this article, dermatologists weigh in on the efficacy, benefits, and potential drawbacks of natural sunscreens.

What Are Natural Sunscreens?

Natural sunscreens are formulated using mineral ingredients that create a physical barrier on the skin. The most common active ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals are effective at reflecting both UVA and UVB rays, offering broad-spectrum protection. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which can penetrate the skin and cause allergic reactions or hormonal disruptions, natural sunscreens stay on the skin’s surface, making them a safer choice for many people.

How Do They Work?

Natural sunscreens work by creating a physical shield that deflects UV radiation. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are both approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their effectiveness and safety. When applied to the skin, these minerals form a protective layer that scatters and reflects UV rays, preventing them from penetrating the skin and causing damage.

Dermatologists’ Insights on Natural Sunscreens

Benefits of Natural Sunscreens

Broad-Spectrum Protection

One of the main advantages of natural sunscreens is their ability to provide broad-spectrum protection. Both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect against UVA and UVB rays, reducing the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

Suitable for Sensitive Skin

Natural sunscreens are often recommended for individuals with sensitive skin or allergies. Since they do not contain synthetic chemicals, they are less likely to cause irritation or allergic reactions. Dermatologists frequently recommend natural sunscreens for patients with conditions like eczema or rosacea.

Environmentally Friendly

Chemical sunscreens have been shown to harm marine life and coral reefs. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate contribute to coral bleaching and are banned in some regions. Natural sunscreens, on the other hand, are generally considered safer for the environment, making them a better choice for eco-conscious consumers.

Potential Drawbacks

Texture and Application

One common complaint about natural sunscreens is their thick, sometimes greasy texture. They can be harder to spread evenly on the skin and may leave a white cast, especially on darker skin tones. This can make them less appealing for everyday use.


Natural sunscreens tend to be more expensive than their chemical counterparts. The higher cost is due to the use of mineral ingredients and the need for more complex formulations to improve their texture and application.

Limited Availability

While the market for natural sunscreens is growing, they are still less widely available than chemical sunscreens. This can make it harder for consumers to find suitable options, particularly if they have specific preferences or skin needs.

Choosing the Right Natural Sunscreen

SPF Rating

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating indicates the level of protection a sunscreen provides against UVB rays. Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 for adequate protection. It’s important to note that higher SPF ratings do not significantly increase protection and may give a false sense of security.

Broad-Spectrum Label

Ensure that the natural sunscreen is labeled as “broad-spectrum,” meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. This is crucial for comprehensive sun protection.

Water Resistance

For those who are active outdoors or spend time in water, choosing a water-resistant natural sunscreen is essential. Water-resistant sunscreens stay effective longer when exposed to sweat or water, but they still need to be reapplied regularly.

Application Tips

Apply Generously

To achieve the full SPF rating, it’s important to apply natural sunscreen generously. Most people do not use enough sunscreen, which reduces its effectiveness.

Reapply Frequently

Natural sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours, or more often if swimming or sweating. Regular reapplication ensures continuous protection throughout the day.

Cover All Exposed Skin

Don’t forget areas like the ears, neck, and tops of the feet. These areas are often overlooked but are just as susceptible to UV damage.


Natural sunscreens offer a safe and effective alternative to chemical sunscreens, with broad-spectrum protection and suitability for sensitive skin. However, their texture, application, and cost can be potential drawbacks. By understanding the benefits and limitations of natural sunscreens, consumers can make informed choices that best meet their sun protection needs.