Dermatologists define the term “natural”, offer tips on how to choose the best natural sunscreen, and give their top picks.
Believe it or not, ‘all natural’ is not an FDA-regulated term, so the reality of what it means can vary from product to product, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. In her eyes, ‘natural’—in terms of sunscreen—implies that the product uses mostly physical blockers (read: mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) and contains less additives, she explains.
Some brands define natural as free of chemical ultraviolet blockers, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Others contain chemical blockers, but use only natural, sustainable ingredients, he adds. The takeaway? Buyers need to be aware that when it comes to natural sunscreens, not all products are created equal.
How to choose the best natural sunscreen
Assuming the term is referring to mineral sunscreens, those with skin conditions—such as eczema or rosacea—or with sensitive skin, would benefit from using a natural sunscreen rather than risking irritation with a chemical sunscreen, Dr. Nazarian points out. Mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide are great options that protect you by reflecting and scattering ultraviolet radiation(so that it doesn’t penetrate the skin).
When choosing the best natural sunscreen for your needs, you’ll need to decide what is most important to you. If you want a natural sunscreen that contains only mineral blockers, make sure to turn the bottle over and confirm that there are no chemical ultraviolet blocking ingredients, Dr. Zeichner suggests. Always look for SPF 30 or higher for adequate protection, and—as an added benefit—choose natural sunscreens that contain extra soothing ingredients, like shea butter, green tea, or antioxidants (including niacinamide), which are more hydrating and calming to skin when out in the sun.
Not sure where to start? We asked dermatologists to share their picks for the best natural sunscreens.