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The best natural sunscreens for proper sun protection

Sunscreen is a daily essential, as it reduces risk of skin cancer and slows visible signs of aging. Here’s how to find the right mineral sunscreen for you.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
Natural Sunscreen
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Nov 10, 2023 • 12 min read
Medically reviewed by Jessica Mefford, NP
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article



  • Sunscreen is a vital component of your skincare routine that helps prevent sun damage and early visible signs of aging.

  • Natural mineral-based sunscreen uses naturally occurring ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on top of the skin and provide a physical barrier.

  • Mineral sunscreen products reflect the sun away from your skin and help reduce sun damage and the potential for sunburn.

  • Mineral and chemical sunscreen products protect your skin differently. Chemical ingredients may trigger an allergic reaction but don't leave the visible tell-tale white cast of mineral sunscreens.

  • Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are inorganic mineral compounds commonly used in sunscreen for sensitive skin.

  • Sunscreen should be applied every two hours while outside and at least twice daily if you sit near a window all day.

  • Unprotected sun exposure can lead to long-term sun damage, including sunburn, accelerated aging, and increase your risk of some types of skin cancer.

There’s no shortage of sunscreens to choose from, and the best option for someone else may not be the right pick for your own skin. Everyone is unique, after all—but there are some rules of thumb you can follow to ensure you’re getting proper sun protection, no matter which specific product you choose.

You’ve likely noticed among the variety of sunscreen choices available to you there are organic or natural sunscreens. So what’s the difference between natural sunscreen and other options, and what are the best natural sunscreens for you for your skin’s needs? Here, we’ll tell you what you need to know.

What are natural mineral-based sunscreens? 

Especially if you love to spend time in the sun, it’s important to ensure you’re following the best sun protection practices. Fortunately, you can lessen the negative effects of ultraviolet light by making sunscreen* a regular part of your skincare routine

The terms “natural” and “organic” can get confusing—and they don’t always mean the same thing. “Natural” products are typically made from natural sources without synthetic compounds. “Organic” products are made from plants grown without synthetic chemicals or pesticides.¹ The labels “natural” and “organic” aren’t regulated when used in topical sunscreens.² While some people look for natural products, our experts say they’re not necessary to use for the health of your skin.

Natural sunscreen products use ingredients that are naturally occurring,³ such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide,⁴ which doesn’t mean they are inherently better than non-natural options. Mineral sunscreens—also sometimes called physical sunscreens because they sit on top of the skin and provide a physical barrier—are a popular “natural” option and sometimes are called.⁵

The minerals reflect UV rays away from your skin and thus reduce damage and the potential for sunburn. Just imagine that the minerals are tiny shields reflecting the sun, and you’ll get a good idea of how they work. Since mineral sunscreens sit on top of the skin, they are often more gentle on sensitive skin than chemical sunscreens and cause fewer adverse skin reactions.⁶ ⁷

How mineral sunscreens differ from chemical sunscreens and what to know about sunlight 

While we can’t live without sunlight, it’s important to take the appropriate precautions to protect skin from sun damage. So which type of sunscreen should you choose: a chemical or a mineral-based product? Here’s what you should know to make the right decision for your skin.

Sunlight UV rays associated with skin damage

There are two types of harmful ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB.⁸ UVA rays are associated with premature aging, while UVB rays are linked to sunburn. It is important to note that while window glass blocks UVB rays, it has no effect on UVA rays. This means that even indoors, the sunscreen you choose should protect against both UVA and UVB. Look for sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum,” which means it offers UVA and UVB protection.

The difference between mineral sunscreen and chemical products

The difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens are found in their ingredient lists. Chemical sunscreen ingredients have a higher likelihood of causing allergic reactions. While mineral sunscreens reflect light, chemical compounds absorb the UV rays like a sponge. They use a chemical reaction to dissipate energy as heat.⁹ They often don’t leave the tell-tale white cast that can result from the use of mineral sunscreens.

Key ingredients found in mineral sunscreens

There are two key minerals used in mineral-based sunscreen, which may be found independently or together depending on the product. Each offers different benefits, but both are good options for people with sensitive or fair skin. Let’s look at what they are and how they work.

Zinc oxide

Zinc oxide sits on the skin’s surface and doesn’t penetrate the outer layer.¹⁰ It also provides broad-spectrum protection against UV radiation,¹¹ which makes it an ideal ingredient in natural sunscreen products. 

Zinc oxide is commonly used to treat eczema and diaper rash, because it protects and soothes irritated skin,¹² which is a function of its anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc oxide is water resistant¹³ and is the best option for people with sensitive skin. And, in 2022, the FDA proposed that hypoallergenic zinc oxide sunscreens be designated as generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE).¹⁴

Titanium dioxide

Titanium dioxide is another common mineral ingredient found in broad-spectrum sunscreen products¹⁵ and cosmetics because it can absorb UV wavelengths of light.¹⁶ In some natural sunscreen products, titanium dioxide accounts for up to 25% of the product, which is the highest amount allowed.¹⁷ 

Like zinc, titanium dioxide is widely used in cosmetics¹⁸ due to its capacity to absorb UV wavelengths of light, and the FDA has also proposed it be designated as GRASE.¹⁹

Just the facts, please

Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are inorganic mineral compounds²⁰ that are commonly used in sunscreen products designed for sensitive skin. They are often easier on combination skin and are also safe for the environment. In fact, many places in the world have passed ordinances or legislation that prohibits chemical sunscreens to protect their environment.²¹ That said, more research is needed to further understand the impact of both chemical and physical sunscreens on the environment.

Natural mineral-based sunscreens we recommend

The best mineral-based sunscreens provide UVA and UVB protection. Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen every two hours when you’re outdoors and at least twice daily if you sit near a window all day. 

The Sunscreen by Curology, also called Everyday Sunscreen, is non-comedogenic (so it won’t clog your pores), is quickly absorbed into the skin, and leaves no white cast. Additionally, it works well for people who have acne-prone skin. 

We recommend applying The Sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside or expected indoor sun exposure. It is important to reapply every two hours to receive maximum protection from sun damage to your skin.²²

If you’re looking for a tinted natural sunscreen that is a makeup primer and has UV protection all in one, consider our dermatologist reviewed and recommended tinted sunscreen options..

What to look for in mineral-based sunscreens 

You can find mineral-based sunscreens in a variety of forms, including spray-on, stick, and lotion. Depending on the brand and the active ingredients, you may experience a few side effects. For example, the product may dry your skin, leave a white cast, or potentially clog your pores. 

The best mineral-based sunscreen options should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to protect your skin from UV radiation damage. Most of these products are water-resistant and leave a white cast until the product wears off or you wash it off.

Even people who are not prone to acne may find some mineral-based products clog their pores and increase the possibility of acne breakouts. Be sure to check your sunscreen against this list of pore-clogging ingredients.

Understand the risks of unprotected sun exposure

Unprotected exposure to the sun’s rays can lead to long-term sun damage to your skin. In one twin study, skin damage was notable after only 10 more hours of exposure per week.²³ This created a perceived age difference of 11.5 years.

Too much sunlight can damage the skin, leading to sunburns with the resulting redness, blistering, and skin peeling. Consistent exposure accelerates the aging process (called photoaging). This leads to visible signs of aging, such as fine lines, wrinkles, and skin hyperpigmentation.²⁴

Prolonged and repeated sun exposure can significantly increase your risk for certain types of skin cancer. The ultraviolet rays from the sun damage the DNA of your skin cells and can lead to an uncontrolled cancer cell growth.²⁵ ²⁶

One of the most dangerous types of skin cancer is melanoma, which develops when the cells that give skin a tan start to grow out of control. Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancers²⁷ but more dangerous because it’s likely to spread to other parts of the body when it’s not caught and treated early.²⁸ 

One of the most common types of cancer in humans is nonmelanoma skin cancer, which affects nearly 1 million people every year.²⁹ Roughly 70% of all nonmelanoma cancers result from overexposure to the sun, which highlights the importance of wearing sunscreen.

For effective sun protection, consider the following preventive measures:³⁰

Additionally, consider wearing lightweight long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and shoes that cover your feet when you’re going to be out in the sun.³¹ While you might remember your face and shoulders, sunburn on the tops of your feet can be just as painful and damaging to your skin.

Discover the power of custom skincare with Curology

Skincare is a lifelong process, and it’s never too late to get started. Protecting your skin from the sun at an early age helps prolong the time when you’ll see visible signs of aging. Using sun protection, along with following a solid skincare regimen can help protect your overall skin health. 

Want some help figuring out what’s right for your skin? The licensed dermatology providers at Curology** are here to help. When you sign up, you’ll answer a couple of questions about your skin and send us some selfies. From there, our experienced providers can develop a skincare routine that helps you address your concerns using personalized prescription formulas with clinically researched ingredients. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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Are natural sunscreens always better than synthetic ones?

The best sunscreen is the one that you use consistently! If you don’t take the time to properly apply mineral-based sunscreen, it may leave a white cast. Chemical and mineral-based sunscreens are a part of an effective plan to protect your skin from overexposure to the sun.

Can synthetic sunscreens be safe and effective?

Synthetic sunscreens can be safe and effective, depending on the ingredients used. An FDA study demonstrated the body can absorb some of the active chemical ingredients. However, the FDA believes this does not mean the ingredients are unsafe and it’s called for further industry testing.³²

How to minimize white cast from mineral sunscreens?

The best way to minimize the white cast from mineral-based sunscreens is to apply them correctly. Curology recommends blending The Sunscreen by Curology gently and well so that the formula is fully absorbed into the skin.

Why are mineral sunscreen products environmentally friendly?

Mineral sunscreens use naturally occurring minerals that are biodegradable and reef-safe. Chemical sunscreen products can contain oxybenzone and other chemical products that are linked to bleaching coral and damaging marine wildlife. The key ingredients are usually sustainably sourced.

What sun protection factor (SPF) should I buy?

We recommend you wear SPF30 or greater to protect your skin from the damaging ultraviolet rays of the sun. It is critical to pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle. While it may be tempting to save this summer's sunscreen for next year, the product is not as effective after the expiration date.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Differences in Organic, Natural, and Health Foods. (August 2021).

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Small Businesses & Homemade Cosmetics: Fact Sheet. Food and Drug Administration: Cosmetics. (2023, September 29).

  3. Resende, D.I.S.P., et al. Up-to-Date Overview of the Use of Natural Ingredients in Sunscreens. Pharmaceuticals (Basel). (March 2022).

  4. Geoffrey, K., et al. Sunscreen products: Rationale for use, formulation development and regulatory considerations. Saudi Pharmacy Journal. (November 2019).

  5. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens and Photoprotection. StatPearls. (2023, July 17).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, July 19).

  7. Ouyang, H., et al. Design and testing of a physical sunscreen for use on sensitive skin. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (April 2012).

  8. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  9. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens and Photoprotection. StatPearls. Ibid.

  10. Mohammed, Y.H., et al. Support for the Safe Use of Zinc Oxide Nanoparticle Sunscreens: Lack of Skin Penetration or Cellular Toxicity after Repeated Application in Volunteers. Journal of Investigative Dermatology (February 2019).

  11. Gupta, M. et. al. Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. Dermatology Research and Practice. (2014, July 10).

  12. Gupta, M., et al. Zinc Therapy in Dermatology: A Review. Dermatology Research and Practice. Ibid.

  13. Sirelkhatim, A. et. al. Review on Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles: Antibacterial Activity and Toxicity Mechanism. Nano-Micro Letters. (2015, April 19).

  14. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An update on sunscreen requirements: The deemed final order and the proposed order. (2022, December 16).

  15. Morsella, M., et al. Improving the Sunscreen Properties of TiO2 through an Understanding of Its Catalytic Properties. ACS Omega. (2016, September 23). 

  16. Vaudagna, M.V., et al. Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in sunscreens and skin photo-damage. Development, synthesis and characterization of a novel biocompatible alternative based on their in vitro and in vivo study. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology. (June 2023).

  17. Morsella, M., et al. Improving the Sunscreen Properties of TiO2 through an Understanding of Its Catalytic Properties. ACS Omega. Ibid.

  18. Vaudagna, M., et al. Titanium Dioxide Nanoparticles in sunscreens and skin photo-damage. Development, synthesis and characterization of a novel biocompatible alternative based on their in vitro and in vivo study. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology. Ibid.

  19. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An update on sunscreen requirements: The deemed final order and the proposed order. Ibid.

  20. Schneider, S.L. and Lim, H.W. A review of inorganic UV filters zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. (2018, November 16).

  21. Fivenson, D., et al. Sunscreens: UV filters to protect us: Part 2-Increasing awareness of UV filters and their potential toxicities to us and our environment. Int J Womens Dermatol. (January 2021).

  22. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun. (2023, May 24).

  23. Farkas, J.P., et al. The Science and Theory behind Facial Aging. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. (April 2013).

  24. American Academy of Dermatology Association. 11 Ways to Reduce Premature Skin Aging. (2021, February 24).

  25. Watts, C.G., et al. Sunscreen Use and Melanoma Risk Among Young Australian Adults. JAMA Dermatology. (September 2018).

  26. Teng, Y., et al. Ultraviolet Radiation and Basal Cell Carcinoma: An Environmental Perspective. Frontiers in Public Health. (2021, July 22). 

  27. American Cancer Society. What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer? (2019, August 14).

  28. Puckett, Y., et al. Melanoma Pathology. StatPearls. (2022, October 24). 

  29. Ananthaswamy, H.N. Sunlight and skin cancer. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. (2001, n.d.).

  30. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Practice Safe Sun. (2022, April 18).

  31. American Academy of Dermatology Association. What to Wear to Protect Your Skin from the Sun. (n.d.).

  32. Turney, A. FDA In Brief: FDA announces results from second sunscreen absorption study. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, January 21).

Jessica Lee is a certified Nurse Practitioner at Curology. She received her Master in Nursing from Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, CA.

**Curology dermatology providers include NPs, PAs, MDs, and DOs.

***Subject to consultation. Subscription required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
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Curology Team

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Jessica Mefford, NP

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