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    We live in a world packed to bursting with marketing material, branding material, scientific papers, and everything in between. Unfortunately, information overload makes it difficult to understand certain basic things, often overcomplicating them.

    In this article, we explain what are the different types of sunscreen are, especially when referring to chemical or natural, and how you can recognize the difference between these types.

    How is the type of sunscreen determined?

    Here are the types of sunscreen you have probably heard of:

    • Chemical
    • Physical
    • Mineral
    • Natural
    • Organic
    • SPF

    These types are based on the ingredients of the sunscreen, although as you will see below, often it's only based on the active ingredients. It's also made more complicated by the fact that some of these terms can be used interchangeably. It is also worth noting that SPF is just a general term for any sunscreen.

    There are really only 3 types of sunscreen. Each type is based on the ingredients it contains. 


    Chemical Sunscreen on the beach

    Chemical Sunscreen

    • The Most Common
    • Dates back to the First Sunscreens
    • Very Cheap to Manufacture
    • Technically Considered 'Organic'
    • Uses Chemicals to Absorb UV radiation
    • Apply 15-20 Minutes Prior to Exposure
    • Not Environmentally Friendly
    • Suitable for General Use
    • Normally Rubs in Completely Clear

    The most common types of sunscreen on the shelves are chemical sunscreens. These are made entirely with chemical ingredients and are generally quite cheap. Chemical sunscreens date back to the first sunscreens developed.

    Technically, contrary to popular opinion, this type of sunscreen is considered 'organic', because their compounds contain carbon. Which is all that is required for something to be considered organic in chemistry. This can unfortunately lead to quite a bit of confusion. As 'organic' can be used to represent both, the chemical and the natural, it's a term that can't be relied on in itself.

    Chemical sunscreens use combinations of different chemicals to absorb the UV radiation. The easiest analogy for this is a sponge. They do this from both on and inside the skin. It is important to note that chemical sunscreens need time to absorb and react before they begin absorbing the UV rays at the proper rate.

    Some chemical UV absorbers/filters are being banned across some popular tourist destinations like Hawaii, Palau, US Virgin Islands, Mexico, Bonaire, Aruba and Florida due to the damage they cause to ocean reefs.


    Infographic showing chemical vs natural sunscreen

    Natural/Physical/Mineral Sunscreen

    • Becoming More Popular
    • Relatively Recently Developed
    • Slightly More Expensive to Manufacture
    • Also Known as Physical or Mineral
    • Uses Minerals to Reflect UV Radiation
    • Effective Immediately on Application
    • More Environmentally Friendly than Chemical
    • More suitable for Sensitive Skin
    • Some Leave a White Cast

    These types of sunscreens are becoming rapidly more common. Natural sunscreens are just sunscreens that have natural active ingredients. Sometimes people get the idea that these sunscreens don't contain chemicals, but it is important to note that unless specifically stated, they are not all chemical-free. They just don’t use chemical UV absorbers.

    Natural sunscreens are also sometimes referred to as mineral or physical sunscreens, because they use either zinc oxide or titanium oxide to reflect UV rays instead of absorbing them.

    Whatever they are called though, because they don't use chemical UV absorbers, they are normally effective immediately on application. They are also generally more environmentally friendly. Using a natural active means that they don't normally use the chemical UV absorbers that are expected to cause reef damage.

    These sunscreens are also more friendly for sensitive skin as they contain less irritants and allergens.
    They do lose points when it comes to appearance though. Often these sunscreens leave a white cast behind. You have to choose a carefully made formula to avoid this.


    All natural sunscreen sitting on the beach sand with a star fish.

    All Natural Sunscreen

    • Rarely Seen
    • Recently Developed
    • High Manufacturing Cost
    • A Natural Sunscreen with No Synthetic Ingredients
    • Uses Minerals to Reflect UV Radiation
    • Effective Immediately on Application
    • No Deleterious Environmental Impact
    • Hypoallergenic
    • Some Leave a White Cast

    All-natural sunscreen is much rarer. The 'all' at the front refers to the complete lack of anything unnatural. Essentially these sunscreens are entirely chemical-free and only use naturally sourced ingredients. They are normally plant-based and much less common due to higher manufacturing costs, and more difficulty in producing a stable formula. All natural sunscreens are generally made by companies that really believe in what they are doing, as they need to jump over more hurdles, and have lower profit margins than the generally accepted 'natural' sunscreens.

    They come with a whole series of benefits for this investment though. As they don’t contain any chemicals, they can be far more suitable for sensitive skin than even 'natural' ones. They still use minerals UV reflectors and are effective immediately on application.

    Containing no synthetic ingredients at all, they also generally are more environmentally friendly than any of the other types of sunscreen.

    The only downside is that unless very carefully formulated, they can often leave a white cast. Not all formulations do though, Soléo Organics all natural sunscreens use a specially formulated zinc formula that doesn't.

    The Final Word

    Sunscreens use a lot of different terms for marketing. They generally only come down to three different types of sunscreen though, chemical, natural and all-natural.

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    All Natural, SPF30, Broad Spectrum

    Everyday Extra-Lite Natural Sunscreen


    35 Reviews

    All natural, daily UV protection and skin support. Keep yourself and your family covered.

    - All Natural & Chemical Free

    - Light, Weightless Feeling

    - Matte, Non-Shiny

    - Non-Oily & Non-Greasy

    - Fast Absorbing

    - Unfragranced

    - Non-Comedogenic

    - Rubs in Clear


    Natural Face Moisturising Sunscreen


    13 Reviews

    All natural, ultra-light, matte, sunscreen and moisturiser. Reduce signs of aging, and improve skin elasticity.

    - All Natural & Chemical Free

    - Ultralight Weightless Feel

    - Matte, Non-Shiny

    - Non-Oily & Non-Greasy

    - Very Fast Absorbing

    - Non-Comedogenic

    - Rubs in Clear

    - Anti-aging (Reduce Fine Lines)


    Coconut Performance Sunscreen


    20 Reviews

    All natural, highly water resistant, sunscreen with a natural light coconut fragrance. Award winning formula!

    - All Natural & Chemical Free

    - Very High Water Resistance

    - Multi-Award Winning

    - Moisturising

    - Rubs in Clear

    - Light Coconut Fragrance


    All Natural, Chemical Free, Sunscreen

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