When it comes to beauty products the term “natural” can be confusing at times. It’s a vague term, but in most cases it implies that it’s made with minimally-modified ingredients found in nature, according to Birnur Aral, Ph.D. and Director of the Beauty Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute. That said, the FDA doesn’t regulate “natural” claims, so the term itself doesn’t really mean anything concrete.
When it comes to sun protection, “natural” usually refers to physical sunscreens that use minerals to block UV rays or sunscreens that don’t include oxybenzone (an ingredient that can affect hormones and allergies in humans and has been found to cause coral bleaching and coral death). Instead of absorbing UVA and UVB radiation like chemical formulas, “Mineral sunscreens protect the skin by reflecting and scattering UVA and UVB radiation, and visible light,” says Sara Hogan, M.D., a dermatologist at the Laser Skin Care Center in Long Beach, CA, and Health Clinical Sciences Instructor at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.
“Look for the ingredients ‘zinc oxide’ or ‘titanium dioxide’ when selecting a mineral sunscreen. Iron oxide is often added to mineral sunscreens to give color to the ‘white cast,’ but also protects the skin from UVA and visible light, particularly blue light.”