Can a sunscreen be natural?
Numerous products on the market wear the natural badge and make various claims. For those of us who desire natural products, natural sunscreens sound like a great proposition. Let’s check the facts.
First, regulatory authorities have approved only a limited number of UV filters for use in sunscreens. Any cosmetic product claiming activity from non-approved ingredients to achieve sun protection is, literally, playing with fire.
Approved UV filters can be split into 2 chemical categories: organic chemistry (organic meaning carbon-based); or inorganic chemistry (mineral-based metal oxides).
Most approved UV filters fall into the organic class, i.e. they have been invented by scientists.
Two inorganic, mineral-based UV filters are approved for sunscreens: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The former is a strong UVB absorber crafted by scientists and is therefore not natural. The latter is a white mineral with UV absorbing, mild antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Zinc oxide is used in many applications such as tire manufacturing or baby nappy rash creams.
Although zinc oxide is naturally occurring under a rare crystal form (known as zincite), that natural form is not usable for modern sunscreens.
The zinc oxide usable as a UV filter in sunscreens is produced in chemical plants using zinc chemicals as raw materials and is no more and no less natural than its organic cousins. A mineral sunscreen therefore cannot be natural.