Most sun lotions are chemical sunscreens. They contain active sun filters which absorb the sun's rays. They tend to be more lightweight and non-greasy than physical sunscreens. You also don't get that white residue effect with chemical sunscreen. Not only do they shield against sunburn, they also protect from UVA rays which cause premature aging.
Chemical sunscreens are lab-made compound formulas often with multiple active sun filters. They can ensure effective protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Essentially they're used to absorb the sun's rays like a sponge.
Anyone can use chemical sunscreens but the filters in them can be irritating for sensitive skin. Remember that you need to wait about 20 minutes for chemical sunscreens to properly kick in.