Scent-free. Does a good job of protecting against burns with solid UVA and UVB coverage. Suitable for sensitive skin. Does fine with makeup over it, once it's absorbed. Water-resistant. Oxybenzone-free.
Some customers found the consistency too oily.
Works well to block the sun. Dries clear on the skin. No oily feeling. No unpleasant smell. Light, comfortable consistency when applied. Comes in a convenient size. Works well under makeup. Resists water and sweat.
Contains oxybenzone, which can be problematic for allergy-sensitive customers.
Non-nano zinc oxide formula with hints of citrus and vanilla. Water resistant, hypoallergenic and biodegradable. Beeswax, Vitamin E and sunflower oil base calms skin.
Thick consistency can be challenging to apply. Consider warming in your hands for easier application.
Great at protecting the face from the sun. Convenient stick for a pocket or purse. No greasy consistency. Good under or over makeup. All-natural ingredients prevent allergic reactions. Doesn’t run into the eyes when you get wet.
Goes on white but can be rubbed in to become clear.
Applies smoothly. Fine to put makeup over or under it. Good sun-blocking action. Doesn’t contain oxybenzone. Doesn’t leave white residue as long as you rub it in well. Doesn’t cause sensitive skin to break out.
Thick consistency bothers some customers. Not water-resistant.
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As we learn more about how chemical sunscreens may affect our oceans and our skin, mineral sunscreens with zinc oxide are making a comeback.
Providing immediate protection the moment you slather it on, zinc oxide sits on top of your skin to create a highly effective physical barrier that reflects harmful UVA and UVB rays. Chemical-filtering sunscreen, on the other hand, must absorb into your skin in order to work. It takes time to react with your skin, which is why you’re advised to apply it several minutes before going outside.
Additionally, zinc oxide sunscreen is non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores. And it’s gentle enough for all skin types, including those with sensitive skin or rosacea. While some zinc oxide sunscreens still have the telltale chalky look, other formulas are subtle enough to wear under makeup.
To learn more about how to choose the right one for your needs, keep reading. When you’re ready to buy, check out our recommendations for the best zinc oxide sunscreens on the market.
Many people look for zinc oxide sunscreens because they’re more comfortable with the physical barrier than chemical options. But beware: some brands market their sunscreen as more “natural” because they contain zinc oxide when they really contain a low amount of zinc oxide and significant quantities of chemical filters, such as avobenzone, octocrylene, and homosalate.
For starters, look for sunscreens that have a zinc oxide content of around 10%. Some mineral sunscreens are made of 15 to 20% zinc oxide. Others hover between 10 and 15% but add a smaller percentage of titanium dioxide in order to increase its total physical barrier.
A sunscreen’s SPF (sun protection factor) rating tells you the amount of protection it provides against UVB rays (the ones that burn your skin). Most dermatologists recommend a sunscreen between SPF 15 and 30 for daily use. Here’s how much protection each one offers:
SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays.
SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.
SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays.
SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays.
As SPF increases in sunscreen, the formula lengthens the time you can spend in the sun — in theory. However, many dermatologists say that sunscreen starts to break down after about two hours. So it’s safest to reapply at that point regardless of the SPF.
SPF does not measure protection against skin-aging UVA rays, so you can’t base your decision on this rating alone. Look for sunscreens that give you broad-spectrum protection as well as a good SPF rating.
When many people think of sunscreen, they also picture going to the pool or the beach. But sunscreen is just as important for outdoor activities on land. If you’ll be using sunscreen for water activities, you’ll need a thicker formula that won’t easily wash away (but keep in mind that these formulas may have a chalkier finish that leaves your skin looking pale).
If, on the other hand, you want zinc oxide sunscreen for the hiking trail or soccer field, you won’t need to spend extra on water-resistance. These formulas are thinner and less likely to leave a residue on your skin. However, even with an inland activity, consider whether you might sweat enough to require a water-resistant sunscreen.
Zinc oxide sunscreen can protect your whole body. Some formulations, however, are specifically intended for the face and may include ingredients that address your complexion. If you’re looking for face protection, consider a brand designed specifically for that area. Keep in mind that you’ll pay more for these formulas, so they’re not cost-effective for all-over protection.
Clear, consistent protection
This broad-spectrum sunscreen is a go-to for beachgoers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Micronized zinc oxide means it goes on clear and makes it a great base for makeup. Though it has a slightly lower zinc oxide content than other formulas, Solbar is dermatologist-recommended and gentle on the skin. Some find it slightly oily, but this formulation eliminates the telltale white cast.
Stick sunscreens are becoming increasingly popular. They’re usually thicker, so they’re less likely to run into your eyes. They make it easier to apply the proper amount, and they’re convenient for targeting body contours, especially on your face. Another bonus: they won’t leak if you forget to tighten the cap.
They are, however, tedious to apply to large surfaces, such as legs. Lotion and cream formulas spread over large body areas much more easily and efficiently. So if you’re looking for protection for your face and head, consider a stick. If you want all-over protection, buying both a stick and a cream might make more sense.
One of the downsides of zinc oxide sunscreen is the white cast it tends to leave on your skin, especially your face. Some manufacturers add tinting to their formulas so their sunscreen doesn’t leave you looking ghostly. Tinted sunscreens are usually formulated for the face, so they work well under makeup. Be prepared to pay a little more for the extra pigment, though. And tinted sunscreens usually aren’t waterproof either.
One way sunscreen makers keep zinc oxide sunscreen from looking like clown makeup is by using micronized zinc oxide. In this process, the zinc oxide is broken down into extremely small particles so that they are smoothly blended into the sunscreen, making them barely visible on your skin. This can be both a benefit and a concern: smaller zinc oxide particles give you better protection from UVB rays but diminished protection against UVA rays.
Not all zinc oxide formulas are water-resistant. Check your specific formula, and reapply every hour or as directed on the label.
Reef-safe sunscreens leave out chemical filters, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate. Research shows that these and other chemicals are harmful to sea life and coral reefs.
If you find a face formula you love, there’s no reason you can’t use it on the rest of your body.
Inexpensive: You can find basic zinc oxide sunscreens at a per-ounce cost of $3 to $5. In this price range, sunscreens usually will be SPF 30 and may come in sticks, creams, or lotions. Formulas may go on white or have a clear finish. They may or may not be waterproof.
Mid-range: Zinc oxide sunscreens in the middle tier will likely run $8 to $10 per ounce. Formulas in this bracket will often include skin-nourishing vitamins and moisturizing oils. They may be SPF 30 to 50 and usually will come in creams or lotions but not sticks. They will likely be waterproof.
Expensive: The most expensive zinc oxide sunscreens will cost $10 or more per ounce. They may or may not provide more protection, depending upon their composition. Sunscreens that cost this much should go on clear, unless they are marketed as non-nano. They are usually positioned as beauty products rather than products for the outdoors, so they often are not waterproof. Their nonmineral ingredients will likely be natural and boast superior moisturizing or anti-aging properties.
Sun barrier on a budget
This water-resistant formula may go on a bit pale, but it dries clear and looks fabulous under makeup. It’s SPF 50 and can be used on all parts of the face, including the lips. Some like its protection so much that they use it over their whole body. Beware if your skin reacts to oxybenzone, though, because it is one of the ingredients.
Always apply more sunscreen than you think you need. Studies show that most people do not apply an adequate amount to deliver the effects listed on the label.
A protective full-body mineral sunscreen application takes about one ounce of sunscreen — or enough to fill a shot glass.
Ultraviolet rays break down tattoo ink, so be sure to put sunscreen on any tattoos to avoid discoloration.
It’s no-frills and utilitarian, but Waxhead Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Stick gets the job done. With just four ingredients — including 25% zinc oxide — it’s nontoxic and reef-safe. It’s a bit thick and hard to spread, but if you’re serious about sun protection, it’s hard to find something more effective. If you’re looking for something more elegant, we recommend checking out EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen. This residue-free formula contains 9% zinc oxide and goes on with a clear finish. Vitamin B3 and hyaluronic acid help nurture your skin and prevent wrinkles. It won’t irritate skin that’s prone to acne, and it works for those with rosacea.
Q. Do I need a different zinc oxide sunscreen for my baby?
A. It depends on the specific formula. Physical sunscreens containing zinc oxide are recommended for babies ages six months and up because they create a barrier that blocks harmful rays from reaching your baby’s skin. Sunscreens that use chemical filters absorb into your skin to provide sun protection, which can possibly affect babies more negatively because their bodies are so small.
Zinc oxide sunscreens that omit chemical filters, though, should be safe for both babies and adults. In fact, some companies use the same formula in different bottles marketed toward babies and adults. If you have any doubts, but want to use the same bottle, it’s best for you to use sunscreen made for babies rather than the other way around.
Q. Do I need a sunscreen with a higher percentage of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide?
A. Both minerals provide an excellent barrier and have been used in sunscreen for years, but zinc oxide is key for providing broad-spectrum protection. Zinc oxide provides extensive protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Titanium dioxide gives you extensive protection against UVB rays (the ones that burn your skin) but only partial protection against UVA rays (the ones that lead to premature aging). So if you have a choice, always look for a higher percentage of zinc oxide than titanium dioxide.
Q. What are “non-nano” sunscreens?
A. Non-nano sunscreens are zinc oxide sunscreens that do not contain micronized zinc oxide. Some customers are wary of micronized zinc oxide because breaking the mineral down can create nanoparticles — or extremely small particles that some worry may migrate into the body and affect cells and organs. There are several reasons this fear may be misplaced when it comes to zinc oxide. Zinc oxide nanoparticles are not believed to penetrate the skin; the particles sit on top, forming a barrier.
Nanoparticles are dangerous when they are inhaled as a powder in large doses, but this isn’t a risk that comes with sunscreen formula. Some worry they could damage stomach lining if swallowed. If this bothers you, don’t use sunscreens with micronized zinc oxide on your lips. In reality, particle size varies by manufacturer, and some “non-nano” formulas may contain zinc oxide particles that are near the “nano” range. If this concerns you, non-micronized sunscreens are easy to find — just know they may give you a slightly pale appearance.
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