"There are two types of sunscreens: chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. And zinc oxide is a physical sunscreen. That means zinc forms a physical barrier on your skin to protect it from harmful UV rays," says Lana Pinchasov, a dermatology-certified physician’s assistant in New York City. "Zinc oxide has many other health and healing benefits as well. It’s used to help treat inflammation, has also been used to help with acne breakouts (due to its effect on inflammation), it can help treat pigment disorders like melasma, and it can also help moisturize and hydrate the skin, depending on the vehicle it’s in."
With all the great perks you get from using a sunscreen with zinc oxide, there is one downside. Depending on the type of sunscreen you buy, it can sometimes be super-thick or leave a white film where you apply it. "Luckily, you can now find zinc oxide in a transparent form," Pinchasov says. It keeps your skin healthy and protected all summer long.
10 sunscreens with zinc to keep your skin fully protected
The Amazon reviews on this zinc oxide-based sunscreen from EltaMD don't lie: With more than 3,300 opinions, it still comes in at 4.2 out of 5 stars for its ability to protect your skin without irritation. It's well-known for being great for sensitive skin types, and personally, I use it daily: It was the first sunscreen I tried that didn't break me out, so I stuck with it and haven't wavered since. (It's also Pinchasov's go-to.)
"It’s made specifically for your face and the zinc oxide in it is transparent, which is awesome for people that want zinc but don’t like the white film it can leave," she says. "It’s also approved for acne-prone skin, so it's a win-win."
Coppertone's Pure & Simple sunscreen is made with naturally-sourced zinc oxide and 100 percent natural botanicals, including tea leaf, sea kelp, and lotus extracts. It's also hypoallergenic and safe for sensitive skin, as it's free from fragrances, parabens, dyes, and other skin-irritating ingredients. Not too shabby for something from one of the oldest and biggest sunscreen brands.
This zinc sunscreen from CeraVe is oil-free, fragrance-free, and paraben-free and is formulated with three ceramides that help lock in moisture. Extra bonus: It's also eco-friendly and is approved for use in Hawaii, which is just another reason why you need to schedule in that last-minute summer vacay ASAP.
This drugstore find is incredibly sheer, making it the perfect sunscreen option to use under your makeup. It's also never greasy, is quick-drying, and is free of anything that will irritate your skin, including fragrance, parabens, phthalates, dyes, and chemicals.
This zinc oxide sunscreen formula also includes aloe and vitamin E, putting another protective barrier between your skin and the blazing hot sun. It's also hypoallergenic, reef-friendly, free of pore-clogging ingredients, and will go on your skin nice and clear without the white cast.
Meet the sunscreen specifically made for sensitive skin that not only has protective zinc oxide, but also olive polyphenols, which can help calm any redness and irritation you may be experiencing. It also contains other clean ingredients for a great complexion, including squalane, olive fruit extract, and sunflower seed oil, which work together to nourish, protect, and moisturize.
This sunscreen is just as skin-friendly as it is reef-friendly. It uses zinc oxide for protection and contains no oxybenzone or octinoxate—two common chemicals Hawaii has banned. It also doesn't contain any no-nos for sensitive skin, like chemicals, parabens, and fragrances. Plus, the bottle is super cool. It turns blue when it comes into contact with harmful UV light, which acts as a nice reminder to find some shade and reapply often.
This product is meant to be applied daily every morning, and with SPF 50, your face is bound to stay safe from the sun whether you're running errands (your fridge isn't going to stock itself with Trader Joe's gnocchi!) or going on an afternoon bike ride. The zinc-based sunscreen—which also contains vitamin E and nourishing oats—is great for sensitive skin, is lightweight, dries sheer, and promises a nice matte finish.
Love staying active during the summer months? Then this sunscreen is for you. You can quickly spray it on, and it's water-resistant up to 80 minutes, meaning you can get your swim on without worry It also contains soothing aloe vera and coconut oil, won't clog your pores, and is vegan and reef-safe. You might just have to blend it in a little more than other options, as it can leave a white hue if you don't.
With 1,500 reviews and 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon, this sunscreen is a keeper. It's chemical-free, protects without leaving a white cast on your skin, and is rich in vitamins and antioxidants from Australian botanicals like kakadu plum, eucalyptus, and red algae. It's also hypoallergenic, paraben-free, dye-free, and oil-free and has a light mood-boosting citrusy scent.
Here's how to apply different types of sunscreen, from lotions and sprays to foams and sticks:
The next time you apply sunscreen, don't forget about the place dermatologists say people always forget. And for heaven's sake, please don't attempt to make your own sunscreen.
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