"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.
Best sunscreens with zinc
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.”
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.
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 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.
Best body lotion
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.
Best for sensitive skin
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. While all the picks on this list are great for sensitive skin, this one consistently gets the derm stamp of approval.
Best body spray
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.
Best SPF 70+
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.
Best for darker skin tones
Developed with all skin tones in mind, this mineral-sunscreen—which was designed by tennis superstar Venus Williams—will give you physical protection without leaving behind a white film. It’s not goopy or greasy, and will give your skin a natural-looking matte finish.
As the last step in your skin-care routine, this mineral ‘screen provides multi-layer protection while also evening your skin tone with its subtle tint—leaving behind a sort of highlighter-esque glow. In addition to mineral SPF 30 to keep UV rays at bay, it’s got an alphabet’s worth of vitamins (A, B, C, and D, to be exact), plus turmeric extract and French rice germ to fend off damage from pollution and blue light.
This mineral formula goes on nearly sheer, and stays put on your skin even after hours of sun and sweat. Plus, it leaves behind an ever-so-soft scent of coconut, and basically smells like vacation in a bottle.
If you need a sunscreen that will stand up to summer’s sweatiest activities, look no further than this sport-friendly stick. With a combination of non-nano zinc, beeswax, and cocoa powder, it glides on easily, and an infusion of cocoa powder helps to stimulate cell turnover. You can use it all over your face (don’t forget those lips and eyelids!) and know that you’ll be protected for hours out in the sun.
This body butter makes sunscreen application truly feel like a part of your self-care routine. It’s got a whipped texture and nutty scent that give it an air of pure l-u-x-u-r-y, and the mineral formula is made with both zinc and titanium dioxide to offer SPF 45 pprotection from both UVA and UVB rays.
This mineral-based powder gives a light dusting of mineral sun protection plus antioxidants from the red algae in its formula. It’s safe for all complexions, and you can build it to create whatever type of coverage you want. It’s got a lightly tinted finish, which comes in plenty of options to work on a range of skin tones.
It’s hard to make a “best of” any type of skin care list without including a Drunk Elephant formula, and zinc sunscreen is no exception. This tinted face lotion blends well into all different skin tones and works for multiple skin types at once. It blurs spots and breakouts much like a BB cream, but it’s giving you zinc oxide-based sun protection, antioxidant-rich algae extract, and sunflower sprout extract to fend off free radical damage.
Best facial fluid
This easy-to-apply facial fluid was designed for those on-the-go days where you’re running around the city and may be likely to forget to re-up on SPF. In addition to offering broad-spectrum SPF 50 from zinc and titanium oxides, it’s packed with antioxidants, iron oxides, and polymers to act as a “second skin” that keeps environmental pollutants from doing any damage.
This handy compact offers a cream-to-powder formula that will even your skin tone and provide UV and antioxidant protection alike. It comes in two shades, both of which melt easily into skin to make it look like you aren’t wearing any product at all.
Best for lips
This hydrating lip balm offers SPF 30 protection from UVA and UVB rays by way of non-nano zinc, and will give your lips a, ahem, kissable swath of color while also staving off sun damage. You can build it up to look more like a lipstick, or swipe on a single layer for a more natural-looking finish. It’s got cupuacu butter, which is known to help moisturize, plus nutrient-dense monogogo oil which offers smoothing and anti-aging properties.
Best for scalp
Your scalp is a high-risk spot for sunburns, partly because putting those traditionally-goopy sunscreens on your head isn’t exactly great for your hairstyle. This brush-on formula, which is made with titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica and iron oxides in fine-powdered form, is the perfect product for helping you to remember to apply every day.
The benefits of using sunscreen with zinc
1. It effectively protects you from the sun
The term "sunblock" was originated to describe mineral sunscreens (aka those made with zinc) because that's exactly what these formulas do: They physically block UV rays from your skin. "Mineral sunblocks put a layer of protection on the skin like a shield, so the sun’s rays literally bounce off of it," explains dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD. Using a mineral sunscreen means that it will block both UVA and UVB rays or give broad spectrum coverage. "The reason why we want broad spectrum is UVA is usually what causes what we think of as skin aging, sun spots and wrinkles, and then skin cancer. UVB is that immediate burn."
2. It's gentler on sensitive skin than chemical formulas
"When looking for a sunscreen, people with sensitive skin should look for formulas containing physical blockers only with either zinc or titanium dioxide, as these active ingredients are less likely to cause a reaction," says Rita Linkner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. In fact, zinc oxide is a key ingredient in many diaper rash creams, meant to soothe babies' irritated skin, making it a great ingredient for those with sensitive skin looking for sunscreen. Dhaval Bhanusali, MD, agrees, noting “The key is going with a mineral sunscreen if you have sensitive skin because those are always better tolerated."
3. It's generally considered a safe ingredient
In 2019, he FDA released a statement claiming that only two of the sixteen common active ingredients in sunscreen—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—were "Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective" or GRASE. While there are plenty of safe chemical options on the market (many of which we love and recommend all the time), a sunscreen with zinc is sure to regularly get safety stamp of approval.
4. You don't have to settle for a product that leaves behind a white cast
Gone are the days that applying mineral sunscreen meant having to walk around looking like Casper the Friendly Ghost. In recent years, brands have begun formulating tinted options that make sunscreens with zinc appealing for all skin types. That said, it's still not perfect. "I am encouraged that the major sunscreen companies have recognized this challenge and are producing tinted mineral sunscreens and sunscreens that blend across skin tones, but darkly-pigmented individuals may still find it difficult to identify a mineral sunscreen that works for them," says Christina Lee Chung, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Philadelphia.
5. It works faster than chemical SPF
Because zinc physically blocks your skin from the sun's rays, it starts doing its job immediately after you apply. This means that sunscreens with zinc work faster than chemical sunscreen ingredients, which must be absorbed to convert light to heat energy in your skin.
Where should I apply sunscreen with zinc?
The short answer is, well, everywhere. According to Elyse Love, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, your face, chest, back, shoulders, and the backs of your hands are the most prone to long-term sun damage. "This is because these are the areas of the body that are exposed to the sun almost year-round," she says. Stacy Chimento, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with Riverchase Dermatology, adds that your scalp falls into this category too. "The skin on the scalp and your hands tend to be thinner and not as resilient," she says. "Also, our clothing doesn't shield us from the sun hitting us [on these spots.]"
How often should I apply sunscreen with zinc?
Every 90 minutes, according to derms. "Reapplication is important for prolonged sun exposure over two hours," says Dr. Chimento.
How much sunscreen with zinc do I need?
In general, derms recommend applying the equivalent of one full shot glass of sunscreen to protect yourself from head to toe. "In general, people don't apply enough product to get the SPF it says on the bottle, regardless of the form: makeup or sunscreen," says Cybele Fishman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. If you're only applying to your face (though, let us repeat, you should be applying everywhere), you need at least a quarter-sized dollop.
How much SPF should my sunscreen with zinc have?
SPF 30 or higher.
What step in my routine should sunscreen with zinc be?
"Mineral sunscreen should be applied last because it reflects light," says board-certified dermatologist Michelle Henry, MD. The reason? Putting other products on top of these physical blockers could dilute them and compromise their effectiveness, so your best bet is to use them as the last step in your a.m. routine.
For more derm-approved intel on the best sunscreen to use on your skin, check out the video below
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