zinc oxide best uv filter

If I had my way, I’d put zinc oxide in every sunscreen. I know, I know, it sometimes leaves an annoying white cast behind. And it can be a tad too greasy. I can put up with these little annoyances (of course, it helps my skin’s pale and dry). Nothing’s perfect. But zinc oxide comes pretty close to it.

I haven’t found another UV filter that protects skin as well or is as gentle. If you have  sensitive skin, it’s a total game-changer. Here’s what makes zinc oxide the best sunscreen ingredient ever (in my humble opinion) and why you should consider giving it a go:

What Is Zinc Oxide?

Zinc oxide is a white, inert earth mineral. It’s made by oxidizing zinc, a process that makes it a powerhouse at treating a variety of skin conditions, from inflammation to sun damage and even acne. Up until the 1980s, zinc oxide was mainly used to treat rashes. From the 1980s, this active gained popularity as an UV filter and sun damage treatment.

Zinc Oxide Benefits For Skin

Zinc Oxide isn’t just an UV filter. That’s its main superpower and the reason I love it so much. But Zinc Oxide has many other benefits for your skin:

  1. Provides broad-spectrum protection: Zinc Oxide creates a rich layer on the skin that absorbs UV rays and turns them into a less damaging form of energy (heat). It also reflects a small part of UV rays (5%) away from your skin before they can hit it and wreak their damage. This dual action keeps your skin safe from sun damage. While most UV filters protect your skin from either UVA or UVB rays, Zinc Oxide protects you, on its own, from the entire UV range.
  2. Improves healing: It temporarily protects injured or exposed skin from harmful or annoying stimuli, so they can heal faster. It also soothes irritations.
  3. Absorbs excess oil: Zinc oxide is slightly astringent, it can absorb a little excess oil from your skin, this helping to reduce breakouts.
  4. Treats acne: Zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties. Acne is an inflammatory condition, so anything that can tone down the inflammation helps reduce it. It can’t single-handedly get rid of pimples, but it does play a part in acne recovery.
  5. Prevents bacterial infection: I’ve already mentioned Zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties and helps treat wounds. It also has anti-microbial properties. According to a 2003 study, these properties lower the chance of developing bacterial infections.
  6. Colorant: It imparts colour to cosmetics. For example, it’s used to create different shades of foundations and concealers.
  7. Thickener: It adjusts the consistency of cosmetic products. The less you use, the more translucent they are. The more you use, the higher the coverage they provide.

Zinc Oxide In Sunscreens

Zinc Oxide has many uses, but you’ll mainly find it in sunscreens to provide broad-spectrum sun protection. I personally think it’s the best UV filters out there, and here’s why:

  • Broad-spectrum protection: Most UV filters protect skin only from UVA or UVB rays. Zinc oxide is the only one that protects it from them all! If you have sensitive skin, this is great news. The more UV filters you use, the higher the chance of an irritation.
  • Better stability: Most UV filters degrade quickly when exposed to sunlight. Zinc oxide is more stable so you can go a little longer without reapplying your sunscreen (but don’t take it as an excuse to never reapply!).
  • Gentler: Chemical UV filters often irritate skin or cause allergies. Zinc oxide is very gentle on the skin and is safe even for babies and the most sensitive of skin types (the only exception: if you’re allergic to zinc).

Are you as in love as I am?

Related: 3 Reasons Why Mineral Sunscreen Is Best For Sensitive Skin


Is your sunscreen up to the job? Download your FREE “Sunscreen Audit” to find out if your sunscreen is both safe AND effective:


Zinc Oxide Side Effects

Zinc oxide is generally considered to be safe. So safe, that even sensitive skin can use it without irritations. I’ve had clients with skin so sensitive, they couldn’t use any sunscreens at all. Once I got them using a sunscreen with Zinc Oxide and almost nothing else, they were finally able to protect their skin from the sun without irritation. Having said that, always do a patch test before using any new product.

The main side effects of zinc oxide are aesthetics. Zinc oxide is a white mineral, so it can leave that ghastly white residue on your skin (and photos). I don’t mind this. I’m so pale you can barely see it anyway.

For darker damsels, the white cast is a real problem. You want to keep your skin safe from UV harm but can’t go around looking like you’re wearing a mask. Luckily, there’s a workaround. Pick a tinted sunscreen. Problem solved.

You can also go with nano zinc oxide. Nanotechnology makes zinc oxide so small, it’s invisible to the naked eye. That means no white cast! It also makes it easier to spread (zinc oxide can be pretty thick and greasy, too!)

Are Zinc Nanoparticles In Sunscreen Safe?

I know a lot of you are scared of using nanoparticles because you’ve heard they can penetrate the skin and cause all sorts of havoc.

But that’s not true. A 2010 study found that very, very little (less than 0.1% of the applied dose) penetrates skin. The rest stays on the surface of your skin, where it needs to be to protect you from the sun. An UV filter that penetrates skin isn’t good to anyone!

That little amount that gets through is too low to cause any harm. It’s not my personal opinion. The European Union thinks so too. The Scientific Committee On Consumer Safety  concluded that zinc oxide nanoparticles “at a concentration up to 25% as a UV-filter in sunscreens, can be considered not to pose a risk of adverse effects in humans after dermal application.ā€

Zinc oxide nanoparticles are only banned from spray sunscreens because of the risk of inhalation (but you shouldn’t use spray sunscreens anyway!).

Related: Is Nanotechnology In Sunscreen Good Or Bad?

Can Zinc Oxide Cause Acne?

Zinc Oxide itself generally doesn’t cause acne. But some formulations can be thick and contain ingredients that can be comedogenic. Always look at the label and, if something makes your break out, stop using it.

badger balm zinc oxide sunscreen cream spf 30

How To Use Zinc Oxide Sunscreens

You use Zinc Oxide sunscreens in the same way you’d use any other sunscreen. You apply it generously as the last step of your morning skincare routine. For best results, pat it on your skin. Rubbing may be faster, but you also risk rubbing some of the sunscreen off your face, resulting in an uneven application. Wait at least 10 minutes for it to form an even layer on your skin and then apply your makeup. Again, I know waiting can be annoying. But what’s the point of applying sunscreen if your makeup is going to rub it off your face?

What Are The Best Sunscreens With Zinc Oxide?

  • Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 30 ($36.00): A tinted mineral sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection. Most suitable for dry skin. Available at Cult BeautySephora, and SpaceNK
  • EltaMD UV Pure BroadSpectrum SPF 47 ($25.00): A wonderful, lightweight formula for oily skin that provides broad-spectrum protection without leaving a greasy, white mess. Available at Dermstore and Walmart
  • Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection SPF 50 Sunscreen + WetForce For Sensitive Skin & Children ($42.00): Lightweight and waterproof, this sunscreen provides high broad-spectrum protection gentle enough for sensitive skin. Available at Neiman Marcus and Sephora
niod survival 30 review

The Bottom line

Zinc oxide is by far the safest UV filters out there today. It provides broad spectrum protection without the irritation. You don’t even have to put up with the white cast anymore (if you can find a tinted formula)!