With convenient spray-on options and clear or tinted lotions, you won’t need to worry about looking like a chalky white ghost this summer.
After the FDA released warnings in 2019 saying that chemicals from sunscreen can absorb into your bloodstream, many beachgoers are making the switch to sunscreens made only with natural ingredients, like zinc oxide. While zinc oxide can sometimes leave behind a pesky white cast on your skin, it’s a much better choice than not using sunscreen at all. And hey, don’t knock it ‘til you try it—there are now clear and tinted zinc oxide sunscreens available that can reduce the amount of white residue left on your skin and offer all the natural sun protection you need.
“Zinc oxide is a mineral-based compound that’s used both as a skin protectant and as a sunscreen,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Health. Basically, it offers broad spectrum protection against UVB and UVA rays—similar to what you would get in a chemical sunscreen—without the harmful ingredients.
These are the best zinc oxide sunscreens for your face in 2021
- Best Overall: Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Sunscreen
- Best Drugstore Option: CeraVe Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
- Best Tinted Option: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
- Best for Melasma: EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad Spectrum SPF 44
- Best Sunscreen Spray: Supergoop 100% Mineral Sunscreen Mist with Marigold Extract Broad Spectrum SPF 30
- Best for Under Makeup: Revision Intellishade TruPhysical Anti-Aging Tinted Moisturizer with Sunscreen
- Best for Babies and Kids: Supergoop Sunnyscreen 100% Mineral Lotion
- Best for Lips: Vanicream Lip Protectant Sunscreen SPF 30
- Best for Mature Skin: PCA Skin Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50+
- Best Powder: Colorescience Brush-On Sunscreen Mineral Powder
- Best for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
But, how does it actually work? When zinc oxide is applied to the skin, it creates a protective seal, Dr. Zeichner explains. “Ultraviolet light hits the zinc oxide and reflects away from the skin, preventing it from penetrating.”
Because it’s not absorbed into the skin like chemical sunscreens, zinc oxide tends to be less irritating, especially for sensitive skin types and those with acne, rosacea, and eczema, says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s also a great option for babies and kids who have weak skin barriers that aren’t as developed—and can even be used safely on children as young as six months—she adds.
If you’re using a sunscreen that contains only zinc oxide, you’ll want to reapply every two hours because the ingredients can clump together on the skin (making them less effective over time), Dr. Zeichner notes.
On the hunt for the most effective zinc oxide sunscreen out there? We asked dermatologists for their favorite zinc oxide options. From clear and tinted lotions to convenient sprays to the best zinc oxide sunscreen for your face, all of their picks, below, will offer the protection you need for a day in the sun—sans the dreaded chalky white look.