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If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a thousand times: It’s absolutely imperative to use sunscreen every day, 365 days per year, rain or shine, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You can exfoliate, mask and moisturize until the cows come home, but if your sunscreen game isn’t on point, all the products in the world won’t save your skin. When it comes to choosing a sunscreen, there are some criteria that are most important to look for. "You want to make sure the sunscreen you pick is at least SPF 30, that it is labeled as broad-spectrum, and that it contains zinc oxide with or without titanium dioxide," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan.
Sunscreen formulas fall into two categories. There are chemical options and mineral (or physical) sunscreens. "Chemical sunscreen ingredients absorb the energy of the sun and undergo a chemical reaction protecting the skin from absorbing that energy," Dr. Akhavan says. "Physical sunblocks, which I prefer and recommend to my patients reflect the sun's energy away from our skin." Each has its own set of pros and cons, but mineral sunscreens are generally less irritating. One of the most commonly used minerals in sunscreen is zinc oxide. But it’s not like the thick, goopy, white stuff that lifeguards slather on their noses. The latest iterations are much more cosmetically elegant.
Here, the best zinc oxide sunscreens perfect for shielding your skin.
Best Overall: EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50
From one of the brands most-often recommended derms, this formula—made with 9% clear zinc oxide—is a go-to for outdoor workouts, though you can use it at any time of day too. Water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, it won’t drip off as you sweat. Since it's also non-comedogenic, clogged pores won’t be an issue.
Best for Body: Bare Republic Mineral Spray Vanilla Coconut SPF 50
There’s no denying that spray sunscreens are much easier to use on your body than traditional creams or lotions, particularly when it comes to getting those hard-to-reach spots like your back. The only issue? Spray sunscreens have been entirely chemical formulas…until recently. Enter this mineral option, which uses, you guessed it, zinc oxide. You get the easy-to-use benefits of a spray, added antioxidant protection, and a naturally-derived tropical scent. And since this spray is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, it’s choice for beach or pool days. While it does look white when you first spray it on, it ultimately dries sheer as you rub it in.
Best for Face: Isdin Eryfotona Actinica Ultralight Emulsion SPF 50+
Yes, the name is admittedly a mouthful, but don’t be put off by that. One of our perennial go-to's and a favorite of Dr. Akhavan, this formula uses straight-up zinc oxide for powerful protection, and also contains DNA repairsomes, ingredients that also help reverse previous sun damage. Best of all, it’s incredibly lightweight and melts into your skin, which is why it consistently holds a coveted spot among our daily skincare staples. Because it is an emulsion, make sure to give it a good shake before using.
Best for Dark Skin: Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30
This touts an impressive 20% concentration of zinc oxide, which would normally mean that it could look white or chalky, particularly on darker skin tones. Not the case here. The sheer texture melts beautifully into the skin without leaving behind any kind of tell-tale residue, as pointed out by happy Sephora reviewers (even those with dark skin). Also nice: Along with powerful sun protection, it contains two different types of antioxidants to counteract free radical damage caused by sun exposure.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Dry-Touch Broad Spectrum SPF 50
If your skin is easily irritated, any kind of mineral sunscreen is going to be your best bet, but this one, in particular, takes the cake. Made with 100% zinc oxide, it’s also hypoallergenic. It’s so gentle that it’s even earned the National Eczema Association’s seal of approval. And whether your skin is sensitive or not, the completely dry, non-greasy finish is a universal crowd-pleaser.
Best Classic Zinc: Sun Bum Original SPF 50 Clear Zinc
Consider this the modern take on old-school, thick, white zinc oxide (per our lifeguard reference from earlier). It comes in a jar so you can easily scoop on as much as you want, but is completely clear. Satisfied reviewers comment on how easily and pleasantly it goes on skin, without ever feeling or looking pasty.
Best for Travel: Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Stick
There’s no need to stress about TSA confiscation with this solid stick. Not only is the spill-proof formula perfect for travel, but the small size is also great for swiping on often forgotten spots like your ears and the back of your neck. Zinc oxide is suspended in a hydrating, cocoa seed butter base, so it glides on seamlessly, without pulling or tugging.
Best for Eye Contour: SkinCeuticals Physical Eye UV Defense SPF 50
The skin around your eyes is the thinnest on the body, which makes it extremely susceptible to sun damage. Using a sunscreen dedicated for this area, such as this one, is a good way to get the protection you need, without worrying about it running into and stinging your eyes. With microfine zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, it’s specially formulated to stay put—so much so that you can even apply it on your eyelids. The whipped texture layers nicely under makeup, too.
Best for Lips: Badger Clear Zinc Oxide Sunscreen Lip Balm
As anyone who has ever gotten a sunburn on their lips will tell you, it’s freaking painful. Protect your pout with this clear zinc oxide stick. You get the necessary sun protection, but thanks to the (97% organic) moisturizing base of beeswax, extra virgin olive oil, and shea and cocoa butter, it’s just a great everyday lip balm.
Best Natural: 100 Percent Pure Green Tea SPF 30
While yes, generally speaking, mineral sunscreens are going to be ‘cleaner’ than chemical formulas, some of them still sneak in other chemical ingredients you may not want. Not the case with this newbie, where the extras read more like what you’d put in a smoothie. We’re talking green tea, cucumber, raspberry seed oil, and aloe juice, for antioxidant protection, plus hydration and soothing benefits, too.
Best Tinted Formula: Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50
There are some days you want to wear a full face of makeup…and then there are some days when you just don’t. On those days, reach for this sunscreen. A dream team of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide deliver SPF 50 protection, while antioxidant ingredients pull double duty, shielding your skin from damage caused by both sun exposure and pollution. And to our point about going makeup-free, the subtle tint is just enough to even out your skin tone, while also leaving your complexion looking perfectly dewy.
Best for Touch-Ups: Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50
Here’s the thing: You really should be reapplying your sunscreen every two hours. That can seem like a lofty goal, but this powder makes it surprisingly attainable (available in four shades, it also won’t mess up your makeup). Equal parts zinc oxide and titanium dioxide protect from not only UVA and UVB rays, but also blue light, the light emitted from the screens of electronic devices, which can also be damaging to skin.
Best for Sunscreen Haters: Coola 360 Mineral Sun Silk Crème Organic Sunscreen
Even most sunscreen-averse won’t have a hard time using this featherweight formula daily. Light and airy, the oil-free sunscreen looks and feels completely undetectable. It blocks out rays with zinc oxide but also packs a punch of plant-based ingredients, and antioxidants guard against other skin saboteurs, like pollution, blue light, and infrared heat. The icing on the cake? Youth-boosting plant stem cells and niacinamide.