Editor’s Picks: 12 of the Best Zinc Oxide Sunscreens That Protect Your Skin Without Looking Chalky

Meet the new generation of natural sunscreens.
By Michelle Villett ,

If you're concerned about sunburn, skin cancer and the signs of aging (and who isn't?!), then a zinc oxide sunscreen is the best way to safeguard your skin. 

Here in North America, zinc oxide is the only active sunscreen ingredient that offers extensive protection against both UVA (the rays that cause skin cancer and skin aging) and UVB (the rays that cause burning).

As a natural mineral, it's also very safe, since it remains on the skin surface instead of absorbing into blood and tissue—so it won't cause hormonal disruption. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties make it ideal for sensitive and acne-prone skin.

The only downside? Zinc oxide has a bad rep for giving your skin a chalky white or grey cast.

But that's changing, thanks to a new generation of zinc oxide sunscreens that virtually disappear on your skin. Here's what to look for, plus the best formulas I've found.


What to Look for in a Zinc Oxide Sunscreen


@b.dewyy

When choosing a zinc oxide sunscreen, I want to ensure that it is not only elegant to use, but also highly protective and free of ingredients that could congest or irritate my skin. Here are my requirements:

  • High in micronized zinc oxide: For broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection, the concentration of zinc oxide needs to be at least 20%. Micronized zinc oxide, which means it has been processed into small particle sizes, will appear clear when rubbed into the skin. 
  • Low in titanium dioxide: According to Dr. Sharyn Laughlin, an Ottawa-based dermatologist and co-founder of The Sunscreen Company, titanium dioxide is actually the worst culprit for causing a white or grey cast. People with deeper skin tones (think: V or VI on the Fitzpatrick scale) may prefer to avoid the ingredient completely. 
  • Low in PUFAs: Oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, a.k.a. PUFAs, rapidly oxidize when exposed to heat and light, generating free radicals and even cellular damage. That's why I avoid sunscreens that have PUFAs in the first five ingredients (which typically represent about 80% of the product).
  • Low in fragrance: Since fragrance is the number one trigger for skin reactions, it's good to avoid or limit it wherever possible.
  • Low in silicones: There's no safety concern with silicones, but their film-forming action can be comedogenic and interferes with cellular renewal. On my face, I avoid sunscreens with silicones in the first five ingredients.
  • Reef-safe: Zinc oxide does not do damage to coral reefs.

The Best Zinc Oxide Sunscreens of 2021


Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 32

Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 32

  • Details: Kinship Self Reflect Probiotic Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 32 is a hydrating but non-greasy sunscreen packed with probiotics to support and repair your skin barrier. It has a slight beige tint that disappears when you rub it in, and it dries down with a glowy yet pore-blurring finish. It's also silicone-free.
  • Active ingredient: 22.4% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, coconut alkanes, fatty alcohol, glycerin, aloe, probiotics.
  • Best for: All skin, especially acne-prone skin.
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Ghost Democracy Invisible Lightweight Daily Face Sunscreen SPF 33

Ghost Democracy Invisible Lightweight Daily Face Sunscreen SPF 33

  • Details: Ghost Democracy Invisible Lightweight Daily Face Sunscreen SPF 33 is a fast-absorbing sunscreen that not only protects your skin with zinc oxide, but also treats it with three other active ingredients. The niacinamide soothes redness, minimizes pores and strengthens the skin barrier, while artichoke leaf and turmeric extracts fight free radicals and boost radiance. This sunscreen is also fragrance-free and silicone-free.
  • Active ingredient: 20% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: 4% niacinamide, 1.5% artichoke leaf extract, 1.3% turmeric extract, fractionated coconut oil, glycerin, vitamin B5 (panthenol).
  • Best for: All skin.
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EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

  • Details: EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35 is a groundbreaking serum sunscreen that's perfect for anyone who hates the heavy feel and white cast of most SPFs. Despite containing the maximum amount of zinc oxide, it has a thin, fluid texture that sinks in fast and is transparent on all skin tones—so it doesn't look or feel like you're wearing sunscreen. It's also fragrance-free and silicone-free.
  • Active ingredient: 25% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, coconut alkanes, safflower oleosomes, prickly pear extract.
  • Best for: All skin. 
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Ava Isa Sun-é-Serum Drops SPF 35

Ava Isa Sun-é-Serum Drops SPF 35

  • Details: Ava Isa Sun-é-Serum Drops SPF 35 is a silky sunscreen serum that both looks invisible and feels weightless on your skin. It features the highest possible concentration of zinc oxide, and no fragrance or silicones. It's also spiked with the antioxidant Micah to quench free radicals and reduce the damaging effects of blue light. (FYI, except for the Micah, this is the same formula as the EleVen by Venus Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35, just with different branding.)
  • Active ingredient: 25% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, coconut alkanes, safflower oleosomes, Micah.
  • Best for: All skin.
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Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

  • Details: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is a gentle and hydrating sunscreen with a sheer, dewy finish. Although it was originally meant for babies, its blend of zinc oxide and plant-derived hydrators is just as suitable for adults, especially those with sensitive skin. It's also fragrance-free, silicone-free and non-sticky.
  • Active ingredient: 20% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, squalane, glycerin, fatty alcohol.
  • Best for: Normal to dry and sensitive skin.
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Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinte Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

  • Details: Drunk Elephant Umbra Tinted Physical Daily Defense SPF 30 is a light, creamy sunscreen with a sheer tint. While it doesn't give you coverage, the pigment helps to offset any white cast and subtly evens out medium to deep skin tones. (But it may be too warm for fair skin—try the brand's Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30, reviewed here, instead.) This formula is also free of fragrance and essential oils, and low in silicone. 
  • Active ingredient: 20% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, glycerin, pentylene glycol, fatty alcohol, silica, marula oil, aloe, seaweed extract, algae extract, sunflower sprout extract.
  • Best for: All skin.
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NUORI Mineral Defence Sunscreen SPF 30

NUORI Mineral Defence Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Details: NUORI Mineral Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 is an all-natural sunscreen with a barely-there tint (which disappears on your skin). Besides giving you a high level of protection, it doubles as a mattifying makeup primer, and has a subtle blurring effect on fine lines. It's also fragrance-free, silicone-free and made in small batches every 12 weeks for maximum freshness.
  • Active ingredient: 23% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, glycerin, silica, fatty alcohols, karanja oil, sunflower seed oil, carrot seed oil.
  • Best for: Normal to dry and sensitive skin.
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EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30

  • Details: EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 is an innovative sunscreen that boasts the highest possible concentration of zinc oxide, yet it looks and feels invisible on your skin. It's silicone-free and fragrance-free, with a lotion texture and a semi-matte finish. Although it does take a little more time to blend out, it becomes transparent—even on deep skin tones.
  • Active ingredient: 25% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, propanediol, fermented yeast.
  • Best for: All skin.
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CyberDerm Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 30

CyberDerm Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 30

  • Details: CyberDerm Every Morning Sun Whip SPF 30 was recently upgraded with a new formula, new packaging and higher SPF number. Now it contains the maximum percentage of zinc oxide in a silicone-free, fragrance-free lotion that becomes transparent on all skin tones. Just keep in mind that it does take some more time to rub in. (FYI, this is the same formula as EleVen by Venus On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30, just different branding.)
  • Active ingredient: 25% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, propanediol, fermented yeast.
  • Best for: All skin.
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Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30

Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30

  • Details: Kypris Pot of Shade: Heliotropic SPF 30 comes in a pot, not a tube, and acts as a sunscreen, moisturizer and makeup primer in one. As it protects from UV rays, it also gives your skin a smoother, plumper and more luminous finish. It's comprised of mostly natural ingredients, and contains no silicones, essential oils or fragrance. 
  • Active ingredient: 20% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Fractionated coconut oil, coconut alkanes, glycerin, silica, rose extract.
  • Best for: All skin.
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Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 30

Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 30

  • Details: Suntegrity 5-in-1 Tinted Sunscreen Moisturizer SPF 30 is a multitasking sunscreen, moisturizer, primer, skin treatment and skin tint. It's high in zinc oxide and antioxidants, low in silicone, and free of fragrance. There are four sheer shades to choose from (although they only go as dark as a medium), which give skin a glowy, dewy finish.
  • Active ingredient: 20% zinc oxide.
  • Other ingredients: Aloe, fractionated coconut oil, jojoba oil, Epsom salt, sunflower seed oil, cucumber extract, hyaluronic acid.
  • Best for: All skin.
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CyberDerm Simply Zinc Lite Untinted Transparent Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

CyberDerm Simply Zinc Lite Untinted Transparent Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

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