OK, so it might not be the most glamorous product in your skincare lineup, but did you know sunscreen is in fact the most important anti-aging product you can buy? Sun exposure or photo-aging is responsible for around 80-90% of visible signs of aging, but the good news is that this is actually preventable. By using sunscreen on the daily, you can shield your skin from harmful UV rays that cause premature aging and skin damage including fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, collagen depletion, loss of elasticity, and rough texture. And, with so many different sunscreens to choose from, finding one that you'll use every day, that meshes well with your skin, and doesn't irritate or cause breakouts is key to ensuring you keep good SPF habits. But before you go down a rabbit hole of sunscreen advice, we'll let you into a big skincare secret, zinc oxide sunscreen is one of our all-time favorites.
“One of the most effective sunscreen ingredients that’s universally tolerated across all skin types and tones is zinc oxide,” explains Dr. Nina Desai, Board-Certified Dermatologist. “It blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays, and is both photostable and water-resistant, so it won’t break down in the sun or in water.”
Zinc oxide in its various forms has been used in skincare products dating back centuries, but more recently is found in topical products for sensitive skin and babies—think diaper creams and calamine, thanks to its soothing, anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s a popular ingredient in mineral or physical sunscreens as unlike chemical sunscreens which absorb into the skin, zinc oxide sunscreen sits on the surface, and deflects the sun’s rays, providing instant protection against any sun damage.
“Mineral or physical sunscreen works by laying on the surface of the skin and deflecting UV rays away from the skin. This action can be referred to as reflecting UV rays away from the skin like a mirror,” explains Anna De La Cruz, Glo’s Master Aesthetician. “There are only two FDA-approved mineral sunscreen ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. By laying on the surface of the skin, there is less potential for irritation, so mineral SPFs tend to be the go-to choice for sensitive skin.”
And, zinc oxide’s sun protection is robust. “It’s known as a broad-spectrum sunscreen so it has one of the broadest UVA coverages of all sunscreen ingredients available right now, plus UVB coverage,” adds Dr. Nina. “I love to recommend Solar Shade SPF 50 to my patients, as it's an excellent all-mineral, reef-safe, high factor daily sunscreen that contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for high-factor sun protection.”
While zinc oxide is known for having a heavier, opaque, white texture which can make the skin look pale or ashy; “Many formulations now either use micronized technology to reduce the zinc oxide particle size, so it appears transparent when applied to the skin,” Anna explains. “In some formulations to help avoid any ashiness, it's combined with a flexible, sheer tint for optimal application and a flawless finish. Our Tinted Primer SPF 30 and Protecting Powder SPF 20 both contain zinc oxide sun protection and flexible tints, so you get all that protection and a little extra color boost too.”
Long story short; everyone. Because it’s an excellent anti-inflammatory, those with sensitive skin and more serious skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea can tolerate zinc oxide well. For a daily, pure-mineral SPF that’s super hydrating for dry and sensitive skin, you can’t go wrong with Daily Mineral Defense SPF 30, as it contains all mineral, reef-safe ingredients, and safflower extract for a boost of moisture.
As it sits on the surface as a physical sun blocker, zinc oxide won’t clog pores or cause congestion, making it perfect for more acne-prone skin too. Oil Free SPF 40+ is a great option if you have oily or combination skin as it contains zinc oxide plus antioxidants to strengthen and hydrate skin without causing blemishes.
Another key benefit of zinc oxide and physical sunscreens is for anyone who suffers from melasma or hyperpigmentation—both conditions that can be triggered or worsened by the heat and light of the sun’s rays. Unlike chemical sunscreens which work by absorbing into the skin where they convert the UV rays into heat, then release that heat from the skin, physical sunscreens block UV light from penetrating the skin without producing heat, so they won’t aggravate pigmentary issues or cause heat and redness within the skin.
Every day, even indoors, even in winter. We’ll say it on repeat. Sun protection isn’t just for the beach, we’re exposed to the sun every day, whether we go outside or stay indoors. And, although the sun’s rays are weaker in winter, they can still cause skin damage and photo-aging. Find a zinc oxide sunscreen formulation that fits your skin’s needs, and apply every day to your face, and anywhere else the sun may reach such as hands, neck, décolleté.