Let's talk sun protection. (Because yes, 'tis the season, and the flaming-hot temperatures of summer are just a beat away!) As a skincare category, sunscreen has attracted a lot of discussion and heat over the past few years. First of all, there's a glaring issue regarding the lack of diversity. Despite the influx of new formulas that hit the market each year, the ratio catering to skin tones is horrifyingly tiny. Not to mention annoying white residue and unflattering ashen finishes are most synonymous with zinc oxide–based sunscreens, which many tout as the safer, better-for-the-environment option compared to their chemical counterparts. If only a few of said safer zinc oxide sunscreens can effectively cater to consumers of all colors, that's problematic, to say the least.
And of course, there's a lot of debate about the pros and cons of mineral/physical sunscreens (the kind that feature the aforementioned zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and sit on top of the skin and reflect away the sun's rays instead of being absorbed) and chemical formulas (the kind that contain active sun filters like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone and penetrate the skin and absorb harmful UV rays to stave off damage).
We'll let you do your own research to decide which kind of sunscreen is best for your own needs. The important thing is that you're wearing sunscreen and that it has an SPF of at least 30. We also highly recommend you take a look at this helpful guide from the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) website when you're reading up on your different options.
However, since my fellow beauty editor, Courtney Higgs, and I are always asked which zinc oxide sunscreens are the best money can buy, we're sharing our top 10 picks below. These are the formulas that have been recommended to us by experts, the formulas we've tried and fallen in love with, and the formulas (and brands) that are putting in the most work to be inclusive in terms of their finish and shade range. Keep scrolling!
Where to start? There are so many amazing things to love about this new sunscreen from clean, sustainably made skincare brand Versed. (Read our full review of the exciting launch here.) First and foremost, it gets our biggest gold star because it literally does not leave any kind of residue or cast to the skin. (ICYMI, that's basically unheard of when it comes to zinc oxide formulas.) Additionally, it's noncomedogenic, pillowy-soft and lightweight, and fortified with hardworking antioxidants to prevent potential damage from the environment and the blue light emitting from your screen right now. Truly, it's the perfect sunscreen, and we have yet to hear anything but glowing reviews. Supergoop! has earned a reputation as one of the best brands for all sunscreen needs, hands down. That said, the brand has an extra-special knack for creating formulas that not only protect our skin from damaging rays but also play well with our makeup. Their new Glowscreen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($36) and the cult-classic Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 ($34) formulas are top contenders, but this zinc oxide formula is also amazing. It's enhanced with a skin-brightening pink tint that caters to your natural skin tone to help counteract the telltale white residue that's symptomatic of so many zinc oxide sunscreens. Boosted with niacinamide, lactic acid, zinc oxide, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E, it's no wonder this particular sunscreen from EltaMD is pretty much hailed as the best in all the land by derms, facialists, and beauty editors alike. Courtney and I are both huge fans. She loves that it does its name justice and indeed dries clear, and I'm additionally appreciative that it doesn't clog or inflame my acne-prone pores. Recently, I was sent this brand-new brush-on powder sunscreen from ZO Skin Health (a line designed by world-renowned dermatologist Zein Obagi), and I have been so impressed. I'm typically more of a cream or gel kind of gal when it comes to sunscreen, but I love how this sheer formula leaves a weightless veil of zinc oxide–infused sun protection atop my face while imparting a subtle glow. It comes in three shades (deep, medium, and light), which are touted as universally flattering. I can't attest to that as I've only tried the light, but as the coverage is extremely sheer, I have an inkling deep and medium skin tones will have luck with this formula as well. (If not, DM me and let me know!) French drugstore brand La Roche-Posay has won countless awards (year after year after year) for its A+ sunscreen formulas. Its Anthelios line, in particular, garners lots of attention. After testing this tinted zinc oxide formula from the line, Courtney and I can wholeheartedly confirm it's one of the best (and most universally flattering) tinted sunscreens on the market. Courtney did note that although she's a huge fan of the texture, there is a little bit of a detectable cast left on the skin. However, it's slight, and she tells me she'd be down to wear it underneath makeup since it checks off all of her other boxes. Not only does this zinc oxide sunscreen score super-high ratings on both Sephora and Dermstore, but Courtney also attests that it's definitely one of the better options on the market when it comes to a barely detectable cast or finish. "There's a little cast at first, but it faded after a few minutes," she tells me. That said, she says she's not sure what it would look like on ultra-deep skin tones. When celebrity facialist Shani Darden recommends a product, you just listen. After I went through a really bad bout of breakouts, she suggested I add this oil-free formula to my regimen, explaining that it would keep my complexion protected from sun damage without clogging my pores or exciting new pimples. It's been a fit-for-a-fairytale story of true love, and I've been hooked ever since. "Sunscreen is the most important product to use daily," Darden explains on her website. "This oil-free sunscreen provides sun protection but also feels like a moisturizer when you apply it. I’ve never been able to find another sunscreen that has the same lightweight, non-greasy feel to it." As I was scouring the internet to find the best zinc oxide sunscreens to recommend, an old First Aid Beauty formula came up a lot. As I researched, it seemed the brand had discontinued a fan favorite that consumers of all skin tones touted as truly invisible and amazing. Even though the brand has since taken that particular product off of the market (from what I can gather), it's launched a brand-new formula in its place that reviewers seem just as thrilled over. Word on the rating street is that it does, indeed, look practically invisible on all skin tones, and it even has other perks like being non-greasy and noncomedogenic. If you're looking to cover all of your bases (aka, your head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes), this best-selling SPF formula from Colorscience is a winner. Not only does it feature zinc oxide as it's starring damage-fighting agent, but it also has lovely additions like shea butter, youth-enhancing antioxidants, skin-soothing plant extracts, and more. Technically, the slight tint this product has is described as "universal," but if you have a rich skin tone, we recommend opting for this bronze version that effortlessly melts into the skin to deliver lit-from-within radiance.
If you're a clean-beauty stan, you're likely already familiar with Suntegrity's highly popular 5-in-1 Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen ($45). But if you're in the market for something a little less dewy and with more shade options, this zinc oxide formula is a great alternative. A true multitasker, it delivers medium coverage to help blur the look of any skin imperfections, and it plays host to tons of amazing ingredients like vitamins C and E, peptides, melanin, and hyaluronic acid. There's even an environmental shield that comes to bat with the product's MVP (non-nano zinc oxide) to stave off pollutants, allergens, and, of course, sun damage. Up next, 17 Sheer Sunscreens That Are Actually Sheer on Black Girls