Can Zinc Oxide Cream Be Used for Sunblock?

Zinc oxide can leave white patches on your skin.

Photo: BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images

You know zinc oxide can be used to block out the sun, but the difference between zinc oxide cream and a sunscreen with zinc oxide as a prime ingredient can be confusing. Before you slather on a zinc oxide cream for use as a sunblock, you might want to consider some of the pros and cons. You may find that choosing a chemical sunscreen that uses this powerful sunblock as one ingredient among many works better than the cream alone.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is a physical sunblock, so it completely prevents the sun’s rays from ever reaching your skin. It’s made of inorganic minerals, so it is hypoallergenic, and it provides complete protection from both UVA and UVB light. Zinc oxide also has anti-inflammatory properties, so it soothes irritated skin while it protects you from the sun. You can find it as the primary ingredient in zinc oxide creams or as one of many ingredients in broad-spectrum sunscreens.

Zinc Oxide Creams

Zinc oxide creams are sold as sunblock, but they also have plenty of other uses. Diaper creams and burn creams that use zinc oxide as the active ingredient are similar to zinc oxide creams used for blocking out the sun. The biggest problem with using zinc oxide cream as a sunblock is that it leaves a chalky residue on your skin. So unless you're headed to a zombie-themed pool party, a layer of pasty-white zinc oxide probably isn't the look you're going for.

Nifty Nanoparticles

If you want the power of zinc oxide but not the look, there's no need to compromise on either front. Science has already come to your rescue by inventing nifty nanoparticle zinc oxide. These tiny beads of zinc oxide work the same as the regular cream, but they are so small that they sink into the skin instead of sitting on it to leave a residue. Sunscreens with nanoparticle zinc oxide glide on smoothly and cleanly, so everyone will notice your new bikini instead of whispering about that chalky coating on your skin.


Zinc oxide is considered one of the best sunblock ingredients available, both because it is so effective at blocking out the sun's rays and because it is easy on sensitive skin. However, if you do find yourself having a reaction to zinc oxide, or if you just don't like any of the products containing it, there are other options. Titanium dioxide is similar to zinc dioxide and can be used interchangeably with it. The chemical sunscreen ingredient avobenzone is the next best thing to a physical sunblock, so you can opt for a brand with this powerful compound as well.

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