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Does Zinc Sunscreen Dry Out Skin?

  • Post category:Skin Care
  • Post last modified:May 27, 2024
  • Reading time:12 mins read

Zinc oxide sunscreen is a popular choice for many due to its broad-spectrum protection and suitability for sensitive skin. However, there are concerns about whether zinc sunscreen can dry out the skin. This article explores the properties of zinc oxide, its benefits, potential drawbacks, and how to mitigate any drying effects.

What is Zinc Oxide Sunscreen?

Zinc oxide is a mineral sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays by sitting on top of the skin and reflecting UV rays away. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, zinc oxide acts as a physical barrier. This makes it a preferred choice for those with sensitive skin, as it is less likely to cause irritation.

Benefits of Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

Broad-Spectrum Protection

Zinc oxide offers superior protection against both UVA and UVB rays, which helps prevent sunburn, skin aging, and reduces the risk of skin cancer. It is one of the few sunscreen ingredients recognized as safe and effective by the FDA.

Immediate Effectiveness

Zinc oxide sunscreen works immediately upon application, unlike chemical sunscreens that require 20-30 minutes to become effective.

Suitable for Sensitive Skin

Zinc oxide is hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, making it suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin. It is also commonly used in products for babies and those with skin conditions like eczema.

Potential Drawbacks of Zinc Oxide Sunscreen

Drying Effect

One of the main concerns with zinc oxide sunscreen is its potential to dry out the skin. Zinc oxide is a mild astringent, which means it can constrict bodily tissues and reduce the secretion of natural oils (sebum) and sweat. This can lead to dryness, especially in individuals with already dry skin.

White Cast

Zinc oxide sunscreens often leave a white cast on the skin, which can be particularly noticeable on darker skin tones. This is due to the physical nature of zinc oxide particles, which reflect visible light as well as UV rays.

Texture and Application

Zinc oxide sunscreens can have a thick texture, making them harder to apply evenly. This can also contribute to a less pleasant feel on the skin compared to chemical sunscreens, which are often lighter and more easily absorbed.

How to Mitigate Drying Effects

Choose the Right Formulation

Not all zinc oxide sunscreens are created equal. Some formulations include moisturizing ingredients such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and plant oils, which can help counteract the drying effects of zinc oxide. For example, products like Sun & Earth’s tinted zinc sunscreen blend non-nano zinc oxide with nourishing ingredients like coconut oil and cacao butter to provide hydration while protecting the skin.

Layering with Moisturizer

For those with dry skin, it is advisable to apply a moisturizer before applying zinc oxide sunscreen. This can help maintain skin hydration and prevent dryness throughout the day.

Avoid High Concentrations

Higher concentrations of zinc oxide can increase the likelihood of dryness. Opting for sunscreens with a balanced concentration of zinc oxide and additional hydrating ingredients can help mitigate this issue.

Environmental and Health Considerations

Safety and Efficacy

Zinc oxide is considered safe and effective for sunscreen use by the FDA. It does not penetrate the skin’s epidermis, making it a safer alternative to some chemical sunscreens that can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Environmental Impact

Zinc oxide sunscreens are often marketed as reef-safe, as they do not contain harmful chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which can damage coral reefs. However, there are concerns about the environmental impact of zinc oxide nanoparticles. Non-nano zinc oxide is generally considered a safer option for both human health and the environment.


Zinc oxide sunscreen is a highly effective and safe option for sun protection, particularly for those with sensitive skin. However, it can have a drying effect, especially on dry skin types. By choosing formulations with moisturizing ingredients, layering with a moisturizer, and avoiding high concentrations, users can mitigate the drying effects and enjoy the benefits of zinc oxide sunscreen. As always, it is important to select a sunscreen that suits your specific skin type and needs and to apply it regularly for optimal protection.


Does zinc oxide sunscreen cause dry skin?

Zinc oxide sunscreens can potentially cause dry skin for some people. Zinc oxide is an astringent, which means it has a drying effect by reducing oily secretions on the skin. However, many modern zinc oxide sunscreen formulations contain added moisturizing ingredients like glycerin or hyaluronic acid to counteract this drying effect. The risk of dryness also depends on your skin type and the specific product formulation. 

Can zinc dry out your skin?

Yes, zinc oxide itself can have a drying effect on the skin due to its astringent properties. It works by forming a physical barrier that blocks pores and reduces sebum production, which can lead to dryness, especially for those with dry or sensitive skin types. However, many zinc oxide sunscreens are formulated with additional moisturizing ingredients to mitigate this drying effect. The degree of dryness also depends on the concentration of zinc oxide and other ingredients in the product. 

What are the disadvantages of zinc oxide sunscreen?

One of the main disadvantages of zinc oxide sunscreens is the potential to leave a white cast or chalky residue on the skin due to the mineral content reflecting UV rays. They may also require a larger amount for adequate coverage compared to chemical sunscreens. Additionally, zinc oxide can have a drying effect on some skin types. Some concerns have been raised about the environmental impact of zinc oxide nanoparticles, although more research is needed. Cost can also be higher than chemical sunscreen options. 

What are the best zinc sunscreens for sensitive skin?

For sensitive skin, look for 100% mineral or “physical” sunscreens that use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients. These tend to be gentler and less irritating than chemical sunscreens. Some top options recommended by dermatologists include EltaMD UV Pure, Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen, CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen, and Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Sunscreen. Fragrance-free and “baby” formulas can also be good choices for very sensitive skin. 

Are there any zinc sunscreens that are specifically formulated to moisturize the skin?

Yes, there are several zinc oxide sunscreen products that are formulated with added moisturizing ingredients to prevent dryness. Look for those containing hydrating components like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, plant oils/butter, and humectants. Some examples are La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen Moisturizer, CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen, Bare Republic Mineral Sunscreen Face Lotion, and Josie Maran Whipped Argan Oil Body Butter SPF 45. These are designed to provide sun protection while keeping skin nourished and hydrated.