How does Zinc Oxide protect skin?

A couple months ago the FDA announced another round of regulations on sunscreens in an effort to up the ante on how well they perform and make it easier for us to determine which ones actually work. Many argue the new system is more confusing, and to be honest, who really has the time to keep up with all these changes?

What’s more, there is a lot of misinformation circulating about sunscreen ingredients – mineral vs. chemical, what SPF we should be using, and the list goes on. It’s been discovered that now that the chemical blockerscommonly used can potentially be dangerous and we should stick to more natural alternatives like Zinc Oxide. In case you don’t know about this ingredient, here is an up-close-and-personal look.

What It Is

Zinc Oxide (ZnO) is an inorganic compound that typically appears as a white powder, nearly insoluble in water. The natural mineral form comes from the Earth’s crust, but it can also be produced synthetically.

While it has almost countless uses (it serves as an additive in ceramics, glass, plastics, cement, pigments, food, and the list goes on), in terms of skin care it has been used for hundreds of years for its non-irritating characteristics. Even today it is used in baby powder, calamine cream and antiseptic ointments to treat various skin conditions. Zinc is also used in sunscreen formulas(remember back in the day the colored zinc in tubes you could put under your eyes and a line down your nose and pretend you were a linebacker?).

How It Works

Zinc works by forming a protective physical barrier over the skin to block the sun’s rays – sort of working as a natural reflective shield. This powerful mineral provides broad spectrum protection, which in turn reduces UV damage and ultimately slows the signs of aging.

Why is zinc such a great protector? Unlike the chemical agents commonly used in most mainstream sunscreen formulas, zinc oxide is not absorbed by the skin. Itsits on the skin’s surface, blocking both UVA and UVB rays, and as I mentioned it is also non-irritating and non-allergenic. Many of the chemicals used in today’s sunscreens permeate the skin and have been linked to a number of side effects and the proliferation of cancerous cells.

When searching for sunscreen (hopefully you are!) keep a few things in mind: look for zinc oxide high in the ingredient list, get an SPF of at least 15, and avoid harmful ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone.

For more information on zinc oxide, check out the RA for Men's EnviroProtect.