Zinc oxide has become an increasingly popular ingredient in cosmetics, particularly in sunscreens, due to its ability to protect against harmful UV rays. But is zinc oxide really safe for our skin and the environment? In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of using zinc oxide in cosmetics, its safety and environmental impact, and best practices for incorporating it into your skincare routine.

What is Zinc Oxide?

Zinc oxide is a naturally occurring mineral that is commonly used in a variety of industries, including cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and electronics. In cosmetics, zinc oxide is used primarily as a sunscreen agent due to its ability to block both UVA and UVB rays.

Zinc oxide is a white powder that is insoluble in water and can be found in various forms, including nano and non-nano particles. Nano zinc oxide particles are very small and can penetrate the skin more easily, whereas non-nano particles are larger and tend to sit on the surface of the skin.

How Does Zinc Oxide Work in Cosmetics?

Zinc oxide works by reflecting and scattering UV rays, which prevents them from penetrating the skin and causing damage. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, zinc oxide does not break down or lose its effectiveness over time.

Zinc oxide has several benefits over chemical sunscreens, including:

  • It is less likely to cause skin irritation or allergic reactions
  • It provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays
  • It is more stable and less likely to degrade over time
  • It is less harmful to the environment than some chemical sunscreen ingredients

The Safety of Zinc Oxide in Cosmetics

Zinc oxide has been extensively tested for safety and is generally considered safe for use in cosmetics. In fact, the FDA has approved zinc oxide as a safe and effective active ingredient in sunscreens.

One concern with zinc oxide is the potential for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin. However, studies have shown that the amount of zinc oxide that is absorbed is minimal and unlikely to cause any harm.

Another concern is the risk of inhaling zinc oxide particles, particularly in the case of nano particles. While inhaling large amounts of zinc oxide particles can be harmful, the risk of inhalation is generally low when using sunscreen and other cosmetic products.

Environmental Impact of Zinc Oxide in Cosmetics

Zinc oxide has a relatively low environmental impact compared to some chemical sunscreen ingredients, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which have been shown to harm coral reefs and other marine life.

Zinc oxide is also biodegradable and eco-friendly, meaning it does not persist in the environment and can be broken down naturally over time.

Zinc Oxide in Cosmetics: Best Practices

When using zinc oxide in cosmetics, it’s important to choose products that are labeled as “cosmetic grade” to ensure they are safe for use on the skin. It’s also a good idea to choose products that contain non-nano zinc oxide particles, as they are less likely to penetrate the skin.

When applying sunscreen or other zinc oxide products, be sure to apply enough to cover all exposed skin and reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or sweating.

Finally, be aware that zinc oxide can leave a white cast on the skin, especially in products that contain high concentrations of the ingredient. If you’re concerned about the white cast, look for products that contain micronized or encapsulated zinc oxide particles, which can help reduce the appearance of the white cast.


Zinc oxide is a safe and effective alternative to harmful chemicals in cosmetics, particularly in sunscreens