In the 16th century, upper-class women in Western Europe covered their faces with masks constructed of black velvet, which were held in place by a single bead attached to the inside that was to be gripped between the teeth. The visard was as much a status symbol as it was an impractical early form of sun protection, meant to preserve the (hugely problematic) Elizabethan-era class indicator of pale skin and to tell everyone, "Why, yes, I do take frequent joy rides in my fancy open carriage," without saying a word (because you couldn't, with that bead all up in there).
For some weird reason, the visard hasn't stood the test of time quite as well as another centuries-old sun protector: zinc oxide, which has been used as a physical sun protectant for thousands of years. Unlike chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV light, physical sunscreens create a barrier that reflects the light so it doesn't reach the skin. It's one of the few ingredients that blocks both UVA and UVB rays — which are known to cause premature aging and skin cancer respectively — and is reef-safe, nonirritating, nonallergenic, and non-comedogenic.
So why hasn't zinc oxide remained the preferred form of sun protection, before more common ingredients like oxybenzone and homosalate? For the same reason 16th-century gentlewomen wore visards: vanity. Because it doesn't absorb into the skin, zinc oxide has a bad rap for leaving a chalky cast behind. But today's zinc oxide sunscreens are doing their best to make up for (thick, white, pasty) iterations past, offering up modern formulas for those who would prefer not to have long-term sun damage or an opaque white stripe down the bridge of their nose.
Ahead, six zinc oxide sunscreens that will make you want to throw out your chemical versions — and your visard.
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Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
This fast-absorbing vegan formula blends zinc oxide with almond oil, coconut oil, and vitamin E for a scent-free SPF 30 that's safe for head-to-toe use on even the touchiest skin types — and absorbs to a dry, non-greasy finish that won't leave you slip-sliding around on the subway.
Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30, $21, available at Amazon
Unsun Cosmetics Mineral Tinted Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen SPF 30
This tinted sunscreen's cult following is fully deserved: Unsun is made for people with medium and deep skin tones who want mineral SPF without the unwanted potential side effect of a grayish cast. Available in two shades (fair/light and medium/dark), it's been tested on a wide range of skin tones — and contains hydrating ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, and cucumber extract to further sweeten the deal.
Unsun Cosmetics Mineral Tinted Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen SPF 30, $29, available at Credo
Supergoop! Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40
Weightless and blurring, with a matte, soft-focus finish, this SPF 40 goes above and beyond by throwing in a translucent tint that couldn't look chalky if it tried. The soothing, brightening antioxidant benefits from bisabolol and resveratrol are yet another bonus.
Supergoop! Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40, $38, available at DermStore
REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen
In terms of delivering sun protection that's both non-greasy and squeaky clean, this broad-spectrum SPF 30 bests them all. Naturally-derived rice starch controls oil throughout the day while aloe hydrates and calms; plus, the sunshine-y tube itself is made with 50% recycled plastic and is mono-material, which means it can be recycled all together easily rather than separated into parts.
REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen, $36, available at REN Clean Skincare
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Gentle Lotion Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Made specifically for the most sensitive, easily-provoked complexions, this gentle SPF 50 comes in the form of a light, creamy lotion that babies skin, providing a satiny finish and a hit of antioxidant protection that can be used on both face and body.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Gentle Lotion Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, $29.99, available at Ulta Beauty
Bare Republic Mineral Body Lotion SPF 50
Even if a leisurely swim in a saltwater pool is the only "sport" you plan on participating in, the combination of nourishing oils and beeswax in this lightly-scented SPF 50 give it a formidable 80 minutes of resistance against water and sweat without a heavy or greasy feel.
Bare Republic Mineral Body Lotion SPF 50, $10.99, available at Target
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