Zinc Oxide: The Best Sunscreen for Hiking

Swiss Army Knife of Skincare

Heading out for a hike usually means stunning views and an immersive experience with nature. However, sun exposure means exposure to UV rays, which increase by approximately 10-12% every 1,000 meters in altitude

It’s also essential to understand that when hiking, UV rays are reflected off surfaces like snow, water, and sand. Up to 80% of UV rays can be reflected in snow, which highlights how important it is to wear sunscreen out on the trails.

While around 75% of sunscreens have inferior sun protection or worrisome ingredients, zinc oxide offers natural broad-spectrum sun protection, blocking both UVA and UVB rays making it hands down the best sunscreen for hiking.

Zinc sunscreen is great for hikers in different conditions. It has healing properties for minor skin irritations and acts as a barrier against environmental stressors. So, whether you’re scaling mountains or exploring forrests, read on for the top 7 versatile ways zinc-based mineral sunscreen has your back!

Broad Spectrum Sun Protection for High Altitudes

Sun Protection for High Altitudes

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, as you ascend to higher altitudes, the intensity of UV rays and the risk of skin cancer increase significantly.

Unlike UVB rays, which cause sunburn and are primarily considered in the SPF rating of sunscreens, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, contributing to premature aging and significantly elevating the risk of skin cancers.

Zinc oxide is a superior natural sun protection solution, offering broad-spectrum defence against UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. Its unique ability to shield skin from the full spectrum of ultraviolet radiation makes it an indispensable ally for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who spend prolonged periods in the sun.

Incorporating a zinc-based natural sunscreen into your outdoor gear offers a shield against the immediate discomfort of sunburn and a critical defence in the fight against skin cancer, reinforcing the importance of comprehensive sun protection.

Stays Put: No Eye Sting When Sweating

One of the challenges with sunscreen for active individuals is finding a formula that doesn’t run into your eyes when you sweat, causing irritation and stinging.

Chemical sunscreens containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, and homosalate can cause these issues. Conversely, zinc oxide provides stable and gentle protection that stays put on your skin without running, ensuring your vision stays clear and your eyes remain sting-free.

This attribute is particularly valuable for hikers, for whom clear vision and comfort are non-negotiable, making natural mineral sunscreens a preferable choice for those seeking to avoid the irritation often associated with chemical sunscreens.

Soothes & Hydrates Wind Burn

At high altitudes and in open spaces, your skin is susceptible to windburn, which can be distressing when combined with sunburn.

Beyond its protective barrier, zinc oxide has significant anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, making it ideal for calming irritated skin. Thanks to its ability to stabilise the skin’s barrier function and maintain moisture levels, zinc oxide can significantly reduce inflammation and enhance skin healing.

Zinc oxide’s effectiveness lies in its ability to reflect UV rays and soothe and repair the skin. Its anti-inflammatory properties help reduce redness and irritation, relieving damaged skin. This makes it a two-fold defence against the environment’s harsh effects on the skin.

PRO TIP: When choosing sunscreen for hiking, look for products that contain hyaluronic acid in addition to zinc oxide. Hyaluronic acid is a powerful hydrating ingredient that can help keep your skin effectively moisturised. It enhances zinc oxide’s protective and soothing effects for a healthier skin barrier during outdoor activities.

Fragrance-Free Zinc Sunscreen Doesn’t Attract Bugs (Like Other Sunscreens)

Sunscreen Doesn't Attract Bugs

Scented products, including sunscreens with synthetic fragrances, can attract unwanted insect attention, turning a peaceful hike into a swatting spree.

Beyond the nuisance of bugs, synthetic fragrances in sunscreens can have potential health effects, such as skin irritation, allergies, and even disruption to the hormonal system.

Choosing fragrance-free zinc oxide sunscreen not only prevents you from becoming a bug magnet but also avoids these potential health risks, allowing you to enjoy your outdoor activities comfortably and safely.

PRO TIP: If you need an insect repellent, apply it over your zinc oxide sunscreen to protect your skin from the chemicals in DEET-based bug sprays… Or use a natural essential oil-based repellent.

Reduces Chaffing with Anti-Inflammation Properties

Zinc oxide, recognised for its anti-inflammatory properties, is an exemplary choice for mitigating chafing. This characteristic is advantageous during extended hikes, where friction frequently leads to skin irritation.

Before embarking on your day’s journey, apply zinc oxide sunscreen to areas commonly affected by chafing, such as the inner thighs. This proactive measure can significantly enhance your hiking experience, allowing you to enjoy the outdoors with added comfort and skin protection.

Helps Heal Dry Chapped Lips

Zinc oxide is known for its healing properties in skincare. It is effective for treating dry, chapped lips and aiding the recovery of minor wounds. It creates a protective barrier on the skin, locking in moisture and shielding against irritants. A zinc oxide-based product can significantly reduce pack weight for hikers, serving multiple purposes.

An organic and natural zinc oxide sunscreen offers protection and healing without harmful chemicals. This is crucial for areas like lips, where there’s a risk of ingesting substances.

An organic sunscreen simplifies skincare routines and promotes a chemical-free approach, protecting the skin from the sun while leveraging the healing benefits of zinc oxide, all without the concern of potential skin irritation, or worse… the disruption of our hormonal system that comes with many chemical sunscreens on the market today.

Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac – One of the Best Remedies Out There

One of the Best Remedies Out There

Encountering poison ivy, oak, or sumac unexpectedly can quickly spoil a hiking adventure. These plants contain urushiol, an oily compound that triggers allergic reactions in many people, leading to itching, redness, and blisters.

However, zinc oxide can be a helpful remedy in managing these symptoms and promoting faster healing.

Zinc oxide can offer relief by forming a barrier over the affected skin, preventing further irritation, and promoting healing. Here’s how to use zinc-based mineral sunscreen to help treat poison ivy, oak, or sumac rashes on the trail:

  1. Wash the Area: As soon as you notice the contact, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water to remove as much urushiol as possible. Avoid scrubbing harshly, as this can cause further irritation.
  2. Apply Zinc Oxide Cream: Once the area is clean and dry, apply a thin layer of zinc oxide cream directly onto the rash. Mineral sunscreen with at least 20% zinc oxide will help soothe the itch and protect the skin, allowing it to heal more quickly.
  3. Reapply as Needed: You can reapply zinc oxide sunscreen several times daily. Keeping the area covered is essential until the rash heals.
  4. Cover the Rash: After applying zinc oxide, cover the rash with a bandage or cloth to prevent the spread of urushiol to other parts of the body or other people.
  5. Avoid Scratching: Scratching can lead to infection and slow healing. Keeping the rash covered with zinc oxide and a bandage helps minimise itching and scratching.
  6. Seek Medical Help if Necessary: If the rash is widespread, severe, or shows signs of infection (such as increased redness, swelling, or pus), seek medical attention.

Remember, the best way to deal with poison ivy, oak, or sumac is to avoid touching these plants altogether. Learn to identify these plants and wear protective clothing when hiking where they may be present.

Supplementing Sun Protection Measures for Hiking

Sunscreen for Hiking

While zinc oxide sunscreen provides powerful protection, complementing it with sun safety practices, like wearing sun-protective clothing, means you don’t need to lather your entire body in zinc to enhance your defence against harmful UV rays.

Sun Protective UPF-Rated Clothing for Hiking

When shopping for sun protection, look for clothing with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating 50. This offers the best shield for your skin without the hassle of reapplying sunscreen.

Most outdoor clothing brands now include a sun shirt or sun hoody and sun-protective hiking pants in their lineup, providing extensive coverage and peace of mind under the sun.

Hiking Sun Hat

Broad-brimmed or legionnaires’ hats provide essential shade, protecting the face, ears, and neck—areas particularly vulnerable to sunburn.

Sunglasses for Hiking

Investing in quality sunglasses is crucial for hikers to shield their eyes from harmful UV rays, which pose significant risks to eye health, including cataracts and macular degeneration. Opt for sunglasses labelled UV 400, which block nearly 100% UVA and UVB radiation.

Wraparound and polarised lenses are vital for all-around protection and glare reduction in environments like snow, sand, or water. This minimises eye strain and enhances safety, making the hiking experience safer and more enjoyable.

Buff for Hiking

A versatile hiking buff is an essential accessory for any outdoor enthusiast, providing adaptable coverage for your neck, face, or head. Its flexible design allows you to adjust its use according to the varying intensity of the sun and different levels of physical exertion.

The buff offers protection and comfort if you face intense UV rays, biting cold winds or need a sweat-wicking layer under your hat. It can serve as a neck scarf, face mask, bandana, wristband, or makeshift hat, making it a multifunctional tool perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities.


Zinc oxide sunscreen is a must-have for anyone who loves the outdoors and hiking to fight off the sun’s harsh rays. It’s like the Swiss Army knife for your skin with its broad-spectrum protection, ability to stay put despite sweat and water, and it even soothes your skin.

Hitting the trails is way more fun when you know you’re covered. Just remember to add some extra sun safety habits so every hike is enjoyable without the sunburn aftermath.

Whether you’re a seasoned trailblazer or just getting your feet dirty, slipping zinc oxide sunscreen into your hiking pack makes a world of difference. You get that essential protection and peace of mind, letting you dive into the beauty of the wild worry-free.

Guest Author

Mick Wadley

Mick Wadley is the founder of Skorcha Organic Suncare who writes about everything related to suncare, organic goodness, and conservation. He launched Skorcha in 2023 after a decade of working outdoors and personal experience with skin cancer. His goal is to share what he has learned about skin health and safe ingredients, encouraging healthier lives and inspiring people to enjoy the outdoors. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Skorcha on Instagram

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