Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense

Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a small commission for purchases made via affiliate links.

In a recent video, I talked about the advantages and disadvantages of organic (chemical) vs inorganic (physical) sunscreens. One of the big drawbacks of inorganic sunscreens is that they tend to have significant white cast, which is when the sunscreen leaves a white layer on your skin. Out of the two inorganic filters (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), titanium dioxide tends to give a stronger white cast. It’s also more photoreactive and doesn’t give much protection against UVA, so zinc oxide tends to be the more popular choice.

While my preference is for organic sunscreens, a lot of people like inorganic sunscreens (often due to sensitivities to organic sunscreens). I decided to review three popular inorganic zinc oxide-only sunscreens in Australia to see if I was missing out.

The three contenders:

Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Face Lotion SPF 50

  • $19.99 AUD per 59 mL ($0.34 per mL)
  • 21.6% zinc oxide
  • 2 hours water resistant
  • has vitamin E

SunSense Sensitive Invisible SPF 50+

  • $10.95 AUD per 75 g ($0.15 per g)
  • 15% zinc oxide
  • 4 hours water resistant
  • has 3% niacinamide

Invisible Zinc Face & Body SPF 50 

  • $19.99 AUD for 75 g ($0.27 per g)
  • 25% zinc oxide
  • 2 hours water resistant

Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense

Protection Level

The most important thing about sunscreen is protection, and all three deliver well here. In Australia, SPF labelling regulations classify sunscreen into brackets, which is why they all have round SPF numbers. SPF 50 means SPF 50-60, while SPF 50+ is the highest classification allowed, and means at least SPF 60. In my opinion anything above SPF 30 is acceptable for daily use, so these all work.

Interestingly, the lowest zinc oxide content (15% for SunSense) also gives the highest protection, which goes to highlight how you can’t predict SPF protection from the ingredients alone, since a billion other factors go into protection level (inactive ingredients, how the sunscreen formula’s processed, zinc oxide particle size, antioxidant content etc.).

All three have broad spectrum protection, which in Australia means that the UVA protection is at least 1/3 of the SPF, and it passes the critical wavelength test which means the longer UVA wavelengths are substantially protected.

All three are also water resistant. SunSense has the highest rating (4 hours), while Neutrogena and Invisible Zinc have 2 hour water resistance.

Texture

SunSense Sensitive Invisible has THE nicest texture I’ve tried in a physical sunscreen. It’s a little thicker than my favourite organic sunscreens, but it’s better than a lot of organic sunscreens I’ve tried. It feels a bit like a moisturiser.

Unfortunately, the Neutrogena and Invisible Zinc sunscreens are way more disappointing. Neutrogena Sheer Zinc is thick, sticky and hard to spread, and the feeling didn’t go away when I put make-up on top. Invisible Zinc managed to be even worse, plus it smelt like sunscreen, which was surprising since I always assumed that the “sunscreen smell” was from the organic filters.

Removal

SunSense seemed to come off reasonably easily despite the higher water resistance – after a thorough wipedown with a wipe it didn’t feel like any residue was left. Neutrogena was a bit harder to remove, and there was still a bit of a tacky feeling after wiping. Invisible Zinc again fared the worst – despite wiping thoroughly, my skin still had a squeaky film on top, which didn’t go away until after three rounds of cleansing.

Pore Clogging

I couldn’t bring myself to use all the sunscreens for a week like I usually do for a pore clogging test, but the SunSense gave me a few clogged pores after a week (pretty standard for me and sunscreens – sunscreen formulas almost always clog my pores after a week of use unless I’m ruthless with exfoliation).

The big surprise was that Invisible Zinc managed to give me clogged pores after only 6 hours of use, which has never happened to me with any other product before. I’m sure it doesn’t do this for a lot of people, but this sunscreen just seems to hate my skin, and annoyingly Australian sunscreens don’t usually have full ingredient lists so I have zero clue what’s going on.

White Cast

What you came here for: the white cast photos.

I often don’t trust reviews of white cast – so many people underapply sunscreen even when they’re trying to apply sunscreen liberally, and the number of sunscreen reviews from bloggers that say “a little goes a long way” makes me side-eye so hard I get a cramp. Sunscreen underapplication is a sin, guys – SPF scales linearly with the amount you apply, and applying small amounts means you’re likely to get patchy protection due to skin’s ridgey texture.

You’re meant to apply 2 mg per square centimetre, which for me means I need around 0.76 g of sunscreen to get 2 mg per square centimetre (as determined using tape in this video).

The other issue with white cast reviews is that a lot of people mention that the white cast goes away with rubbing. Unfortunately rubbing too much reduces sun protection, so once I spread the sunscreen on my face evenly I stop.

My methodology:

I weighed out 0.76 g of each sunscreen onto plastic ziplock bags on my scales, and applied each one to my face with a single finger and minimal rubbing. Then after about ten minutes, I removed the sunscreen from the right half of my face with a make-up remover wipe as thoroughly as I could without my face getting too irritated.

The reason I did it this way instead of just applying half this amount to half my face is because I wasn’t confident that I’d be applying the sunscreen to my face as evenly as possible if I was just aiming for half my face.

I used three different lighting conditions to try to get an idea of how it would look in different situations, and tried to make them as consistent as possible. My phone camera tends to amplify the white cast slightly, so keep that in mind. My skin is NC20 in MAC foundation shades.

Indirect sunlight next to a window

Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense

Indoor shade (unfortunately didn’t realise the focus was off in the Neutrogena pic until later)

Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense

Fluorescent lightbox

Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense

Again, SunSense wins, with Neutrogena and Invisible Zinc falling behind (Neutrogena was a bit better than Invisible Zinc). Interestingly, it seems like the more zinc oxide there is in the sunscreen, the worse it performs in all areas, so I think sunscreen companies should really focus on playing around with the formula to get higher protection with lower amounts of zinc oxide (which I realise is much easier said than done, but hey, that’s my job).

Verdict

SunSense pretty much wins in all respects here. I rarely get such a one-sided comparison where one product just blows the others out of the water, but that’s what happened here. I’m not mad at the result at all – SunSense is produced by Ego Pharmaceuticals, an Australian company and invests in research and partners with dermatologists to educate consumers. They’re also the most affordable option.

Are you a physical/inorganic sunscreen fan? What’s your favourite sunscreen?

Products were provided for editorial consideration, which did not affect my opinion. This post also contains affiliate links – if you decide to click through and support Lab Muffin financially (at no extra cost to you), thank you! For more information, see Disclosure Policy.

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33 thoughts on “Zinc Sunscreen Review and White Cast Comparison: Neutrogena, Invisible Zinc, SunSense”

  1. Thank you soooooooo much Michelle for this review….please consider making this a series.I don’t trust random online sunscreen reviews as well for the same reasons “a little goes a long way”? so whenever I want to try a new sunscreen I just go to the pharmacy and purchase whatever looks interesting and worth trying out ?.

    Reply
  2. “…once I spread the sunscreen on my face evenly I stop.”

    Quoted for truth! Create a barrier layer, it’s not a product to be rubbed in. I think it’s easy to forget that. Your articles explaining how this stuff works certainly helps as a reminder.

    Once I apply I’ll go finish getting dressed, do my hair and brush my teeth. By then it’s dry and I can continue on with my makeup. For my commute home from work at the end of the day I dust some powdered sunscreen on my face, easy enough.

    Thanks for your articles, can’t wait to read more.

    Reply
  3. I’m very acne-prone myself, and I got huge zits after 6-10 hours of using the Skinfood Aloe Watery Sun No Sebum suncreen. On paper, it seems pretty harmless, but dang there’s something in it my skin doesn’t fancy!
    I am guessing it might be something similar with the Invisible Zinc sunscreen (although I didn’t check it on COSDNA).

    Reply
    • I have very oily T-zone and acne prone skin. My U-zone is often dehydrated, but I rarely got zits on my cheeks. All waterproof sunscreen clogs my pores and breaks me out. Recently I read from a blog that the waterproof film former, acrylate, may be the culprit. Acrylate in suncreen / foundation is like a plastic wrap on the skin, preventing sebum from leaving the pores and therefore, clogging the pores. I check the ingredient list of the products which give me breakouts, and they all contain some form of acrylate. Other silicone-based film formers are fine to me though.

      Skinfood Aloe watery sun no sebum suncreen:
      Methyl methacrylate crosspolymer is somewhere near the middle of the ingredient list.

      Could not find the ingredient list of the Invisible zinc SPF50 suncreen, but the SPF30 one has Styrene/acrylates copolymer in the second half of the ingredient list.

      Reply
  4. You mention that sunscreen formulas seem to give you clogged pores (did you mean “physical”/inorganic ones, specifically??). I cannot seem to find a “physical”/inorganic sunscreen that doesn’t give me clogged pores and increase cystic acne (which I am very prone to). However, I have also never found a “chemical”/organic sunscreen that I do not react to in some way (from serious redness/rash-type bumps, to more minor but persistent rash-type bumps). I live in Canada, so unfortunately some of the organic filters that you mention in your other videos are less available here, or always seem to be combined with other ingredients that I know my skin doesn’t like (denatured/SD alcohol, silicones).

    It is so frustrating! I am really trying to get into the habit of applying sunscreen 365 days a year, but it is so hard to put something on your face every day that you know is exacerbating acne or causing some kind of allergy/reaction.

    I am a fairly regular user of salicylic acid, but this doesn’t seem to help enough in terms of relieving clogged pores that result from physical/inorganic sunscreen for me. Any tips? Do you rotate sunscreens a lot to avoid major problems that might come from one type or another? Do you just accept a certain amount of pore clogging/irritation, etc.?

    Sorry for my long rant-y comment/question! I am just really struggling with this and am always desperately searching for the right sunscreen :).

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  5. I’ve been happy with some in the past that combined zinc oxide with inorganic ingredients, so the zinc oxide percentage could be lower. Then I discovered European and Asian inorganic sunscreens, and those didn’t really measure up anymore. Even on my super pale self (I look kinda like a ghost), anything purely organic has been really nasty looking. Don’t even get me started on how awful they all look on my black son. Inorganic sunscreen is the greatest thing ever created. Sorry, zinc oxide. I tried to like you.

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  6. I always worry when the sunny half of the year approaches (where I live UV index in winter is a flat zero), and my skin starts needing sun protection. I want to stay young looking forever, and I’ve heard that sunscreen helps to prevent oxydation and thus protects from acne… yet I’m still looking for a sunscreen that wouldn’t clog my pores. Skin is always looking worse by the end of the day. I swear can feel how hard it is for skin to breathe through that sticky mask. 😛
    End of rant.

    P.S. A question! If I apply a minimal amount of something with spf 50+, would that become like a sufficient, evenly diffused spf 20, or does it mean it’s just going to be patchy like a mesh – some parts get covered, others not (if that makes sense)?

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  7. Thank you for doing this. I’m extremely allergic to sunscreen chemicals. So far I haven’t had a problem with zinc. I’m looking forward to seeing how SunSense goes for me.

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  8. Hello Michelle, very interesting review. Like every body I’m trying to find the saint graal. I know that you prefer the chemical sunscreen that’s why it’s very kind of you for making this review. Actually I have bought waaay too much sunscreens but I’m sure that eventually I will find the right one for me. Like everyone the white cast is the big issue. I’m currently using for 2 days now Canmake Mermaid, it is really fantastic, no white cast and no shiny face, it has a satin mat finish. So I keep this one for sure.
    I’ve bought today Bioderma Photoderm Aquafluid tinted spf 50 with the Tinosorb technologie. I will try it tomorrow. So I wanted to have your thoughts about these filters. I heard that these are excellent.
    Thanks for your answer and have a great day!

    Reply
  9. How do you know for sure that the sunscreen is off your face? I kept reading people telling that there is still residue of sunscreen after they wash their face, but I don’t really understand what kind of residue is that. Can you explain? Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Thanks Michelle for the detailed review and photos, they’re really helpful. May I ask how the texture of this Sunsense Sensitive Invisible product compares to the SunSense Anti-Ageing Face SPF 50+ (untinted) that you mentioned in an older post (https://labmuffin.com/sunscreen-review-cetaphil-bioderma-elucent/)? If I’m not mistaken, you mentioned that the untinted one had better texture than the tinted one so I’m interested how the untinted one compares with the one mentioned in above post.

    Reply
  11. Hi Michelle,
    I love reading your posts, they’re so thorough! I live in Spain, and I’ve been recently testing inorganic sunscreen. I’m currently using one mineral by Heliocare, a Spanish laboratory which is very well considered in Europe. It leaves a white cast, but there aren’t many physical choices here. I also have the Australian Gold tinted mineral sunscreen, but haven’t used it enough to give an opinion.
    I have rosacea, and I’d love you could make a post about this condition which drives me crazy. Thanks.

    Reply
  12. I’m truly desperate to find a face sunscreen that will work for my very (and I do mean VERY) oily, acne-prone, sensitive skin. For reference, I use Bare Minerals foundation make up on top of any sunscreen. I simply can’t afford to spend $50 on a tube of sunscreen either. Is there any help for me???

    Reply
  13. Hello Michelle,
    I had so much hope that inorganic sunscreens don’t clog pores so much as organic ones do, unfortunately miracle didn’t happen. I am ready to deny using sunscreens at all!

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  14. Chemical sunscreens make my eyes burn and sting the whole time they’re on. (They even blinded me once when I was caught in a sudden and very hard downpour. It ran into my eyes, which burned like crazy, and i was unable to open them to see where I was going. My black use was soaking wet, so didn’t help at wiping my eyes. A crowd of people propelled me forward, blindly, until I stepped into a massive pothole filled with water. I was up to my waist, and couldn’t see to get out! Someone eventually pulled me out and walked me home. That was my last time using chemical sunscreens.)

    I’m kit bothered by white cast too much; it’s a small price to pay to protect my skin. After I put in my foundation, the white isn’t a problem anymore. No more burning, and I’m not the type whose pores are clogged by much, so I’m lucky.

    I’ve always thought of zinc and titanium dioxide as “organic” because they come from the ground and not a lab. I’m wrong? I’m sticking with ‘em anyway, obviously.

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  15. I spoke I shoulda mentioned I use CeraVe’s sunscreen. I don’t put fragrance on my face, and CeraVe doesn’t use any fragrances.

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  16. ! I’m phisical sunscreen fan, I use Elta MD phisical sunscreen for my face. Sunsense looks soo good, especially if it’s really waterproof. I tried to search where I can purchase it, but only found australian websites, and I live in Europe :c
    Maybe have you got any idea where can I order it? (where the international shipping rates are not the triple amount of the price of the sunscreen :D)

    Reply
  17. I read a review of a moisturiser with SPF in it the other day, and the reviewer said it was great it protected you from the sun and that it was very thick, so a little goes a long way. Seriously considered messaging her, partly out of concern and partly out of being a Hermione-esque insufferable know-it-all. Anyway, thanks for this, it was really interesting. I too prefer inorganic sunscreens but it’s good to be able to recommend friends who prefer organic ones something.

    Reply
  18. Hello Michelle,

    I’ve been seeing face sunscreens lately claiming they can filter for bluelight. As an office worker who lives behind giant monitors is this something that could cause premature aging or is this marketing hype?

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  19. Hello, I like how your white cast review is more accurate than others (especially with the amount you apply).
    I was looking to try a physical sunscreen as well, as I’m not sure if my chemical sunscreen is causing my face to turn red at the end of the day, esp after much sun exposure. Your post mentions that the Sunsense sunscreen has 15% zinc oxide, but the amazon link description writes only 2% zinc oxide and 9.8% titatium dioxide. Was there a change in formulation, or just a mistake? Would this affect how protective sunsense is?
    Looking forward to your reply, thank you!

    Reply
    • There are two versions of the Sensitive sunscreen – there’s a Sensitive one, and a Sensitive Invisible. The one with TiO2 is not the “Invisible” version 🙂

      Reply
  20. Thank you for this super interesting website…came across it searching for Vit C and tanner issues and stayed for the sunscreen review! Really cool to see a fact-based beauty column. Cheers!

    Reply
  21. Hi Michelle, Just catching up on old articles and came across this. I get the white cast thing, but have found that it actually works, once dry, as an excellent primer base for foundation. I’m also quite interested in the healing effects of zinc on skin, I have tried using it with micro needling with some positive results. Is zinc an overlooked active for cosmetic use do you think?

    Reply
  22. Oh god, the sunsense invisible was soooooooo greasy! I used it for a solid 5 months and kept breaking out with cysts and whiteheads. Even after cleansing you can feel this layer of oil on your face… When I was sleeping over at my partner’s place, sometimes i’d forget my cleanser and without fail, would have deep cysts the next morning. Those cysts lasted for months and I still have pigmentation from them like a 6 months later..

    I used it for that long cause I thought it had to be another product that was breaking me out since this was my first zinc oxide sunscreen that didn’t have a horrid white cast.
    I have since found many sunscreen alternatives (:

    Reply
    • I feel like physical sunscreens are a crapshoot in this sense – they tend to need thicker ingredients that tend to cause more breakouts! 🙁

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  23. Hello, very nice reviews. I also like sunsense in the picture.What is your opinion on the ingredients in Sunscreens like Oxybenzone, Methoxycinnamate or Octinoxate which i think is the same thing. i heard Its a cheap ingredient to low the cost of cosmetics and i read is also the cause of coral reef bleaching. In USA i also notice they use the same ingredients in brands like OBagi sunscreen which many people use but i would not, because im not sure is those ingredients are bad for the skin. I think is alcohol and sulphur acid, im not chemist like you but im always happy to learn. Another ingredients i will avoid is Padimate which might cause allergies right? im interesting in good ingredients and ingredients against free radicals, maybe you can help us and tell us which ingredients will should avoid in sunscreen and also in cosmetics. I like to buy local products but since i didnt find a good sunscreen yet, i been almost buying in Amazon Invisible Zinc ,( more than 40 euros) or Sunsense,(47 Euros) wait there is one i also like Alba Botanica very emollient but is SPF30 ,(8 euros) price is very good also but is not a local product. Maybe you can recommend us which ingredients should we avoid and which percentage of zinc oxide should have at least my sunscreen? i will like to hear from you, maybe you can help to choose good ingredients. Thanks 🙂 Greetings from Vienna

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  24. thanks so much! i have been looking for a white-cast-free sunscreen forever. I always think i found the one, then i head into work under florescent lights. the sunsense looks promising!

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  25. Sunsense sells in the uk and adopts uk boots rating system for uva protection. It has only 3 stars out of 5, meaning only 57-75% uva protection comparing to uvb protection. Uk nhs recommends to choose a sunscreen of at least 4 stars. In that sense sunsense’s uva protection is inadequate. The other two products don’t sell in uk so nowhere to know their uva star rating.

    Reply

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