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What Is Zinc Oxide Paste?

By A.M. Boyle
Updated May 21, 2024
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Zinc oxide paste is a very thick topical ointment. People use it as a skin protectant and to treat a variety of skin irritations. Due to the properties of zinc oxide, it also makes an effective sunscreen. While this paste can provide symptomatic relief for certain skin conditions, it has no antibacterial properties and isn’t designed to treat underlying infections.

As a mineral in its natural form, zinc oxide is a fine, white powder. The powder itself does not dissolve in water and has reflective qualities, meaning that it reflects rather than absorbs light. For pharmaceutical purposes, zinc oxide paste is created by combining the powder with other base ingredients, such as petroleum, starch, and fragrance. The result is a thick, smooth, white cream that spreads easily onto the skin.

Due to the water resistance of zinc oxide, people often use the paste as a skin protectant to guard against rashes and other irritations. For instance, many people find that zinc oxide paste is particularly effective against diaper rash because it coats and soothes the skin while forming a powerful barrier against moisture. Similarly, doctors often recommend zinc oxide to treat skin conditions such as rashes caused by poison ivy, bug bites, or allergies. The thick paste soothes the itch and discomfort while protecting the sensitive skin from external irritants.

Health care providers do note that, while zinc oxide paste helps ease the symptoms of skin irritations, it is not an antibiotic. Consequently, if a rash or other condition is caused by an infection, the cream won’t cure the root cause but might only lessen the symptoms. It is therefore important that any individual experiencing persistent skin irritation has the condition evaluated by a medical professional to determine its cause and whether additional medication is warranted.

While many people recognize zinc oxide paste as a treatment for skin discomfort, it also makes for an effective sunscreen. Even when added to topical ointments, zinc oxide retains its ability to reflect light and ultraviolet rays, including UVA and UVB rays — the culprits in causing sunburn. Thus, when the paste is applied, it stops both these types of harmful rays from reaching the skin and consequently protects against sunburn. Further, because the cream is water resistant, it won't readily wash off when swimming.

Generally sold over the counter in many pharmacies, most compounds containing zinc oxide have anywhere from 25 to 50 percent concentration of the mineral. Some creams containing zinc oxide have thinner textures and are marketed as lotion or ointment. For the most part, zinc oxide paste has the thickest consistency of all the zinc oxide products. While it is safe for most consumers, people who have allergies to zinc, latex, or petroleum or women who are pregnant or nursing should check with a medical professional before using zinc oxide paste.

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Discussion Comments

By anon995973 — On Jun 18, 2016

Where do you purchase the paste? I used to be able to buy it in 1 pound tubs. I can't find any store that carries it anymore!

By bear78 — On Jan 12, 2014

I use zinc oxide paste on my son's diaper rash, he gets a diaper rash often. It works very well. I've used zinc oxide cream before as well but the paste seems to work better because it's thicker. I think it stays on skin longer.

The one I'm using also has lanolin in it, so it has extra healing and moisturizing properties. It's great stuff, I recommend it to moms.

By bluedolphin — On Jan 11, 2014

@fBoyle-- Zinc oxide is effective for acne. It can dry up acne spots, help them heal, soothe skin and reduce oil production.

You can use the zinc oxide paste as a mask, as a moisturizer or a spot treatment. It's up to you. If you plan on using it as a mask or a moisturizer, apply it at night and then wipe it off or wash it off in the morning. You can also use it as a spot treatment and only apply a small amount of the paste right on top of a pimple. It will dry up the pimple by morning.

I use zinc oxide paste as an overnight mask when I'm experiencing a severe breakout. I don't use it during the day or go outside with it because it creates a white film on my face. I look ghostly.

By fBoyle — On Jan 11, 2014

I've heard that zinc oxide is effective for acne. How do I use zinc oxide past for acne spots? How long does it need to stay on for?

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