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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