sunscreen review: Vanicream SPF 50

vanicream 50The best sunscreen I have ever used. The one I return to. Even when I’ve been using other sunscreens and they’ve worked, I’ve still always made sure to have a tube of this just in case. This is what I use if skin goes into irritated intolerant eczematic disasters.

It is very basic (ingredients listed below), and designed and intended for sensitive skin like the rest of the Vanicream and Free & Clear ranges (available from dermatologists and online). Uses microfine coated sheer ZnO (Z-Cote) and TiO2 (Ti-Silc), hence low percentage of actives (7% & 5% respectively) but high SPF. PPD will be somewhere in the area of 8-10 maximum, as is usual for the better sort of all-physical sunscreens like this one. No cyclopentasiloxane (good as it usually breaks me out), does contain other silicones though many of them are in the Z-Cote and Ti-Silc coatings. 

No reactions, no burning, in short it works. On this sensitive skin anyway, which is photosensitive, and without protection produces hives in under a minute and burns in under five. I’ve used this and its predecessor (SPF 60) successfully in more extreme climates (tropics & Antipodes). The SPF 50 is actually slightly more fluid than the 30, which you might not expect.

Good on drier skin: many all-physical sunscreens are drying otherwise. YMMV: if your skin is sensitive but oilier (or you prefer the feel of lighter, drier sunscreens): suggest Replenix Sheer Physical SPF 50 spray (ZnO-only; like V50, it’s also unfragranced and cruelty-free, but more expensive) or one of the all-physical sunscreens from CoTZ and EltaMD.

If high PPD is what you’re after, that is going to mean using a sunscreen that’s not all-physical. And, as ever, sunscreen is only one small part of sun protection: the rest being covering up, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and seeking shade. Certain antioxidants applied to skin (serums etc. with vitamin C, green or white tea extract, resveratrol, etc.) may help too.

V50 is an unfragranced cream, heavy compared to elegant whisper-light milky veils, needs to be rubbed in. Not as thick as the 30 or Badger and Badgerlikes. Or, indeed, any of the BurnOut sunscreens: used for the last few years, then every reformulation made them thicker and pastier, and now that the one (Ocean Tested) that’s more tolerable on my skin is MORE thick and greasy than Vanicream 50… it’s back to Vanicream.

Can be used anywhere on the anatomy. Recommend applying it to skin that’s been moisturised while damp, and is by now more or less dry (applying this stuff to damp skin will not work, as it’s hydrophobic). Dab on skin, move it around using fingers. Takes maybe a minute or two to sink in and dry down, and it’s clear and comfortable. Applies slightly greasy, but sinks in within 5-10 minutes to leave skin smooth and moisturised; if you’ve had issues with all-physical sunscreens being drying, the Vanicream ones (and Blue Lizard sensitive / baby SPF30) are well worth trying.

Works well around the eyes too: no irritation, even if it sweats into eyes. I can’t comment on application under face makeup, as I don’t wear it; but I’ve had no compatibility issues with eye makeup.

Decently sweatproof and waterproof, though as with all sunscreens, reapply if you’ve been in the water for long-ish and if exercising and sweating profusely.

Cheap for what it is: USD $13.00 – 18.00 for 4 oz / 113 g. My usual source is

Cruelty-free, sensitive-human-friendly.

Manufacturer’s website information

Active Ingredients: titanium dioxide 5%, zinc oxide 7%
Inactive Ingredients (alphabetical listing): C20-40 alcohols, caprylyl glycol, cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 dimethicone, cocoglycerides, dicaprylyl carbonate, dimethicone, 1,2 hexanediol, hydrogenated castor oil, hydrogenated polyisobutene, magnesium chloride, octadecene, PEG-30 dipolyhydroxystearate, pentylene glycol, phenyl trimethicone, purified water, silica, silica dimethyl silylate, squalane, stearyl dimethicone, tridecyl salicylate, triethoxycaprylylsilane, ubiquinone (coenzyme Q10)

Compare to old ingredients for the SPF 60 version:
Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide 7.5%, Zinc Oxide 7.5%.
Inactive Ingredients (alphabetical listing): Alumina, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetearyl Isononanoate, Cetyl Alcohol, Isopropyl Titanium Triisostearate/Triethoxycaprylylsilane Crosspolymer, Magnesium Sulfate, Methylpropanediol, PEG-12 Dimethicone, PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Phenyl Trimethicone, Polyethylene, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Purified Water, Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate, Stearyl Dimethicone, Tetrasodium EDTA, Tocopheryl Acetate, Triethoxycaprylysilane.


  • Blue Lizard baby / sensitive SPF 30: more fluid, cheaper
  • CoTZ: for a variety of lighter-weight  sunscreens, silicone-based, from drier to moist; more compatible with makeup; includes tinted sunscreen
  • EltaMD: ditto
  • John Masters Organics SPF 30: for a light-ish fluid with no silicones
  • MyChelle Dermaceuticals: light fluids, including tinted
  • Topix Replenix Sheer Physical Spray SPF 50: for a very lightweight milky fluid veil; with added antioxidants; but with cyclopentasiloxane
  • see also sunscreens: products for more unscented all-physical sunscreens


(from a certain online discussion forum; the review above is also on there)


Tested face and body, split-self. Vanicream SPF 50 won: fluidity (though yes, this stuff IS thick, but for those of us with dry sensitive skin, that’s not a bad thing), ease of application, smoothness, feel, finish, drying down faster, comfort.

So: keeping the Burnout OT for body use but back to the trusty old faithful V50 for usual everyday purposes.

I always keep a tube of the V50 around just in case, as it always works on my skin. Cruelty-free, sensitive-human-friendly, though not “green” in the “all natural ingredients” way. This sunscreen has a reputation for being thick and greasy. Compared to the whisper-light fluid elegant veil sunscreens, yes indeed. Compared to Badger and Badgerlikes: nope.

Anyway. I compared V50 to both BurnOut Eco-Sensitive and Ocean Tested, to test my hypothesis that E-S was thicker and pastier than V50 and that OT was less so. I was right on the first and wrong on the second.

V50 is lighter, more fluid, more spreadable and smoothable, and sinks in faster than OT. Skin is noticeably more greasy for longer on the OT side: took around 5 minutes longer to dry down. Skin is moister on the V50 side.

Another thing with the OT: I had noticed the start of rough patches on forehead (down to between eyebrows) and cheekbones. Not sore, but when you touch the, they feel like the start of minor irritation or eczema patches. These have gone on the Vanicream side.


1. OT is worthwhile as an all-physical sunscreen for DRY skin, but do patch-test it (and of course check the ingredient-list for known or probably irritating, clogging, etc. stuff).

2. If you start using a new product and notice any changes in skin, do split-self testing, replacing the new product with a known safe old one, to see if there is a correlation between the skin changes and the new product.

3. Test, test, test. See above for example on hypothesising comparisons between products…

4. I’m back to Vanicream SPF 50. I’ll not throw out the BurnOut Ocean Tested SPF 30, as that would be wasteful, but keep it for body.


Vanicream SPF 50+ is thicker than the old Eco-Sensitive, but not as thick as the new (2014) E-S; V50 has always been applicable on me but bear in mind that my skin is dry. Doesn’t mean I can use any old greasy clown-mask stuff on it: but V50 is decent. Compared, say, to the green all-natural Badger and Badgerlikes, or to the thicker all-physicals like Avène and Bioderma. (I have the added issue that I don’t buy or use cosmetic stuff that’s animal-tested; completely irrelevant to product functionality, but limits my options further. Vanicream is OK, the Pierre Fabre group are not.)

My skin is fine with this stuff. But this sunscreen is going to be at the thicker end of the spectrum for most people. Most people have oilier skin than me; though many have skin that is also at least as dehydrated, often more so. And many wear makeup on top of their sunscreen.

So there’s a general preference for light, elegant, milky, veil-like sunscreens… which Vanicream most emphatically is not. For the requirements above, I would suggest Replenix Sheer Physical Spray SPF 50+ or one of the EltaMD or CoTZ ones.

One other thing: I am pale (I am a redhead, so this is kinda normal for us): like NW05. So I’m not a good test of how whitening a sunscreen is going to be, and what’s invisible on me may be whitening on other people. Vanicream don’t do tinted versions of their sunscreens, but plenty other companies do, including a range of available shades (MyChelle is good for that, for example).

vanicream 50 vanicream 50 vanicream 50

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