What is Zinc Oxide and Why is it in my Diaper Rash Cream?

Diaper Rash Cream

So you may be wondering why I use a synthetic substance, zinc oxide, in my products if I’m trying to be all natural. You may not even know exactly what zinc oxide is. I definitely didn’t until doing some extensive research as I started creating baby products.

As soon as I started down this crunchy path creating my own beauty and household products, I decided that I wanted to be as knowledgeable as possible on every substance I put in or on my body. I stay away from processed foods, synthetically produced substances and toxic chemicals. The very core of my values related to my product line is to keep it natural. That’s why I want to explain what zinc oxide is and why I’m using it in the diaper rash cream.


What is Zinc Oxide?

Zinc oxide is a fine white powder that is insoluble in water. That simply means that if you dump a little zinc oxide into a cup of hot water and stir it around, you’ll just end up with powder and water. Zinc oxide can occur naturally as the mineral zincite but most zinc oxide is synthetically produced. (see wikipedia) You’ll find zinc oxide in a lot of products as an additive, and in the beauty world you will see it in diaper rash cream and in sunscreen.

Why Zinc Oxide Works Like Magic in Diaper Rash Creams

When you mix zinc oxide with hot emollients, butters, and oils the end result is a thick white cream. While the cream is still hot, you can see the powdery zinc oxide as a separate substance but as it cools the cream becomes a normal consistency and the powder dissolves.

Rub the zinc oxide cream on your skin and water droplets will sit on top of the cream. Wash your zinc oxide hands in warm water and you’ll still have beading water. The zinc oxide repels the water and keeps it away from your skin. This is exactly what it does on your baby’s body as well. Wet diapers won’t cause diaper rash because your baby has a layer of zinc oxide cream on that repels the wetness. It’s the best substance to use in diaper rash creams because it works so well at repelling moisture.

Zinc Oxide Percentages in Other Diaper Rash Creams

Zinc oxide can be found in most “natural” diaper rash creams as well as most mainstream store bought creams. It is the active substance in all these creams which means it’s what makes the cream work. Here are a few common creams that contain zinc oxide and the percentage that they contain:

Desitin Maximum Strength Original Paste (Owned by Johnson & Johnson) – 40% (highest percentage of zinc oxide you can get without a prescription)

Booty Goo – 25%

Desitin Rapid Relief Cream (Owned by Johnson & Johnson)- 19%

Penaten Medicated Creme (A German based company owned by Johnson & Johnson)- 18%

Bourdreaux’s Butt Paste – 16%

New Penaten Creamy Diaper Rash Treatment (A German based company owned by Johnson & Johnson) - 13%

Aveeno Baby Soothing Relief Diaper Rash Cream – 13%

Triple Paste -12.8%

Weleda Calendula Diaper Rash Cream – 12%

Arbonne Herbal Diaper Rash Cream - 12%

California Baby Super Sensitive Diaper Rash Cream & Calming Diaper Rash Cream - 12%

Balmex Diaper Rash Cream with ActivGuard – 11.3%

Doctor Smith’s Premium Blend Diaper Ointment – 10%

Mustela Vitamin Barrier Cream - 10%

A & D Zinc Oxide Treatment Ointment - 10 %

Lansinoh Diaper Rash Ointment (Owned by Pigeon – an international company) – 5.5%

Burt’s Bees Baby Bee Diaper Ointment (Owned by Clorox) – ???% This is the only diaper rash cream without the percentage of zinc oxide listed on the label. Zinc oxide is the second ingredient on the label. (Ingredients are listed in order by how much  of each ingredient is in the recipe so the first ingredients are the largest portions.)

Zinc Oxide and Cloth Diapers

The downside is that it’s tough to get the cream off hands, bodies and clothes because zinc oxide repels water. There are many zinc oxide rash creams that say they are diaper safe. Apparently fish oils are the really pesky ingredient in diaper rash creams that just won’t wash out such as cod liver oil.

If you are using cloth diapers, I would definitely suggest using a liner with my diaper rash cream. If you are using natural fiber diapers, the zinc oxide should wash out fine but a liner is a good idea. With synthetic cloth diapers such as pocket diapers, you need to stay away from zinc oxide creams so my baby balm would be a better choice as a diaper rash cream.

Read here to find further info about cloth diapering.


What are nanoparticles and are they bad?

Nano-particles in zinc oxide have become controversial in recent years. Basically, in non-scientific terms, a nanoparticle is a super tiny version of a substance. Initially, products with zinc oxide touted nanoparticles as a feature because zinc oxide with nano-particles were absorbed into your skin so the nanoparticles wouldn’t leave a white residue on your skin. It seemed like a good feature until further research was done. The problem with nanoparticles is that the structure of a substance can change.

It’s a controversial subject, and I choose to simply use the non nano-particle zinc oxide as a safety precaution. Many companies have changed their sunscreens and diaper rash creams to non-nanoparticles as well.

Zinc Oxide Nanoparticles


Further Information – DIY Diaper Rash Cream

Diaper rash causes, preventions and treatments

Make your own diaper rash cream

7 Natural Baby Care Recipes




* All information is for educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.


About Toni South

I am a mom who has become a fanatic about handmade bath and beauty products after much research into the toxic chemicals that I was surrounding myself with. I am striving to educate others as I learn myself. I'm an experimenter, learner and teacher!

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6 Responses to What is Zinc Oxide and Why is it in my Diaper Rash Cream?

  1. Nicole Ridge July 12, 2013 at 6:54 am #

    I absolutely love this product. When it is applied by the next diaper change 2 hours later it is healed up. Definitely recommend this product.

  2. Zack December 27, 2013 at 3:58 am #

    Are the diaper creams listed non-nano zinc oxide? Specifically the Desiitin Max Strength… is that non-nano?

    Ive looked all over and can’t find the answer.

    Thank you.

    • Toni South December 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

      Hi Zack, Usually I notice it will say on the label or on the company website “non-nano” zinc oxide. I don’t see that anywhere on the Desitin website, so I can’t say for certain. There is a phone number listed though for customer service there at Desitin, and I’m sure they would be happy to let you know what type of zinc oxide they use. (1-866-565-2229)

      • Zack December 29, 2013 at 3:02 am #

        Thanks Toni.

  3. wle March 13, 2015 at 10:08 am #

    but wouldn;t oil, vaseline, waxy stuff also repel water?

    is it that much better with the zinc oxide?

    on the other hand, it prevents sunburn too :)


    • Toni South March 17, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

      Yes, oils and waxes repel water as well, but the zinc oxide adds a much stronger repelling action. I don’t like Vaseline or any petroleum products, but for light diaper rash a balm with coconut and beeswax would work. If you ever get diaper rash cream with zinc oxide on your hands, you’ll see how much more that repels everything than a more basic balm. That stuff is tough to get off! I have used the diaper rash cream as a sunscreen too:)

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