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Choosing the best sunscreen might seem straightforward at first: You need to protect your skin from UV damage from the sun’s rays, so you apply it on sunny days… and that’s that, right? Actually, the details go well beyond this baseline, since there are so many different types of sunscreen options out there. What works best on your body may suffocate the facial pores or cause breakouts, for example. Some people may have a reaction to chemical options or simply prefer the more eco-conscious mineral options.
Still, it’s imperative to at least honor the baseline thinking—that you need to lather up whenever you face extreme sun exposure—since UV rays can induce premature skin “aging” by compromising skin’s resilience and elasticity, while also making it more susceptible to skin cancer. If possible, try to wear SPF year round, though, in some form or another. Read on for the advice of NYC-based board-certified dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, M.D., who helps spell out the key differences between SPF categories. Then, you can scroll though our picks for the seven best sunscreen options, covering a variety of these categories. You’re bound to find something (or multiple options) that suit your needs. (Note, though, that we’re only recommending pure sunscreens here, as opposed to facial moisturizers with SPF).
Before we get into that, Dr. Hale has one universal tip for all types of sunscreens you purchase: “Look for a formula that’s water-resistant, even if you’re not swimming or lounging by the pool,” she says. “A light sweat or even a rainy day could affect your sunscreen’s ability to protect your skin.”
Face Sunscreen vs. Body Sunscreen
There are more similarities than differences between face and body sunscreen formulas, says Hale. But still, there is one key difference: Typically, facial formulas are lighter and less suffocating on skin, and formulated to not clog your pores and cause breakouts. Similarly, she adds that recent facial formulas are packed with active ingredients. “These are ingredients you’d commonly find in ‘top-shelf’ products, as sunscreen formulation is becoming incredibly sophisticated, and people now expect face sunscreens to go beyond offering SPF and to actually provide skincare benefits as well.” Some top-tier formulas will tout ingredients like niacinamide, vitamin c, or hyaluronic acid.
Face Sunscreen vs. SPF Moisturizer
SPF-packed facial moisturizers are an easy way to get a daily dose of SPF protection (like, when you’re just outside to commute to the office, or if you sit next to a window at any time of year). But they shouldn’t take the place of your facial sunscreen when you need supreme protection: “SPF moisturizers tend to provide a lower SPF level than facial sunscreens,” Hale notes. She recommends using at least SPF 30 on a daily basis when it comes to facial moisturizers. “That being said, the key is really finding a sunscreen (physical or chemical) that you love and will actually use. I’m happier seeing patients use an SPF moisturizer with a slightly lower SPF level, versus none at all.”
Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreens
Perhaps the most notable categorical difference is chemical sunscreens versus mineral ones. Mineral sunscreens, often called physical sunscreens, use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as their UV filter, says Hale. “For my patients who prefer a mineral formula, I recommend that they first try a zinc oxide product. It’s non-irritating and non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block your pores), and is gentle enough that people with sensitive or acne-prone skin typically tolerate these types of sunscreens very well.” She says that zinc oxide also provides more broad-spectrum protection (that is, against UVA and UVB rays) compared to titanium dioxide.
There are six types of commonly used chemical UV filters in the US: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. Some people prefer a chemical option simply because it absorbs into the skin and wears lighter. At a close-up level, they also absorb the UV rays and neutralize them, as opposed to the mineral SPFs deflecting UV rays. The debate rages on whether or not chemical options are safe for you, but the worst offenders have been more or less eradicated from production. If you want to pick a chemical option, then Hale recommends looking for a formula that uses avobenzone, since it offers broad-spectrum protection (whereas most chemical sunscreens only block UVB rays).
Best Everyday Facial Sunscreen with Chemical SPF
Vacation Super Spritz SPF 50
Vacation knows a thing or two about branding; the cult-favorite SPF is one big ode to 80’s advertising. But their actual product formulas are modern as ever, packed with nourishing ingredients like aloe, cucumber extract, caffeine, algae extract, Vitamin E, shea oil, maracuja oil, and bisabolol. All of that is contained in this daily SPF spray, by the way. It’s a terrific option for beach days and commuter days alike, since a simple mist soaks into your skin and gives you thorough SPF 50 chemical defense. Whereas other facial SPFs might be better reserved just for days of extreme sun exposure, this is one you can easily layer over your daily moisturizer (and your makeup) without extra weight, or without needing to rub in.
Best Everyday Facial Sunscreen with Mineral SPF
Dr.Jart+ Every Sun Day Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+
If you prefer a mineral-only defense against sun protection (and on a daily basis at that, no matter how intense your sun exposure may be) then opt for this Dr.Jart product. Layer the zinc oxide and titanium dioxide-fortified formula over top your daily moisturizer, and rest assured that it will bounce upwards of 98% of UV rays that come in contact with your mug.
Best Mineral Sunscreen Powder
Supergoop (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder Sunscreen SPF 35
This is an exceptional product. If you want an ultra lightweight, no-mess application of zinc oxide UV defense over your moisturizer, then look no further. Moreover, it’s a terrific base layer for anyone applying makeup or concealer, as well as a setting powder for those same individuals. (Meaning, it will help keep that concealer or makeup in place all day, even if you have oily skin.) It can even keep your forehead shine at a minimum, if that’s something you care to manage. As if that wasn’t enough, this powder contains ceramides and olive glycerides to help skin retain existing moisture.You can even choose form one of four tones so that you have a product that complements your natural skin tone.
Best Face Sunscreen with Chemical SPF
Jaxon Lane Rain or Shine Daily Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 50
Jaxon Lane’s facial sunscreen is packed with natural extracts that work wonders on your complexion. The hypoallergenic formula includes green tea, a powerful antibacterial agent that unclogs pores and prevents acne, Vitamin E for moisture, as well as ginseng root, which is known to prevent aging and maintain skin’s elasticity. It even has a little licorice root powder to lighten hyperpigmentation and even skin tone. While it does contain 1.5% titanium dioxide for some physical defense, the primary SPF defenses in this one come from chemical ingredients.
Best Face Sunscreen with Mineral SPF
Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense Sunscreen SPF 30
A clear departure from the thick, white sunscreens of yore, this invisible zinc-oxide formula feels weightless and blends easily on all skin tones. It will block about 97 percent of UV rays, and also reduce any redness and dryness thanks to the bio-active mushroom complex. It also features green tea extract to protect your skin against free radical damage.
Best Face and Body Sunscreen with Chemical SPF
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk SPF 60
La Roche-Posay’s broad spectrum SPF 60 chemical sunscreen will protect your body and face against the sun and it feels good, too. The fast-absorbing chemical-SPF formula melts into your skin and leaves it feeling hydrated and soft, but not greasy. The cream is suitable for all skin types—even the most sensitive—and is also paraben-free.
Best Face and Body Sunscreen with Mineral SPF
Jack Black Oil-Free Sun Guard SPF 45
Jack Black’s oil-free sunscreen is sweat resistant and stays on through intense physical activity no problems. It’s terrific for athletes too, since it is resistant to sweat and water for up to 80 minutes.Its primary SPF defense is an 8% zinc oxide barrier, though it also calls on additional chemical SPF support from octinoxate and octisalate. The sunscreen features an array of high-quality organic ingredients to enrich your skin. Vitamin C and calendula flower, for instance, fight free radicals while calming and soothing irritated skin.