- Why Do I Need Sunscreen?
- What’s the Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen?
- How Much Sunscreen Do I Need to Apply?
- Do I Need to Reapply Sunscreen?
- Which Sunscreen Is Best for My Skin Type?
- How Do I Incorporate Sunscreen Into My Routine?
- The Best Sunscreens for Your Face
- The Best Sunscreens for Your Body
Ask any dermatologist: SPF is the MVP of all beauty products—hands down, no doubt about it. The best sunscreen products protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays, defend against skin cancer, and are the most important item in your arsenal for preventing sun spots, wrinkles, and fine lines. But picking the right one for your face and body can be a tad, well, overwhelming. There are natural sunscreens, zinc oxide sunscreens, tinted sunscreens, sprays, lotions, powders—the (lengthly) list goes on.
That said, the abundance of options means that you’ll 100 percent be able to find a formula that works well for your skin type. From oil-free facial sunscreens that layer fabulously under makeup to body lotions that you’ll want on-hand during beach days, there’s truly an option for everyone. To help make your decision a heck of a lot easier, we tapped top dermatologists to give us the low down on every single little detail about SPF.
Why Do I Need Sunscreen?
Not only is sunscreen the best defense against skin cancer, but it's also your best bet for preventing signs of aging like sun spots, skin sagging, and wrinkles. “Sunscreens contain active ingredients that help protect the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation,” explains Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, founder of Entiére Dermatology. “Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays cause the most damage to the skin. Those are the rays that cause burning. Ultraviolet A (UVA) is a wavelength that actually goes deeper into the skin and causes skin aging.” As such, layering on an appropriate amount of sunscreen (and reapplying regularly) helps to reflect and absorb the sun’s harmful rays.
But putting on SPF isn’t an activity reserved for beach days or tanning sessions. It should be done every, single day—no matter the weather. Dr. Levin explains that the sun’s rays can penetrate through car windows and clouds.
It’s also important to note that those with darker skin tones need to wear sunscreen too. Just because your skin is less likely to burn, doesn't mean you're immune to the sun's rays. Dr. Naana Boakye, a board-certified dermatologist at Bergen Dermatology, explains that sunlight causes a decent chunks of hyperpigmentation in people of color. “Hyperpigmentation can be seen in a variety of skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis. As a result, I strongly recommend wearing sunscreen,” she adds.
What’s the Difference Between Chemical and Mineral Sunscreen?
“The best sunscreen is the one you’re going to wear every day,” says Dr. Levin. And while something is always better than nothing, there are few factors to consider when choosing the right type of sunscreen for you. The primary difference between the two is that mineral sunscreen, which is typically formulated with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, primarily absorbs UV radiation, whereas chemical sunscreen will primarily reflect and scatter UV light, explains Dr. Boakye.
Mineral sunscreen is typically recommended for those with super sensitive skin and babies, as certain ingredients in chemical sunscreen can cause irritation or allergies. That said, chemical sunscreen isn’t dangerous by any means and is less likely to leave a white cast. “There’s a lot of fear-mongering against chemical sunscreens, but not all chemicals are bad. Even water is a chemical,” explains Dr. Levin.
How Much Sunscreen Do I Need to Apply?
In short: a lot. “I tell my patients a half a teaspoon for the face and the neck combined and a whole shot-glass full (1 oz) for the body,” says Dr. Levin. An easy hack for making sure you get the recommended amount on your face, is to coat the length of two fingers in sunscreen. If you use a foundation that has SPF, it's recommended that you layer sunscreen underneath as well. Chances are, you're not applying enough makeup to get the full protection.
As for the body? It’s easiest to judge the amount you’re applying with a liquid formula—spray sunscreens are a little trickier. To make sure you’re actually getting enough product on your arms, legs, and stomach, Dr. Levin suggests holding the bottle close to the skin during application. “Your sunscreen spray bottle is not perfume,” she says. “Apply it close to ensure you’re not missing spots and also make sure to rub it in.”
Do I Need to Reapply Sunscreen?
“It’s recommended to reapply every two hours to all sun-exposed areas,” explains Dr. Boakye. The active ingredients that offer protection can come off in the water, because of sweat, or simply expire with time. While it's easier to layer liquid when you’re fresh-faced, don’t use makeup as an excuse to skip reapplication. Dr. Levin recommends reaching for a compact or a powder formula that can easily be layered over your foundation.
Which Sunscreen Is Best for My Skin Type?
Thanks to dozens of elegant formulas, everyone can find an SPF that works for them. That said, Dr. Boakye suggests that anyone with acne or oily skin look for oil-free and non-comedogenic formulas; dry skin types look for sunscreens packed with hydrating ingredients like ceramides or hyaluronic acid; and rosacea patients search out dimethicone formulations. As previously mentioned, sensitive skin types and babies are best suited with mineral sunscreens. (Doctor’s note: Children under six months should not wear sunscreen.)
How Do I Incorporate Sunscreen Into My Routine?
As a rule of thumb, sunscreen should be the final product in your skincare routine. Put all your other antioxidant facial serums (shoutout vitamin C) and body lotions on beforehand. There are no ingredients or products that can’t be used in tandem with sunscreen, but there are a few that make using SPF that much more important. Think: retinol, AHAs, and BHAs. “Anything that’s going to provide anti-aging benefits is turning over your skin cells faster, which then makes it more sensitive to the sun,” explains Dr. Levin.
The Best Sunscreens for Your Face
Best Lightweight Sunscreen
SPF haters, meet your new favorite sunscreen. The totally clear gel disappears into the skin as soon as you smooth it on and won't leave a cast on deeper skin tones. It's also free of fragrance, common irritants, and oil—all the stuff you'd usually use as an excuse not to wear sunscreen. Basically, it's the most pared-down, nothing-to-see-here, obsession-worthy formula.
Best Mineral Sunscreen
This creamy sunscreen was approved as one of the safest sunscreens in the Environmental Working Group's 2022 report. While they tested a grand total of 1,850 sunscreens, only 500 were up to par—including this moisturizing option. It's a great double-duty option for both the face and body, leaves an amazing glow (trust us, we've tried it), and is oil-free, so it won't clog pores and contribute to breakouts.
Best Mattifying Sunscreen
Ask 100 derms what their favorite sunscreen is, and you'll get the same response 100 times: EltaMD. Not only is the cult-favorite brand completely safe for acne-prone skin, but this sunscreen is infused with a small dose of lactic acid to keep pores clear, along with mattifying ingredients to help prevent makeup from slipping and sliding by noon.
Best Sunscreen for Dry Skin
Biossance's signature squalane formulas extend to the SPF category. This one is super sheer, formulated with 100-percent non-nano zinc that protects and hydrates even the most sensitive skin. It leave a dewy glow behind, too, making it perfect for no-makeup beach days.
Best Sunscreen Drops
You can get your sunscreen in dropper form with Dr. Barbara Sturm's SPF 50 sundrops. The lightweight liquid is super gentle, sinks in quickly, and protects against photo-aging UVA and sunburn-threatening UVB rays.
Best Sunscreen for Oily Skin
If oil and acne have traditionally made you give sunscreen a side eye, allow us to introduce you to this Neutrogena miracle worker. It's been given a green light by the Environmental Working Group thanks to its efficacy and safety, feels extremely breathable on the skin, and is non-comedogenic. It's a win-win-win.
Best Sunscreen to Reapply
Great for reapplication over makeup, this dermatologist-tested compact deserves a permanent spot in your handbag. It's not something you'll want to use on its own for your full SPF protection, but it's a great addition to your sun care routine.
Best Sunscreen for Mature Skin
This weightless formula miraculously repairs existing UV damage while protecting your skin from new rays. Oh, and it won't leave that tell-tale white cast you loathe and use as an excuse not to wear SPF daily.
Best Sunscreen Makeup
You've definitely seen Ilia's SPF-packed skin tint on social media, and trust us, it lives up to the hype. If you like dewy coverage (who doesn't?!) you'll quickly become obsessed with this formula, which is available in 30 shades. That said, you do still need to apply a full teaspoon of product to achieve the recommended SPF. If you're not going to wear that much, just layer one of these other amazing sunscreens underneath.
Best Sunscreen for Free Radicals
Looking for a sheer physical sunscreen that delivers powerful broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection? We'll you've found it in Drunk Elephant's SPF 30, which also aids in the prevention of free-radical and oxidative damage.
Best Luxury Sunscreen
Moisture-boosting hyaluronic acid, wrinkle-releasing retinyl palmitate, exfoliating glycolic acid, and collagen-boosting peptides are the key ingredients to this pricey-but-worth-it SPF. Plus, a host of botanical antioxidants like linseed extract—talk about luxe protection.
Caffeine and bisabolol—a soothing compound derived from chamomile tea—give this humble sunscreen an antioxidant boost that doesn't break out acne-prone skin. The super-lightweight formulation gets extra points for the natural and (and very subtle) botanical scent.
Best Sunscreen for Dark Spots
Aveeno's proprietary soy skin-lightening blend both prevents future sunspots and lifts those that have already settled on your skin. The SPF 30 formulation is unquestionably the more intelligent choice for all-day protection than the 15 variety.
Best Sunscreen Stick
We get it—applying sunscreen feels like an extra annoying step in your skincare routine. But SPF in stick-form makes the process ten times easier, like this legitimately clear formula that won't leave a white residue. Even more, it glides so beautifully with a weightless feel you can apply on top of makeup without messing it up.
Best Sunscreen for Under Makeup
Thanks to silicone, vitamin E, and non-inflammatory titanium dioxide, this elegant SPF formulation is excellent for layering under makeup. It also contains melanin, the naturally occurring skin pigment with free-radical zapping properties.
Best Sunscreen for Acne
Prevent new pimples from popping up with Dermalogica’s non-comedogenic formula. It checks all the standard boxes and it has green tea extract, which has anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties to help calm inflammation associated with breakouts.
Best Chemical Sunscreen
This sunscreen provides SPF in a lightweight formulation you'll quickly obsess over. It's formulated with hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides—three skincare saviors that enhance your complexion. Plus, even though it's not mineral-based—which tends to be less irritating—it's supremely gentle and non-comedogenic.
Best Sunscreen for Under Makeup
If you're a primer devotee, you understand the necessity of a smooth base underneath foundation and concealer. Not only does this AAPI-owned option sink in for a silky finish, but it treats and calms skin with rice and Japanese wild rose.
Best Brush-On Sunscreen
Brush On Block's translucent powder blends seamlessly with a self-dispensing brush you can buff over your face, neck, and scalp throughout the day. That's right, your hairline and part need SPF attention, too.
The Best Eco-Friendly SPF
Of course, Rihanna's beauty line features an exceptional SPF product. But she's not solely giving us SPF. Instead, Ri does us one better with a refillable two-in-sunscreen moisturizer that's lightweight, oil-free, non-comedogenic, and invisible. It also has a reef-safe formula.
Best Sunscreen for Rosacea
If the sun or heat is one of your rosacea triggers, check out this thick, mineral sunscreen. Thanks to olive leaf extract, which reduces redness, and soothing aloe, it'll do it's best to keep your skin calm. The best part? It gives an insanely gorgeous, dewy glow to the skin—no highlighter necessary.
The Best Sunscreens for Your Body
Best Sunscreen for Dark Skin
Specifically formulated for more melanated skin, this SPF leaves no white cast whatsoever. Not only does this option have EWG-approval and an elegant formula, but it's also packed with moisturizing ingredients like avocado and jojoba.
Best Sunscreen for Babies
While SPF shouldn't be used on babies under six months, the EWG loves this option for little ones of age. It's free from chemicals, alcohol, and parabens, so it's gentle on the most sensitive of skin.
Best Drugstore Sunscreen
With an affordable price point and powerful, antioxidant formula, scooping up this sunscreen ahead of summer is a no-brainer. In addition to all the usual pros (UV ray protection, hydration, lightweight), we also love that this bottle is made of 45 percent recycled materials.
Best Spray Sunscreen
SunBum's spray-on mist makes sunscreen reapplication a total breeze. It's dry touch, so sand won't get stuck to your skin on a beach day. Just remember to hold the bottle close during application and rub it in.
Best Sunscreen for Sports
This water-resistant sunscreen, which has the EWG's stamp of approval, sinks right onto your skin and stays put for hours. If you're planning on running around, playing sports, or working up a sweat, this Banana Boat stick is the way to go.