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 (lengthy) 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 SPF-filled 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 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.
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.”
If you happen to be chasing around little ones with a stick formula, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Laura Scott recommends getting four passses across every section of exposed skin.
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.
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.
What to Look For in Sunscreen
- Chemical vs 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 deciding between a chemical and mineral formula. 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.
- Formula for Your 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. (Doctor’s note: Children under six months should not wear sunscreen.)
- Kid-Friendly Formulas
"Sunscreen (and overall sun protection) is important at all ages, but especially in childhood when skin can be more sensitive and easier to burn," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Laura Scott. "When looking for a kids sunscreen, it's important to choose an SPF of at least 30 that is labeled as broad-spectrum (meaning it protects from both UVA and UVB rays) and ideally water resistant."
While a handful of options fit the bill, Dr. Scott is particularly fond of Sun Bumb for little ones. "If they have sensitive skin, choose a mineral option like Baby Bum mineral sunscreen for your youngest," she says. "For the more active and adventurous kids, try Sun Bum’s new Kids SPF collection that is clear, water-resistant and made for both wet and dry skin application."
The Best Sunscreens for Your Face
- The Best Sunscreen Overall: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 PA+++
- The Best Mattifying Sunscreen: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
- The Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin: iS Clinical Extreme Protect SPF 30
- The Best Spray Sunscreen: SunBum Original SPF Sunscreen Spray
The products on this list have been vetted by Marie Claire's Beauty Editor, Samantha Holender (that's me!) and Marie Claire's Beauty Director, Deena Campbell; or have been hand-selected by a board-certified dermatologist. Each and every one includes ingredients clinically proven to protect against UVA and UVB rays, is highly rated by reviewers, and has an SPF over 30. While the *best* sunscreen for you will vary based on personal preference, skin type, and skin tone, you truly can't go wrong with one of the items on this list. For a more personalized recommendation or if you have any concerns, check with your board-certified dermatologist.
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.
Pros: Lightweight; Invisible
Cons: Only water resistant for 40 minutes
Customer Review: "I have used this product for years and tried many other sunscreens and this is always the one I come back to—it doesnt leave my skin white cast or too oily and it acts as a perfect primer under makeup." — Sephora
The Best Sunscreen for Kids
"My favorite tip for kids is to use a stick sunscreen," says Dr. Scott. "It's mess free for both kids and parents, and so easy to apply (and reapply)! I love Sun Bum’s new Kids Face Stick. It's SPF 50 and completely clear." This particular stick spreads on smoother than most, so you can actually get product on every inch of skin without too much of a fuss.
Pros: Derm-recommended; Kid-friendly
Customer Review: "This face stick is so much easier to apply on the kids than a lotion or spray. It smells really good and a little goes along way. Very easy to carry with you to reapply when needed." — Ulta
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 or contribute to breakouts.
Pros: EWG recognition; Face and body
Cons: Too heavy for some; Can leave a white cast
Customer Review: "I’ve purchased so many mineral sunscreens within the passes five years and this is by far the best. The perfect amount of moisture. Spreads easily, leaves a light white cast but blends well. Didn’t break me out. Will be using daily." — Amazon
Best Mattifying Sunscreen
Ask 100 dermatologists 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.
Pros: Oil-free; Invisible
Customer Review: "This is my 3rd bottle of EltaMD UV Clear. It is my favorite face sunscreen!! It’s thin, moisturizing, and never leaves a white cast! I have sensitive skin and this does not break me out or irritate my skin. Definitely recommend!" — Dermstore
The Best Everyday Face Sunscreen
Want to keep your skincare routine simple? Scoop up this sunscreen, which protects against UVA and UVB damage, includes vitamin C for a boost of environmental protection, and contains natural antioxidants to defend against free radicals.
Pros: Multi benefit; Non comedogenic
Cons: Slight white cast
Customer Review: "I've been using this sunscreen for a couple years now. I have extremely acne-prone skin and I was delighted to find this never breaks me out. For a high-SPF mineral sunscreen, the white cast isn't too bad - it goes on with a cast, but the cast fades after about five minutes." — Dermstore
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.
Pros: Hydrating; Glowy
Cons: Too sticky for some
Customer Review: "I have been using this sunscreen for about a year now, it’s the best physical sunscreen I have found. I have rosacea and this product has never broken me out. I use it everyday, even under makeup." — Sephora
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.
Pros: Rubs in easily; Good on the go
Cons: Doesn't last long; Might pill
Customer Review: "This is LOVE LOVE LOVE! I love the simplicity of easily applying sunscreen. This is white and feels like a serum while patting in. This helped me also save time from blending so easily on my face and neck. It's white and able to be applied fast." — Sephora
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.
Pros: Affordable; Non-comedogenic
Cons: Too drying for some
Customer Review: "This sunscreen has really helped w my journey to clear skin, as it protects my skin but also gives your skin such a plump look as well as a healthy glow. i’ve never found it breaking out my skin, and it’s my holy grail skin base. affordable and my go to product!!" — Target