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The 17 Very Best Sunscreens for Your Face

Including options for sunscreen-phobic acne sufferers.

Photo: Marcus McDonald
Photo: Marcus McDonald

After years of beauty reporting and countless conversations with dermatologists and estheticians, I’ve learned that sunscreen is a nonnegotiable, year-round thing. It’s a daily must-do, right up there with washing your face. Nearly every skin concern can be exasperated by not wearing SPF. It helps with everything from hyperpigmentation to fine lines to acne, and protects skin from sun damage, which can lead to a host of other problems. Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Health, says everyone should generally look for sunscreens with broad-spectrum coverage (which protects against UVB rays that cause burning and UVA rays that cause lasting damage) and an SPF of 30 or higher, and she notes that a high SPF doesn’t mean you can go hours without reapplying. You should always reapply sunscreen after every two hours in the sun, Stein says, even if you don’t burn easily.

This can be tricky, though, especially if you’re prone to breakouts or have sensitive skin. To find the best facial sunscreens to use, we asked Stein and 11 more dermatologists and skin-care professionals to recommend sunscreens for different skin types and activities. Read on for their favorites. (And remember: These sunscreens should be used in addition to hats and protective clothing, and wearing any of them doesn’t excuse you from spending time in the shade, since no sunscreen can completely prevent sun damage.)

Best overall | Best less expensive | Best chemical sunscreen for darker skin tones | Best mineral sunscreen for darker skin tones | Best mineral for acne-prone skin | Best chemical for acne-prone skin | Best mineral for oily skin | Best chemical for oily skin | Best mineral for dry skin | Best chemical for dry skin | Best mineral for mature skin | Best for sensitive skin | Best for exercising outdoors | Best mineral for swimming outdoors | Best chemical for swimming | Best for reapplication | Best sunscreen serum

What we’re looking for

SPF level: SPF—or sun protection factor—is the measure of how much UV radiation is required to cause a sunburn. The higher the SPF, the less likely you are to burn. It’s important to note that SPF doesn’t relate to time spent in the sun but rather references the amount of solar energy, so reapplication depends on the intensity of the sun. To put it simply: You need to reapply more often during the middle of the day, when the sun is at its peak, than, say, 9 a.m., when the sun is less intense. As we mentioned before, a high SPF doesn’t mean you can stop reapplying. Instead consider what your skin might need. Fairer skin needs a higher SPF to protect the skin, while darker skin tones (which have a built-in SPF of around 13.4) can use a lower SPF (think SPF 30) and still be protected. Another note: SPF only refers to UVB rays, but it’s best to look for a broad-spectrum sunblock, which will protect skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Chemical or mineral: There are two types of sunscreen filters: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens use organic materials like oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octocrylene, and octisalate to offer sun protection. These work by absorbing the sun’s rays, turning it into heat, and then releasing said heat through skin. This process takes about 15 minutes, so if you’re using chemical sunscreen filters, then you should be giving yourself at least that much time before heading outdoors. Because of their properties, chemical filters tend to be more cosmetically elegant and can be formulated into lightweight moisturizers and oils. There are a few drawbacks with chemical sunscreens. The first: They need to be applied more often than mineral sunscreens because they’re not photostable and break down upon exposure to UV light. Second, there have been studies suggesting that chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate can seep into water while you swim and bleach coral reefs. Some chemicals have also been linked to endocrine disruption, although the data isn’t conclusive. Chemical sunscreens tend to be more irritating, as allergies to the active ingredients are more common.

Mineral sunscreens act as a physical barrier between you and UV rays, scattering the light when it hits your skin. There are two main ingredients that act as physical blockers—titanium and zinc oxide. These block a wide range of UV wavelengths and are photostable, meaning you don’t have to reapply as frequently (though you should still stick to the two-hour rule). Titanium and zinc oxide are also well tolerated by all skin types, including sensitive, and less likely to cause a reaction. The zinc oxide is also a key component in preventing hyperpigmentation, so it’s often recommended by dermatologists for patients with melasma or dark marks. In contrast to chemical sunscreens, physical filters aren’t as smooth or lightweight. They also tend to leave a white cast on skin, which makes it challenging for deeper skin tones. Mineral formulas have come a long way thanks to zinc nanoparticles, which rub in more easily.

To get the benefits of both, you can opt for a hybrid formula, which contains chemical and mineral filters.

Contains oxybenzone, homosalate, and octisalate: The CDC has been keeping an eye on oxybenzone for a few years now. The popular chemical has been shown to absorb through the skin, and there have been concerns that it’s an endocrine disruptor, after a few studies showed lower levels of testosterone in teenage boys and an increased risk of endometriosis in women. Currently the European Commission (which is known for having stricter regulations on cosmetics and skin care than the U.S.) caps the oxybenzone concentration at 6 percent, though all sunscreens don’t note the concentrations on the label, so it’s difficult to be sure. Homosalate and octisalate have also been identified as possible endocrine disruptors, but there have been less findings on these ingredients and their effects. If this concerns you, it’s definitely something to keep in mind; however, these ingredients (and other chemical sunscreen ingredients) haven’t at present been deemed unsafe for use.

Consistency: Consistency is important when it comes to sunscreen, because thickness can impact the way it sits on your skin. Someone looking for a formula that won’t feel heavy or greasy might opt for a lightweight formula, while someone with dry skin might want a thicker, more nourishing sunscreen.

Best overall sunscreen

SPF 46 | Mineral | Lightweight lotion

A longtime Strategist favorite, EltaMD UV Clear is also a top pick among dermatologists. Marnie Nussbaum likes it so much she wears it every day. Patricia Wexler of Wexler Dermatology says her patients love it because it doesn’t feel greasy like traditional sunscreen. In addition to being fragrance-free and noncomedogenic, EltaMD’s sunscreen is especially effective because it’s rich in antioxidants that help protect against skin-damaging free radicals, Wexler says. Nava Greenfield of the Schweiger Dermatology Group likes that it includes niacinamide, a vitamin-B3 derivative with anti-inflammatory properties that can fight breakouts. Jennifer MacGregor of Union Square Laser Dermatology appreciates that it’s “lightweight and oil-free, so it won’t clog pores,” and Dendy Engelman of Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery points out that the formula contains “lactic acid, which will gently exfoliate the skin and regulate sebum buildup,” keeping breakouts at bay.

Best less expensive sunscreen

SPF 35 | Chemical | Contains homosalate 9.5% and Octisalate 4.8% | Lightweight lotion

This lightweight cream from Cetaphil is both a lightweight moisturizer and SPF, containing hydrating and nourishing ingredients like edelweiss flower extract and antioxidants such as vitamins B and E. It has an SPF of 35 and offers broad-spectrum protection. It’s also oil-free and formulated for sensitive skin, making it a good option for most people.

Best chemical sunscreen for darker skin tones

SPF 30 | Chemical | Contains avobenzone 3%, homosalate 10%, octisalate 5% and octocrylene 2.75% | Lotion

I use this sunscreen daily (I switch between this one and the matte sunscreen from the same brand), and it’s pretty much my holy grail. It gives me a healthy sheen and leaves me glowy for hours while also protecting my skin. It dries down completely clear and is really moisturizing thanks to ingredients like avocado, jojoba, and sunflower oil along with carrot juice, which contains vitamin C and helps to brighten the complexion.

Best mineral sunscreen for darker skin tones

SPF 30 | Mineral | Lotion

On the mineral front, I’ve had good results with this sunscreen from Urban Skin Rx, which is one of the few mineral sunscreens that doesn’t turn up white or purple-ish on my skin. To minimize cast, it uses finely milled zinc oxide (but it isn’t nano-size, a concern for those who don’t want their sunscreen to penetrate the skin), which blends clear. The formula does go on white at first, but if you work it in thoroughly, it leaves skin with a noticeable glow. I like that you can use the proper amount and still get glowy results. (With previous mineral options, I would use so little — to avoid a white cast — that it was as if I had barely put anything on.) In addition to being protective, it’s moisturizing, though I wouldn’t skip my moisturizer and apply this on its own. It contains safflower oil, which has a similar lightweight texture to sunflower oil, and is considered one of those rare oils that isn’t irritating to acne-prone skin. Still, if you’re concerned about using oils, this is something to keep in mind. Additionally, it has vitamin C by way of grapefruit extract (for additional brightening) and bisabolol (known to calm and soothe skin).

Best mineral sunscreen for acne-prone skin

SPF 40 | Mineral | Liquid

For acne sufferers, Greenfield suggests “staying away from any generic [drugstore] brands because they tend not to have the best formulations.” Additionally, Stein recommends that those with acne-prone skin look for liquid sunscreens over thicker creams: “Liquid is just not as thick, so it’s less likely to clog your pores,” she says. Tizo, which Greenfield calls “really gentle on acne,” has a silky-smooth feel that will work for oily skin. Former Strategist writer Lori Keong has also written about how Tizo can prevent body acne.

Best chemical sunscreen for acne-prone skin

SPF 60 | Chemical | Contains homosalate 15% and octisalate 5% | Lightweight lotion

While Tizo uses physical sunscreens like zinc oxide to block the sun’s rays, another option is a chemical sunscreen that absorbs the rays instead. It may sound ideal for acne-prone skin, but there are unfortunately few broad-spectrum chemical sunscreens that protect against UVA rays. Greenfield says one of the few FDA-approved chemicals for UVA protection is avobenzone, a main ingredient in this oil-free sunscreen. She adds that “chemical sunscreen has a nice formulation that doesn’t feel sticky.”

Best mineral sunscreen for oily skin

SPF 60 | Mineral | Lightweight lotion

Kim Zimmerman, director of e-commerce and marketing at Rescue Spa, says this sunscreen gets “unanimous love” from the spa’s aestheticians. While they recommend it for all skin types, Zimmerman notes it’s especially beloved by customers with oily skin, who like that it is tinted for a matte finish and contains “microscopic sponges” for oil absorption.

Best chemical sunscreen for oily skin

SPF 40 | Chemical | Contains homosalate 8% and octisalate 5% | Gel

Since it’s oil-free and gel based, Nussbaum notes this Supergoop! sunscreen is one of the best out there for oily skin. “It dries very fast, and it’s easily absorbable, so even when someone is oily, it doesn’t just come off right away,” she says. And unlike other sunscreens geared toward oily types, it doesn’t have a pasty finish and dries invisibly on the skin. Its finish makes it a favorite for makeup wearers as well. The lightweight, smooth texture acts like a primer and helps face makeup apply flawlessly.

Best mineral sunscreen for dry skin

SPF 35 | Mineral | Serum

For a lightweight, moisturizing option, Caroline Robinson, founder of Tone Dermatology, recommends and uses this sunscreen from Venus Williams’s brand, Eleven. This one, she says, blends in well, so it doesn’t leave a white coating on the skin, a common problem with mineral sunscreen. Its light, velvety finish makes it a great makeup base too. On the moisturization front, it contains prickly pear extract, which both hydrates and soothes inflamed skin.

Best chemical sunscreen for dry skin

SPF 30 | Chemical | Contains homosalate 2.5% and octisalate 1.5% | Lotion

For those with dry skin, Nussbaum says to look for a sunblock that combines protection and hydration. These will usually be creams or lotions, like this Coola formula she loves. “It has a lot of antioxidants” — including aloe juice, grape-seed oil, and other plant-based moisturizers — “so it helps the skin repair itself,” she notes.

Best sunscreen for mature skin

SPF 50 | Mineral | Lotion

Any good sunscreen will protect against wrinkles, fine lines, and dark spots caused by sun exposure, but Francesca Fusco of Wexler Dermatology likes that this one will actually work to reverse existing sun damage. She says it’s “spiked” with antioxidants and photolyase enzymes, which have “been shown to reverse the specific DNA mutations caused by ultraviolet [light].” MacGregor calls the brand’s sunscreens “elegant formulations that combine skin-protecting, anti-aging ingredients with your daily SPF.” Nussbaum is a fan too. “It has vitamin E as well, so it blends in really nicely,” she says. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology, frequently recommends this sunscreen, which he also uses on himself. According to Hartman, it works well for all skin types and most skin tones. “It doesn’t leave a white or iridescent cast,” he says. “It disappears into my skin and doesn’t make me oily.” If you find that this one doesn’t disappear completely, Robinson recommends using the tinted formula instead.

Best sunscreen for sensitive skin

SPF 30 | Mineral | Lotion

Greenfield is a big fan of Blue Lizard sunscreen: “It’s an Australian brand, so they take their sunscreen very seriously, as [Australia] has the highest rate of melanoma.” Although it’s made for babies, this sunscreen is also good for adults with sensitive skin, as it’s free of parabens, chemicals, and fragrances that can cause irritation. It has high concentrations of titanium and zinc oxide, which offer lots of protection.

Best sunscreen for exercising outdoors

SPF 50 | Mineral | Stick

If you’ve ever put on sunscreen before a run, you’re probably familiar with the stinging sensation in your eyes as the sunscreen drips down your face. According to Stein, “a stick is a good way to get a sunscreen that doesn’t run as much.” Nussbaum suggests this stick from Supergoop!, which is “mineral based and doesn’t tend to run.” It also contains olive-fruit extract, so it’s moisturizing.

Best mineral sunscreen for swimming

SPF 50 | Mineral | Lightweight lotion

Proven to be water resistant for up to 40 minutes (around the time you’d want to reapply after swimming anyway), SkinCeuticals’ physical sunscreen comes recommended by both Nussbaum and dermatologist Jared Jagdeo, the medical director of Ever/Body. It’s one of Jagdeo’s top picks because, as he says, it features “zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, natural minerals that protect skin from ultraviolet, visible, and infrared light in our environment.” It tops Nussbaum’s list for easily absorbing into the skin without a greasy feel.

Best chemical sunscreen for swimming

SPF 50 | Chemical | Contains homosalate 8% and octisalate 5% | Gel

Dermatologist Kenneth Howe says this sunscreen offers protection even after hours in the water. His wife, an avid surfer, likes the formula because it feels smooth and doesn’t leave a white cast. It’s also formulated without oxybenzone and octinoxate, so it’s reef-safe too.

Best sunscreen for reapplication

SPF 50 | Mineral | Powder

This powder sunscreen from Colorescience can be used under or over makeup. The brush-on formula comes recommended by Engelman, who says it “can absorb excess oil and be used throughout the day.” It’s available in a handful of shades to blend with your skin tone, and since it’s a powder and not a cream or lotion, it always leaves a matte finish.

Best sunscreen serum

SPF 50 | Chemical | Contains avobenzone 2.68%, homosalate 9.6%, octisalate 2.88%, octocrylene 5.38%, oxybenzone 3.46% | Serum

If you’re in search of something a little more lightweight, dermatologist Dr. Karan Lal recommends this serum sunscreen from La Roche-Posay. “It’s so nice to put on,” he says. It has an SPF of 50 and contains antioxidants like vitamin C and E, which help to fight free radicals. Because of its thin texture it wears well under makeup and won’t be greasy or oily on the skin.

Some more sunscreens for your face we've written about

Our experts

• Dr. Dendy Engelman, dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery
• Dr. Francesca Fusco, dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology
• Dr. Nava Greenfield, dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology
• Dr. Corey L. Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology
• Dr. Kenneth Howe, dermatologist
• Dr. Karan Lal, dermatologist
• Dr. Jared Jagdeo, dermatologist and medical director of Ever/Body
• Dr. Jennifer MacGregor, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology
• Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, dermatologist
• Dr. Caroline Robinson, founder of Tone Dermatology
• Dr. Jennifer Stein, dermatologist at NYU Langone Health
• Dr. Patricia Wexler, dermatologist at Wexler Dermatology
• Kim Zimmerman, director of e-commerce and marketing at Rescue Spa

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The 17 Very Best Sunscreens for Your Face