Although we’re often more aware of layering on the sunscreen in the summer, when the days are longer, temperatures rise, and we spend weekends at the beach, it’s important to remember that sunblock is actually a year-round necessity. 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 — but 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. And when you’re shopping for sunscreen for your face, you’ll also want to be conscious of ingredients that address specific concerns like fine lines or acne.
This can be tricky, though, especially if you’re prone to breakouts or have sensitive skin. While Strategist beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton loves this K-beauty brand, for example, there are plenty more options out there for all different skin types. To find the best facial sunscreens to use, I asked Stein and nine 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 sunscreen
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 sunscreens for acne-prone skin
For acne sufferers, Greenfield suggests “staying away from any generic pharmacy 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. Strategist writer Lori Keong has also written about how Tizo can prevent body acne.
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 sunscreens for oily skin
Kim Zimmerman, director of e-commerce and marketing at Rescue Spa, says this sunscreen gets “unanimous love” from the spa’s estheticians. While they recommend it for all skin types, Zimmerman says it’s especially beloved by customers with oily skin, who like that it’s tinted for a matte finish and that it contains “microscopic sponges” for oil absorption.
Since it’s oil free and gel based, Nussbaum says 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 it dries invisibly on the skin.
Another option for oily skin is a powder-based sunscreen, like this one from Colorescience that can be used under or over makeup. This brush-on sunscreen 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 sunscreens for dry skin
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 says.
If you have dry skin and wear moisturizer with SPF, you may think you’re protected, but Greenfield says “it’s never enough to just get sunscreen from your moisturizer, because it gets diluted.” Instead, she recommends layering a moisturizing sunscreen for adequate protection. The hyaluronic acid in this EltaMD sunscreen will keep skin hydrated as well as protected.
If you’re looking for an SPF moisturizer to layer under your sunscreen, Engelman says this one from Cetaphil “will hydrate the skin while providing protection.” Because it contains chemical sun-blockers that absorb into the skin (instead of physical ones, which stay on the surface), it allows moisturizing ingredients to penetrate deeper for added hydration.
Greenfield also recommends this SkinCeuticals sunscreen to patients with dry skin. It has a moisturizing base with a matte finish that won’t feel greasy.
Best sunscreens for mature skin
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.
As with dry skin, chemical sunscreen is best for mature skin and those who want to treat or prevent wrinkles, Engelman says, because physical sunscreens can sit on top of fine lines and make them more visible. She says this Elizabeth Arden formula “works to anti-age as well as protect against harmful rays” thanks to a blend of powerful antioxidants like green tea and ferulic acid.
Best sunscreen for sensitive skin
Greenfield is a big fan of Blue Lizard sunscreen: “They’re 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’s also rich in the physical blockers that give you the most protection.
Best sunscreens for exercising outdoors
For working out, Greenfield uses Blue Lizard Active sunscreen. Because this formulation is water resistant, it will still be protective if you get sweaty while exercising in the sun. Although no sunscreen is waterproof, Stein says, water-resistant claims are regulated by the FDA, so you can rely on a sunscreen with this label for swimming or sweaty activities.
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 sunscreens for swimming outdoors
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.
Dermatologist Dr. 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.
Similar to the EltaMD UV Clear formula, this version offers broad-spectrum protection in a gentle formulation with the additional benefit of being water resistant. Greenfield likes this sunscreen for when you’re swimming, but all the doctors we spoke with stressed the importance of reapplying. “When you get out of the water and you’re toweling off, that’s a good time to reapply the sunscreen,” says Stein.
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