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Stuff We Buy Ourselves: The SPF Moisturizers the Editors Swear By

A roundup of the SPF moisturizers used by our editors and writers — The Strategist on the

If you follow our monthly Strategist haul, then you’re familiar with the idiosyncrasies of our editors’ and writers’ shopping habits. While we think of those as the highlights, there are plenty of other, less glamorous things that we buy — and love — on the regular, too. So whether you’ve wondered about the T-shirts we buy in bulk or the lip balm we hoard, this is the Stuff We Buy Ourselves. First up: the SPF moisturizers (or for some, the moisturizer and then the sunscreen) we all use.

This right here is a twofer: daily sunscreen that doubles as tinted moisturizer. It goes on easy (which is key for sunscreens, which often tend to go on not so easy), and it provides a (I think) not fake-looking glow, since I am basically a vampire and stay out of the direct sun as much as possible. (I am very pale and am paranoid about getting wrinkles.) Interestingly, Unsun was actually developed by Frank Ocean’s mother, Katonya Breaux, for women of color, but its miraculous “universal tint” works great with my skin.

I’m a big believer in daily SPF, but am also pained by the idea of spending more than $15 on the stuff (which makes no sense because I’ll spend as much or more on a lunch salad). This CeraVe came derm-recommended — I already use and dig the daily moisturizing lotion — and it’s cheap and fuss-free. I appreciate that it’s not greasy, and the size is TSA-perfect; I keep one over the bathroom sink and one in the Dopp kit.

I’ve recently been Goldilocks-ing my way through moisturizers. Rio’s Snail Bee Steam Cream was great during the colder months. Now that it’s warmer, I’ve been experimenting with the Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel (it’s the same brand as the snail stuff) for days when I’ve been in the sun. It quenches, but doesn’t leave skin feeling silky the way you want. Then I cleaned out my bathroom cabinet and found this forgotten, unopened Aesop bottle. It’s the middle-of-the-road moisturizer I was looking for: extra lightweight, but still a true lotion. And it’s Aesop, so it smells positively ambrosial.

I’m a total delinquent about sun exposure and should just buy a moisturizer with built-in SPF. Instead, I just put on Glossier Invisible Shield sunscreen afterward, when I remember.

I used to be a beauty editor and have tried out my share of sunscreens. I learned pretty early on that the best stuff should be a physical blocker with zinc. Which, if you have darker skin, is a pain in the ass to blend in. And then there’s the whole breakouts thing. It can be very appealing to just not deal with it, or plan to be better tomorrow. I found two fixes for that: This SPF 50 stuff from Image was admittedly something I fished out of the beauty closet, but something I have since bought myself. The brand seems random, but my God, it works better than anything I’ve tried. (I have used EltaMD, and while I like it okay, and derms like it a lot, I find this formula to be less greasy and shine-inducing, and it doesn’t do that pilling thing.) This stuff, which is slightly more liquid than creamy, sinks right in. I like that it makes my skin nice and glowy, as opposed to bumpy and chalky. And for the whole compliance issue, I leave the tube next to my key bowl.

I wish I had a better story, but I bought this in the fall because everyone who comes on the Strategist to talk about skin care recommends it. When my mom saw I had it, she told me, “I’m happy you’re using this.”

My greatest shame is that I don’t wear a daily sunscreen. Which, I know, you don’t need to tell me, means I’m going to wrinkle like a prune within the year and develop suspicious moles. But on a recent trip to Miami, my friend had this Kiehl’s sunscreen and I wore it and didn’t burn, even though my face was exposed to the (alarmingly hot) elements for two straight days without a hat.

This sunscreen from Amarte is so lightweight, it comes out of the tube as a liquid, but the finish is almost powdery, not oily or greasy, which I, as a person with acne-prone and often-dehydrated skin, appreciate. And though it’s not marketed as a daily moisturizer, it’s got lots of the benefits of one, including hyaluronic acid and protection from free radicals and pollutants.

For SPF I use EltaMD UV Clear. My dermatologist recommended it to me last month after putting me on prescription retinoid, which makes your skin extra sensitive to the sun. It was also the top pick of the dermatologists I consulted for this story. So far, it lives up to the hype. It has a very smooth, nongreasy finish, so I don’t feel like it’s clogging my acne-prone skin. Unlike other sunscreens I’ve tried, it has a thin consistency and absorbs quickly without leaving a thick white cast. I find that this actually encourages me to use more of it (I also learned in my research that most of us use way less than the recommended amount of sunscreen) because I don’t have to spend a ton of time rubbing it in.

It’s not a moisturizer technically, so I also use Sebamed Clear Face Gel. This is an extremely light moisturizer — definitely only for oily, acne-prone skin like mine — but it’s been great during the day when I don’t want my face to feel suffocated by a thick moisturizer. I learned about it during a deep dive into the SkincareAddiction subreddit looking for something that wouldn’t make my acne worse. Because it has so few ingredients, there’s really nothing in it that can cause new pimples. Aloe vera and hyaluronic acid make it just moisturizing and soothing enough for my skin.

It’s definitely on the pricier end, but this guy from MDSolarSciences is a nice one to have for every day — the packaging is A+ and it’s very creamy and hydrating, with a zillion skin-friendly ingredients.

What I really prefer to do instead of having a two-in-one, though (and what derms usually recommend), is to layer up on sunscreen and moisturizer separately. I’ve been using this teeny Missha sunscreen over my moisturizer, which I love because it blends into skin well without making you look pasty or oily.

I’m a card-carrying member of the shiny-face club. My freshman year of college, I picked up this Simple SPF moisturizer in a half-hearted attempt to manage my unruly skin. Fast-forward a few years, and I haven’t bothered to use any other daily moisturizer, even as I’ve upgraded the rest of my skin-care routine. It’s unfussy and light and seeps into my skin without that sticky-icky residue. My skin looks as fresh-faced (and sunburn-free) as it did back at the dorms. Less oily, too.

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Stuff We Buy Ourselves: The Editors’ SPF Moisturizers