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How To Choose The Best Sunscreen, According To Experts

Figuring out how to pick a sunscreen that suits your lifestyle, skin type and concerns isn’t just important for your beauty routine. It’s also essential for your health, since sun exposure can lead to skin cancer (on top of premature aging and painful sunburns). Determining the right sunscreen for you isn’t always so easy, though: One person’s perfect formula may leave your skin feeling greasy or looking chalky. Along with a diverse panel of testers, our editors have collectively tested dozens of versions to land on the best ones for various needs; our top picks are from La Roche-Posay, Supergoop and Coola.

No matter your skin type—be it dry, oily, acne-prone or somewhere in between—sunscreens offer options to suit your concerns and preferences (like a lightweight feel and non-white cast). We spoke with dermatologists to get their advice on what features to consider and the best options for your needs, also incorporating our database of tested insights. Here’s a rundown of some of our top picks, along with a comprehensive guide to shopping sunscreens.

Choose Broad-Spectrum Protection

Experts say that the term “broad-spectrum” is non-negotiable when you’re looking for the best sunscreen; this means the product will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. While many people often look at SPF, broad-spectrum protection is similarly important, because both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer, according to dermatologist Dr. Hadley King. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply to cause damage that may lead to melanoma or signs of aging, like wrinkles and dark spots. UVB rays don’t reach as deeply into skin, but they can still cause the skin to burn and contribute to the bulk of skin cancers.

The good news is that most sunscreens do already have this label. However, it’s less common for cosmetics with SPF to provide broad-spectrum protection, so you’ll always want to make sure to apply sunscreen before your makeup.

A Weightless, Antioxidant-Rich Formula

Coola Classic Face Sunscreen SPF 50

Our team named this the best face sunscreen overall after extensive testing; we loved its sheer finish, and sensitive noses will appreciate knowing that the formula is unscented. “I personally found that I loved how it made my skin look–fresh, bright and even more awake, with no white cast at all—and that it continued to feel great 2-plus hours later,” says our contributor who wrote the Coola facial sunscreen review. Plus, the formula is so lightweight that it even worked well on a tester with facial hair.


Non-Greasy And Safe For Sensitive Skin

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral SPF 50

This sunscreen has a rich, creamy texture when you dispense it, but the unscented formula still feels lightweight and non-greasy on the skin. It also blends easily and absorbs into the skin quickly. Even though this was chosen as our favorite sunscreen for babies—due to its invisible finish, fragrance-free nature and water resistance for up to 80 minutes—our adult testers were also big fans of the gentle, hydrating formula. “I’d be perfectly happy to apply it to my own face and body, unlike some of the others I tried that left me looking ghostly pale,” says one tester in the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral sunscreen review.


Go For SPF 30 Or Higher

Sun protection factor, or SPF, measures how long you can stay in the sun before burning while wearing a sunscreen versus how long you can stay in the sun before burning without it. Sunscreens are offered in a range of SPFs, but the American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing one with a minimum of SPF 30. Dermatologists also recommend seeking shade and wearing sun-protective clothing where possible. And no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays, but SPF 50 or higher is best if you plan on spending long hours in the sun.

A Lightweight, Water-Resistant Suncreen For Daily Use

Supergoop Play SPF 50

This water- and sweat-resistant pick is hydrating and has the expert-recommended SPF 50, making it a great option for summer or if you plan to be outdoors for stretches of time (just make sure to reapply every two hours as needed). It also feels lightweight enough for daily wear, even under makeup. While it’ll protect from UVA and UVB rays, it also contains sunflower extract to help protect the skin from environmental damage, as well as rosemary leaf extract for its calming properties.


A Gentle, Hybrid Formula For Sensitive Skin

EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46

Frequently recommended by dermatologists, this hybrid sunscreen is a bestseller from EltaMD—and what we’ve found to be the best sunscreen for sensitive skin in our own firsthand testing, too. Not only is it oil-free, but it also contains active ingredients like niacinamide (which helps control sebum production) and lactic acid (which gently smoothes skin). The gentle formula is unlikely to aggravate inflammatory skin conditions like acne and rosacea.


Find The Best Formula For Your Skin Type

No matter your skin type, sunscreen is an integral part of a healthy skincare routine. Besides benefitting from certain ingredients and preferring specific formulas, you’re much more likely to regularly apply sunscreen if it suits your complexion needs and feels comfortable on. Below are our expert recommendations based on different skin types.

  • Oily or acne-prone: Those with oily or acne-prone skin may not like the feel of too many products layered on, so dermatologist Dr. Diane Madfes recommends choosing a formula that is oil-free and non-comedogenic. You can also try a gel formula, which tends to be more lightweight.
  • Dry: Moisturizing formulas that contain humectants, emollients and occlusives are best for dry skin. Look for ingredients like aloe vera, urea, lactic acid, petrolatum and cocoa butter.
  • Sensitive or rosacea-prone: Madfes says to look for a formula that contains skin-strengthening ingredients like niacinamide or antioxidants.
  • Mature: Similarly to those with dry skin, you’ll want a sunscreen that is hydrating, and Madfes recommends versions that have a base of hyaluronic acid, squalene or glycerin.

A Clear Sunscreen That Doubles As A Primer

Glossier Invisible Shield SPF 50

This water-based sunscreen has a refreshing, gel-like consistency that layers well under makeup. The non-comedogenic formula is infused with antioxidants, which offer added protection against free radicals (that are caused by sun exposure and can damage collagen and elastin), and is completely clear coming out of the tube and when applied.


Soothing And Safe For Sensitive Skin

CeraVe Hydrating Sheer Sunscreen SPF 30

Made with nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide and ceramides—which work together to maintain hydration and support the skin barrier—this formula sinks in easily and doesn’t leave behind a white cast. This best value pick in our roundup of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin is non-comedogenic and non-greasy, making it great for oily or acne-prone skin, too. And because it contains both chemical and mineral filters, it’s a hybrid sunscreen, which offers the best of both worlds.


Chemical Vs. Mineral Filters

Chemical sunscreens are made with filters that absorb UV rays and convert them into heat. Madfes says these formulas tend to feel more lightweight on the skin. You can identify a chemical sunscreen because it contains two or more of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and homosalate. It does take about 15 minutes for it to absorb, so to play it safe experts recommend applying this at least 30 minutes before you plan on being in the sun.

Mineral sunscreens (also known as physical sunscreens) contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These also work by absorbing UV and converting it to heat, according to cosmetic chemist Michelle Wong, but they also work on the surface of skin to deflect or scatter UV rays. They begin working the moment you apply them. While mineral sunscreens tend to get a bad reputation for leaving a white cast due to the nature of the active ingredients, that’s no longer the case with newer, more elegant formulas.

You can also find hybrid sunscreens. These feature an effective blend of mineral and chemical filters to offer the best of both worlds.

A Dewy Finish In A Hydrating Chemical Sunscreen

MOST POPULAR

Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30

This chemical sunscreen blends effortlessly into all skin tones, earning it spot in our tested roundup of the best face sunscreens. It contains aloe vera and shea butter to help calm inflammation and lock in moisture for hydration that lasts through the day. The formula is unscented and leaves a dewy finish on the skin. In our evaluation, many testers liked the finish, and no one reported any greasy or oily residue. “Once it dries, your skin feels soft, plump and nourished,” says our contributor in her Black Girl Sunscreen review.


A Mineral Sunscreen With Brightening Ingredients

MDSolarSciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50

Named the best mineral sunscreen overall, as tested by our team, this has a hydrating formula and silky consistency that users love. Of all the versions considered, this pink-tinted cream left the most minimal white cast. It has ceramides to replenish the skin barrier and vitamin C to help even out skin tone and fade dark spots, and it leaves behind a matte finish. “Skin feels fresh and light after application, without the greasy sheen that some sunscreens can leave behind,” says one tester in the MDSolarSciences review.


Pick A Formula That Appeals To You

While many sunscreens have a lotion or cream formula, they can also come in the form of gels, powders, oils, sprays and sticks. Gel formulas are great for oily, acne-prone or sensitive skin, because they tend to be more lightweight. Powder options are ideal for touch-ups; they can also help with oil control. Meanwhile, oil-based sunscreens can be great for hydrating skin and giving it a glow. Sprays and sticks are helpful for layering sun protection, and sticks in particular are mess-free, making them a good travel option.

Experts recommend lotions and creams for even, consistent coverage, while other formula types, especially powders, sprays and sticks, are best for touch-ups. It’s also important to remember to reapply every two hours or after after swimming or sweating.

Our Top Spray Sunscreen Pick

Vacation Classic Spray SPF 30

Chances are, you’ve already seen Vacation’s fun, vintage branding on your social-media feed. Though you may reach for this non-aerosol spray for the cool factor, you might also enjoy the tropical coconut scent and easy-to-use continuous spray. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and contains ingredients like coconut oil, shea oil, aloe vera and vitamin E to help replenish skin after sun exposure—which is why we chose it as the best spray sunscreen.


A Powder Formula That's Ideal For Touch-Ups

Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Shield SPF 50

This powder delivers a very sheer layer of SPF protection to make touch-ups on the face easy without messing with makeup. It’s also water-resistant, and can easily be stowed for trips to the beach or vacation. It’s available in four shades to suit a range of skin tone and has a matte finish that allows it to offset any sweat or oil, keeping your T-zone looking fresh.


Why Trust Forbes Vetted

At Forbes Vetted, we’ve researched and written countless skincare stories, and over a dozen sunscreen articles, which include rigorous testing on the best face sunscreens, sunscreens for babies and mineral sunscreens.


How Do I Choose My Sunscreen?

Start with a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, and opt for SPF (sun protection factor) 30 for everyday use—and SPF 50 and up for when you plan on spending all day in the sun. Then, think about your skin type. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, choose an oil-free and non-comedogenic sunscreen. People with dry or mature skin should look for hydrating ingredients, while sensitive-skin types should seek out fragrance-free, mineral-based formulations. Finally, choose between mineral or chemical filters based on your preferred finish, ease of application and your skin type. You can also narrow down the formula type based on what you want to use regularly—think lotions, sprays, sticks, powders or gels.

Which Type Of Sunscreen Is Best?

As long as you check off the sunscreen qualifications recommended by experts (broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 and above), the type of sunscreen you choose ultimately comes down to your skin type and personal preferences. Chemical sunscreens tend to have a lighter texture that rarely leaves a white cast, but they can take up to 30 minutes to start working; this makes them preferable for people with medium to dark skin tones and for those with oily or acne-prone skin (who might want a more weightless texture). Mineral sunscreens start working immediately, and many recently developed formulas have been formulated to create less of a chalky finish. And f you want the light texture of a chemical sunscreen but are allergic to some of the ingredients in it, a hybrid sunscreen that combines mineral and chemical filters may be the best option for you.

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