10 face sunscreens for every skin type

Because yes, you need to wear sunscreen year-round

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Curology Team
Nov 06, 2018 · 7 min read

Hand with red fingernails rubbing sunscreen on arm with red and white striped towel and sunglasses
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Summer may officially be over, but it’s super-important to keep protecting your skin from the sun. UV rays penetrate through clouds, so you need broad spectrum SPF even on those gloomy days. Future-you will thank you!

Sunscreen is essential year-round, but finding the right one for your unique skin isn’t always easy. No need to stress—we’ve decoded the technical language and researched some of the best sunscreens for each skin type (that are designed to not clog your pores).

For a crash course in everything you need to know about SPF and protecting your skin, check out our Sunscreen Guide.

Closeup of woman in sunglasses facing left and applying cream to left cheek with index finger against a purple background

Physical vs. Chemical

Sunscreens can be classified as physical, chemical, or both, depending on their ingredients.

Physical sunscreen

  • Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which may help soon skin.

  • Physically reflects or “bounces” sunlight away from the skin

  • Can leave a white cast on the skin unless rubbed in well, micronized, or tinted

Chemical sunscreen

  • Contains ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone

  • Absorbs UV light so that it can’t penetrate the skin

  • May irritate or cause an allergic reaction in certain people’s skin

No matter which type of sunscreen you use, always apply according to the label’s recommended time ahead of sun exposure so it can properly dry and form a protective barrier on your skin.

How to choose the right sunscreen for your skin type

Acne-prone

Physical sunscreens are often the best bet for acne-prone skin. Chemical sunscreens can irritate some people’s skin (which may lead to more breakouts). Look for products labeled non-comedogenic. As a rule of thumb, avoid pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, lauric acid, and isopropyl palmitate.

TATCHA Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen product bottle

TATCHA Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen

Normal-to-Oily

A lightweight gel or lotion sunscreen works well for normal and oily skin types, as it won’t leave your face feeling greasy. Instead of reapplying the gel or lotion throughout the day, you can try adding a powder sunscreen on top that both adds protection and absorbs oil. Don’t use powder instead of your regular sunscreen, but on top of it — it won’t usually provide enough protection on its own.

Cetaphil Dermacontrol Moisturizer

Sensitive and/or Dry

If your skin is pretty dry, try applying moisturizer before your sunscreen. Look for heavier lotions, cream-based sunscreens, or moisturizers with SPF for dry skin. And definitely avoid any product with alcohol in the ingredient list!

CoTz Sensitive SPF

Combination or In-Between

You can switch it up depending on the season and however your skin is feeling—if you’re oilier, try a lightweight sunscreen under the Normal-to-Oily list above; if you’re on the dry side, try a richer formula designed to lock moisture into your skin, from the above list of sunscreens for Sensitive and/or Dry.

EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 product

  • EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 (lightweight, unlikely to clog pores)

  • Any of the above sunscreens could work, too, depending on if your skin is on the oilier or drier side!

Black and Brown Skin

Darker skin has some natural protection from the sun, but it’s not 100%. If you’re going to spend time outdoors, you’ll want to put sunscreen on! The following are all good options—or, choose one from the above lists based on your skin type (oily, dry, combination, sensitive, or acne-prone).

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen

Super-sensitive—or think you may be allergic to sunscreen?

Some people have allergies to chemical sunscreens and end up with an itchy rash. If this happens to you, ditch the chemical sunscreen and try one labeled physical-only.

Physical-only sunscreens

Drunk Elephant Umbra

If for some reason you still have a reaction, we advise visiting a dermatologist in-person, as there may be other factors contributing to your skin irritation.

For sports, swimming, and sweaty activities

  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating.

  • Reapply at least every 2 hours—or, after 40 to 80 minutes of swimming or sweating (according to the label instructions), and immediately after towel-drying.

  • If you’re swimming in the ocean, consider using reef-friendly sunscreen. These physical sunscreens use mineral ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are safer for coral reefs and the surrounding marine life compared to chemical sunscreen ingredients.

  • Amavara SPF 30 Lotion - lasts for up to 80 minutes in the water!

Finger with skincare cream or sunscreen

Layering sunscreen under makeup

Ever try to layer makeup on top of sunscreen, only to have it pill or flake off in annoying little white bits? Ugh! Try applying moisturizer underneath your sunscreen. Then give it a few minutes to dry before putting on your makeup.

More ways to protect your skin

Of course, sunscreen is just one weapon in your arsenal against sun damage. Don’t forget about hats, sunglasses, clothing, and shade! If you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may want to consider a dietary supplement called Heliocare. Read more about all this in our Sunscreen Guide!

Got questions? Curology’s got you covered

Got any questions you’d like answered, or products you’d like reviewed from a professional skincare expert’s perspective? We’re always just an email away (hello@curology.com).

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