Curology finds: sunblock under $20

The best sunscreens at the drugstore

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Aug 14, 2019 · 3 min read

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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.

A good sunblock should give you the most bang for your buck, no matter your skin type! But obtaining your holy grail of sunscreen lotion doesn’t need to be complicated — or expensive. So I reviewed drugstore sunscreens currently available and, with Curology’s dermatologist-vetted research and ingredient analysis, determined which are some of the best sunscreens for the face. The best part? All of these sunscreens are under $20. Keep reading to find your perfect match!

Sunscreen ingredients, explained

Trying to read the ingredients on a sunblock label used to be like reading Greek to me. There are several different kinds of active ingredients that work as sunscreen: physical blocks (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) or their absorbent siblings, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreens.

There are a lot of different active chemical sunscreen ingredients, but their function is more or less the same: to absorb UV rays. They also tend to absorb into the skin without leaving a white cast — their most redeeming quality, IMO.

Two chemical sunscreen ingredients you may want to avoid are oxybenzone or octinoxate. These two ingredients are banned in Hawaii because, when washed off in the ocean, they cause damage to coral reefs. And if you are concerned about allergic reactions to sunscreen, you may want to skip chemical sunscreens altogether — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide got your back!

Want to know more about the pros and cons of chemical sunscreen? Read our Guide to Sunscreen.

Other sunscreen ingredients to avoid include denatured alcohol, coconut oil, and isopropyl myristate, which are often pore-clogging or irritating. In my analysis of drugstore sunscreens, ethylhexyl palmitate was the pore-clogging ingredient I ran into the most. If you’re concerned about acne, learn how to review the ingredients in your products here. Also, you'll likely want to avoid added fragrances and harsh alcohols — these may irritate your skin!

I’m not going to lie — these “bad ingredients” are super pervasive in budget-friendly sunscreens. Keep in mind that everyone’s skin is different! Not everyone will react negatively to a “bad ingredient.” That said, I sifted through the offerings at my local CVS, Walgreens, and Target, and found four products that pass my rigorous standards:

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The best drugstore sunscreen for your face

Are you acne-prone? Oily? Do you have sensitive skin? Here’s the best budget sunblock for your skin type.

Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen SPF 60

($11.99, 0.47 oz)

  • Best drugstore sunscreen for sensitive skin

  • Fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic

  • It’s a physical sunscreen that can be pretty paste-like, so anticipate a white cast

Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with Sunscreen SPF 30

($10.49, 4.0 oz)

  • Best drugstore sunscreen for oily skin

  • Fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic

  • Oil-free formula with water and dimethicone works well for most oily skin types

Cetaphil Daily Face Moisturizer Sunscreen SPF 50

($16.49, 1.7 oz)

  • Best drugstore sunscreen under makeup

  • Fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic

  • It’s a chemical sunscreen that absorbs well into the skin, working well with your makeup base

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30

($17.49, 3.0 oz)

  • Best drugstore sunscreen for acne-prone skin

  • Fragrance-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic

  • Added moisturizing ingredients may help soothe signs of acne — so it’s also great for dry skin!

Even cheap skincare can be a smart investment

Whatever your skin concerns, you shouldn’t have to break the bank just to address them. The best skincare routine with the best skincare products is available without you ever having to leave the house. Sign up for a free trial of Curology and just pay $4.95 to cover the cost of shipping and handling on your first custom cream or 3-step set.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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