Face sunscreen for combination skin

The best sunscreens for combination skin

8 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Table of Contents

The importance of wearing sunscreen year-round

If there’s one step you never want to skip in your morning routine, it’s sunscreen application. It may feel like a drag to slow down to apply (or reapply) sunscreen when you’re ready and raring to go, but think of it this way: future you will be so thankful that you did! And with the products we recommend in this guide, your skincare routine can become a fun, feel-good activity. The best sunscreens for combination skin (which we’ll list below) include ingredients that make your skin feel ready to face the day.

Combination skin can be tricky to pick out products for sometimes—especially if you’ve got an oily T-zone, but normal or dry on other parts of your face. Some people with combination skin that tends to be oilier can benefit from products made for oily skin. If your skin is dry in some places, you can just moisturize the dry parts, avoiding adding extra hydration to the oily-prone ones.

Since sunscreen is the most important skincare step of the day, we’ve made sure to find face sunscreen products that anyone with combination skin can use, so nobody will have an excuse not to protect their skin. Seriously—it’s that important! Think of sunscreen as your skin’s personal bodyguard: it not only protects your skin from sun damage and signs of aging, it also reduces your risk of getting skin cancer—as long as you reapply as needed so it can do its job properly. No matter what the weather outside is like, no matter the season or temperature, the sun’s rays can still damage your skin, even on a cloudy day!

In this guide, you’ll find not only the best face sunscreen for combination skin—from plain clear sunscreen to CC creams and tinted moisturizers with sunscreen, and beyond—you’ll also find essential tips and tricks to make the best of life with your face’s bff/bodyguard. Read on!

What you need to know about sunscreen

Read on to find out…

  • How to find out if any sunscreen will break out or irritate your skin

  • Product recommendations of the sunscreens that’ll work for your skin type

  • How to layer sunscreen under makeup (without it pilling or flaking off!)

  • How to protect your skin while swimming or sweating

But first, here’s a quick crash-course in the need-to-know basics.

What is SPF?

You know those numbers on bottles of sunscreen? If you’ve ever wondered what that’s all about, you’re not alone—and the SPF number you use really does matter. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number of any sunscreen is based on how quickly redness forms on sunscreen-protected skin compared to unprotected skin. Basically, it’s a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to prevent the sun’s rays from damaging the skin. A broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is the minimum recommended by Curology’s dermatology providers, and it’s super important to reapply at least every 2 hours. Also important: reapply right away after swimming or sweating, because there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen! Not such a fun fact, but you’ll be glad you remembered when you avoid getting sunburned.

What exactly are UVA and UVB? The sun’s UV (ultraviolet) light rays are classified into UVA, which are a longer wavelength, and UVB, which are shorter. It’s important to protect your skin from both. Sunscreens that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays are typically called broad-spectrum.

UVA

  • Main cause of aging and wrinkling — photoaging

  • Contributes to the development of skin cancer

  • Penetrates through clouds and glass — think of the sun exposure in your car!

  • Penetrates deeper into the skin compared to UVB

  • Major contributor to tanning (skin darkening is a response to sun damage and injury to the skin’s DNA — there is no such thing as a healthy tan!)

UVB

  • Main cause of redness and sunburn

  • Contributes to the development of skin cancer

  • Penetrates through glass, but less than UVA

Physical vs. Chemical

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

TIP: If you’re using a chemical sunscreen, remember to apply half an hour before going outside.

Physical sunscreen

  • Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which helps with acne and soothes irritation

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

  • Certain kinds of physical sunscreen may leave a white cast on the skin (unless rubbed in well, micronized, or tinted)

  • Starts protecting immediately upon application

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

  • Must be applied 20–30 minutes before sun exposure to get full protection

How to choose the right sunscreen for your skin type

Physical sunscreen is the best bet for combination, oily, acne-prone and/or sensitive skin. Certain physical sunscreen ingredients such as zinc oxide can even help against acne! Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, can irritate sensitive skin (and irritation can lead to breakouts). As always, look for products labeled “non-comedogenic” (translation: won’t clog pores). We’ll delve deeper into which ingredients to avoid a little later on in this guide—but, as a rule of thumb, avoid alcohol in skincare products (alcohol denat., aka denatured alcohol—other versions, such as coconut alcohol and cetearyl alcohol, are actually fine to use). And be on the lookout for pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil, octyl stearate, and isopropyl palmitate.

Best face sunscreen for combination skin

There are plenty of options to choose from that work great on combination skin, and we’ve rounded them up right here to make it easy to find your new go-to. Most of us with combination skin are well acquainted with clogged pores. To avoid pore-clogging, take a closer look at the ingredients in any product you use on your skin. We know it’s a lot to remember what all those hard-to-pronounce ingredients really are, though, so here are some products whose ingredients we’ve reviewed to make sure they’re non-comedogenic.

We’ve also reviewed each product in this guide to make sure we stand behind for other reasons, so we’ve eschewed any product whose ingredients may be irritating to sensitive skin. We hope this helps you find your new favorite face sunscreen! Once you’ve found ~*the one*~ don’t forget to wear it and—important!—reapply it. That means every. single. day.

Supergoop! Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40

  • 100% mineral sunscreen

  • Two-in-one product, also works as a primer

  • Translucent tinted formula gives skin a smooth, matte finish

  • Universal tint shade blends in to virtually any skin tone

  • Wear underneath makeup for more coverage, or on its own

FIRST AID BEAUTY 5 in 1 Face Cream SPF 30

  • Both physical and chemical sun protection

  • Formulated to help with fine lines and wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and dry skin

  • Five active ingredients work together to promote a healthy-looking complexion

  • Zinc oxide reflects harmful ultraviolet rays, alpha arbutin evens out skin tone, bisabolol soothes, homeostatine (a complex of two natural ingredients) helps smooth and reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, and FAB’s proprietary antioxidant booster “helps combat environmental aggressors”

CoTZ Flawless Complexion SPF 50 - Tinted

  • Broad-spectrum SPF 50 mineral sunscreens deflect UV rays and prevent premature skin aging

  • Environmentally conscious formula

  • Non-greasy, non-oily texture

Paula’s Choice PC4MEN Daytime Protect

  • Broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen with a barely-there feel and shine-free finish

  • Weightless formula isn’t sticky on skin

  • Guys: use as the last step in your AM skincare routine

Paula’s Choice Smoothing Primer Serum SPF 30

  • Multi-tasking primer that softens and smooths skin with a formula that features antioxidants and broad-spectrum SPF 30 for a makeup-ready base

  • Preps skin for a seamless makeup application

  • Lightweight, silky texture

Neutrogena Men Triple Protect Face Lotion SPF 20

  • Soothes razor irritation

  • Hydrates dry skin

  • Lightweight formula

  • SPF 20 isn’t enough protection on its own—reapply often or layer with another sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher

Olay Regenerist Regenerating Face Lotion with SPF 50

  • Temporarily reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles

  • Lightweight formula firms skin while hydrating

Olay Total Effects Face Moisturizer SPF 30

  • Lightweight hydrating formula

  • Replenishes the skin’s moisture barrier

  • Formulated with anti-aging skincare ingredients

Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Ultra-sheer Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30

  • Lightweight daytime moisturizer with SPF 30

  • Helps reduce the appearance of shine from excess oiliness

  • Fluid formula leaves a soft matte finish

Proactiv Daily Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30

  • Lightweight moisturizer absorbs quickly and provides a long-lasting, matte finish while providing broad-spectrum sun protection

  • Oleosome technology™ uses a lower concentration of sunscreen filters for minimal irritation and rich hydration

Best tinted sunscreen for combination skin

Care for a side of coverage with your sun protection? A tinted sunscreen or tinted moisturizer with SPF is a great two-in-one product: it does double-duty as a lightweight foundation. All you need for an effortless daytime look (complete with sun protection) is a tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher— and yes, there are plenty out there that work with combination skin. The tint evens out the appearance of your skin tone, and makes things like redness, acne, and pores a little less visible (just add some well-placed concealer, if needed). For more coverage, you can layer foundation makeup on top of tinted sunscreen, then follow it up with concealer on any spots you’d like to hide.

IT Cosmetics Anti-Aging Armour Tinted Sunscreen SPF 50+

  • Formulated with hydrating and anti-aging ingredients including peptides, niacinamide, hydrolyzed collagen, and hyaluronic acid

  • Ideal for every skin type with “universal color-correcting pigments”

  • Protects skin from the sun’s harmful rays with broad-spectrum SPF 50+

IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream Oil-Free Matte with SPF 40

  • CC cream with a matte finish

  • Infused with charcoal, colloidal clay, and tea tree extract to help reduce the appearance of oiliness

  • Clinically tested to reduce shine and control oil for up to 12 hours

  • Free of parabens, phthalates, and mineral oil

MyChelle Dermaceuticals Sun Shield Liquid SPF 50

  • Sheer tinted, weightless liquid formula blends easily

  • 100% mineral sunscreen

  • Mattefies skin with bentonite to absorb excess oil from pores

  • Works like a primer under foundation to create a smooth, matte finish

  • Oil-free and recommended for all skin types

Paula’s Choice Resist Super-Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30

  • Lightly tinted mineral-based formula

  • Contains antioxidants

  • Silky texture leaves a soft matte finish

Revision Skincare Intellishade® Original SPF 45

  • Moisturizes and blends easily for a natural finish

  • Sheer coverage

SkinCeuticals Physical Eye Uv Defense SPF 50

  • 100% mineral base, broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection

  • “Non-migrating formula” to prevent eye irritation

  • Sheer, universal tint suitable for all skin types

  • Use from the brow bone to the cheek bone, even on the eyelid

Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20 Sunscreen

  • Similar to It Cosmetics’ formula, but slightly less expensive

  • Non-comedogenic formula with some added natural fragrance

  • Contains retinyl palmitate and sodium hyaluronate to revive dull skin

  • Light coverage in 4 shades, ranging from Light-Medium to Medium-Tan

  • With SPF 20, it’s better than nothing, but we still think you should aim for at least SPF 30!

Tarte BB Tinted Treatment 12-Hour Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen

  • A five-in-one longwear, vegan primer that can be used under (or instead of) foundation

  • Hydrates skin and visibly smoothes fine lines, blurs pores, and gives skin a brightened appearance

  • Lightweight, sheer coverage

  • “Triple-B complex” to help brighten, smooth, and soften skin

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream SPF 50+

  • Color-correcting formula visibly evens skin tone

  • SPF 50+ physical sunscreen

  • Anti-aging benefits with collagen, peptides, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and vitamins

  • Diffuses the look of wrinkles and minimizes the appearance of pores

CoTZ Flawless Complexion SPF 50 - Tinted

  • Broad-spectrum SPF 50 mineral sunscreens deflect UV rays and prevent premature skin aging

  • Environmentally conscious formula

  • Non-greasy, non-oily texture

Supergoop! Smooth and Poreless 100% Mineral Matte Screen SPF 40

  • 100% mineral sunscreen

  • Two-in-one product, also works as a primer

  • Translucent tinted formula gives skin a smooth, matte finish

  • Universal tint shade blends in to virtually any skin tone

  • Wear underneath makeup for more coverage, or on its own

Looking for the best foundations with sunscreen for combination skin? Check out our makeup guides and our no-breakout makeup series on the blog for our list of products we’ve reviewed to make sure they don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients.

Sunscreen for sports, swimming, and sweating

Not-so-fun fact: there’s no such thing as waterproof sunscreen! In 2011, the FDA released a new set of rules regulating sunscreen in the United States which did away with “waterproof” and “sweatproof” labels on sunscreens because such claims are impossible. (Thank you, FDA, for getting real about beauty claims!) Instead, sunscreens can be labeled “water resistant” for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes, depending on test results.

That means you swimmers, surfers, athletes and boogie-boarders need to choose your sunscreen wisely, and remember to reapply. Use a water-resistant sunscreen if swimming or sweating, and reapply according to the label instructions, either after 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, immediately after towel drying, and every 2 hours at a minimum.

Solbar Zinc SPF 38 has an oil-free base that lasts for up to 80 minutes in the water, is more rub resistant than most, and is gentle on the eyes.

Skincare pro tip: reapply your sunscreen religiously

You and your skin deserve better than to be stingy with the sunscreen, so slather it on liberally and when in doubt, apply more! Most of us don’t use enough sunscreen—the sun’s rays don’t really get boundaries, so make sure any skin in the sun’s line of proverbial fire is fully covered. We know we sound like a broken record by now, but seriously, re-applying throughout the day is essential! Sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every two hours, especially if you’re swimming or sweating.

Use up to a half teaspoon for the face and neck, especially if you use your whole hands to rub in the sunscreen. Use 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons for the body. During a long day at the beach, one person should use around 1/4 to 1/2 of an 8 oz bottle.

No sunscreen, regardless of strength, stays effective longer than two hours. That being said, how often you reapply sunscreen depends on your activities. If you’re inside working all day, no need to reapply. If you’re in and out, reapply at least once midday. If you’re out for extended periods during the day, then reapply every 2 hours or so, especially if you’re entering water, sweating, or wiping your face.

How to layer 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 before your sunscreen, then give it a few minutes to dry before putting on your makeup. This should give it enough grip so it won’t flake on you!

How to reapply sunscreen over makeup

Powder sunscreens like ILIA Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20 are a great, easy way to re-up your sun protection throughout the day without messing up your makeup. Bonus: a little powder will also get rid of any oiliness that’s accumulated on your skin, making your makeup look refreshed while you’re at it.

Ingredients to avoid in cosmetic products

Unfortunately, the cosmetics industry in the US is a “buyer beware” situation—there’s no real regulation of ingredients or claims like “non-comedogenic,” so many products on the market contain ingredients that could do your skin more harm than good. We’ve rounded up 30 skincare and makeup ingredients not to put on your face—these may clog your pores, irritate sensitive skin, or both. Do not want!

  1. isopropyl myristate

  2. laureth-4

  3. sodium lauryl sulfate

  4. SLS

  5. sodium laureth sulfate

  6. cetyl acetate

  7. acetylated lanolin alcohol

  8. coconut oil

  9. cocos nucifera

  10. coconut butter

  11. cocoa butter

  12. potassium chloride

  13. alcohol

  14. myristyl myristate

  15. ethylhexyl palmitate

  16. octyl stearate

  17. algin

  18. carrageenan

  19. polyglyceryl-3 diisostearate

  20. glycine soja oil

  21. wheat germ oil

  22. red algae

  23. isopropyl palmitate

  24. lauric acid

  25. myristic acid

  26. myristyl lactate

  27. isopropyl isostearate

  28. glyceryl stearate SE

  29. sorbitan oleate

  30. propylene glycol monostearate

Avoid alcohol, but just the “denatured” kind

If you’ve got sensitive skin or dry skin, take care to avoid ingredients that can dry it out even more! Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier. Watch out for “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.” on the ingredients list of your skincare or makeup. Not all alcohol-related ingredients are created equal, though: cetearyl alcohol and coconut alcohol, for two common examples, are totally fine to use.

How to check any product for pore-clogging ingredients with CosDNA.com

Some common ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can clog pores or irritate sensitive skin (yes, even if the label says a product is “non-comedogenic” or “gentle”). Luckily there’s a (free!) tool that makes it easy to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s called CosDNA.com, and it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about

If you’re struggling with combination, oily and/or acne-prone skin, we’re here to help—treating acne is kind of our thing. Sign up for a free trial of Curology to get your very own custom acne-fighting cream (subject to medical consultation), plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser when you sign up for the full set (you just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling, FYI). Check out our other Guides to learn more simple skincare tips, and always remember: we’ve got your back.

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