8 minute read
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 normal skin (which we’ll list below) include ingredients that make your skin feel ready to face the day.
Since sunscreen is the most important skincare step of the day, we’ve made sure to find face sunscreen products for every skin type, so nobody will have an excuse not to protect their skin. Seriously, it is 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 sunscreens—from plain clear sunscreen to CC creams and tinted moisturizers with sunscreen built in—you’ll also find essential tips and tricks to make the best of life with your face’s new bff/bodyguard. Read away!
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.
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.
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!)
Main cause of redness and sunburn
Contributes to the development of skin cancer
Penetrates through glass, but less than UVA
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.
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
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
Physical sunscreen is our first choice for any skin type—chemical sunscreens can irritate sensitive skin, and physical sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide can have additional benefits. 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.
Just because your skin type is “normal” doesn’t mean you don’t care about what you use on your skin, obviously! We’ve screened all of the products we recommend to make sure their ingredients stand up against our dermatology providers’ standard: they’ve got to be non-comedogenic (aka non-pore-clogging), non-irritating, and generally effective. 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.
Lightweight with a matte finish
Blurs pores, fine lines and wrinkles
Physical sunscreen made with Eco-cert zinc oxide
Lightweight, 100% mineral sunscreen with no white cast
Suitable for all skin types
Gives skin tone a more even appearance
100% mineral formula with 5% titanium dioxide and 7% zinc oxide
Suitable for all skin types, including sensitive
Oil-free, non-greasy texture
Water-resistant, antioxidant-rich sunscreen for both body and face
Lightweight texture with a smooth, matte, non-greasy finish
Suitable for sports and outdoor activities
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 (SPF 50 is really ideal). 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.
100% mineral-based SPF 35
Corrects uneven pigmentation and softens the look of fine lines and pores
Contains hyaluronic acid to maintain long-lasting hydration
Includes vitamins and minerals to protect skin from free radical damage
Provides lightweight color coverage and correction, while protecting against UVA and UVB rays
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+
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
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
Lightly tinted mineral-based formula
Silky texture leaves a soft matte finish
Moisturizes and blends easily for a natural finish
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
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!
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
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
Luminous, flawless finish
Physical sunscreen ingredients only
Non-greasy, non-oily formula
Reef safe, eco-friendly mineral formula
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 normal 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
sodium lauryl sulfate
sodium laureth sulfate
acetylated lanolin alcohol
glycine soja oil
wheat germ oil
glyceryl stearate SE
propylene glycol monostearate
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.
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!
Whatever concerns you may have about your skin, we’re here for you! Sign up for a free trial of Curology today — if our providers deem you a good fit (subject to our online medical consultation), you’ll get your very own custom face cream, plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser when you sign up for the full set (just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling). Check out our other Guides to learn more simple skincare tips, and always remember: we’ve got your back.