8 minute read
If there’s one step you never want to skip in your morning routine, it’s sunscreen application. Sunscreen is like a personal bodyguard that fends off the sun’s rays, protects your skin from damage and the signs of aging, and reduces your risk for 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—if you haven’t been wearing sunscreen everyday, now’s a good time to start. The sun’s damaging rays can still damage your skin on a cloudy day!
Make sunscreen a non-negotiable part of getting ready to go outside, and you’ll be thanking yourself later. To make it easier on you, we’ve decoded the technical language and researched some of the best sunscreens for each skin type. (Reminder: we aren’t associated with any brands. Our product recommendations are based on the ingredients and how well they actually work!)
Read on to find out…
How to find out if any sunscreen is likely to 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!)
What to do if you think you’re allergic to sunscreen
How to protect your skin while swimming or sweating
But first, here’s a quick crash course in the need-to-know basics.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a number that measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin. The number is based on how quickly redness forms on sunscreen-protected skin compared to unprotected skin. Although sunscreens with an SPF of 15 protect fairly well against UVB, we recommend choosing a broad-spectrum (protecting from both UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. For extended outdoor activity, choose a water-resistant, broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
What exactly are UVA and UVB rays? 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 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
Largely blocked by glass
Sunscreens can be classified as physical, chemical, or both (aka hybrid), depending on their ingredients.
TIP: In general, remember to apply sunscreen about 15-20 minutes before going outside. Follow the specific directions on the label, though!
Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which may help soothe irritation.
Physically reflects or “bounces” 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)
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
Physical sunscreen is often the best bet for 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, may 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.
Sunscreen is essential, but finding the right one isn’t always easy - especially when you’ve got acne to deal with. But protecting your skin from the sun is an essential step in preventing acne, age spots or sun spots, post-acne spots, redness, premature aging, and of course, skin cancer!
If you get breakouts, it’s important to pay attention to 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. Here are some products whose ingredients we’ve reviewed to make sure they’re non-comedogenic.
Lightweight creamy formula
Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (zinc oxide 15%, octisalate 5%)
Protects without clogging pores
Helps give skin a smoother appearance
Doubles as a primer, perfect for wearing under makeup!
Gentle and lightweight; features vitamin E and aloe, plus SPF 30
Combination of physical and chemical sunscreen (zinc oxide 7.0%, octinoxate 7.5%, octisalate 2.5%, octocrylene 2.5%)
Long-lasting hydration without irritating
Long-lasting hydration without oiliness or heaviness
Blue algae extract helps keep skin supple and fights inflammation
Naturally occurring vitamins A and C help improve skin’s appearance and provide antioxidant protection
SPF 20 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.
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 a fresh-faced, glowy, effortless daytime look (complete with sun protection) is a tinted moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher. The tint helps even 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
Helps correct uneven pigmentation and softens the look of fine lines and pores
Contains hyaluronic acid to maintain long-lasting hydration
Includes vitamins and minerals to help protect skin from free radical damage
Provides lightweight color coverage and correction, while protecting against UVA and UVB rays
Subtle tint for light-to-medium skin tones (unfortunately, this doesn’t come in different color options)
Color-correcting formula visibly evens skin tone
SPF 50+ physical sunscreen
Anti-aging benefits with peptides, hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and vitamins
Diffuses the look of wrinkles and minimizes the appearance of pores
Luminous, flawless finish
Gives complexion an even-toned, brightened, smooth finish
Hydrates, nourishes, and protects the skin with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and antioxidants
Buildable, breathable foundation
Natural, satiny finish
Hyaluronic acid to hydrate and vitamins A, C, and E for antioxidant protection
SPF 20 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.
Hydrating formula with long-lasting wear
Smooth finish with buildable, medium-to-full coverage
SPF 25 is good and all, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.
Brightens and evens complexion
SPF 15 is okay, but you need more sun protection than that! We recommend topping it off with a powder sunscreen, which will also set your makeup and reduce oiliness.
Designed to help cover and improve the appearance of redness, pores, dark spots, breakouts, lines, and wrinkles—all while protecting your skin with SPF 50+ broad-spectrum physical sunscreen
Smooth, flexible pure color pigments help hide fine lines and wrinkles without creasing
Suitable for all skin types
Looking for the best foundations with sunscreen for acne-prone skin? Check out our guide to foundations for acne-prone skin for our list of products we’ve reviewed to make sure they don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients.
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.
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. Instead, sunscreens can be labeled “water-resistant” for either 40 minutes or 80 minutes, depending on test results.
When in doubt, apply more! Most of us don’t use enough sunscreen, and reapplying throughout the day is essential to staying protected. 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 and aren't near any windows, 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.
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”). Find out which ingredients can potentially clog pores
Some ingredients found in moisturizers and skincare products can irritate the skin or clog pores. Here's what to look for and avoid.
1. Avoid products not labeled with terms "non-comedogenic", "non-acnegenic", "does not clog pores", or "won’t cause breakouts." The label "non-comedogenic" (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled non-comedogenic for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.
2. Check for coconut oil (aka cocos nucifera oil) Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredients lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely for some, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts: it can get in those pores and clogs up the works!
3. Watch out for alcohol If you’ve got 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 alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it—in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But in general, it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.
If you’re struggling with 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 skincare guides for more tips, and remember: we’ve got your back!
Editorial Review: We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Product Links: Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
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