Usually, people take one look at my skin and they immediately assume I know one or two things about face sunscreens. They aren’t exactly wrong in that assumption, but it’s quite unfortunate that the same stereotype doesn’t exist for everyone else who has a face, or skin.
We all need to wear facial sunscreen, even if it seems like a hassle sometimes. If you have found yourself struggling to find the right face sunscreen for your skin type, or if you simply lacked the motivation, I hope I can change that.
Importance of Wearing Face Sunscreen
Facial sunscreen can protect us from all of the evil the sun can do to our skin. While only sunburns are readily apparently, there are two other long-term concerns: premature aging, and skin cancer. The latter is obviously much worse than the former, but I know that sometimes vanity is a much better motivator than death.
The sun’s rays do damage to our skin, no matter how dark it is. While melanin (the chemical in the skin that makes it appear darker) does contain a natural SPF, it is not high enough to fully protect from all of the sun’s dangers.
While many sunscreens protect from sunburn (that’s what the SPF measures, after all), it is important to find a face sunscreen that will also protect from long-term damage to the skin like pigmentation and sunspots, and will also mitigate the sun’s carcinogenic effect.
UVA, UVB, and UVC: The Different Sun Rays
The sun emits three kinds of rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. We don’t have to worry about UVC radiation, because those rays don’t reach us here on earth.
UVB rays are the ones that we have historically worried about the most (they are also the ones all sunscreens are able to protect us from). The UVB rays are responsible for damaging the top layers of our skin, causing sunburn and surface forms of skin cancer.
UVA rays penetrate deeper into our skin, causing premature aging (wrinkles and sunspots, I’m looking at you!). Recently, there is also evidence showing the UVA radiation is responsible for some types of skin cancer.
SPF, Broad Spectrum, and PA: The Types of Sun Protection
There are three common ways in which sun protection will be advertised and regulated, and it is important to know what each one of them means.
We are all very well acquainted with the first one, SPF, I’m sure. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and what it measures is for how long the sunscreen will prevent your skin from burning. If, normally, your skin will burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, an SPF 15 will make it so that your skin will not burn for 150 minutes.
However, after reaching SPF 30, subsequent increases in SPF do not necessarily correlate with much stronger protection – instead, you are just lulled into a false sense of safety. Since SPF only looks at sunburns, this means that an SPF only tells you about how much UVB your sunscreen is protecting you from.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens are sunscreens that are able to block both UVA and UVB rays, thereby protecting the skin from all three facial sun concerns: burning, aging, and cancer. In order to count as a broad-spectrum sunscreen, a face sunscreen must be able to block at least 1/3rd as much UVA as it does UVB.
The excellent new addition to the ratings of face sunscreens is the PA system. PA stands for Protection Grade of UVA, and it measures how well a face sunscreen protects the skin from UVA exposure.
On a face sunscreen, you might see both the SPF, and something like PA+, PA++, PA+++, etc. The more plus marks next to the PA, the longer the amount of time in which the sunscreen can protect your skin from UVA exposure.
This system comes out of Japan, and was popularized in the west along with the popularity of Asian Beauty. If one of your main concerns is preventing premature aging, look for a sunscreen that boasts both SPF and at least PA++.
Another way of classifying sunscreens that occasionally pops up is PPD. PPD stands for Persistent Pigment Darkening, and it tests how long a sunscreen protects the skin from becoming darker. Since the darkening of the skin is caused by UVA, the PPD tells you the sunscreen’s UVA protection abilities.
Chemical vs. Mineral Face Sunscreens
The next big distinction between face sunscreen types is whether they are chemical (also known as organic, but not, not the crunchy granola type of organic), or physical (also known as inorganic or mineral).
Some common chemical sunscreen ingredients include avobenzone, tinosorb, helioplex, and octinoxate. There are many more chemical sunscreen ingredients out there, some of which are not yet approved for use in the United States.
The only two mineral sunscreen ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. If you’ve ever noticed that a sunscreen gives your skin a white or gray cast (or heard someone else complain about this), it is because those sunscreen minerals are white pigments that reflect light.
Some myths exist that say the mineral and chemical face sunscreens function very differently, but it’s not quite true – they both work primarily by absorbing UVA and UVB, and converting them into heath, although mineral sunscreens do also reflect some of those rays as part of their protecting mechanism.
All in all, both mineral and chemical sunscreens can be excellent ingredients, although there are some concerns regarding the environmental impact of some of the chemical sunscreen ingredients. Oxybenzone and octinoxate, for example, have been linked to the destruction of coral reefs near popular beach destinations.
Should I Worry About Vitamin D Deficiency?
As you may already know, exposure to UVB rays stimulates the production of vitamin D in our bodies. Because of that, some people have raised concern over whether using a sunscreen will cause vitamin D deficiency.
While this is possible in theory, studies that have been conducted have not shown a correlation between sunscreen use and vitamin D deficiency – perhaps because of imperfect sunscreen applications, or perhaps because there are more factors involved.
Since the cancer risks associated with sun exposure are extremely dangerous (more dangerous than vitamin D deficiency), it is better to wear a sunscreen. If you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency, talk to your doctor about taking a supplement.
How to Apply Face Sunscreen and How to Combine It With Makeup
Once you have realized the importance of wearing a face sunscreen on a daily basis, it’s high time to learn how to apply it and how to combine your face sunscreen with makeup.
1. Always start with a clean face. Use a gentle facial cleanser to remove sweat and impurities from your skin.
2. Follow up with your usual skin care routine: toners, skin serums, face moisturizers, etc. If your face sunscreen is very emollient, or if you moisturizer has an SPF, you can simply enjoy the two-in-one and skip your non-SPF moisturizer.
3. For your sunscreen to be effective, you have to apply at least a quarter teaspoon of it to your face. I find the easiest way to do this is in two applications of an ⅛ of a teaspoon.
4. Gently rub the sunscreen into your skin, in circular upward motions. Don’t rub in too hard, or the sunscreen might end up coming off onto your hands. After your skin absorbed the first ⅛ teaspoon (it might take a minute or two), apply the second ⅛ teaspoon.
5. Wait a few moments for the sunscreen to mostly set on your skin. Now you may apply your makeup.
6. It is better to forego face primer when wearing sunscreen, since it may weaken the efficacy of your sunscreen. Choose a face sunscreen with silicone that can double as a primer.
7. Apply your foundation with gentle motions, either lightly stippling it in, or brushing it in downward motions. Do not over-blend or over-work it – you might end up removing some of your face sunscreen.
8. If you use powder, make sure to apply it in a tapping motion.
How to Remove Face Sunscreen
Since the purpose of a face sunscreen is to create a hard-to-remove film over the skin, cleansing it off might require a little bit more work. However, it is still important to remove facial sunscreens at night, so that the skin can take its dose of nighttime nourishment.
The easiest way to remove sunscreen is with an oil-based cleanser. With an oil-based cleanser, you can take your time massaging your skin and really breaking down every bit of sunscreen (as well as makeup, dirt, and sweat) without irritating your skin.
You can remove the cleanser, along with all that sunscreen, either with a microfiber cloth, cotton pads, or facial sponges. If you have oily skin, you can follow it up with an oil-free cleanser. Remember to take care of your skin when you are all clean, with toners, serums, and moisturizers.
Reapplying Face Sunscreen Throughout the Day
As your sunscreen is exposed to the sun’s rays, it absorbs them and deteriorates. This means that on days when you spend most of your time outdoors, you must reapply your face sunscreen every hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours.
However, on days where you spend most of your time indoors, your initial morning sunscreen application will last a pretty long time, since you are not dealing with the same level. Before going outside you might still want to refresh your sunscreen, even if a cumulative 2 hours haven’t necessarily passed.
Reapplying Face Sunscreen Over Makeup
If you wore makeup, obviously you can’t refresh your sunscreen with a cream-based product. For a day where you’ll be spending most of your time in the sun, it is better to skip the makeup altogether, since applying the adequate amount of sunscreen on top of makeup can be difficult.
However, you can still lightly strengthen your sun protection face by using either a makeup setting spray with SPF, like the Coola Setting Spray with SPF 30 (available at Sephora), or a face powder with SPF like the bareMinerals Mineral Veil Broad Spectrum with SPF 25 (available at Sephora).
How to Choose a Face Sunscreen for Your Skin Type
Your skin type is really important when choosing a face sunscreen for a very simple reason: if you don’t like how the sunscreen makes you feel or look, you are simply less likely to use it! That is why having a cosmetically elegant face sunscreen is just as important as having an effective one.
Face Sunscreens For Oily Skin: Look for a sunscreen with a really thin texture, like a lotion or a gel. Some face sunscreens actually have skin-mattifying ingredients that will help your skin look smooth and grease-free as they protect you. I have some awesome suggestions coming up for face sunscreens that will suit your skin!
Face Sunscreens For Dry Skin: Look for a creamy and moisturizing sunscreen, with a creamy or balm-type texture. Those with dry skin often deal with face sunscreens causing pilling when mixing with their moisturizers, or catching on the dry spots, so definitely watch out for that.
Face Sunscreens For Tan and Dark Skin: You might have to avoid mineral sunscreens, since they are very likely to add a grey tint to your skin. Some companies remedy this by tinting their face sunscreens, which is another option.
Face Sunscreens For Sensitive Skin: The wrong sunscreen can sting and irritate sensitive skin something fierce. One common culprit is avobenzone – many people with sensitive skin find that it causes a burning sensation for up to an hour after application. You will probably be safer using a mineral-based sunscreen.
Face Sunscreens For Acne-Prone Skin: It is hard to predict which ingredients will cause acne and which won’t. In general, avoid face sunscreens with greasy formulas. Many people find that using Japanese and Korean sunscreens is less likely to cause them breakouts.
Best Face Sunscreens for Different Skin Types
Knowing the basics of using a face sunscreen and choosing one based on your skin type, you might want to check out our suggestions of the best face sunscreens for each skin type and concern.
Best Face Sunscreens For Oily and Acne-Prone Skin
1. Elta MD Physical SPF 41
Elta MD is a brand renowned for their high quality physical sunscreens that provide excellent broad-spectrum protection. What else can you expect from a dermatologist brand, really?
While you cannot go wrong with any of their face sunscreens, this one is by far the most popular. It provides broad-spectrum protection with mineral ingredients. To offset the white cast of these ingredients, a light tint has been added that can even replace makeup for those with light to medium skin.
Those with oily skin will love how matte it leaves their skin, without ever causing breakouts or sensitivity. A bit of silicone in this formula ensues that makeup will glide on beautifully without causing any pilling. Purchase this face sunscreen on Dermstore!
Best Face Sunscreens For Oily and Combination Skin
1. Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen SPF 50 PA+++
This incredible sunscreen is the gold standard in K-Beauty. With a formula that is both super protective and hyper elegant, what’s not to love?
For those with oily skin, it sinks in quickly without looking greasy, and it can totally replace your moisturizer. The SPF comes from chemical sunscreen ingredients, so there is absolutely no white cast.
Even those with normal and dry skin adore this formula, because it works well sitting on top of moisturizers – just be warned that it does contain alcohol, so it’s not great for sensitive skin. Pick it up on Amazon!
2. La Roche Posay Anthelios XL SPF 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid Extreme
With 5-star ratings across the board, this broad-spectrum face sunscreen is sure to please even the fussiest people. Any skin type could use it, but oily and combination skin types adore it because it leaves their skin matte but not dry.
This formula sinks in very quickly, does not cause breakouts, and rarely aggravates sensitivity. It plays nicely with makeup, as well, and could totally replace your moisturizer if you’re on the oilier side of oily.
It is a chemical face sunscreen, so it doesn’t leave any white cast, but it does have a bit of a chemical smell. You can buy it at Ulta.
Best Face Sunscreens For Oily and Sensitive Skin
1. COOLA Suncare Face Unscented Mineral Sunscreen Matte Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Few curses go as deep as having sensitive, acne-prone or oily skin. That’s why COOLA made a scent-free product that is all mineral and totally matte. Your skin will be super protected, yet totally non-greasy all day long, without any risk of irritation.
To prevent the skin from turning pale, a touch of tint has been added to tone down the whiteness of the mineral face sunscreen. The tint is warm toned, which works well for most people. The texture is like that of a primer, so it’s beautiful under foundation. Find it at Nordstrom!
Best Face Sunscreens For Mature, Sensitive, Oily, and Combination Skin
1. Paula’s Choice Resist Super Light Wrinkle Defense SPF 30
You already know I love Paula’s Choice, but surprisingly, she does not have a really exceptional high SPF face sunscreen. SPF 30 is more than sufficient, though, and this offering is broad-spectrum as well.
It is based strictly on zinc oxide, the gentlest of the sunscreen ingredients, so it is perfect for sensitive skin. Aside from being light, quick absorbing, and non-comedogenic, this also stands out as one of the best face sunscreens because it has really incredible anti-aging ingredients, like resveratrol, vitamin C, and pomegranate extract.
To offset the pale color of the zinc oxide, a mineral tint has been added to it. Pick up this incredible sunscreen at Nordstrom.
Best Face Sunscreens For Normal and Dry Skin
1. Shiseido Extra Smooth Sun Protection Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 38 PA++
This is another sunscreen I feel a little silly only recommending to one skin type, since anyone could use it without problem. This lotion provides a blend of mineral and chemical sunscreens, and it protects from all kinds of sun damage.
It sinks into the skin quickly, but without mattifying the skin, so I do think it is better for normal to dry skin. This sunscreen was also loaded with some extra antioxidant ingredients, so it really multi-tasks, by protecting from the sun itself, as well as from aging free radical damage. It’s available at Sephora.
Best Face Sunscreens For Dry, Sensitive, and Mature Skin
1. Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47
Two-in-one moisturizers and face sunscreens often don’t have a high enough SPF or broad-spectrum coverage, but this amazing face sunscreen from Josie Maran breaks the mold. It is super moisturizing, with a luxurious and thick texture.
Since it is a mineral face sunscreen, it does leave a white cast, but it fades away fairly quickly. This formula also includes a wonderful blend of anti-aging ingredients, including the famous argan oil.
Makeup goes super well with this formula, and looks extra dewy. You can purchase this sunscreen at Sephora.
Best Face Sunscreens For Sensitive, Mature, Dry, and Combination Skin
1. MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 UVA-UVB Sunscreen
This high SPF sunscreen has you covered in and outside the pool, because it’s got really high water resistance. This gentle formula blends into the skin seamlessly, and leaves behind a silky finish.
It is all mineral, so perfect for sensitive skin; just watch out for that white cast (or may check out their tinted formula, instead). Thanks to the addition of vitamin C and green tea extract, this formula is also great at preventing premature aging. You can find this gorgeous sunscreen at Sephora.
Best Face Sunscreens For Normal, Dry, and Mature Skin
1. Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ Anti Aging Sunscreen
If a product’s name is a mouthful, it must be good, no? In this case, this chemical sunscreen certainly is.
With protection against both UVA and UVB, and a host of anti-aging benefits, it’s a wonderful two-in-one face sunscreen and skincare product. This moisturizer sinks quickly into the skin, and leaves behind a plump, hydrated feeling.
It contains some skincare powerhouses, like wrinkle-smoothing peptides and antioxidant vitamins. You can find this moisturizer/ sunscreen combination at Nordstrom.
Best Face Sunscreens For Sensitive Skin
1. CoTz Face Natural Skin Tone SPF 40
This water-resistant sunscreen is one of the best mineral face sunscreens on the market. It provides amazing protection from both UVA and UVB rays, and it has a really light and smooth consistency.
The application is super elegant – a few seconds of rubbing, and this facial sunscreen is absorbed into the skin, leaving behind a smooth canvass that is ready for makeup.
Since it is all mineral, a tint has been added to counteract the white cast. The tint isn’t overwhelming, so it works for all skin tones, and it can even be a substitute for foundation on great skin days.
The formula is super simple, without too many ingredients, so those with sensitive skin will adore it. It can be purchased at Ulta.
Best Face Sunscreens For All Skin Types
1. Cover FX Clear Cover Invisible Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30
I love repping great Canadian brands! This is a chemical-based gel sunscreen, with an ultra-light texture that is perfect for almost everyone. Because it is a chemical sunscreen, it is well suited to darker skin tones.
It double-functions as both a sunscreen and a primer, to create a really lovely base for makeup. It lightly moisturizes the skin, as well, and protects it from premature aging with antioxidant ingredients like tomato and sesame seed extracts. You can find this lovely face sunscreen at Sephora.
Makeup-Based Face Sunscreens
So while a two-in-one makeup and sunscreen product might seem convenient, chances are it is not – at least not as your sole source of sunscreen. We need to use at least a ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen to get adequate coverage.
For most of us, that is too much makeup, and it would lead to a cakey look. It is perfectly fine to gently layer a foundation or BB cream with SPF over a set of face sunscreen, and touching up the makeup with a face powder with SPF is a great way of adding a bit more protection throughout the day.
Almost all BB, CC, and DD creams have high SPF, so you can pick one for your skin type.
Other Sun Protection Tips
• Face sunscreens are great, but an opaque wide-brimmed hat will help go the extra mile to protect your facial skin.
• Apply your sunscreen before you leave the house, and give it enough time to sink in and form a film over your face (about 10-20 minutes).
• Never mix your sunscreen with a moisturizer or foundation – you can seriously impact your sunscreen’s protective ability, even with the tiniest drop.
• Remember, your sunscreen should always be the last step in your skincare routine! That is why a sunscreen that doubles as a primer is the best way to go.
• Don’t forget your lips! Facial sunscreens don’t really cover the lips as well, so use a lip balm or chapstick with an SPF, like the Jack Black Intense Therapy Lip Balm with SPF 25 (available at Nordstrom).
What’s your favorite face sunscreen? Do you have any amazing sun protection tips? Any awful sunburn stories? Share them with us, by commenting!
Photos via @ptitelady, @beautylookbook