If your childhood was anything like mine, you likely have memories tucked away of your parents asking you to close your eyes while they doused you in a heavy stream of sticky, smelly sunscreen. Props to the adults in our lives who kept us protected from the sun’s harmful rays, but let’s be honest, those dreaded spray downs led to years of SPF resistance.
The good news is that modern sunscreen formulations are miles more sophisticated than they were back then. They are lighter, less goopy, and much more pleasant to wear. Even better, facial sunscreen is an entire skincare category in its own right, boasting nuanced formulations with added ingredients like antioxidants and peptides, based on different skin types. There’s SPF for sensitive skin, SPF for oily skin, SPF for aging skin, and finally, SPF for darker complexions.
These new formulas couldn’t have come at a better time, either, as we now understand the extent of the harmful UV rays that cause premature aging and skin cancer. Of course, the best way to keep your skin protected—and looking youthful—is by applying sunscreen daily, rain or shine, which is why choosing a sunscreen specifically formulated for your skin’s needs is so important.
Here, we reached out to top dermatologists who were eager to dish on choosing the best sunscreen for your face, according to your skin type, and share their product recommendations. And if you happen to find yourself straddling these skin types, try a few different products until you discover one that works for you. “The most important thing is to find a sunscreen that you will gladly wear daily,” says Dr. Ope Ofodile, a board-certified dermatologist at Dermatology & Surgery Specialists of North Atlanta.
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The Best Facial Sunscreen for Oily Skin
If your skin is oily or acne-prone, you’re probably worried about sunscreen causing your face to look even shiner and clogging your pores. Dr. Odofile recommends using a lightweight, non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog pores), mattifying sunscreen formulation to keep shine at bay and prevent future breakouts.
She suggests Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46 ($37; dermstore.com), which is oil-free, fast-absorbing, and contains lactic acid to clear pores and niacinamide to reduce shine as you wear it. Another great pick for oily skin types is Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen SPF 55 ($11; amazon.com); the ultra-light sunblock leaves a breathable shield that protects the skin against UVA and UVB rays without clogging pores.
To prevent breakouts, it’s also important to make sure you’re thoroughly cleansing your skin at the end of the day. To completely remove sunscreen buildup before bed, Dr. Ofodile recommends using a mild exfoliating cleanser containing glycolic acid or salicylic acid, which gently exfoliates and dislodges gunk from pores. Try CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser ($14; ulta.com).
The Best Facial Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Generally speaking, sensitive skin types can become easily inflamed by certain ingredients, which often results in redness, irritation, discomfort, and sometimes blistering. Unfortunately, there are a number of ingredients in chemical sunscreens that can lead to such symptoms, so mineral sunscreens are the safest options for individuals with sensitive skin, says Dr. Ofodile.
Chemical sunscreens use ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone, which absorb into the skin to protect it from the sun’s rays. While these components cause no issue for most skin types, they can cause contact dermatitis for those who are easily irritated, Dr. Ofodile explains. Mineral sunscreens, on the other hand, use ingredients like zinc that sit on top of the skin and form a physical shield, making the formulas less likely to irritate.
When selecting a sunscreen for sensitive skin, it’s also recommended to steer clear of dyes, fragrances, and mineral oils. Dr. Ofodile recommends SkinMedica Essential Defense Mineral Shield SPF 35 ($38; skinstore.com), which is hypoallergenic and contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant camellia oleifera leaf extract. We also like Everyday Humans Rosé S’Il Vous Plait SPF30 Gentle Mineral Sunscreen ($25, Ulta.com); the simple, sheer formula is fortified with aloe vera and vitamin E to soothe skin.
The Best Facial Sunscreen for Dry Skin
If your skin is dry, the best sunscreen for your face will have added moisturizing benefits. Look for a combination of humectants like hyaluronic acid, which help the skin retain moisture and emollient ingredients like shea butter or jojoba oil, says Dr. Tahl Humes, founder and medical director of Vitahl Medical Aesthetics in Chicago and Denver.
Another ingredient to look for is ceramides since they help restore the skin barrier, prevent moisture loss, and protect against damage from environmental factors like the sun. Find them in CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30 ($19; amazon.com), a derm-approved pick that provides all-day hydration without any heavy feel. Or, try Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Hyaluronic Hydrating Moisturizer SPF 45 ($22; sephora.com), which has the most refreshing water-break texture and leaves skin dewy not shiny.
The Best Facial Sunscreen for “Normal” Skin
Is there really such a thing as normal? Not really. But this category essentially refers to skin types that are more balanced. Or, in other words, these people don’t really lean oily or dry, and they don’t have many (if any) blemishes or sensitivities to worry about. Because normal skin types have a broader range of choices, dermatologists suggest choosing a sunscreen you’ll actually apply every day.
Look for textures, finishes, and scents that appeal to you and fit effortlessly into your skincare routine. Added antioxidants, vitamins, and radiance-boosting ingredients are always a plus, too. We like Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($35, sephora.com), which contains blue light-blocking Xanthophyll and leaves a velvety matte finish that’s perfect as a base for makeup. Another great option is Thank You Farmer Sun Project Light Sun Essence ($27, sokoglam.com); the fast-absorbing texture looks (and feels) invisible on the face and provides the prettiest glow.
The Best Facial Sunscreen for Mature Skin
Those with anti-aging concerns should consider sunscreen another opportunity to make their regimen work harder for them. Seek out a product that’s loaded with antioxidants to fight off free radicals and reverse signs of sun damage. For example, vitamin C works to brighten the skin, lighten dark spots, and keep collagen springy while vitamin E nourishes the skin and protects against cell mutation caused by the sun.
Dr. Humes also recommends using sunscreen with extremozymes. “These are natural enzymes that nurture the skin on a cellular level and can actually alter the DNA of the skin to better adapt to environmental changes like sun exposure,” she explains. For that reason, she recommends iS Clinical Extreme Protect SPF 40 ($78, dermstore.com); it’s formulated with extremozymes and gotu kola extract to further strengthen skin cells and their resistance to damage.
Another great option for aging skin is Dr. Loretta Urban Antioxidant Sunscreen SPF 40 ($50, dermstore.com). With the antioxidant-rich Lipochroman, vitamin C, and peptides, the advanced formula is not only designed to protect against UVA and UVB rays, but also against pollution, blue light from devices, and climate changes.
The Best Sunscreen for Darker Complexions
It is notoriously difficult to find sunscreen for darker skin tones, largely because the primary ingredients can leave behind an unsightly white or gray cast. But Dr. Odofile cannot stress this enough: There is no excuse for those with darker complexions to skip sunscreen. “Although risk for sun burns is lessened, dyspigmentation is secondary to excessive sun exposure and is more prevalent in this population,” she says.
Thankfully, there are more options than ever for darker complexions. Dr. Odofile suggests looking for a sunscreen with micronized ingredients so that it’s easier to blend and has a sheer finish. Created to protect melanin-rich skin, Mele No Shade Sunscreen Oil Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($20; target.com) absorbs quickly with zero streaking or white cast, and it layers beautifully underneath makeup for everyday wear.
Another sunscreen that’s truly invisible is Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen ($34, dermstore.com); it has a gel-like texture that dries down fast and delivers a subtle blurring effect. For those looking for more coverage, we recommend Absolute Joi Daily Hydrating Moisturizing Cream with Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 ($42, absolutejoi.com), which comes in two shades designed specifically for darker skin.