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Wearing sunscreen on your face is an easy and low-maintenance way to protect your skin from the sun’s harsh rays and, if you skip regularly wearing sunscreen, you run the risk of both short and long term damage. “Many people don’t wear sunscreen because they believe they don’t need it,” said board-certified dermatologist Harold Lancer, MD. “Sunscreen is not only protecting you from sunburns, but also from skin cancer in the future.”
Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate, which is why the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends everyone, including those with darker skin tones, wear sunscreen to help protect their skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. While it’s commonplace to apply sunscreen outdoors during the summer months, you shouldn’t skimp on SPF when it’s cloudy, like during summer rain storms, because Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays "can penetrate windows and cloud cover," according to the nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation. You should also wear sunscreen indoors if you’re sitting near a window or utilizing smart devices that emit blue light, according to dermatologists.
With only a couple of weeks left until the start of the summer season on June 20, we asked dermatologists about shopping for face sunscreens and their product recommendations.
How to shop for face sunscreen?
You’re not limited to a handful of sunscreen options for your face since there are sunblocks made for various skin types — acne-prone, oily and dry — and they come in formulas like lotions, creams and powders. Although spray sunscreens are relatively common, Lancer previously advised Shopping readers to only use spray sunscreens on hard-to-reach parts of the body instead of on the face because spray sunscreens can cause acne.
What is SPF and why is it important?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises wearing at least an SPF 15. Most dermatologists we interviewed, plus the AAD, consider SPF 30 to be a sweet spot because it can block up to 97 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which can cause sunburns and skin cancer. The FDA, AAD and dermatologists prefer broad-spectrum sunscreens, whether for the face or body, meaning they can protect against both UVB and ultraviolet A (UVA) rays.
When should I apply sunscreen?
Individual sunscreen directions will vary, but the AAD recommends slathering it on at least 15 minutes before sun exposure while the Skin Cancer Foundation prefers applying sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure.
If you want to wear makeup over your sunscreen, then you should let your sunblock “rest” for about eight minutes, advised board-certified dermatologist Ashley Jenkins, MD. This waiting period allows your sunblock to “form a nice, smooth film on the top of your skin which is how it protects you from UV radiation.”
How much SPF do I need on my face?
You’ll need approximately a nickel-sized amount of sunscreen to cover your entire face, board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, previously told us in our guide to choosing the best sunscreen.
Place several pea-sized dots of sunscreen on the forehead, cheeks, nose and chin, then spread out an even layer all over your face, advised board-certified dermatologist Susan Chon, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Do I need to reapply sunscreen?
Yes, you should reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, according to the FDA, AAD and dermatologists we interviewed. You should also reapply sunscreen after sweating or taking a dip in the water, according to the AAD.
Best face sunscreens
We asked medical doctors about their favorite face sunscreens, which include a mix of chemical and mineral sunscreens suitable for various skin types like those dealing with breakouts, oily skin and dry skin. Their recommendations are available to shop at well-known retailers like Walmart, Amazon and Target, plus beauty stores like Ulta, Sephora and Dermstore.
Regardless of which face sunscreen you use, the biggest benefit of SPF is that “the protection sunscreen offers really does prevent sun damage and skin cancer,” said Chon, who is also a professor of dermatology and a director at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. “Prevention is much easier than cosmetic procedures or skin cancer surgeries after we neglect to take care of our skin.”
Best powder sunscreen: Colorescience
Reapplication is essential, which is why board-certified dermatologist Diane Madfes, MD, recommended this "easy to use" powder sunscreen. This SPF is also a personal favorite face sunscreen for board-certified Susan Bard, MD, of Vive Dermatology because it is convenient to apply over makeup. The tinted sunscreen is available in five colors — Deep, Tan, Medium Shimmer, Medium Matte and Fair — and it utilizes both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as active ingredients. It is also formulated with hyaluronic acid powder to help hydrate the skin and antioxidant-rich green tea, grape seed and oak wood extracts.
Best sunscreen for acne-prone skin: EltaMD
As one of the most purchased sunscreens among Shopping readers, Elta MD's popular sunblock earned a recommendation from Bard because it is made for those dealing with acne or rosacea. EltaMD's broad spectrum sunscreen was also recommended by three medical doctors in our guide to the best sunscreens for acne-prone skin. This "great" sunscreen "dries quickly, so you can slather it on your face, neck and chest before getting dressed all year round," according to board-certified dermatologist Robyn Gmyrek, MD.
Best sunscreen for oily skin: Olay
Bard recommended this “great” sunblock for anyone with oily skin or tend to get shiny when they use a face sunscreen. This chemical sunscreen is infused with a blend of antioxidants and niacinamide which the brand describes as a “unicorn” ingredient because it hydrates the skin, promotes cell turnover and buffs away dead skin cells.
Best sunscreen for dry skin: CeraVe
When Madfes helps patients shop for face sunscreens, she recommends "cosmetically elegant formulas," like this mineral CeraVe sunblock. This oil-free sunscreen utilizes a combination of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to help create a physical barrier between your skin and the sun's harsh UVA and UVB rays. It also boasts niacinamide which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Best tinted sunscreen: La Roche-Posay
According to Bard, one "great" tinted mineral sunscreen that won't leave the skin looking "chalky" is this face sunscreen from La Roche-Posay. This tinted face sunscreen uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide for sun protection. It is also formulated with antioxidant-rich senna alata leaf extract and soothing thermal spring water. The brand claims this SPF is water-resistant for up to 40 minutes and that it is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin.
Best antioxidant-rich sunscreen: Clinique
Lancer is a fan of products from his namesake skin care line, but also recommended this Clinique sunscreen because it is made with antioxidants, which he called a “great bonus in sunscreen.” Clinique claims this oil-free mineral sunscreen — it uses titanium dioxide to help protect the face from the sun’s UV rays — is free of parabens and that it is gentle enough for those with sensitive skin to apply.