13 facial sunscreens dermatologists actually recommend to patients

Their picks include options for every budget.
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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

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Whether you love it or love to hate it, sunscreen is a critical part of any skin care routine. This multitasking product helps shield your skin from harmful UV rays, fends off nasty sunburns, and protects against premature aging, so it's a must-have in your beauty cabinet.

However, finding the right sunscreen is easier said than done. Figuring out what level of SPF coverage you need and what ingredients to look for can be baffling, so we consulted dermatologists to help make the sunscreen shopping process less confusing. Oh, and we also got them to share their favorite sunscreen picks!

Why is sunscreen so important?

We hear it all the time: Don't forget your sunscreen! But why exactly do skin experts harp on SPF so much anyway?

"Sunscreen protects the skin from UV damage. UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer and lead to premature aging, wrinkles and sun spots. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lives, so it is important to incorporate sunscreen into your daily routine," said dermatologist Dr. David E. Bank.

Wearing sunscreen on a daily basis can clearly shield you from potentially dangerous UV rays, and as an added bonus, it can also keep your skin looking fab.

"Sun protection is your best strategy in keeping your skin youthful. Sun exposure contributes greatly to wrinkles, loss of firmness and brown spots," saidDr. David Lortscher, dermatologist and CEO of Curology.

Of course, sunscreen alone can't entirely protect you — you should also be mindful of seeking shade and wearing protective clothing — but it certainly is a vital element of your skin care routine.

How to pick the right facial sunscreen

So you've decided to get serious about sun care and are ready to find your perfect facial sunscreen. Now, the question is: How do you select the right one for you? When shopping for facial sunscreens, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do the ingredients fight back against powerful UV rays?

"Look for sunscreens that have ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to absorb rays and reflect them off the skin, as well as octocrylene (a moisturizing chemical sunscreen) and octisalate (an organic sunscreen that absorbs UVB rays) to maintain longevity of the product on the user," said Dr. Howard Sobel, founder of Sobel Skin.

2. Are you selecting the optimal amount of protection for your lifestyle?

"When shopping for a sunscreen, the type of protection and SPF you choose will depend on the expected length of exposure. For everyday use, choose a product with an SPF of at least 30. For more prolonged exposure, especially if sweating or swimming, choose an SPF of at least 50, as well as one that is rated as water-resistant for 80 minutes (maximum rating allowed)," Banks said.

3. Will you actually wear it every single day?

"The key to choosing the best sunscreen is choosing one you’ll have no problem wearing every day. Special additional ingredients don’t matter if you don’t consistently apply sunscreen," Lortscher said.

4. Do you want a physical or chemical sunscreen?

"Chemical sunscreens are chemicals that have been specifically designed to absorb and screen ultraviolet rays from the sun. Physical sunscreens, by contrast, utilize zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to create a physical barrier, similar to a wall, to block the incoming ultraviolet rays. Both are good, but one advantage of the physical blocks is that they block the full spectrum of incoming rays, whereas the chemical sunscreens may only block a limited range," Banks said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published two studies in the past year reporting that several active ingredients in chemical sunscreens (including avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate) could be absorbed into your bloodstream and possibly remain there for quite some time. The FDA says it's currently seeking more information on chemical sunscreen ingredients, though it does note that "absorption does not equal risk" and it has not yet deemed the ingredients unsafe for use in sunscreen.

The FDA does recognize zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the two main ingredients used in mineral sunscreens, as safe and effective.

5. Will it irritate your skin?

"Look for non-comedogenic formulas that won't clog the pores," Banks said. "In addition, those with more sensitive skin might do best to avoid chemical sunscreens."

The best facial sunscreens, according to dermatologists

If you're looking for a good place to start, these are 13 of the best recommendations we received from dermatologists.

1. Cerave Hydrating Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50

Your skin relies on ceramides to lock in moisture, and this broad-spectrum sunscreen is full of them. The paraben-free formula works its magic with the help of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and also features another powerhouse ingredient: niacinamide.

"Niacinamide helps prevent more dark spots from forming and if there is inflammation or redness from acne, it will help to fade it. It also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid," said Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York City-based dermatologist and author of the book "Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From a Top New York Dermatologist."

2. Cetaphil Redness Relief Facial SPF 20

When your skin is already prone to redness, summer (aka peak sunburn season) can be a rough time. "This SPF is very gentle and soothing for people with a tendency toward facial redness, or who are rosacea-prone. It evens the skin tone, as it is lightly tinted and also hydrates at the same time," Bank said.

Caffeine and allantoin soothe, soften and nourish skin and the hypoallergenic formula makes it safe for even the most sensitive complexions.

3. Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30

Sunscreen is a skin care essential all year long, but some formulas feel a bit heavy — and that can be a problem if you're dealing with acne-prone skin. If you're looking for the best of both worlds and want a broad-spectrum SPF that won't clog your pores, this daily moisturizer formulated with oil-absorbing Micropearl technology and soothing oleosome technology is worth a try.

"It's moisturizing, but it doesn't have a greasy feel and can be excellent for normal to oily skin," Bank said.

4. Badger SPF 30 Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream

You'll only find five ingredients in this broad-spectrum sunscreen: non-nano zinc oxide, organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, sunflower vitamin E and organic seabuckthorn extract. The non-comedogenic, organic formula is water- and sweat-resistant for 40 minutes, plus it's safe for those with sensitive skin.

"This sunscreen is completely natural and is great for face and body. It's free of any chemicals that could harm the ocean/environment or irritate your skin," Jaliman said. "It’s unscented and almost completely organic."

5. Proactiv Daily Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30

This three-in-one moisturizer hydrates and protects skin with oleosome technology and controls shine with its matte finish.

"It's an excellent lightweight formula that is hydrating, but free of oil," Bank said. "It is therefore particularly useful if there is any acne-prone tendency to the skin."

Just don't forget to apply it to certain areas we all tend to overlook! "The nose is very sensitive and often gets sunburned," Jaliman said. "It is an area where sunscreen gets wiped off easily, so make sure to reapply often. The tops of the ears are often overlooked as well and get direct sun exposure because of their position."

6. Blue Lizard Sunscreen SPF 30

The mineral active zinc oxide in this lightweight sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection from the sun while hyaluronic acid, green tea, caffeine and vitamin E help nourish skin. It also features smart cap technology that makes the cap turn blue when you're in an area with harmful UV light.

"This is a good one for folks that want a physical blocker and it's safe for coral because it is zinc- and titanium-based," said Dr. Angela J. Lamb, medical director of the Patient Access Center, Mount Sinai Doctors Faculty Practice.

7. Shiseido Clear Stick UV Protector WetForce Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50

Not everyone is a fan of liquid sunscreen, and sometimes a stick applicator can help you rub on some much-needed SPF in a flash. This clear stick works equally well under or over makeup and is perfect for travel. It also features WetForce technology to help the sunscreen last when you sweat or go swimming.

"It goes on smoothly and is very easy to use. I like it more for mature skin since it does contain oil, and oil can make acne-prone skin more likely to break out," board-certified dermatologist Amanda Doyle told us. "It also contains licorice extract, which may help prevent the appearance of dark spots."

8. Unsun Cosmetics Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30

An SPF that protects skin and can also be used as a BB cream? This is one multitasker that deserves a spot in our beauty cabinet. Lamb swears by the brand, which offers tinted sunscreen for all skin tones. This one in particular helps moisturize skin with the help of shea butter and essential oils like evening primrose, linseed and lavender. Just make sure you apply enough for full coverage!

"Apply at least two finger widths for the amount you need for your face. You also need to make sure you are reapplying every 90 minutes if you are going to be outside all day or sweating, regardless of if it says 'sport,'" Lamb instructed.

9. Peter Thomas Roth Max Mineral Naked Broad-Spectrum SPF 45

The zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in this SPF 45 formula provide broad-spectrum protection while safflower extract nourishes skin. Luckily, you can use this daily sunscreen to replace your foundation since it offers a universal tint!

"It is reef-safe and also contains light-reflecting diamond powder, which will make your skin look glossy and luminous," board-certified dermatologist and founder of Fifth Avenue Aesthetics Dr. Marie Hayag said.

10. MD Solar Sciences SPF 50 Mineral Creme Sunscreen

This broad-spectrum SPF is gentle enough for sensitive skin but packs a powerful punch thanks to the help of antioxidants that improve radiance and skin tone while protecting against free radical damage.

"This is great because it is a purely physical sunscreen so there are no chemical sunscreen ingredients," Doyle said. "It also remains water-resistant for 80 minutes so it works for those who are active and it has a more matte finish that can be helpful for those who want to reduce shine."

11. Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

"I like this product because it is designed for patients with acne and rosacea, so it is great in the summer heat. The added niacinamide is anti-inflammatory and protects against skin cancer," board-certified dermatologist Mary Lupo said.

Several dermatologists we spoke to swear by this bestseller and cited its broad-spectrum protection and moisturizing effect as just a few of its many wonderful qualities.

"It contains hyaluronic acid to moisturize your skin while the lactic acid helps clear pores and lessen shine," Jaliman said.

12. Avène Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50

Perfect for both face and body, this lightweight sunscreen absorbs quickly into the skin and offers a matte finish - you know, so you don't look like you've been sweating profusely. Avène's thermal spring water also works to hydrate and soothe skin, making it ideal for sensitive complexions.

"It also contains vitamin E, which is a great antioxidant that will protect against free radicals," Hayag said.

13. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Face Sunscreen SPF 60

It's won multiple awards from top beauty publications and helps visibly reduce the appearance of sun damage in addition to protecting skin with broad-spectrum SPF 60. The multitasking sunscreen is formulated with Cell-Ox Shield Technology that shields skin from UVA/UVB rays and is full of antioxidants, too. "It's one of my favorites because it goes on nice and light," Lamb said.

The article was originally published on May 28, 2019.

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