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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.
But 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 Dr. David E. Banks.
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 the heck do you select the right one for you? When shopping for facial sunscreens, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Do its 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.
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 10 of the best recommendations we received from dermatologists.
1. The sunscreen for acne-prone skin
"This sunscreen offers SPF 30 coverage and was developed with dermatologists specifically for acne-prone skin," Banks said.
2. The lightweight liquid sunscreen
"Unless you’re really caking on the coverage, the sunscreen in your makeup isn’t enough to protect your skin from the sun. It would require seven times the normal amount of foundation to provide enough coverage, so it’s important to wear a separate moisturizer that offers SPF protection, like this one," Sobel said.
3. The morning sunscreen for dry skin
"Formulated with ceramides and hyaluronic acid, this sunscreen is a great option if you struggle with dry skin. It's also gentle and non-comedogenic," Lortscher said.
4. The moisturizing sunscreen
"This dual action moisturizer nourishes dry skin, helps defend against sun damage and leaves skin feeling soft and smooth," Banks said.
5. The tinted sunscreen
"Want to avoid the white cast typically associated with sunscreen? Try this tinted, non-comedogenic version containing vitamin C for added sun protection," Lortscher said.
6. The matte-finish sunscreen
"This lightweight moisturizer absorbs quickly and provides a long-lasting, matte finish while providing broad-spectrum protection from the sun’s harmful rays," Banks said.
7. The drip-proof spray
"The updated water/sweat resistant formula provides lightweight, safe and effective broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection with 25% fewer ingredients. It’s made without oxybenzone and parabens, and has no added oils or fragrance. Plus, it’s lightweight, easy to rub in and won’t drip into your eyes," Sobel said.
8. The sunscreen that could replace your makeup primer
"This non-comedogenic and tinted sunscreen provides all the benefits of a physical sunscreen without leaving behind a white cast," Lortscher said.
9. The residue-free sunscreen
"For those who prefer a physical sunscreen, this is a residue-free option without added fragrance or oil," Lortscher said.
For more sunscreen recommendations, check out:
- The 10 best sunscreens for kids and babies
- The best sunscreens to buy in 2019 according to Consumer Reports