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The Rookie Sunscreen FAQ

Protecting your skin is actually important.

Are there any ingredients I should avoid?

YES. There’s a preservative that sometimes shows up in sunscreens called methylisothiazolinone that is a known irritant. Certain essential oils are irritating, and some are actually photosensitive (meaning that they absorb sunlight and can cause burning). Unfortunately, a lot of them are the ones that smell really nice. A good rule of thumb is that if your sunscreen smells like perfume, try it out on a small patch of skin first to see if it irritates you.

Are there sunscreens that won’t make my face feel nasty and greasy?

Yes! There are lightweight and mattifying sunscreens out there for oily zones. Personally, I like Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing SPF 30. Regenerist Regenerating Lotion With Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 and Mary Kay Foundation Primer Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 15 are also well reviewed by Beautypedia, a database of skincare products compiled by researchers who rate products’ efficacy based on scientific facts.

Sidenote: You don’t need to use a specific “face” sunscreen, because the active ingredients will be the same as the ones you’ll find in a regular ol’ lotion. Products designed for the face can be less greasy, but they also tend to be more expensive. If you find that your body sunscreen works fine for your face, great! This one comes down to personal preference.

Why does my sunscreen give me mega acne?

It doesn’t have to! But I won’t lie, if you’re prone to acne, finding a sunscreen that won’t exacerbate it takes experimentation. Everyone’s acne is a unique snowflake, so you have to figure out what your personal sunscreen-related acne triggers are. Fragrance? Irritation? Hormones?

Also, here’s a little-known fact about zits: They can take weeks to appear. So if you have a zit today, it didn’t just pop up overnight. It probably started its dumb little life many days ago. So give any new product a grace period before you blame it for your acne.

What do I do if I have a acne AND sensitive skin?

This one is tricky. I know because this is my face—chemical sunscreens sting me like crazy, but physical ones tend to give me mad zits. Really fun! In my ongoing worldwide search, I’ve found three products that seem to work for this super annoying skin type: Paula’s Choice Hydralight Shine-Free SPF 30, Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 15, and EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46. Experiment, and be a nerd about keeping track of how your skin is reacting to each product you try. Always save your receipts so you can get your money back if you have a bad reaction. Sephora and fancy department stores will take opened products back, and a lot of drugstore chains are also great about allowing customers to return opened beauty products. (If you’re dropping a chunk of change on a sunscreen you’re not sure is going to be right for you, though, ask what the store’s return policy is first.)

I have dark skin. Do I need sunscreen?

Yep! Dark skin is still at risk for sun damage, including melanoma. Physical sunscreens can be challenging for darker-skinned people, though, because the minerals can look white-ish or gray. You can either stick with chemical ones, which absorb into the skin, or test out a bunch of physical ones to see what brands work for you.

These sunscreen recs are based on American standards. What about me, I’m from __________?

Different countries have different rules for regulating sunscreens. For instance, Tinosorb is a great European UVA/UVB-fighting ingredient that isn’t legal in the U.S. because the FDA hasn’t approved it yet. Asian brands use the PA system instead of SPF. And some countries don’t require companies to list the percentages of active ingredients. Do the best you can by carefully examining ingredients lists (they’re listed in order of how much went into the tube you’re holding), or order from find online stores, like Paula’s Choice, that ship globally.

If I put makeup on, will that screw up my sunscreen?

Nope! The way makeup products are formulated in our modern times, you can slather them on right on top of your sunscreen without reducing the latter’s efficacy. Just give your SPF three to five minutes to set before you put anything on it. Also: Layering makeup that includes SPF protection on top of your regular sunscreen is a great way to boost your defenses!

Do I really have to reapply it every two hours like the label says?

Good news! This isn’t always necessary. Cuz who wants to deal with that? If you are applying it liberally enough, a well-formulated sunscreen will last longer than the recommend window for reapplication. Reasons to reapply include swimming, sweating a ton, or spending more than four straight hours in the sun. But on a day when you’re mostly indoors? Once in the morning should do it.

Is waterproof sunscreen for real?

You may find that your regular sunscreen holds up fine when you go swimming or get sweaty. If you want to make sure it’s not going to wash away, though, sunscreens that are labeled water-resistant or waterproof have been proven to be just that through FDA testing.

Do expensive products work better?

Nah. There are good and bad sunscreens at all price ranges. I’ve seen ones made by fancy brands that cost as much as $80 but don’t even have both UVA and UVB protection. You’d be better off with a cheapie, like this one from Trader Joe’s, which has totally decent ingredients and costs four bucks.

What else can I do to protect my soul’s bodily encasement against sun damage?

Great question! Wear a hat, wear sunglasses, wear UV-rated apparel. (Admittedly, most UV clothes are pretty bad, but hopefully we’ll have better choices in the future, as clothes companies become more UV-conscious). I think UV parasols are super glamorous, but be prepared for everyone to make fun of you for being a vampire.

Those are the basics! Sunscreen science is always advancing, so by 2024 all this information could be out of date. (I’m waiting for the day they invent a sunscreen shot that you just inject once a year and are done with it.) Let’s meet up in the next century and compliment each other on how fresh-faced and melanoma-free we are because we all used sunscreen now, when we were/are young. ♦

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21 Comments

  • Amy Rose August 8th, 2014 7:23 PM

    I am so all about MAG THRASH: SUNSCREEN CORRESPONDENT.

  • Hecticglow August 8th, 2014 7:54 PM

    I am allergic to sunscreen, so ya know not very useful. The best protection is covering your entire body from head to toe and then sitting inside, in the air conditioning .

  • ColoredSoft August 8th, 2014 8:22 PM

    Perhaps it should also be stated that pale people are not the only ones that can get skin cancer…considering that’s all the examples I see

    • Amy Rose August 8th, 2014 8:54 PM

      Hi! Check out page two, where Maggie discusses and links to resources about this.

  • Emily August 8th, 2014 11:10 PM

    I’m allergic to sunscreen (as well as deodorant and bug spray, which is convenient since I live in Florida), and a lot of people who are allergic to cheap metal, like nickel, are often allergic to sunscreen as well. I personally get hives, but reactions vary. Anyway, I can use the Neutrogena line of sunscreen, because it doesn’t have some of the irritants, but baby sunscreen is usually okay because it’s made for baby’s sensitive skin.

  • intergalalcticspacebandit August 9th, 2014 12:56 AM

    yoooooo sun is the middle of the galaxy, not the middle of the universe

    • Anaheed August 9th, 2014 3:22 AM

      Huh, gawd, sorry about that. Thank you! Fitting username btw.

      • kitsune13 August 9th, 2014 5:56 AM

        surely the sun is at the centre of the solar system? i guess it’s metaphorically at the centre of our universe but not literally. ditto galaxy.

      • Simone H. August 9th, 2014 6:15 AM

        Uuuuh, I may be wrong, but it’s most likely that there’s a super badass black hole in the center of the galaxy. I think the solar system’s more or less in the middle of the Milky Way’s radius (don’t know if I’m clear…). If that’s what you meant, sorry, just ignore this. <3

        • Anaheed August 9th, 2014 6:39 PM

          And thank YOU, Simone. I don’t know where my brain went there.

  • Hani August 9th, 2014 6:14 AM

    somehow sunscreens make me look…tanner. I don’t know why this is happening.

    http://omgsassy.blogspot.com/

  • Rivka August 10th, 2014 4:45 AM

    For everyone who gets a greasy face and maybe likes to wear makeup on top of it, the La Roche Posay dry touch gel cream works really nicely. It’s available in SPF 30 and 50. Just make sure to blend right away, because it can patch if you don’t (it really dries right away).

  • red flowers August 10th, 2014 5:51 AM

    Hey thanks so very much for writing this! Like you (I’m assuming), I’m pretty careful about this stuff because of where I live, and I’ve been using daily sunscreen for years (right now a really lovely chemical one called La Roche Posse anthelios 50+) which is light and makes my skin deathly soft.

    I wish Rookie did heaps more practical things like this. It can be hard to sort through good beauty things vs. the pseudo sciences.

    :) Loved every paragraph, well done!

  • DarcyEmma August 10th, 2014 8:48 AM

    I live in Australia so I pretty much am constantly being exposed to too much UV. I have bad acne and couldn’t find a sunscreen that worked under makeup – I was too self conscious to go fresh faced. It’s not great for everyday, but for strong SPF coverage whilst at the beach, tinted zinc cream can be great. It looks a bit orange-y sometimes, but because it’s the beach you can get away with it. It also doesn’t wash off – bonus!

    http://girlisgreenhorn.wordpress.com/

  • wallflower152 August 10th, 2014 1:09 PM

    My favorite sunscreen of all time is Sun Bum. The packaging is cool and summery, it smells delicious and even though I’m usually sensitive to fragrances it doesn’t bother me. The initial greasy sunscreen gross feeling goes away in a couple minutes and then it feels like you don’t have anything on at all. I checked the ingredients with this article and it contains UVA and B protection stuffs plus vitamin E. I love it cuz I usually wear it hiking and to outdoor music festivals and biking and stuff and I get compliments for smelling good when everyone else doesn’t haha. Kinda expensive though, like $15 bucks a bottle but worth it.

  • cestlaviee August 10th, 2014 4:58 PM

    I bought a moisturizer with SPF for the first time last week and my face feels so much better/healthier since I’ve started using it. Sunscreen is so important!!!!!

  • daisyparakeet August 10th, 2014 8:18 PM

    Great article, Maggie. You must have aced chemistry. Nicely researched, and thanks for the useful links!

  • Violet August 12th, 2014 12:04 AM

    For rankings of the healthiest/safe sunscreens, I highly recommend the Environmental Working Group:
    http://www.ewg.org/2014sunscreen/

    They also have risk indicators on most cosmetics, and you can create your own ingredients report if a product you’re using isn’t in the database!

    Love,
    V

  • snailshell August 12th, 2014 3:49 AM

    In my plentiful research about sunscreen, I have found that all sunscreens are NOT created equal. Physical sunscreens — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — are considered to be the “gold standard” of sun protection.

    Still, you DEFINITELY want to avoid certain sunscreen ingredients. The Environmental Working Group advises against wearing sunscreens that contain oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate. Oxybenzone is a chemical sunscreen that is believed to be an endocrine disruptor as well as related to photoallergic reactions. Retinyl palmitate also is associated with photoallergic reactions.

    It’s exceedingly difficult to find a sunscreen that has zinc oxide/titanium dioxide AND no retinyl palmitate. I went to a Walgreens a few weeks ago in search of sunscreen and couldn’t find a single one that met these requirements! The better sunscreens tend to be in the $8-$30 range and you’ll find them at places like Whole Foods.

    Seriously, do your research and don’t just buy whatever’s on the shelf. Much like other cosmetics, sunscreens aren’t too closely monitored by the FDA and companies can put pretty much anything they want in there.

    Yeah, I just wrote an essay about sunscreen. Whoops.

    • glittercat August 30th, 2014 6:14 AM

      Agreed. I only go for titanium dioxide/zinc oxide because of the controversy over the safety of oxybenzone.

  • Pingggg August 12th, 2014 8:21 AM

    Hawaiian Tropic is kinda pricey here in Ireland but is my favourite. It smells like coconut heaven and is not greasy at all. (Yuck grease ew). They also have a “speshul” formulation for the face which has never broken me out!