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. ♦