- Yes, you really should be wearing sunscreen daily – even in the winter or when it’s cloudy – to protect your skin from short- and long-term UV damage.
- La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is the best face sunscreen because it’s a broad spectrum pick that’s as comfortable to wear as it is good for your skin.
I don’t think you need me to go into all the possible annoyances when it comes to wearing sunscreen, especially on your face. A lot of formulas are seriously lacking in the comfort and “ease of use” departments. And yet, you really should be wearing it every single day, regardless of season or level of cloud cover. Ain’t no rest for the wicked, or for UV rays.
But from pilling to white cast to that heavy, oil-slicked feeling, there are plenty of reasons why you might hesitate to reach for your bottle in the morning. There are some dud sunscreens, but there are also great options to be found once you know where to look. The trial-and-error is well worth it, I promise. After all, we’re not just talking anti-aging here – sunscreen use is vital for cancer prevention and your overall long-term health.
And while we’re on the subject of long-term health, we’re doing our best to keep up with recent sunscreen news, as well as try each and every one of our picks for you. We’ve proactively removed some of our previous picks as they were chemical formulas made with oxybenzone, a known coral reef-destroying ingredient that is unfortunately common in a lot of sunscreens. We’re also keeping an eye out on avobenzone, which has been shown to be absorbed into blood quite quickly, although the effects it has on our bodies and the ocean aren’t completely clear just yet.
As well-researched and thorough as our picks are, everyone should do their own due diligence about formulas and the ingredients found in sunscreens, as well as how they negatively impact our environment and ourselves.
Here are the best face sunscreens:
- Best overall: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen
- Best tinted face sunscreen: Thinksport Thinksun Everyday Face Sunscreen, Naturally Tinted
- Best powder face sunscreen: Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Brush
- Best clear face sunscreen: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen
- Best solid sunscreen: Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer
Prices and links are current as of 3/17/2020. We also added a selection of related buying guides.
The best overall
- La Roche-Posay
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 is a physical sunscreen that protects from UVA/UVB rays and free radicals without making you look pale and shiny.
Physical sunscreens – formulas that block UV rays by forming a sort of shield over the skin – can be really uncomfortable. Many of them feel heavy, pill up when you try to rub them in or apply makeup on top, or give the skin, especially darker complexions, a strange white cast.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 delivers the UVA/UVB and free radical protection you can expect from physical sunscreens without the negative side effects. The formula contains 6% titanium dioxide and 5% zinc oxide to shield the skin from sun damage and an antioxidant complex called senna alata to protect from environmental damage.
This sunscreen comes in a lightly tinted version or a non-tinted version. The tint will prevent white cast and flashback in photos, but it’s not a foundation. There’s not really any coverage. You can apply other makeup over the top, so you don’t have to worry too much about color-matching. The tint is really there to make it easier to wear if you have a medium to deep skin tone. If you opt for the non-tinted, you’ll get more of a traditional white liquid sunscreen formula that absorbs easily into the skin.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios sunscreens are popular with both shoppers and experts. This one in particular has also been recommended by Refinery29 Senior Beauty Editor Lexy Lebsack. She writes, “It’s incredibly light and soaks in immediately, but it’s also hydrating enough to take the place of my morning moisturizer.”
Pros: Tinted and non-tinted, protects from UVA/UVB rays and free radicals, water-resistant up to 40 minutes, safe for sensitive skin
The best tinted face sunscreen
Thinksport’s Thinksun Everyday Face Sunscreen in Naturally Tinted is our tinted pick for minimizing the white cast that comes with all zinc oxide-based mineral formulas.
One of the biggest reasons most people shy away from mineral sunscreens is the tell-tale white cast that results from the zinc oxide – which is what’s keeping your skin protected from harmful UVA/UVB rays. But cosmetically, it’s understandable that a chalky cast is not ideal, especially on deeper skin tones. That’s why Thinksport has released a tinted version of its original mineral sunscreen.
Like the OG, the tinted version is made without major chemical aditives that are harmful to the ocean and aquatic life (and potentially harmful to ourselves) like avobenzone, oxybenzone, parabens, phthalates, and more. Instead, it uses non-nano zinc oxide to protect skin.
The tinted formula blends out easily onto a variety of skin tones, though we can’t guarantee that it’ll look realistic or natural on deep skin tones as the formula is still made with zinc oxide. It’ll undoubtedly still look better than the original though, and you should take comfort in knowing that your skin is well-protected. After all, rays today, raisins tomorrow.
Thinksport’s zinc oxide-based formula is also non-nano, so it’s safer for coral reefs and aquatic creatures than nano formulas – and infinitely better than chemical ones.
Thinksport does have a tendency to be runny and may turn opaque when exposed to sweat or water. As a result, it can also rub off on clothes. – Jada Wong
Pros: Tinted formula blends with a variety of skin tones, non-nano formula is safer for coral reefs, mineral formula is better for general health
Cons: Can rub off and stain light clothing, tint might not match deep skin tones
The best powder face sunscreen
Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Brush is a powder sunscreen that solves the eternal problem of reapplying sunscreen over makeup.
It’s the number one conundrum for makeup-wearers who want to protect themselves from sun damage – how do you reapply SPF during the day? Most experts agree that sunscreen should be reupped in two-hour intervals, but that’s difficult to do with a typical liquid or cream formula if your skin is coated with foundation, concealer, and the whole works – unless, of course, you don’t mind rearranging your entire face Picasso-style while you’re at the office.
Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Brush provides a simple solution. The concept is completely genius. It’s a tinted mineral sunscreen powder that comes in the ultimate portable packaging – a twist-up brush that deposits the product. You don’t have to worry about spillage in your purse or packing a bulky compact and a separate brush on the go.
I would caution against using this as your only SPF, since it’s hard to make sure you’re using enough product. But it’s amazing for adding more coverage on top of whatever SPF you apply before foundation in the morning.
The product is available in four skin-tone shades – Fair, Medium, Tan, and Deep. The main downside is the applicator – several users complained about having difficulty getting the powder to come out at first.
Pros: Portable, lightweight, can be used over makeup, comes in four colors
Cons: Brush applicator can be difficult to use, pricey
The best clear face sunscreen
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen is a clear, lightweight, broad-spectrum SPF that is undetectable once applied to the skin.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen certainly has a promising name. Permission to get your hopes up, because the product it represents doesn’t disappoint. It’s an invisible, fragrance-free chemical sunscreen with SPF 40 that doubles as a primer for foundation or BB cream.
The Unseen Sunscreen formula delivers multifaceted protection from a variety of skin-harming factors. There’s avobenzone 3% for UV rays, red algae for blue light exposure, and anti-inflammatory extract of frankincense. Rounding out the hero ingredients are meadowfoam seed oil for hydration and diatomaceous earth to control oil production. It is a chemical sunscreen though, so keep that in mind.
Second only to the innovative formula is the pleasant application process. The product goes on completely clear so it won’t leave a white cast on even the deepest of skin tones. Unseen Sunscreen earned a 2018 Allure Best of Beauty award, and the publication tested it on a variety of complexions with glowing results. It’s also a top pick from experts at Wirecutter.
Pros: Invisible finish, doubles as primer, fragrance-free, holds a Clean at Sephora seal
Cons: Pricey for the size
The best solid sunscreen
- Raw Elements
For solid sun protection – literally and figuratively – and a tint that could pass as a light coverage base makeup, try Raw Elements Tinted Facial Moisturizer Certified Natural Sunscreen.
Solid sunscreen sounds like it’d be hard to apply or that it’d melt in the sun, but upon testing this sunscreen during a long weekend in Florida, neither of that happened. Instead, I found that this was easy to use and easier to reapply thanks to the sheer tint, velvet-y finish, and plastic-free tin.
Just like you’d do with a cleansing oil, you scoop up a bit of the product from the tin and apply it to your face. No matter how little or much you use, it’ll be sticky at first but then it dries down. It does still look a little greasy, but I’d rather be protected from harmful rays than pout at a little shine.
The organic formula is made up of non-nano zinc oxide, but also has sunflower and hemp seed oils to hydrate, green and black teas to ward off free radicals, and cocoa and mango butters to nourish skin.
The sheer tint evened out my medium skin tone a little and could pass for a light coverage base makeup. I found myself looking forward to applying this over the course of the weekend because I knew how sheer the “coverage” was and didn’t have to worry about getting a ghost face. There’s an untinted one as well that’s meant for both face and body, and according to Senior Reporter Owen Burke, it’s less greasy than the tinted version.
As much as I love the formula, I also truly appreciate that this comes in a plastic-free, biodegradable, and recyclable tin. I’m conscious of my plastic consumption, but one thing that trips me up is beauty product packaging with all the various types of bottles, caps, pumps, and more that can’t be tossed into one universal recycling bin. This tin is infinitely easier to figure out because there are only two pieces to the whole thing, and if you don’t want to get rid of it, you can reuse it to hold mints, as a travel jewelry case, as a coin case for the car – this tin is your oyster.
I do have to dock a star here because the formula does have its cons. Since it’s solid, it’s hard to use the recommended 1/2 teaspoon for proper sun protection. And because this one has such a thick viscosity, it’s also hard to apply a lot at once, and if you try, you’ll wind up really greasy.
I didn’t have an issue with the product melting in the tin during 85-degree weather in Florida, but it could be a possibility if temps get higher, so I’d suggest carrying this around in a bag just to be safe. – Jada Wong
Pros: Non-nano zinc formula, tinted formula offers sheer coverage, solid doesn’t melt in 85-degree heat, recyclable and biodegradable packaging,
Cons: Formula can be greasy on skin, hard to apply the proper amount
How to choose a mineral sunscreen that’s safe for the environment
- Bare Republic/Facebook
Editor’s note from Insider Reviews’ Senior Reporter Owen Burke:
While zinc oxide and titanium dioxide have been researched, tested, and mostly endorsed as reasonably safe sunscreen ingredients for many decades, the jury is still largely out on the active organic compounds used in chemical sunscreens, which are considerably younger.
Although mineral-based sunscreens are preferable because they have been tested extensively and deemed largely safe for people and the environment, they are not entirely free from controversy, either.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are powders that can be manufactured as ultra-fine nanoparticles (measured in nanometers, or billionths of a meter), which allow these thick sunscreens to go on sheerly without leaving a white residue, and appear to be harming reefs, too. Plus, as with most powders, they’re also potential respiratory toxins in high enough concentrations.
NPR reported in 2015 on a study published in the journal “Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology,” which estimated that some 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen end up lathering coral reefs worldwide every year. This past year, forensic ecotoxiclogist Craig Downs, Ph.D., told Vogue to look for products with “non-nano” ingredients larger than 150 nanometers, at which size their toxicity level to sea creatures – and you, as a respiratory threat in spray-ons – becomes minute.
Navigating the retail market with this information can be tricky. Terms that suggest environmental and social responsibility like “reef-safe” and “non-nano” are largely, if not entirely unregulated, so take them with a grain of salt, and do your best to find brands that support these claims. We will, too.
Check out our other great sunscreen guides
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