Dermatologist’s Favorite Sunscreens
Of course, we all think to apply sunscreen during the hot summer months when we’re headed to the pool or the lake, but the reality is, sunscreen should be a part of your daily anti-aging skincare routine year-round.
It’s important to be extra mindful to re-apply sunscreen every two hours around snow, sand and water, as these surfaces reflect the sun’s rays, increasing your chance of sunburn. But the sun emits harmful UV rays no matter the season. On cloudy days, up to 80 percent of UV rays can penetrate the clouds. And even when we’re indoors, our skin is subject to visible light emitted from our smartphones, tablets and TVs, leading to premature aging and potential skin damage.
When people inquire about the best type of sunscreen to use, I always say one that you’ll commit to using daily. But there are some helpful guidelines for selecting a sunscreen that will suit your lifestyle, personal preferences and skin type.
Physical and Chemical Sunscreens
There are two types of sunscreens available — chemical and physical. Both protect you from the sun, but in different ways:
- Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. They contain one or more of the following active ingredients: avobenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, or oxybenzone.
- Physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens, act like a shield. They sit on the surface of the skin, primarily deflecting the sun’s rays. They include the active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide and are recommended for people with sensitive skin. Sometimes people think of zinc sunscreen as that heavy white stripe down a lifeguard’s nose, but there are now numerous lightweight, colorless mineral-based sunscreens. You no longer have to sacrifice appearance when you opt for mineral-based sun protection.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found four common chemical sunscreen ingredients – avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule and octocrylene – are present in the bloodstream at least 24 hours after sunscreen use ended. In 2020, the FDA announced that it will reevaluate the safety of every ingredient used in chemical sunscreens to determine whether its absorption into the bloodstream has any effects on a person’s health. (Just because an ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream does not mean that it is harmful or unsafe). If the idea of a chemical blocker is off-putting to you, opt for mineral-based protection.
In May 2021, Valisure, a pharmacy dedicated to batch testing medications before they reach consumers, found 78 different sunscreens and after-sun care products to contain benzene, a potential carcinogen. Benzene is not an ingredient in these sunscreens, but rather a contaminant in the manufacturing process.
While further testing by the FDA is needed, dermatologists continue to recommend you use sunscreen to limit your exposure to harmful UV rays, a major risk factor in skin cancer.
Types of Sunscreens
As a baseline, make sure your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection, has an SPF of 30 or higher and is water resistant. From there, your sunscreen choice may depend on the area of your body you’re protecting. Available sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, sticks and sprays.
- Creams are best for dry skin and for the face.
- Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.
- Sticks are good to use on the face, are a quick on-the-go option and sometimes preferred by parents and kids.
- Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they can be easier to apply to children.
It’s important to note that there are some wonderful sunscreens that may also contain customizable tint for light coverage that also evens out skin tone. These products are perfect for daily use, and many also contain moisturizers and other skin nourishing ingredients to offer your skin additional anti-aging benefits. However, a tinted moisturizer or sunscreen that we put on in the morning under our makeup does not take the place of sunscreen. When enjoying the outdoors, you should still apply sunscreen and then re-apply every two hours.
Spray sunscreens are an easy-button for parents, but a challenge that comes with a spray is that it’s sometimes difficult to know if you’ve used enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas of the body, resulting in inadequate coverage. When using a sunscreen spray, hold it close to your skin and spray generously, then rub it in afterwards to ensure even coverage. Avoid using sprays on windy days, when the breeze can sweep away sun protection before it reaches your skin.
Sunscreen Recommendations for Skin Type
Beyond the format of your sun protection, you’ll also want to consider your skin type and area of the body when selecting your sun protection. Here are some of my favorites for different needs:
Best Sunscreen for the Body:
- Neutrogena Beach Defense SPF 70
- Elta MD UV Lotion 30+ Pump
- La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF 100
Best Sunscreen for Acne-Prone Skin:
- Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46
- Neutrogena Clear Face Oil Free SPF 55
- Supergoop City Serum SPF 30
Best Daily Face Sunscreen:
- Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46
- iS Clinical Extreme Protect SPF 30
- Oil of Olay Complete SPF 30
Best Sunscreen for Oily Skin:
- ISDIN Mineral Brush SPF 50+
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch SPF 55
- Cetaphil Pro Dermacontrol Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30
Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin:
- ISDIN Eryfotona Ageless Actinica Mineral SPF 50+
- Elta MD UV Pure SPF 47
- Cerave Hydrating Mineral SPF 50