With warmer weather soon approaching, and we're excited to finally trade our puffer coats for short sleeves, sun dresses and beachwear. With more time spent in the sunshine, wearing and reapplying sunscreen is more important than ever. A quick and easy solution to protect your face is to use an SPF moisturizer. They're a hybrid product that offers the hydrating and sometimes anti-aging benefits of using a face moisturizer with additional sun protection coverage. Even better? These beauty editor-approved SPF moisturizers start at just $20 on Amazon, meaning you can treat yourself and your loved ones to one of these must-have products.
Best SPF Moisturizers
Do I Need Sunscreen if I Wear an SPF Moisturizer?
How effective are SPF moisturizers? And can we use them instead of layering on a separate sunscreen? Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Courtney Rubin, M.D., says, “As long as the SPF moisturizer is at least SPF 30 and broad spectrum, and you are using the correct amount on your skin, it should perform the same as using a separate dedicated SPF. If the product meets all of your personal, separate requirements for a moisturizer and sunscreen, combining the two will not compromise how it will perform!”
Broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against the sun's ultraviolet A (UVA), which causes signs of aging, and ultraviolet B (UVB), which lead to burns and skin cancer.
How Much SPF is Enough for Daily Use?
Rubin, a cofounder of the skincare line Fig.1, advises everyone to use a broad-spectrum SPF moisturizer of at least 30. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) agrees with Rubin, adding water-resistant sunscreen is also helpful. As for how much sunscreen you need from head to toe, the AAD notes most adults need about one ounce or enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass. Regardless of which SPF moisturizer you use, don't forget to apply it to your ears, neck, top of the head, feet, and lips. Also, sunscreen reapplication is integral — exact timing recommendations will vary from brand to brand, but a general rule of thumb is to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after sweating or swimming.
What to Consider
Physical Versus Chemical Sun Protection
SPF moisturizers use either physical or chemical ingredients to provide sun protection. Here's a quick at-a-glance look at the two types of protection.
Physical (aka Mineral) Sun Protection
- What are they? Not all sun protection is created equal. Our in-depth sunscreen coverage taught us that not all chemical SPFs provide UVA and UVB protection. However, all physical, commonly called mineral sunscreens, provide broad-spectrum coverage and work instantly versus the usual 15- to 30-minute waiting period required for chemical sunscreen to de-emulsify.
- How they work: SPF moisturizers infused with physical sun protection last longer in direct sunlight and are safe for sensitive skin. They work by forming a layer on top of the skin that bounces sunlight away from the skin, hence the name physical sunblock.
- Common ingredients: Mineral sunscreens typically use titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or sometimes both for sun protection.
- Downside: Mineral sunscreens can cause an ashy, gray, or purple cast on the skin. Luckily, our beauty editor, Nicole Saunders, tested all of these sunscreens to ensure they won't leave behind any embarrassing tints to the skin.
- What are they? Chemical sunscreens are fast-absorbing, don't leave behind a white cast, and are great for anyone who needs a sport sunscreen.
- How they work: Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients to absorb sunlight, and a chemical reaction converts them into non-damaging heat released from the face and body.
- Common ingredients: Avobenzone, octinoxate, oxybenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene.
- Downside: Chemical sunscreens get a bad rep because studies done on rodents negatively impacted the reproductive system of rats and mice. However, in our guide to the best sunscreens, board-certified dermatologists Dr. Elizabeth Hale, M.D., and Dr. Anthony Rossi, M.D., say chemical sunscreens are safe. Hale previously told us, “Chemical sunscreen is absolutely safe. While chemical sunscreens have been detected by the FDA in the bloodstream, there simply isn’t enough data to prove them to be harmful."
So which is best?
All of our experts say it really comes down to personal preference. And at the end of the day, it's better to wear mineral or chemical sunscreen than skip it entirely, so shopping for an SPF moisturizer is the first and necessary step.
In our guide to drugstore moisturizers, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, M.D., recently told us moisturizers in gel or lotion form are best for oily, combination, and acne-prone skin, while cream and ointment formulas are ideal for dry and mature skin types. Normal skin types can use pretty much whatever formula they want, but we suggest using a thicker cream during the fall and winter and lighter lotions and gels in the summer.
How We Chose
After Saunders consulted Rubin, she carefully researched and tested a dozen SPF moisturizers, and can safely say these are the six best picks on the market. Saunders considered their active ingredient list, formulation, texture, smell, and feel. She also considered their price, because she understands firsthand what it's like balling on a budget. For added reassurance, she read hundreds of online reviews and feels confident you and your lucky loved one will adore these SPF moisturizers. Plus, she consulted one of her most-trusted makeup artists about sunscreen moisturizers, and they revealed their no-fail recommendation.