Dermatologists Say These Face Sunscreens Work Wonders on Signs of Aging

·10 min read
Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

This article was medically reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Caroline Chang, M.D., a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board.

If there’s one thing you put on your face today, let it be a sunscreen. Dermatologists harp on this over and over because it’s one of the best ways (if not the best!) to protect your skin, regardless of your tone.

Of course, your first priority is to prevent a sunburn, which can raise your skin cancer risk. As a major bonus, sunscreen also keeps your skin looking young. A quality SPF can protect your skin from the harmful UV rays that cause premature aging and even help reverse signs of damage by reducing dark spots, improving texture, and boosting brightness, per 2016 research in the journal Dermatologic Surgery.

The problem? It can be hard to find a sunscreen that isn’t goopy, sticky, or harshly white on top of your skin. That’s why choosing a sunscreen specifically formulated for your face can yield better results.

“Many face sunscreens contain ingredients like antioxidants or skin-brightening botanicals that offer additional benefits beyond sunscreen itself,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

How to choose the best sunscreen for your face

Don’t skimp on quality: The label on your face sunscreen needs to say “broad spectrum” to guard against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays, says Arisa Ortiz, M.D., assistant clinical professor in the department of dermatology at University of California, San Diego. You really have to pay attention to the wording on the bottle because “many sunscreens only protect against UVB rays,” she says. Ideally, look for SPF 30 or higher.

Know your skin type: If you have dry skin, choose a face sunscreen with hydrating ingredients, says Dr. Zeichner, like hyaluronic acid or ceramides. If you have oily skin, look for sunscreens that have a matte finish. Lighter gel formulations will also feel less heavy if you tend to get shiny throughout the day.

Consider your skin tone: If you have a medium-to-dark complexion, chemical sunscreens (which are absorbed into the skin) apply more clear, while physical or mineral sunscreens (which sit on top of the skin and reflect UV rays) often leave some white cast. Both have their pros and cons and offer equal protection, says board-certified dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, M.D., director of ethnic skin care for the University of Miami Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery. The type you choose is a personal decision, but if you go for a mineral formula, which tends to work better for sensitive skin, apply it in sections so you can thoroughly rub in and sheer out the product.

Layer it on last: “Generally speaking, sunscreen should be applied to freshly cleansed skin,” says Dr. Zeichner. As a rule of thumb, this should be the last step of your morning skin care before applying makeup—so it goes on after your serum or moisturizer.

Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to find a sunscreen for your face that will leave your skin looking youthful and healthy. Here are the top dermatologist-approved picks for every skin type out there.

EltaMD UV Clear Face Sunscreen SPF 46

☀️BEST OVERALL FOR ALL SKIN TYPES/TONES

This fragrance-free sunscreen is lightweight and ideal for finicky skin types. “Designed for patients with rosacea or acne, this oil-free formula provides light moisture, rubs in quickly, and contains niacinamide as an anti-inflammatory to reduce sebum (a.k.a. oil),” says board-certified dermatologist Heidi Waldorf, M.D., founder of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics in New York.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra-Light Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

☀️RAVE REVIEWS

“This ultra-light formula contains antioxidants and is easily absorbed into the skin,” says Dr. Zeichner, so you won’t have to worry about that sticky or greasy feeling. Plus, it’s noncomedogenic, great for sensitive skin (fragrance-free), dries down matte, and doesn’t have that SPF smell.

Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 55

☀️BEST VALUE

This budget-friendly sunscreen gets a stamp approval from Nazanin Saedi, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Jefferson University Hospitals in Philadelphia. If you have oily, acne-prone skin, this SPF is lightweight, oil-free, noncomedogenic, and non-greasy, so you won’t have to worry about clogged pores or excess shine.

Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF 30

☀️BEST MOISTURIZER WITH SPF

“The soy complex in this product helps brighten the skin while UV blockers provide broad spectrum protection,” says Dr. Zeichner. It’s also oil-free, noncomedogenic (so it won’t clog your pores), and non-greasy—making it an excellent pick across all skin types. Dr. Woolery-Lloyd is a fan of this one for darker skin tones.

Colorescience Sunforgettable Brush-On Sunscreen SPF 30

☀️BEST POWDER SUNSCREEN

This powder sunscreen is a great option for those with acne-prone skin, says board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D., author of Skin Rules. “Since it’s powder, it doesn’t clog the pores and never breaks out the skin.” Plus, it’s easy to reapply and helps mattify midday shine on your face, adds Dr. Waldorf.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

☀️BEST FOR NO WHITE CAST

“This sunscreen feels somewhere between a gel and a primer. It feels weightless on the skin and can be used across a variety of skin types,” says Dr. Zeichner. Free of oils and fragrances, it dries down matte and has a slight blurring effect on pores. It’s also a top expert pick for darker skin tones, thanks to its sheer finish.

MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème SPF 50

☀️BEST FOR GLOWING SKIN

You’ll appreciate this creamy, mineral-based sunscreen because it covers your bases with top-notch UV reflectors zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Vitamin C works to maintain radiance and keep the collagen in skin springy, while green tea extract helps safeguard against free radical damage that contributes to aging.

SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair Sunscreen SPF 34

☀️BEST FOR ANTI-AGING

Earning a seal of approval from the National Skin Cancer Foundation, this tinted face sunscreen not only protects the skin, but also improves the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and other signs of aging, thanks to niacinamide, hydrating shea butter, and vitamins C and E, which act as antioxidants.

Cetaphil Pro Oil Control Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

☀️BEST SPF MOISTURIZER FOR OILY SKIN

If you’re worried about looking shiny by 3:oo p.m., this is the one for you. Cetaphil’s face sunscreen not only protects the skin with SPF 30, but controls oil while maintaining hydration. Fragrance-free, lightweight, and noncomedogenic, this fast-absorbing SPF leaves a matte finish for flawless wear.

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

☀️BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN

“This oil-free, noncomedogenic sunscreen contains the anti-inflammatory antioxidant niacinamide, as well as ceramides, which help the skin to retain moisture,” says Meghan Feely, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai. Lightweight and oil-free, this hydrating SPF is also contains hyaluronic acid (a humectant that draws water to the skin).

SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50

☀️BEST TINTED SUNSCREEN

This tinted formula ensures your skin is left with no white cast in sight. Fragrance-free, noncomedogenic, ultra-lightweight, water resistant for up to 40 minutes, it’s a 100% mineral SPF that looks (and feels) invisible on the face while packing translucent color spheres to give your natural skin tone a hint of radiance.

EleVen by Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum SPF 35

☀️BEST SUNSCREEN SERUM

This mineral sunscreen was formulated with Venus Williams’ stamp of approval—so you can trust that it’s made with athletes and people of color in mind. The mineral formula sinks in like any other serum, leaving behind a demi-matte finish that looks just like skin. Bonus: It’s cruelty-free, vegan, and bottled in eco-friendly packaging.

EltaMD UV Sheer Face Sunscreen SPF 50+

☀️EDITOR’S PICK

This ultra-blendable SPF feels like water on the skin and leaves behind an undeniable glow, doubling as moisturizer. The non-greasy formula quickly sinks into the skin without irritation, so those who are sensitive or suffer from acne won’t be disappointed. The zinc-based formula is also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Tula Protect + Glow Daily Sunscreen SPF 30

This reef-safe SPF is non-greasy and noncomedogenic, so you can trust that it will never clog your pores. Great for all skin types, testers rave about its lightweight feeling and truly invisible finish (other than the soft glow it leaves behind).

Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30

Formulated by women of color, this sunscreen is super popular due to its invisible finish, says Dr. Woolery-Lloyd. Infused with avocado, jojoba, and vitamin E, it layers beautifully underneath makeup for everyday wear but still withstands tough workouts, all while delivering extra hydration to the skin. Bonus: It’s also vegan and cruelty-free.

UNSUN Mineral Tinted Sunscreen SPF 30

This sunscreen is full of ingredients your face will thank you for: exfoliating lactic acid, hydrating coconut and olive oils, shea butter, soothing aloe, and brightening vitamin C. The best part? It leaves behind absolutely no residue (thanks to a bit of tint) and gives your skin a stunning glow.

ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Broad Spectrum SPF 50+

This featherlight SPF packs photolyase (DNA enzymes that repair sun damage) hydrating vitamin E, and zinc oxide to protect the skin from harmful UV rays and premature aging. “This sunscreen is beloved by both women and men, as it rubs in beautifully without leaving a white film,” says Shari Marchbein, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Downtown Dermatology in New York City. “And it’s a physical sunscreen, so it’s great for those with sensitive skin.”

Avène Solaire UV Mineral Multi-Defense Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50+

This new launch comes in a non-tinted and tinted formula, so you can find your perfect match. In addition to zinc-based SPF 50+, Avène’s sunscreen fluid boasts skin-calming niacinamide and an antioxidant complex to guard against harmful environmental factors. The emulsion needs to be worked into the skin a bit, but leaves the face feeling soft once it sinks in.

Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42

This broad spectrum SPF is perfect for oily skin types, since it absorbs quickly, feels lightweight, and is noncomedogenic. Water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, it also contains peony root extract to diminish the appearance of pores, helping to perfect your skin before you go out. It also earns approval from the National Skin Cancer Foundation.

Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Face Shield Glow SPF 50

“This hydrating sunscreen leaves almost no trace on the skin,” says Caroline Chang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Rhode Island Hospital. She recommends it for what it does leave behind: protective antioxidants and 12% zinc oxide to ward off sun damage and pearly pigments for a radiant finish in two stunning tones.

Murad City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50

This broad spectrum SPF 50 face sunscreen is designed to protect against UVA and UVB rays, pollution, blue light from devices, and infrared radiation. It relies on titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to help shield skin from the sun, and pumps up the formula with vitamin C to boost brightness. Plus, it has a tint to help even your skin tone on no-makeup days.

Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Hydrating Shield

Recommended by Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologic surgeon in New York City, this product is gentle enough for mature, acne-prone skin, and the formula’s slight tint helps eliminate any redness or white residue after application.

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