By now, you're probably well aware of the virtues of sunscreen, when it comes to preventing skin cancer and the effects of aging on skin. If you follow any skin-care experts on social media, you may have noticed a common refrain along the lines of "if you're not using sunscreen, you may as well toss out the rest of your skin-care products."
However, knowing the importance of SPF and always making the effort to apply sunscreen are two different things. Adhering to any skin-care step requires money and effort, but applying sunscreen can feel extra unappealing since, LBH, some formulas aren't it. A sunscreen can be advertised as "weightless" and "invisible," when "gives Mark Zuckerberg sunscreen vibes" would be a more accurate description.
There are so many types of sunscreen, too, which can make finding a winner even more challenging. You have your lotions, sticks, powders, and mists, and there are also two main categories of sunscreen formulas: mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreen employs zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to protect skin from UV rays, while chemical sunscreen contains oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate. (Some formulas are a hybrid with both types of active ingredients.) Chemical formulas are less likely to leave behind a visible white cast, but some people are sensitive to chemical SPF formulas or worried about health implications of certain chemical ingredients and find mineral sunscreens to be the better option.
And then there's the matter of whether certain filters are more likely than others to cause harm to the environment when they end up in the ocean after you take a shower or a swim. Some parts of the U.S. have banned the sale of sunscreens containing chemical filters oxybenzone and octinoxate based on studies showing negative effects of sunscreen ingredients on coral reefs. On the other hand, a recent critical review found "limited evidence to suggest that [chemical sunscreen filters are] causing significant harm to coral reefs," and whether that's the case remains a hotly debated topic. If you want to play it safe and choose the least controversial option in terms of potential coral reef harm, go for a mineral sunscreen that incorporates non-nano-zinc oxide or non-nano-titanium dioxide. (More here: How to Buy Non-Toxic Sunscreen)
Choosing a sunscreen that's one or the other (or both) is up to personal preference — the important thing is to find a formula that's water-resistant and offers broad-spectrum protection (read: protection from UVA and UVB rays) of at least SPF 30, according to the American Academy of Dermatology recommendations. (Related: The 11 Best Sunscreens for Your Face, According to Customer Reviews)
To help you avoid buyers' remorse on a (greasy, chalky, heavy) sunscreen, Shape staffers have tested the good and the bad. Below, you'll find the standout formulas you'll actually look forward to applying.
Black Girl Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 30
As mentioned, sunscreen often leaves behind a white residue that's all the more noticeable if you have a dark skin tone. With that in mind, Black Girl Sunscreen founder Shontay Lundy created the brand to offer sunscreen created especially for people of color. This fragrance-free formula includes chemical filters exclusively (read: no telltale white cast) and contains moisturizing ingredients such as avocado and jojoba oils. "Not only is this sunscreen specifically formulated for Black people, but it also smells great, goes on super easy, leaves no residue, and imparts a dewy J.Lo glow!" says Sade Strehlke, Shape.com executive editor.
MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Broad Spectrum UVA-UVB Sunscreen
This tinted mineral sunscreen has a matte finish and "light and airy" feel that makes for an amazing makeup primer, says Strehlke. Its formula includes antioxidant-rich skin-care ingredients such as green tea, vitamin C, and cranberry, so you can use it to simultaneously protect skin from UV rays and neutralize damaging free radicals that can result from UV exposure.
Supergoop Glow Stick
Multiple Shape staffers count this Supergoop sunscreen as a favorite. The sunscreen — which comes in a convenient stick format — glides effortlessly over your skin, leaving it looking dewy rather than greasy. (Exhibit A.) "It's totally invisible, super hydrating, and even acts like a highlighter, endowing my skin with a glistening (sweat-free and actually desirable) sheen," says Elizabeth Bacharach, Shape.com Associate Editor.
Vacation Classic Lotion SPF 30
Vacation Classic Lotion look like it's straight from the 80s on the outside, but the formula itself doesn't feel outdated. Billed as "The World's Best Smelling Sunscreen," it has a coconut and banana scent developed in collaboration with Arquiste Parfumeur. And unlike a lot of the sunscreens of yesteryear, the chemical sunscreen doesn't have a "sticky residue" or even really "feel like sunscreen" at all, according to Strehlke.
Australian Gold Plant Based Lotion SPF 30
This affordable find from Australian Gold offers SPF 30 protection with the help of chemical filters. Shape.com Editorial Assistant Megan Falk loves that in addition to shielding skin from UV rays, it moisturizes with aloe vera and coconut oil. "Even with these additions, the lotion doesn't leave your skin feeling greasy, and the coconut smell isn't overpowering, either," she says.
StriVectin Full Screen SPF 30 Clear Finish
Thanks to a silicone base, this sunscreen from StriVectin beats some makeup primers at their own game. Formulated with chemical filters, it goes on clear and doesn't leave a noticeable film on your skin. Like all of StriVectin's formulas, it incorporates NIA-114, the brand's form of niacin (vitamin B3) which it relies on to offer optimal skin barrier reinforcement. (Related: The Niacinamide Skin-Care Benefits You Need to Know)
CoTZ Face Moisture Lightly Tinted Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35
If you prefer mineral formulas but also want to avoid a white residue, a tinted sunscreen is the way to go. However, going with an option that doesn't jibe with your skin tone can make you look like you're wearing the wrong foundation and even read as orange. This "lightly tinted" zinc oxide sunscreen strikes a balance of not leaving a white cast, but not imparting an obvious tint either. It has a silky feel that layers well under makeup. "It looks quite dark coming out of the tube, but I was shocked at how well this blended into my skin and felt like nothing once it was on," says Shape.com Web Editor Lauren Mazzo. (Related: The Best Tinted Sunscreens for Your Face According to Experts)
La Prairie Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil SPF 50
This luxury sunscreen provides SPF 50-level protection while hydrating skin. It contains both mineral and chemical filters as well as licorice root extract, an ingredient that can calm down redness with inflammatory properties. "One of my all time favorite sunscreens — and my mom's! — La Prairie's take on sun protection leaves no residue, works well under make up, gives you a glow, doesn't clog pores and easily replaces the need for a morning moisturizer," says Strehlke. (Related: The Best Spray Sunscreens That Won't Dry Out Your Skin)
La Mer The Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Protecting Fluid Sunscreen
"If you want something on the lighter side that'll play well with your makeup and protect your skin, La Mer's sunscreen is an all around winner," says Strehlke of this sunscreen fluid. It contains the same Miracle Broth found in brand's iconic Crème de la Mer. Producing the Miracle Broth involves putting giant sea kelp, a type of seaweed with anti-inflammatory benefits, through a months-long fermentation process. "