I've Tried Over 50 Sunscreens—Here's Why This $22 Formula Is My Newest Favorite

Erin Jahns

I'm a beauty editor, and I'm about to admit something that just might be one of the most gasp-inducing mistakes a person in my industry can make. I don't wear sunscreen. Or rather, I don't wear sunscreen on my face, which, according to dermatologists, facialists, and my skincare-obsessed mother, is jaw-droppingly stupid. From increasing my risk of skin cancer to expediting telltale signs of aging like wrinkles and pigmentation, forgoing sunscreen is basically considered a cardinal sin. Especially for someone like me who has fair, freckle- and mole-prone skin; light hair and eyes; and perhaps most alarmingly, a family history of skin cancer.  

So what's my problem, you ask? Why do I so resolutely resist the very stuff every single skin expert dubs the most important step of any skincare regimen? Well, simply put, I've never met a sunscreen that completely and utterly agrees with my picky complexion. Sure, I've tried plenty of mediocre (and even horrendous) formulas during my years as a beauty reporter, but thus far, not one sunscreen has met my impeccably high standards. For one, I'm breakout-prone, and no matter how "lightweight" or "acne-friendly" an SPF claims to be, I always, always, always end up with at least one or two new zits dotting my complexion after just one wear. Naturally, leary of even more pimple pop-ups, I'm never inspired to reapply said SPFs thereafter. Additionally, most sunscreens pill under my makeup, have strong, unwelcome scents, take forever to absorb and rub in, and are just all-around cumbersome or unflattering. So for the most part, I've done the unthinkable whilst donning bug-eyed sunglasses and large-brimmed hats and just gone without. 

Until, that is, I met the newest and most exciting sunscreen formula to ever hit my desk—Versed Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 ($22). Since Versed is Who What Wear's nontoxic, vegan, sustainably minded sister brand, I'd heard rumblings for quite some time of an exciting SPF launch, and finally, after much hopeful (albeit skeptical) anticipation, the prized formula landed in fellow beauty editor Courtney Higgs's and my mailboxes a few weeks ago. 

Versed Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 ($22)

As much as I love Versed (I use at least three or four of its formulas daily), I circled the new, sunny tube of mineral sunscreen warily, 95% convinced that it would, indeed, break me out and leave me underwhelmed like so many other sunscreens before it. I slathered it on with trepidation. And then this really crazy thing happened. I didn't hate it, and I didn't feel the instant compulsion to scrub it off my face. Versed's Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen isn't your average SPF formula, and in addition to supplying you with Courtney's and my honest reviews, I'm about to tell you why. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about the product I'm already touting as the best new skincare buy of the summer.

Why It's a Breath of Fresh Air

It's lightweight, but it will actually moisturize your skin. So many SPF formulas claim to double as moisturizers, but to be honest, I haven't found many that feel truly hydrating. It's more like they just coat my skin in a slick layer of grease. That, or any moisture that is added just pills or sweats off. This formula is featherlight—you can't feel it on your face—and leaves skin lightly dewy and topped up with moisture for as long as you're wearing it. 

It covers all of your bases in terms of protection. Guards Up boasts a really special, three-way protection protocol against the elements—environmental pollution, electronic pollution from screen time, and the sun. As I learned during a product preview with the brand, the non-nano zinc oxide physically blocks UVA and UVB rays, while the antioxidant-rich formula fights off environmental and blue-light damage for 360 protection. In turn, this gifts your skin with additional anti-aging perks.

It's nontoxic, reef-safe, cruelty-free, and vegan. Just like Versed's entire roster of clean and affordable products, Guards Up is made as sustainably and kindly as possible. It's free from artificial fragrances and dyes, parabens, silicones, sulfates (SLS/SLES), added phthalates, formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing agents, PEGs, NPE, BHT, triclosan, triclocarban, petroleum, coal tar, mineral oil, talc, and other chemical sunscreen agents. 

It's safe for all skin types and skin concerns. One of the reasons I'm most impressed with this SPF is the fact that it hasn't resulted in even one pimple, and Versed made sure to design the formula to effortlessly melt and rub into all skin tones, without any chalky residue or as chalky cast left behind. 

It's recyclable. Not only is Guards Up eco-friendly in that it's reef-safe (thanks to the non-nano zinc oxide, which happens to be the safest SPF active available), but it's also made with 79% PCR (post-consumer recycled) plastic. Additionally, the paper box it's delivered in is made of FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified paper. In order to recycle Guards Up, simply remove the cap, cut into the tube without cutting it into two pieces, remove any excess product, and rinse. Then, replace the cap and toss the whole thing in the recycling bin, including said FSC packaging. 

Hot tip from Versed: "Before you toss anything in your recycling bin, check if the local curbside recycling program for your zip code accepts plastic items that look like our packaging. If they don’t, bring your items to the recycling station located at the front of every Target store."

The Unique, Skin-Protecting Ingredients

Another key feature of this sunscreen is its not-so-average ingredient panel. See below for the highlights!

Non-Nano Zinc Oxide: As Versed explains, this is a powerful mineral that effectively protects skin against UVA and UVB rays. Unlike traditional chemical sunscreens that absorb into your bloodstream, a mineral-based sunscreen like this one will physically block the sun’s harmful rays like a shield. 

Sea Fennel: This is a strategic anti-aging addition that helps with just about everything—from boosting your skin's collagen supply (which makes your skin look plump, youthful, and dewy) to evening out discoloration and any rough patches of skin. Plus, and this is a BIG plus, it actually protects our skin from the adverse and aging downsides of HEV (high energy visible) light—aka the blue light coming from your phone and laptop right now. Kind of brilliant, right?

Moringa Seed Extract: Meet a very cool skin-protecting ingredient that's naturally high in free-radical-fighting antioxidants and also fends off pollutants from sticking to your skin. It also happens to be ultra-moisturizing and soothing to your skin, which makes it a summertime skincare superstar! 

Handy Application Tips

Even if you're not going outside (as many of us aren't these days), it's still important to wear your SPF every day. As someone who previously never abided by that advice, I'm doing my very best to reform! Just like the brand importantly notes, and as you might have gathered from the sunscreen's three-way protection perks, the sun only plays one part of the equation when it comes to potential damage.

"Pollution not only exists indoors but is higher indoors," notes the brand in a press release. "HEV (high energy visible, aka blue) light is just as damaging as UVA and UVB rays, and it comes from electronics and the sun. When protecting your skin from damage and premature aging, you need a healthy dose of antioxidants, not just SPF." This is precisely why this expert new mixture is such a game changer. It has all the above!

For application, smooth a penny-size amount of Guards Up over the face and neck as the final step in your skincare routine—every day. Oh, and don't forget your hands! Another fun fact I learned from Versed? Your hands are the number two spot that gives away age, so protecting them with ample SPF is important. If you currently (or eventually will) drive to work, try popping a tube into your work bag so your hands aren’t exposed as you sit in traffic.

The Beauty Editor Reviews

My take:

I really am so excited about this sunscreen. I know I've already done a huge disservice to my skin by going so long without a steadfast sun-protection regimen (my tail is very much between my legs), and I'm hopeful my love for this new formula doesn't wane. I do have to be open to the idea that I'm still in the early days of testing, and sometimes my skin takes a while to react negatively to a new product. Plus, due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, I haven't had the chance to run this formula through my "normal" vigors of summer activities and festivities. But considering I've never loved an SPF right on the spot like this, I'm hopeful!

The first couple things I noticed when I dispensed this sunscreen were A) the tint and B) the creamy texture, which, while rich and hydrating, absorbed right into my skin leaving a velvety-soft finish. Despite how fair I am, the tint (which you can see is darker than my skin) melted and blended right in to my complexion with zero detectability. Between that and the plush, non-oily texture, I all but forgot I had applied anything to my face. Normally, I'm keenly aware of my sunscreen the entire time I'm wearing it. Another perk? I definitely haven't been as cognizant of that signature sunblock scent (which I disdain) as much as I have with other popular SPFs on the market.

Since one of my main deterrents of face sunscreen has been the potential for clogged pores and breakouts, I'm happy to report that thus far, this hasn't caused my finicky skin any issues. For extra backup (and because I'm paranoid), I cross-checked the ingredient list to see if contained anything that would potentially exacerbate or cause a breakout here, and it passed with flying colors! Which, if I'm being honest, rarely happens when I input the ingredient lists of new products I'm considering.

As the cherry on top, I've noticed this sunscreen makes my skin look more even and radiant, and if I do choose to wear makeup on top, it acts as a great canvas for a smooth, sun-proof result. I'm hooked, and I can't wait to add this perky little yellow tube to the rest of my summer skincare stash. 

Courtney's take:

As a black woman, it's so troubling to me that in 2020, there are still sunscreens on the market that completely alienate women of color. Though the category has come an incredibly long way (especially recently), that unsightly white cast is still very real. For me, trying a new sunscreen is always laced with a little dread. I've been let down by one too many formulations claiming to be suitable for all skin tones that end up looking absolutely ridiculous on me. This has proven especially true in the clean category. While I have every confidence in Versed and am truly a fan of all the products I've ever tried from the brand, I have to admit that I was a little worried its new SPF might be the first letdown (just keeping it all the way real here!).

That said, I'm pleased to report that Versed has proven me wrong! This sunscreen is insanely good. It's tinted, but it rubs in completely sheer. It also dries down to a soft, hydrated matte. I've actually omitted my morning moisturizer and just used this SPF instead, and it totally holds its own in the hydration departments thanks to sea fennel and moringa seed extract. It smells a little sunscreen-y at first (you know what I mean), but that's not a deal-breaker in my book. Overall, I'm a fan!

5 More Versed Products I'm Endorsing This Summer

Versed Baby Cheeks All-in-One Hydrating Milk ($18)

Meet the dreamiest multitasking toner your skin could ask for as we kick into summer. Yes, it removes your makeup plus any built-up skin debris, but it also restores your complexion's pH balance, softens the texture of your skin, and provides ample hydration. The magic is all thanks to lush coconut water which tag teams with skin-boosting algae and bamboo extracts.

Versed Dew Point Moisturizing Gel-Cream ($15)

Keeping your skin balanced once summer hits can be tricky. I love this lightweight moisturizing gel because it feels and looks invisible on your skin but keeps your complexion topped up with dewy moisture. (Just as its clever name would suggest!)

Versed The Shortcut Overnight Facial Peel ($20)

Summer beckons sweat, sweat beckons the (ugh) potential for clogged pores, and the potential for clogged pores beckons the need for a high-speed yet gentle exfoliator. This is the brand's best-selling overnight pick that reveals softer, smoother, detoxified skin after just one beauty sleep.

Versed Look Alive Hydrating Plumping Mask ($10)

As a beauty editor, I've tested my fair share of extremely expensive masks, so you might be stunned to discover this $10-a-pop pick remains at the top of my all-time-favorites list. It's equal parts soothing, plumping, and hydrating—essentially everything you'd want to treat your face to this time of the season.

Versed Keep It Supple Body Oil ($15)

Last but not least, I want my skin to glow. (At all times of the year, but especially once a greater ratio of my skin is exposed to the public.) This body oil absorbs quickly and doesn't leave you feeling greasy or sticky, which is my ultimate summertime nightmare. Plus, it smells glorious and staves off scales and flakes. 

Up next, I've Tested This Affordable Skincare Line for a Year—Here Are My Top 10 Products

This article originally appeared on Who What Wear

Read More from Who What Wear