13 of the Best Face Sunscreens to Try in 2022

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The sun blesses us in many ways. UV rays help your body produce vitamin D, essential for your bones, blood cells, and immune system. However, when it comes to our skin, it can be less than friendly — this is why the best face sunscreens are so important.

Why is the best sunscreen for the face so vital? UV damage is one of the main, if not the leading, causes of premature aging and, obviously, skin cancer. It accelerates the formation of wrinkles, often forms dark spots that make us look older, roughs up texture, and degrades collagen and elastin to make skin more likely to wrinkle and sag. It’s also cumulative.

The best sunblock for the face can be characterized as either a physical sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen and which one you choose depends on skin type, tone, and lifestyle habits — more on both in a bit.

Not sure how to choose a good face sunscreen to provide you with optimal protection while fitting into your current product regime? No problem. Here at Deep Science, we’ve reviewed hundreds of products with a scientific lens to ensure you’re creating a skincare routine that’s safe and effective.

Sure, glowing tans are often coveted, but they also come at a price. Ahead, 13 of the best face sunscreens to effectively protect your skin from the sun — and premature aging.

Best Sunscreen for Face: The List

SK-II Atmosphere Airy Light UV Emulsion SPF 30, $99

SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense Daily Sunscreen for the Face SPF 30, $34

Kiehl’s Since 1851 Super Fluid Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50+, $62

MD Solar Sciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50, $39

Dermalogica Pure Light Powerbright TRX SPF 50, $68

Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $68

PCA Weightless Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 45, $44

Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Suntegrity SPF 30, $34

Clinique Pep-Start Daily UV Protector Broad Spectrum Sunscreen for Face SPF 50, $23

Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30, $19

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60, $29.99

Elta MD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $36.50

Neutrogena Clear Face Break-Out Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $15.99

The Science Behind the Best Face Sunscreens

A good face sunscreen has a sun protection factor to help determine how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from damaging UV rays. There are two types of UV rays — UVB and UVA. UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays. They are the rays that cause the skin to burn and turn red. UVA rays are longer and are primarily responsible for degrading collagen and causing premature aging. 

It can sometimes be confusing to determine which amount of protection is ideal. The truth is, all face sunscreens block more than 90% of UV rays, and the differences between them are relatively negligible. Sun protection factor 15 blocks 93% of all UV rays, sun protection factor 30 blocks 97%, and a level 50 blocks 98%. 

Regardless of age, gender, or race, everyone should use a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. But most experts believe what’s in your sunscreen may be just as important as the level of protection. While a sun protection factor of 85 sounds appealing, higher numbers can be misleading.

Products with protection values greater than 50+ tend to give users a false sense of security. High-level sunscreens not only overpromise protection but, according to the Food and Drug Administration, may also overexpose consumers to UVA rays and raise their risk of cancer.

Physical Sunscreen VS Chemical Sunscreen

Before choosing the best sunscreen for your face, it’s essential to distinguish the difference between physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. They both protect, albeit in contrasting ways.

 

Physical Sunscreen

  • Ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, both mineral-based. 
  • Physical sunscreens work by sitting atop the skin’s surface and deflecting or scattering UV rays. 
  • They’re sometimes preferable because they are natural and may be less harmful in the long run (some chemical sunscreen ingredients are believed to be endocrine disruptors). 
  • They protect against both UVA and UVB rays and begin working right away — there’s no need to wait 15 minutes after application to let it sink in. 
  • Physical sunscreens are generally gentler on sensitive skin, have a longer shelf life, and are less likely to clog pores or cause breakouts. 
  • However, they don’t last as long as chemical sunscreens when skin gets wet during activity.

 

Chemical Sunscreen

  • Ingredients include oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. These elements work by absorbing UV rays and changing them into heat, then releasing that heat. 
  • Chemical sunscreens tend to be easier to apply than physical sunscreens due to their lighter consistency. 
  • They are also more likely to be water-proof and sweat-proof but may be irritating or pore-clogging. 
  • Chemical formulas feel much less greasy and won’t leave a white film behind.
  • Some research suggests chemical sunscreens may affect hormones, although more research is needed to fully determine whether this is true. 

How to Choose the Best Sunblock for the Face

It depends on your skin type and tone when it comes to figuring out which is the best sunblock for your face. 

  • Normal to Dry Skin: Look for a physical sunscreen for the face with moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid or ceramides.
  • Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: The best face sunscreen for oily skin (or acneic) is oil-free, mineral-based, and (or) non-comedogenic. 
  • Sensitive Skin: A good face sunscreen for those with sensitive skin is formulated with zinc oxide or titanium oxide. 
  • Dark Skin: Avoid mineral sunscreen for the face because it leaves a whitish cast that can make darker skin look gray. However, if chemical sunscreens make you break out, opt for a tinted mineral formula that blends into the skin more naturally. 

 

Face Sunscreen Tips

  • Layer your face sunscreen over your moisturizer, but wait approximately three minutes between applications, so your moisturizer has a chance to penetrate your skin. 
  • How much sunscreen to use on the face? Approximately ⅓ to ½ a teaspoon for the face and neck — about the size of a kidney bean.  
  • In general, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours for consistent protection. However, if you’re sweating or swimming, you need to apply more often. If you’re not participating in any activities and are wearing makeup, opt for a mineral face powder with a sun protection factor to keep up with the reapplication process. 

However, see our FAQ section below for more on this topic. 

  • Consider using a more potent sun protection factor if you’re using retinol or a prescription skincare product such as an acne medication. 
  • When choosing a good face sunscreen, skip spray and stick formulas as your first form of application because it can be hard to master perfect coverage — but you can utilize them for reapplication throughout the day, as with the aforementioned mineral powders. 

Best Face Sunscreens

SK-II Atmosphere Airy Light UV Emulsion SPF 30, $99
SK-II’s super light formula won’t leave you feeling greasy or oily. Yet, it contains numerous moisturizing and anti-aging ingredients (think niacinamide) to boost the protection factor while softening the skin.

While it combines chemical and physical (mineral) ingredients for broad protection, keep in mind that one of the additives, homosalate, has been associated with hormone disruption. However, homosalate is approved worldwide. The U.S. FDA approves usage levels up to 15%.

SkinCeuticals Ultimate UV Defense SPF 30, $34
This nourishing, moisturizing, oil- and fragrance-free sunscreen from SkinCeuticals is ideal for all skin types — especially oily and sensitive. Active mineral and chemical sunscreen ingredients include zinc oxide and octinoxate, which work synergistically to protect against UVA and UVB rays.

This formulation is also oil and fragrance-free, making it safe for oily and sensitive skin types. Despite its thick and luxurious texture, it absorbs quickly without leaving any white residue or greasy feel.

Kiehl’s Since 1851 Super Fluid Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50+, $62
Kiehl’s popular lightweight sunscreen for the face provides a matte finish. The main ingredients in this chemical sunscreen are avobenzone and oxybenzone. It also contains baicalin and vitamin E to provide antioxidant protection. Baicalin is a Scutellaria root extract often used in Chinese medicine to scavenge free radicals.

MD Solar Sciences Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50, $39
This oil-free physical sunscreen is formulated with 2% titanium dioxide and 17% zinc oxide for maximum protection, yet it won’t leave behind a white residue. Various ceramides help strengthen the lipid barrier to help keep the skin safe and protected from pollutants and irritants that cause such side effects as redness, itchiness, irritation, and dryness. 

Dermalogica Pure Light Powerbright TRX SPF 50, $68
Dermalogica’s popular face sunscreen contains a variety of botanicals, including eucalyptus, to provide hydration and sodium hyaluronate to lock in moisture and keep skin looking plump and youthful. It’s specifically formulated to protect from the type of UV light that creates discoloration and is ideal for those prone to the condition. Oleosome technology helps give a significant boost to provide more excellent protection.

Elizabeth Arden Prevage City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $68
This physical sunscreen protects against several types of environmental aggressors in addition to UV light. It’s also formulated to shield skin from pollution and smoke. 

The brand’s proprietary DNA Enzyme Complex fortifies the skin to make it less susceptible to pollutants. At the same time, a potent antioxidant blend (including green tea and ferulic acid) scavenges free radicals to reduce further damage. Are you dealing with discoloration from previous sun damage? The addition of ferulic acid helps brighten and minimize discoloration.

PCA Weightless Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 45, $44
Awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation, this sunscreen is light and quickly absorbs the skin for a seamless finish. 

It’s a physical and chemical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and octinoxate to provide broad-spectrum protection. It also includes antioxidants, caffeine, and silybin (milk thistle). Both are powerful free radical scavengers that prevent and help treat UV damage that degrades the skin matrix.

Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Suntegrity SPF 30, $34
This zinc oxide formulated sunscreen from Drunk Elephant is also chock full of antioxidants. Grape juice extract, sunflower shoot extract, and astaxanthin shield from free radicals and other environmental stressors brought on by pollution. Despite being a physical sunscreen, this formulation will not leave any film or a chalky appearance. It’s also free of fragrances and essential oils —  which can be potentially irritating — making it a good choice for those with a sensitive skin type.

Clinique Pep-Start Daily UV Protector Broad Spectrum Sunscreen for Face SPF 50, $23
This sunscreen meets tint protects while giving the skin a hint of color to help even out all skin tones. This 100% physical formula feels weightless and blends well with makeup. It also contains hydrolyzed wheat protein to help moisturize the skin and provide a plumping effect.

Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30, $19
The Dr. Jart Cicapair Tiger Grass Correcting Treatment is a green-to-beige color-correcting treatment that corrects redness and helps protect skin from environmental aggressors. It provides SPF 30 protection from UV light, and it forms a dust barrier to protect the skin from the environment while enhancing the skin’s viability. 

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50, $29.99
This light, matte formula quickly absorbs into the skin, making it an ideal makeup base and an effective moisturizer and sun protectant. It’s also chock-full of free radical-fighting antioxidants to help battle the signs of skin aging, including fine lines and discoloration. 

Elta MD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $36.50
Suitable for all skin types (even sensitive), this two-in-one formula contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (a broad spectrum of 44) to provide superior sun protection and hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrate and soften the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. To top it all off, It has a flattering natural tint.

Neutrogena Clear Face Break-Out Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $15.99
Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen is the brand’s best-selling oil-free sunscreen for acne-prone skin. It’s formulated with Neutrogena’s Helioplex Technology, meaning it provides a breadth of stabilized sunscreen technologies specifically engineered to deliver broad-spectrum, superior protection from UVA/UVB damage. This liquid sunscreen lotion has a water-light texture that leaves a weightless, matte finish so the skin can breathe.

Best Sunscreen for Face: The Bottom Line

A good face sunscreen has a sun protection factor to help determine how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from damaging UV rays. It can sometimes be confusing to decide which amount of protection is ideal.

The truth is, all face sunscreens block more than 90% of UV rays, and the differences between them are relatively negligible. Sun protection factor 15 blocks 93% of all UV rays, sun protection factor 30 blocks 97%, and a level 50 blocks 98%.

Regardless of age, gender, or race, everyone should use a sun protection factor of 30 or higher. But most experts believe what’s in your sunscreen may be just as important as the level of protection. While a sun protection factor of 85 sounds appealing, higher numbers can be misleading.

When it comes to figuring out which is the best sunblock for your face — physical or chemical —  it depends on your skin type and tone.

FAQs

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about face sunscreens.

While ample coverage is essential (especially when sweating or swimming), you really don’t have to reapply your face sunscreen every two hours. Sunscreen effectiveness wears off due to the direct exposure to daylight and activity — not the passage of time — so you have to be mindful of your activity level and time spent in the sun.

  • Oxybenzone, known as benzophenone-3, is a potential hormone disruptor.
  • Avobenzone, also a benzophenone.
  • Homosalate, another hormone disruptor.
  • Octinoxate, known as octyl methoxycinnamate, is a potential hormone and endocrine disruptor.
  • Octocrylene.
  • Octisalate because it stabilizes avobenzone.

Though sunscreen will reduce your ability to tan, you’ll still get some degree of color. If you’re thinking about skipping it, remember that you’re still better off wearing face sunscreen to avoid the harmful side effects of UVA rays. If you really want a bit of color, there are copious at-home self-tanners or professional services that can provide you with a healthy (and realistic-looking) glow.

Wearing sunscreen is one of the best (and easiest) ways to protect your skin’s health at any age. When used regularly (daily), sunscreen helps prevent sunburn, discoloration, skin cancer, and premature aging.

Most dermatologists believe the sweet spot is a level of 30, which blocks about 97 percent of UVB rays. The American Dermatology Association also recommends a sun protection factor of 30 or higher.

Sources:
How Much SPF Do You Really Need?,” Northwestern Medicine.
The Trouble with SPF,” EWG.org.





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