The 16 Best Face Sunscreens for Weightless, Everyday Protection

Forever a staple in beach bags and bathroom cabinets alike, sunscreen should be easy enough to understand by now. Dispense, slather, bask—how difficult is that? But sunscreen isn’t as straightforward as the poolside days of the past might have you think. There are now more options than ever, and while they offer a variety of sun-protective ingredients and supplementary perks—such as antioxidants, elegant finishes, and delightfully weightless formulations—it can be harder to choose what might work best for you.

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That’s not to mention the myths that have emerged in the collective consciousness. For one, sunscreen won’t prevent your body from synthesizing vitamin D, which most readily occurs through the intake of sunlight and is key for bone health. Skipping sunscreen to reap vitamin D rewards is flawed thinking, says dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, M.D., who practices at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. “Sunscreen is not steel,” she explains. “It still allows some sunlight to penetrate, and ultimately doesn’t fully block your body from ultraviolet radiation.”

There’s also no substitute for a standalone sunscreen. Your foundation or primer with built-in SPF might seem good enough, but “unless the makeup is being applied in a thick layer,” Nazarian points out, it’s likely not doing an adequate-enough job. In truth, unless you’re applying the proper amount and then diligently reupping throughout the day—a near-impossible task—you’re likely not receiving the full protection as promised on the label.

One trick when measuring sunscreen for your face and neck is to follow the so-called “two-finger rule.” Popularized on social media, it entails squeezing out a stripe of lotion on the inside of each finger. “That’s absolutely my recommendation: two finger lengths for the face,” says Onyeka Obioha, M.D., a dermatologist in Los Angeles. (As for the rest of the body, a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen is a good recommendation.)

Finally, there’s the matter of which category of sunscreen to use: mineral or chemical. (That’s determined by the UV filters involved; one group is not necessarily better than the other.) “Mineral sunscreens work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays,” Obioha says. “This is why it’s often referred to as a physical sunscreen or sunblock.” 

Some physical sunscreens confer other advantages, adds Nazarian. Tinted formulas that use larger-size mineral particles are shown to shield against visible light in addition to UV; the subtle tint can also have a color-corrective effect. Other next-gen formulations make use of smaller particles, resulting in invisible mineral sunscreens that avoid a chalky effect on deeper skin tones.

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, actually sink into skin, where the active ingredients absorb UV rays and convert them into less-harmful components. “Chemical sunscreens are often very lightweight and go on evenly and smoothly on skin,” says Nazarian. “They’re great for people who are acne-prone, or those who are looking for a sunscreen to apply easily over a large surface area.”

That can translate to better overall protection since, as Obioha notes, “chemical sunscreens are good for adherence.” While recent research has raised some concern about the effects of systemic absorption, the risks associated with sun exposure are far greater and more definitive than those with sunscreen. “Some people are under the impression that chemical sunscreens are dangerous,” says Nazarian, but “they’re actually a wonderful and good option for many people.”

Ultimately, it’s a matter of personal preference. This edit—with a mix of mineral favorites, followed by chemical ones—has you covered.

Source: The 16 Best Face Sunscreens for Weightless, Everyday Protection

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