The Best Face Sunscreen Will Prevent Sunburn Now and Wrinkles Later

15 total views

A collage of four different sunscreens on a sunny sky background

Photograph courtesy Getty Images; Collage by Gabe Conte
And they’ll do it without clogging pores and causing breakouts.

All products featured on GQ are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The best face sunscreen solves a real problem. You don’t need to read our full SPF explainer to understand why protecting your skin from the sun is important. For one, sunburn—that’s the obvious short-term problem that you’ve got to handle. But with each minute spent in the sun—whether you’re burning or not—you’re absorbing UV rays that compromise the quality (and DNA makeup) of your skin cells. UV rays “photo-age” the skin, by crippling elastin and collagen levels. That leads to wrinkles, fine lines, rough texture, dark spots, and more. And naturally, these things are much more noticeable on your face.

While you won’t notice SPF’s difference from one 15-minute walk in the park, you will absolutely notice the difference between someone who has routinely SPFed for decades, and someone who has not. In short, if these two people were the same age, the sun-exposed one would look significantly older. So, you need sunscreen on your body, and especially on your face. It should be SPF 30 or greater, applied every day. (In winter too.) 

But don’t go slathering any old sunscreen onto your mug. The best face sunscreen is much closer to moisturizer than pore-clogging, coconut smelling stuff you used at the beach as a kid. 

Face Sunscreen vs. Body Sunscreen

The difference between face sunscreen and body sunscreen is roughly analogous to the difference between face wash and body wash. Face sunscreen, like the cleanser, is gentler on the sensitive skin of the face, and with a formula mindful of things like acne, anti-aging efforts, oil accumulation, and the like.

Face sunscreens are often oil-free to prevent clogged pores and aggressive sweating, as well as fragrance-free to prevent redness and irritation. Body sunscreens are a little less discriminate about these things—and can usually afford to be. This is also why you’ll see face sunscreens packaged in much smaller vessels: They tend to be a little more expensive. 

Many products are dual purpose, though, and can be applied to face and body: They’re typically engineered for the face’s sensitivities, and perhaps don’t pack all of the nutrients of a standalone facial sunscreen. The most important thing is that they won’t clog your pores or irritate your face.

Face Sunscreen vs. SPF Moisturizer

So, what then, is the difference between a face sunscreen and an SPF-packed moisturizer?

Think of an SPF moisturizer as the product you wear on a daily basis—when you’re simply coming and going, maybe spending 10 or 15 minutes outside at a time. You need to wear moisturizer every day, to protect the hydration levels in your skin and to prevent toxins from causing similar photo-aging as UV rays. So, why not wear one in the daytime that also has SPF?

Face sunscreen, then, will have slightly fewer hydrating, good-for-your-face ingredients, and will primarily just defend against the sun’s rays. This is what you’ll add to your regimen for afternoons in the park, days on the beach, a long run, and so on. You can layer this over your SPF moisturizer, or simply opt for a non-SPF hydrator. As long as you get your SPF 30+, you’re set.

Mineral vs. Chemical

Lastly, you’ll want to figure out whether a mineral or chemical sunscreen is best for you. Like the name suggests, chemical sunscreen relies on a combination of chemicals–usually avobenzone, octisalate, oxybenzone, and homosalate– to penetrate the skin and prevent sun damage by absorbing UV rays and rendering them harmless. These sunscreens usually go on smooth, leaving little to no white cast—which is why they continue to be a popular choice. However, many people want to avoid these chemicals. Some of them have been determined to be toxic to coral reefs and should be avoided if you’re planning on taking a dip. (Lucky you.) 

If you’d prefer to keep it reef-safe or would just like to keep your skincare a little more “clean” or “natural,” mineral sunscreens are a great alternative. Most sunscreens falling under this category will feature zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide and, unlike chemical sunscreens which are absorbed into the skin, sit on top of the epidermis, bouncing UV-rays far, far away. But know that poorly made versions can leave a chalky cast over the skin which tends to turn people off. To enjoy the benefits of mineral and not go running for the hills after slathering your face in full, you’ll want to look out for lightweight formulas that are non-nano, 10%+ zinc oxide, and really just mineral.

The Best Face Sunscreen, at a Glance:

The Best Overall Face Sunscreen  

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen

The texture of this stuff is just next-level—it goes on totally matte, and features serious sun protection. 

The Best Mineral Face Sunscreen

Dr.Jart+ SPF50 mineral face sunscreen

Many people prefer physical, or mineral, sunscreen, rather than chemical defenses. These can tend chalky and white, but the K Beauty geniuses at Dr. Jart have made one that goes on easily.  

The Best Face and Body Sunscreen

Paula’s Choice SPF 50 face and body sunscreen

This one’s a bit more affordable—it won’t feel like a total waste to use it on your legs. 

The Best Face Sunscreen for Athletes and the Beach 

Neutrogena water resistant (80 minutes) SPF 70 sport sunscreen for face

If you plan on sweating or swimming, water resistant sunscreen is a must. 

The Best Face Sunscreen for Dry Skin

eltaMD SPF 46 face sunscreen

This one’s a tick closer to a moisturizer. 

Best Spray-On Face Sunscreen

Sun Bum SPF 45 face mist

Perfect for easy re-application or spraying straight onto fussy kids. 

The Best Tinted Face Sunscreen

SkinCeuticals SPF 50 tinted mineral face sunscreen

Why not get a little more handsome when you apply your sun protection? This one comes with a light tint that smooths out your skin. 

The Best Sunscreen for Combination Skin

La Roch-Posay Anthelios UVmune 400 moisturising cream SPF50+

This hydrating spf is great for combination/dry skin, leaving your complexion radiant–not oily.

The Best Sunscreen for Avoiding White Cast

Krave Beauty “Beet The Sun” SPF 40 PA+++

Stay cool, calm, and far away from sunburnt red with this silky SPF that blends in with all skin tones.

Share this Post

About Us

Celebrating our best lives at fifty and beyond! 50ismorefun brings you motivational news and stories centered around life, fitness, fashion, money, travel and health for active folks enjoying the second half of lives.