Your Guide to Choosing the Best Sunscreen for Your Face

Of all skincare essentials to include in your regimen, sunscreen is by far the most vital step to maintain year round. In addition to providing crucial protection against harmful, cancer-causing rays, wearing a daily SPF can also help combat signs of premature aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots. But we also understand that the sunscreen aisle isn’t the friendliest to navigate and may leave you feeling overwhelmed with even more questions than you had before. Can you wear a body sunscreen on your face? (You shouldn’t.) Which SPF do I need? (We’ll get into that shortly.) Here are the dos of selecting the right sunscreen for your face. 

Pick a sunscreen that’s specifically formulated for facial application.

Though the difference between a hand cream and body cream, for example, mainly comes down to good marketing, sunscreen actually calls for a face- and body-specific formula. Because the skin on your face tends to be more sensitive than the rest of your body, facial sunscreens are made to be less irritating. Especially those who have acne-prone or sensitive skin should opt for a facial sunscreen and avoid using sprays, which are made with alcohol. 

Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen. 

It’s important to protect yourself from the most damaging ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are responsible for causing skin damage and premature aging, while UVB rays are known to produce sunburns and play a key role in the development of skin cancer. Look for labels that provide broad-spectrum protection to defend you against both. 

Know the difference between a physical and chemical sunscreen.

Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which work by sitting on top of the skin to deflect said harmful rays at the surface. Consider it as a protective shield for your face. If you’ve ever noticed a white cast left behind from your sunscreen, that’s the perfect example of a physical sunscreen doing its job. That hard-to-rub-in formula, however, is also why many people prefer a chemical sunscreen. Chemical sunscreens contain actives, which commonly include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule, which actually absorb and convert UV rays into heat. They’re both effective but they also come with their own downsides: 

Cons of Using a Physical Sunscreen

  • Can feel thick on the skin
  • Often difficult to blend in
  • Rubs off easily in sweat and water

Cons of Using a Chemical Sunscreen

Select an SPF 30 or higher.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using a minimum of SPF 30, which protects against 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. SPF, or sun protection factor, indicates the amount of UV radiation exposure required to result in sunburn, making it incredibly important to reapply sunscreen every two hours or immediately after sweating or swimming — regardless of the SPF value you’re using. Another thing to note is that SPF 100 for example, does not mean it offers 100 percent protection, as no sunscreen is able to completely defend you. Despite its higher number, the amount of protection it offers is only marginally greater than that of a lower SPF. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays while an SPF 100 blocks 99 percent. Going for an SPF 30 to 50 is generally a good rule of thumb when selecting a sunscreen.

Keep in mind that selecting the best face sunscreen can only do so much — the rest is up to you. In order to get the most protection, it’s important to apply at least 30 minutes before going outdoors, to reapply every two hours, and to remember to wear sunscreen every single day, no matter the weather. Unfortunately, clouds aren’t great at filtering UVA and UVB rays, which leaves you vulnerable to their harmful effects even when the sun’s not shining. So do your best to make it a habit. “I wish I wore less sunscreen,” said no one ever.

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