How to Choose a Face Sunscreen in 6 Easy Steps

Choose a Face Sunscreen By Following Simple Guidelines

It can be overwhelming to go online or into your local drugstore to choose a good sunscreen that will be the base for your makeup everyday. We’ve all had the unfortunate circumstance of purchasing a sunscreen or moisturizer with built in sunscreen that we thought would be the answer to our prayers only to realize that it didn’t quite live up to our expectations. Worry no more! Here are the 6 easy questions you have to ask yourself when deciding on whether to buy a certain face sunscreen. Keep these in mind next time you’re on the hunt for a sunscreen you can fall in love with.

How much SPF does the face sunscreen have?

Don’t even bother going for anything less than SPF 15. I prefer to set my minimum at SPF 30, but I’ll let you make your choice as to how low you want to go. This is the reason most makeup (foundation, BB creams, and powders) doesn’t suffice for sun protection since they generally only have SPF 5-10. SPF 15 will filter out about 93% of UVB rays while SPF 30 will filter out about 97%. Don’t forget that you’re probably not applying the minimum concentration necessary to achieve the advertised SPF level or reapplying every 2 hours as recommended. The higher the SPF the better.

Does the sunscreen protect against both UVA and UVB rays?

Is it broad spectrum? Even though you’ll mostly be using your face sunscreen for everyday activities – like walking between the parking lot and your place of work – you still want to make sure you’re covered against both UVA and UVB.

Physical Sunscreens

For both UVA and UVB coverage in one, look for physical sunscreens like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. (1) When these sunscreens first came out in the beginning of sunscreen production, they were hard to spread and left a white shadow that no one liked. Today’s physical sunscreens are usually micronized – this means the molecules are so small (less than 100 nanometers) that they can be easily emulsified in other ingredients for spreadability. Zinc oxide is better than titanium dioxide because it has more coverage in the UVA range than titanium dioxide does. If your sunscreen of choice contains both even better.

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical sunscreens generally come in either UVB or UVA blocking varieties. The UVB blockers are aminobenzoates (e.g. PABA), cinnamates (e.g. octinoxate, cinoxate), salicylates (e.g. octisalate, homosalate), ensulizole, and octocrylene. The UVA blockers are ecamsule (aka Meroxyl SX), avobenzone, anthranilates (e.g. meradimate). Benzophenones (e.g. oxybenzone), BEMT, and MBBT are both UVB and UVA blockers.

What additional ingredients does the face sunscreen contain?

Be wary of any adverse affects that can be caused by the ingredients in your sunscreen. Physical sunscreen ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are much less likely to cause an allergic reaction than chemical sunscreen ingredients like oxybenzone and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). (2) If you have allergy prone or sensitive skin the less the ingredients the better. You don’t want any extra dyes or fragrances that could potential trigger an allergic reaction. If you do happen to have an allergic reaction to a sunscreen, you can get patch tested by your dermatologist in order to pinpoint which ingredient caused the allergy; that way you know for certain which ingredient it was and that you need to steer clear in the future. The most likely culprit would be the fragrance component. 1-2% of people are allergic added fragrances in beauty products.

If you have dry skin and need some hydration you’ll want to go for hydrating sunscreens. Some moisturizers come with built in SPF like Olay’s Complete All Day Moisturizer with SPF 30. Look for ingredients that contain silicone; they will have words ending in cone, methicone, or siloxane.

What is the texture of the sunscreen?

One of the most important factors to take into consideration is the texture and spreadability of your face sunscreen. If the sunscreen feels thick, cakey, and hard to spread you won’t end up using it. It’ll sit in your makeup drawer like so many other products that didn’t work for you. No one likes to go out looking like they put on white face when they apply their sunscreen.

face sunscreen texture elta MD UV clear

The only way to assess this quality is to feel the sunscreen with your own two hands. Your local dermatologist will often have sample bottles and packets that you can try before making a purchase. You can also ask your friends what their favorite brands are in terms of being able to wear them under makeup. Your last option is to buy a smaller sized version and decide whether you like it.

How much does the sunscreen cost?

Cost is always at the forefront of my mind when deciding whether to purchase a product. I like to feel like I’m getting a good deal and value from my purchases. Face sunscreen is unlikely to come in a huge bottle so you won’t get your money’s worth that way, but even the small bottles usually last me at least half a year. Most smaller brands (the ones you would see in your dermatologist’s office) will usually have sales every once in a while if they have an online store. The authorized distributors of most sunscreen brands will also have coupon codes for being a first time shopper or signing up for their email list. I highly recommend this if it’s the first time you’re buying a product.

I understand that sunscreen isn’t cheap. You have to apply it daily and we recommend that you use a lot of it. I have to remind you, however, that using daily sunscreen is much cheaper than the laser treatments, fillers, and neuromodulators (Botox) you will want later.

Tinted versus Untinted Face Sunscreen

Most sunscreens now come in untinted and tinted formulations. The tinted varieties can help provide a little extra coverage or replace your foundation altogether depending on the look you want to achieve. Tinted sunscreens are my personal favorite because it is so much easier to blend onto my skin. Whatever makeup I apply on top of a tinted sunscreen doesn’t have to fight with a white base if I were to apply an untinted formulation.

face sunscreen blend elta MD UV clear

Men can also choose a tinted sunscreen to help for easy blending into the skin.

How did you choose your current facial sunscreen? Did you read reviews, ask a friend, or take a chance on something new?


  1. Rai, Reena, Sekar C. Shanmuga, and C. R. Srinivas. “Update on photoprotection.” Indian journal of dermatology5 (2012): 335.
  2. Dermnet New Zealand. Sunscreen Allergy.

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