The best facial sunscreens you can buy for 2020

This story is part of New Year, New You, everything you need to develop healthy habits that will last all the way through 2020 and beyond.

No matter your skin type, wearing sunscreen is the best thing you can do to prevent premature aging, wrinkles and skin cancer caused by harmful rays from the sun. Dermatologists, the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation all recommend wearing sunscreen every single day, especially on your face. Even though most days we’re covered up enough that we don’t need to wear sunscreen all over our bodies (unless you’re heading to the beach, in which case, slather it all over! Harmful UV rays can get you even when it’s cloudy!), anytime we go outside, our faces are exposed to harmful UV and UVB radiation. Not only is wearing sunscreen the healthiest thing you can do for your skin, it also prevents dark spots, fine lines and other types of skin damage to delicate and sensitive facial skin.

If you’re skipping sunscreen because you don’t want to slather a thick lotion on your face and skin every day, I don’t blame you, and the good news is that you don’t have to. There are now hundreds of different formulas of facial sunscreen that are breathable and light and blend into your skin — unseen sunscreen, as it were. Some tinted sunscreen options even work as a makeup primer. Seriously, don’t risk negative sun exposure side effects: Apply sunscreen.

I’ve narrowed down those hundreds of products to a much smaller list, from which you’re sure to find a favorite sunscreen to protect you from sun damage and UV rays. These are the best-selling sunscreens on Walmart, Amazon, Sephora and Dermstore, cross-referenced against lists of the best beauty editor-recommended sunscreens from magazines such as Glamour and Allure. Many of these formulas are from higher-end skin care brands, with two drugstore finds as well. While I’m not saying you need to buy the more expensive options, if you do you’ll usually get a better formula that can cater to your skin type, feels lightweight and blends well.

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This sunscreen is for people who hate thick, pasty sunscreens on their skin. It has the look and feel of a facial moisturizer, blends in incredibly quickly and made my skin feel nice. Honestly, I kept touching my face after it sank in because it felt remarkably soft.

This is completely unscented, which is good for people who are sensitive to fragrance. But you can also buy a version that has a white tea scent. Coola’s Classic Face Sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, but doesn’t feel heavy at all, unlike the other water-resistant options I tried. Bonus, it also contains ingredients that are reef-safe under Hawaii’s sunscreen regulations.

Out of every product I tested, I liked Coola’s the best as a daily sunscreen, either under makeup or on its own.

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This chemical sunscreen formula is ultralight and has an unmistakable sunscreen scent. The formula is white, but blends in nicely, so there isn’t much of a white cast — though it might leave one on darker skin. The sunscreen cream dries down matte with a powdery finish, but it creates a detectable film that feels more like a sunscreen you’d use on your body.

Because of that film, it didn’t feel light on my skin, and I wouldn’t necessarily pick up this sunscreen for wearing under makeup on a workday. However, because it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, I would wear it to the beach, pool or on a hike. The sunscreen seems to stay put all day and feels like it can hold up under sweaty or wet conditions. 

If you prefer a mineral-based sunscreen, a bottle of La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50 is also a good choice. It’s just like the Ultra Light Sunscreen, but the formula uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect your skin against UV and UVB rays. Mineral sunscreens are often good for those with sensitive skin because they are less likely to cause irritation.

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Aveeno’s facial sunscreen feels more like a body sunscreen than any of the products on this list. Though it goes on thick, it does sink in nicely and leaves a soft, matte finish. The scent is also reminiscent of the typical sunscreen you’d grab when you head to the beach, albeit not as strong.

The formula is water- and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes and the formula is meant to be moisturizing like Aveeno’s other lotions and creams. Given its hydrating ingredients and the consistency of the formula, it’s probably a better choice if you have normal or dry skin, as opposed to oily or combination.

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Supergoop’s sunscreen formulas are meant to not feel like sunscreen at all. Unseen is a thick clear gel that dries down to a soft matte finish, creating a great base for applying makeup over. And because it’s clear, it works for any and all skin tones — many other sunscreens on this list can leave behind a white film or have a tint that’s too light for darker complexions. 

There’s a hint of sunscreen smell, but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The formula didn’t feel as hydrating on my skin as the Coola sunscreen did, so I wouldn’t wear it by itself. But if you already use a face moisturizer and you wear makeup daily, Unseen will serve you well.

While I received a sample of Unseen courtesy of Supergoop, I’ve actually purchased products from the company long before I wrote this story. I can vouch for the brand’s Smooth & Poreless matte formula that applies like makeup primer and has a “universal” tint that would work for most fair-skinned people. The only downside I’ve noticed is that it can make your skin feel dry, so be sure to moisturize before applying it.

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Despite its name, this sunscreen isn’t clear out of the pump. However, this mineral sunscreen rubs in without any white cast (a white film that titanium dioxide or zinc oxide can leave on the skin). It’s designed for those with acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation and includes niacinamide, an ingredient that can soothe inflammation and reduce redness.

This formula is neither thick nor thin, and there’s no smell. It takes a bit of rubbing to get the formula to sink in and there’s a very thin but detectable clear film that it leaves behind. 

EltaMD’s UV Daily Moisturizing Facial Sunscreen has a similar consistency and finish on the skin, though it did leave a little bit of a white cast after I rubbed it in. If you’re opposed to the white hue, EltaMD also makes a tinted sunscreen. This formula has hyaluronic acid to moisturize and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and EltaMD says it’s gentle enough to apply after a chemical peel or microdermabrasion.

I didn’t fall in love with either formula, but I do think they are good if you have a specific skin concern like rosacea or sensitivity. Both are formulated with various skin conditions in mind.

Also tested

There’s a lot to like about this Skinceuticals sunscreen, which offers broad-spectrum protection. The UVA and UVB protection skin care formula felt hydrating on my skin. It glides on easily and sinks in quickly, drying down to a matte finish. There’s a faint “universal” tint that evens out your skin tone (though I suspect it would be too light for dark complexions), providing a blurring effect to soften the look of pores and dark spots. That makes it good to wear under makeup or on its own.

I loved how light the formula felt on my skin — almost as if I wasn’t wearing anything. Another bonus is that there is no fragrance, which is good for sensitive skin. 

Between this sunscreen and the Supergoop Unseen, I had a hard time picking which was better for wearing under makeup. Ultimately Supergoop won because the clear formula works on any skin tone, but if the “universal” tint of this Skinceitucal sunscreen works for your skin, it’s also a worthy choice.

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Algenist has made a name for itself using alguronic acid derived from algae to promote antiaging. As for the Sublime Defense sunscreen, I thought it was just fine. While I can’t evaluate the antiaging properties of the product (that would take years of testing and detailed reports of my skin’s wrinkles and other signs of aging), as a daily sunscreen, it’s OK, but doesn’t blow me away.

It has a very faint baby powder scent and, for me, didn’t dry down to a matte finish, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you have oily skin. I will praise it for not leaving any kind of white cast even though it does have titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

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Shiseido’s thin, watery formula takes a little effort to rub in and leaves a bit of a white cast. Given the small container size and price, I’m not thrilled with it. However, I do appreciate that it dries matte and feels like a good base for makeup.

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Neutrogena, I wanted to love you, but I didn’t. The formula just feels so old-school compared with the other formulas I tested, and it leaves a filmy finish on the skin. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and has a very light scent, but there was just nothing special about this sunscreen. The best quality of this sunscreen is that it dries down matte, but there are plenty of better formulas out there that do too.

I’ve also used Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Liquid Sunscreen in the past and didn’t like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer for the same reasons as the Age Shield.

Testing notes

I tested these products on my naturally oily skin on top of my everyday gel moisturizer. Not every formula on this list will work for everyone. My goal is to give you a sense of the viscosity and scent of each product and how they feel on the skin.

I purposefully left out daily moisturizers that have SPF in them because some dermatologists say that in order to get the level of sun protection on the product’s label, you need to apply more moisturizer than most people do. It’s generally recommended to apply sunscreen on its own, on top of moisturizers and other products.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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