You know that you have something to hide when you purposefully avoid seeing a healthcare professional. I maintain annual checkups with my doctor, and never miss a dentist appointment, but when it comes to skincare, I always shy away from talking to an expert. It's not that I have bad skin—I've always had a relatively clear complexion with the exception of the odd freckle—but I'm well aware that at 28, I should have developed a proper routine.
When I finally met with an esthetician last month, I knew it wouldn't go smoothly. One question, in particular, made me realize how careless I've been about taking care of my skin: What's your sun protection routine? Having grown up under harsh Australian rays, I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never worn face sunscreen. The result: a constellation of freckles and sun spots are scattered across my cheeks and the bridge of my nose.
After the initial consultation, I reached out to Rachel Nazarian, MD, FAAD, of Mount Sinai Dept of Dermatology and Schweiger Dermatology Group, to find out what I should look for in the perfect face sunscreen. Here's what I learned, the products I tested, and the one that actually made its way into my morning routine.
Ingredients That Matter
The ingredient list on any beauty product can be difficult to decipher, let alone understand and compare. "Sunscreen is divided into two basic groups based on how it protects the skin from ultraviolet radiation," Nazarian explains. Physical or mineral sunscreen contains blockers that "reflect the radiation by acting as a shield." They are primarily made of two main ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
By contrast, chemical sunscreen work by neutralizing damaging UV rays as they hit the skin. They usually contain avobenzone and oxybenzone. "Very few people have irritation when using the physical blockers, while sensitive-skin-types may experience irritation such as slight tingling, itching, or redness after using chemical blockers," she says.
If you're tossing up between a mineral sunscreen and a lotion, Nazarian says it ultimately comes down to the application. "In order to achieve the SPF level advertised on the product label, you must apply the product (whether lotion or powder) sufficiently and liberally," she says. "If you are only using a light dusting of powder you’re unlikely to have effective protection—so when in doubt, apply a layer of lotion SPF below it."
The application will depend on the type of sunscreen you've chosen. "Chemical sunscreens need to be absorbed directly into the skin to work properly, so always apply these first," she explains. "Physical blockers can be applied before or after other ingredients, depending on their form."
Face sunscreen needs to work in tandem with your existing products, so Nazarian recommends checking with your dermatologist to make sure they complement each other. "If you are using a lot of other products in the morning, always check with your board-certified dermatologist about mixing. Many products that contain glycolic acid, or other alpha hydroxy and beta hydroxy acids (among other chemicals!) may degrade the active ingredients in your sunscreen." The bottom line: When in doubt, chat with an expert.
Of all the sunscreens I tested, this is the one I use every single morning. Supergoop's formula is exactly what I was looking for: It's lightweight, scent-free, feels like a primer, and doesn't make my face look like an oil slick. Bonus: You only need the smallest dollop for full-face coverage.
This color-adjusting sunscreen goes on white then changes to match your skin tone. Be sure to "break up" the pigment by rubbing the lotion between your fingers, first, then evenly blend on your face and neck.
A perfect option for summer vacations, this Clinique sunscreen comes in a one-ounce container that fits in your purse or carry-on. It does have a slight sunscreen scent, which dissipates when rubbed in.
This lightly-tinted lotion offers less coverage than Hydropeptide but more than a classic face sunscreen. The formula is said to blur pores and small lines, but I just liked the natural, lightweight formula that sits well under foundation.
Prefer organic products? Shop these 11 organic sunscreens to protect your skin this summer.