Ask any dermatologist what the most important part of a skincare routine is (be it preventive or corrective), and they will likely tell you sunscreen. Not just for trips to the beach, daily sunscreen usage protects the skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays that, at best, lead to premature signs of aging and, at worst, lead to skin cancer.
Sunscreen should be front and center in your skincare routine, but we are the first to admit that applying (and reapplying) it every day is not always the most cosmetically elegant experience. Fortunately, SPF-infused formulas have come a long way in recent years, and there are no better experts to turn to for product recommendations than dermatologists. Here, we tapped two board certified dermatologists for their top sunscreen picks and tips for applying it.
6 Expert Sunscreen Tips
Before you choose a sunscreen, it’s important to understand what you’re looking for and how to wear it:
1. Use SPF 30 (or Higher!)
If you take one thing from this article, let it be this: The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using sunscreens that have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. It should be broad spectrum, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are the ones that cause premature signs of aging (think: dark spots, fine lines and wrinkles), while UVB rays are the ones primarily responsible for sunburns. A water-resistant formula, meanwhile, will ensure your sunscreen holds up to the elements (sweating, swimming, etc.).
2. Wear Sunscreen Daily
In case we haven’t been clear, sunscreen should be worn 365 days a year. “Incidental sun exposure for only 10 to 15 minutes a day adds up over time and can cause significant sun damage and accelerated photoaging,” explains Dendy Engelman, MD, a board certified dermatologist in New York City. “These brief moments can include driving with the sunroof open or walking around outdoor shopping centers during peak sun hours – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – which exposes your skin to damaging UV rays.”
3. Apply Sunscreen Before Makeup
We talk a lot about how to layer products for optimal use, and sunscreen is no exception. If you have both a skincare and makeup routine, sunscreen should be applied as the last step of your skincare regimen, before you begin putting on your makeup, says Amanda Doyle, MD, a board certified dermatologist in NYC. If you are curious about how much you need, Dr. Engelman says it’s about a nickel-sized amount for the face and a quarter-sized dollop for your neck and decolletage.
4. Reapply, Reapply, Reapply!
When you are out in the sun, you should reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you are in the water or sweating, it should be even more frequently. A water-resistant sunscreen can help ensure it holds up better, but, as Dr. Engeleman notes, almost half of sunscreens with water resistant claims failed Consumer Report’s efficacy tests. The lesson here? It’s better to be safe than sorry — always reapply!
5. Read the Label
Any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen, but some experts have preferences when it comes to physical (mineral) versus chemical formulas. Generally, Dr. Doyle recommends looking for broad-spectrum sunscreens that have physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. No longer as goopy and chalky as they once were, mineral sunscreens are usually better tolerated by sensitive skin types and are less damaging to the environment.
6. Don’t Rely on Sprays
In theory, spray sunscreens are great. In practice, they do not always offer the ease they are intended to. “Sunscreen sprays do not lay a substantial amount of sunscreen on the skin,” Dr. Engelman cautions. Another catch? You can’t just spritz and go. “Spraying is not enough — it needs to be rubbed in and spread equally on the skin,” she adds. For best protection, she suggests starting with a cream and using a spray to reapply.
As with most skincare products, it’s important to consider your skin type and lifestyle when choosing a sunscreen. You'll want to think about what your skin concerns are (aging vs. acne-prone), how much skin will be exposed (face vs. body), and what you'll be doing while wearing it (sitting indoors vs. sweating in the sun). Consulting with your dermatologist can help you determine what will be best for your skin, but below are the sunscreens our experts recommend to their patients:
Best for Daily Use: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
About as close to a universal crowd pleaser as it gets, Dr. Doyle likes this transparent formula because it’s lightweight and easy to wear on a daily basis. The fragrance-free formula also features sodium hyaluronate to hydrate and lactic acid to refine skin tone and texture. $37, dermstore.com
Best Multitasker: Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Lotion SPF 50
Dr. Engelman is a fan of this multipurpose option that is great for face and body because it’s readily absorbed and doesn’t feel tacky on the skin. An added benefit? It comes in four different sizes (including a one-ounce tube), which makes it great for travel and touch ups. Dr. Engelman notes that because it’s a chemical sunscreen, it needs to be applied at least 30 minutes before going outside. from $10, supergoop.com
Best for Sensitive Skin: Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50
Not just for babies, this ultra-gentle formula is great for adults with sensitive skin. Dr. Doyle suggests this 100 percent zinc oxide sunscreen to anyone that is highly sensitive or easily irritated. $11, walmart.com
Best Tinted: Elizabeth Arden PREVAGE City Smart Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Hydrating Shield
Dr. Engelman personally uses this formula every day because of its dual function. “I love this sunscreen because it has a nice tint and also contains antioxidants, including idebenone,” she says. The antioxidants help to combat free radical damage from UV rays and pollution. $68, elizabetharden.com
Best for Outdoor Activities: Coppertone Sport Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray
A mineral sunscreen that comes in a spray format and is sport-friendly? Sign us up. Dr. Doyle says this formula is great for those who are active. It is formulated to withstand sweat, heat, and water for up to 80 minutes (at that point, it’s time to reapply!). $12, walgreens.com
Best for Acne-Prone Skin: Glo Skin Beauty Oil Free SPF 40+
The last thing you feel like doing in the midst of a breakout is putting a potentially greasy product on your skin, but acne is no excuse to skimp on sunscreen. Dr. Engelman recommends this oil-free option because it’s ultra-lightweight (thanks to a combination physical and chemical formula), absorbs instantly, and features soothing ingredients like sodium hyaluronate, vitamin B5, and vitamin E to calm the skin. $38, dermstore.com
Best for Dry Skin: CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 Face Lotion
If you are looking for a mineral sunscreen that will also treat dryness, this is it. “It contains only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, so it contains purely physical sunscreen,” Dr. Doyle says. What makes it unique is the brand’s signature infusion of ceramides, which helps to repair and preserve the skin barrier. $16, ulta.com
Best for Touch Ups: La Roche-Posay Ultra-Light Sunscreen Spray Lotion SPF 60
While Dr. Engelman doesn’t recommend spray sunscreens as the first line of defense, she does approve of them for touch ups below the neck. This lightweight mist dries down to a silky finish that makes it ideal for all skin types (i.e. it’s great for your family’s communal beach bag this summer). $25, dermstorm.com
Best for Sweating: Skinbetter SunBetter Tone Smart Broad-Spectrum SPF 75 Sunscreen Lotion
“I like water-resistant sunscreens because they are helpful for days in the water or for the scalp, when SPF can run into eyes,” Dr. Engeleman says. In particular, this mineral formula is a true workhorse. “I like this one because it is creamy and can act as a primer for foundation,” she notes. “It’s also oil-free!” $75, skinbetter.com
Best for Darker Skin: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-in Milk Sunscreen SPF 100
Sunscreen can leave darker skin tones with a chalky cast, but this face and body formula truly lives up to its ‘melt-in’ moniker. “This is great for light to darker skin types, and it gives great coverage with its SPF 100,” Dr. Doyle says. $25, laroche-posay.us
All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.
More Related Articles
‘Try on’ aesthetic procedures and instantly visualize possible results with AEDIT and our patented 3D aesthetic simulator.