Sunscreens have never been as popular as they are today, with Google Trends showing a steady increase in user searches over the past five years. I talked to Dr. Adeline Kikam, dermatologist and skin of color advocate, and Dr. Michelle Wong, cosmetic chemist, about the best sunscreens on the market today.
There are two main types of sunscreen based on their active ingredients: physical (also known as mineral sunscreen) and chemical sunscreens. Ingredients vary worldwide, but Dr. Kikam explained that in the U.S., physical sunscreens usually use zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. In contrast, chemical sunscreens have active ingredients that are more extensive, including avobenzone, oxybenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, and octocrylene.
Both types of sunscreen have their strengths and weaknesses. Chemical sunscreen typically has higher SPF and strong UVA protection, said Dr. Wong, with a more pleasant texture that people usually prefer (important when the key is consistent usage). The drawback is that some have allergic reactions to certain chemical sunscreen ingredients.
On the other hand, physical sunscreens are great for those with sensitive or eczema-prone skin, said Dr. Kikam, though the significant drawback is the white cast showing on darker skin.
While there is discussion around the impact of sunscreen on the environment, the data is inconclusive.
“Neither chemical nor physical sunscreens go into the environment at high enough concentrations to have more than a very minor impact,” said Dr. Wong.”The environmental impacts of sunscreens, in general, are very overblown in the media.”
The more important feature of a sunscreen is the ease of use, said Dr. Wong. “This means you want something that suits your skin, that you enjoy applying, and fits your budget.”
When it comes to application, you’ll want to find a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s at least SPF 30. The rule of thumb is to apply 1 ounce to cover your exposed body and reapply every 2 hours or when sweating or swimming.
Not sure you found that perfect sunscreen yet? Go ahead and keep reading.
For Sensitive, Darker Skin Tones:
TIZO Photoceutical (Physical Sunscreen)
Dr. Kikam recommends TIZO Photoceutical AM Replenish Lightly Tinted for those who are more melanated. The SPF 40 broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen doesn’t leave a white cast, and it’s creamy and highly moisturizing.
“It also contains Iron oxide, an ingredient known to block visible/blue light which has been linked to hyperpigmentation in darker skin types,” says Dr. Kikam. Other ingredients that give this sunscreen more than just sun protection are ceramides and antioxidants.
For Full Body Coverage
Bask Sunscreen (Chemical Sunscreen)
If you like piña coladas and getting great coverage, the Bask vanilla-coconut scented SPF 30 broad-spectrum lotion may quickly become your favorite.
“The cosmesis would be great for most skin tones, unlike the mineral sunscreen ingredients that may leave a white cast,” said Dr. Kikam about Bask.
The lotion-like consistency is also easy to rub in and doesn’t leave your skin feeling icky, perfect for a day at the beach when reapplying can quickly feel like a chore.
For A Light Concealer
Dr. Loretta Urban Antioxidant Sunscreen (Combination)
Formulated by dermatologist Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, this chemical-physical combination Urban Antioxidant SPF 40 sunscreen protects your skin from the damage of UVA, UVB, HEV, and pollution. In addition, the slight tint gives it a concealer-like quality that layers well under makeup.
Dr. Kikam said, “If you love combination sunscreens, then this is a good one. I also like its antioxidants to boost sun protection, such as antioxidant lipochroman and galangal root extracts. It also has rice peptides to address premature aging.”
For Everyday Facial Use
Biore UV Watery Essence (Chemical Sunscreen)
The Biore UV Watery Essence broad-spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen has a watery gel-like consistency that absorbs quickly without leaving a sticky mess behind.
“This is a fantastic sunscreen,” said Dr. Wong. “It's very lightweight, which means that a lot of people who haven't been using sunscreen because it's too heavy and uncomfortable can integrate one into their routine easily.”
HABIT N°41 MISTER (Chemical Sunscreen)
The N°41 MISTER spray-on broad-spectrum SPF 41 sunscreen offers a solution to those on the go. With an ultra-fine mist, the sunscreen is perfect for when you don’t want to touch your face or mess up your makeup.
The formula is protective too. “This sunscreen combines several effective chemical sunscreen filters to achieve broad-spectrum coverage, which is great,” said Dr. Kikam.
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