When you hit the beach and cover yourself in sunscreen, there’s a good chance you’re applying the same product to both body and face. But considering how much more sensitive and finicky your face is compared to the rest of your body, it’s important to be a little more church-and-state about your face and body — when it comes to cosmetic products.
Just as you separate your facial cleaner from a body wash, and your daily moisturizer from a hand or body cream, you should also distinguish between face and body sunscreens. Facial ones prioritize non-comedogenic ingredients (that is, they won’t clog your pores), and they wear lightweight while still providing the same UV defense.
Some of our favorites double as moisturizers, and some are dedicated sunscreens only. Some utilize physical sunscreen ingredients (like zinc oxide), and others utilize reef-safe chemical shields. Some of the best are top dollar, while others are under ten.
Always Apply Sunscreen
Dr. Jeremy Fenton — Medical Director for Midtown Manhattan's Schweiger Dermatology Group and winner of the Marion B. Sulzberger Award for Excellence in Dermatology — says there is a defined order in which you should ready yourself each morning: First, wash your face; second, moisturize it; third, apply sunscreen; then add retinol; and, lastly, splash on some serum.
"The most important thing that's going to make the biggest difference, in the long run, is putting a sunscreen on every day," Dr. Fenton says. Even if you're not planning to lay out on the beach and boil under direct sun, you still need sunscreen. Repeat exposure even in a cloudy city can cause damage down the line. "Underestimating the importance of sunscreen is a common mistake."
Facial Moisturizer vs. Facial Sunscreen
There’s one distinction you need to make when choosing a face sunscreen: Is it a moisturizer with SPF, or is it a sunscreen for the face? They’re closely related, but not one and the same. A moisturizer’s key goals are to pump a bunch of nutrients into the skin, while preventing moisture loss and any intrusion from pollutants and toxins. So, if it also has SPF, it doubles as a UV shield. A sunscreen, on the other hand, is primarily a UV shield, though many come with nourishing components.
The Best Sunscreens for Your Face
- Best Overall Sunscreen for Your Face: Supergoop! City Serum SPF30
- Best Upgrade Sunscreen for Your Face: Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF50
- Best Affordable Sunscreen for Your Face: Sun Bum Face 50 Sunscreen
- Cardon Men’s Face Sunscreen SPF30
- EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen
- Dermalogica Invisible Physical Defense SPF30
- Geologie Essential Sunscreen SPF30
- Neutrogena Clear Face Oil-Free SPF50
- Oars + Alps Everyday Anti-Aging Face Moisturizer (SPF 37)
- Ursa Major Natural Moisturizer with SPF 18
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Lightweight Wrinkle Defense
A lightweight lotion (deserving of the term ‘serum’, for that fact), this face sunscreen makes an invisible, breathable shield over top of your moisturizer. It won’t clog your pores, or feel like a big greasy film over top the skin. It’s topped-up with Vitamins E and B5, which together prevent inflammation, soften skin, and keep it hydrated. Don’t mistake this one for a moisturizer per se, though it’s my favorite hydrating SPF for a midday sunny-weather refresh since it packs both nourishing and defensive ingredients.
Don’t think of Dr. Barbara Sturm’s Sun Drops as just sun protection. This SPF-loaded liquid is a top-shelf serum in its own right. It contains moisture-magnifying hyaluronic acid, toxic-thwarting green tea extract, and a cell-regenerating complex of Vitamin E, beta-glucan, and cinnamon extract. And on top of that, it’s got SPF 50, to prevent any wrinkling and photoaging of the skin, in addition to all of the corrective and proactive work it’s doing beneath the surface.
The least expensive of the batch is also the best for a sun-beaming beach day. This SPF 50 facial sunscreen is both water and sweat-resistant up to 80 minutes, in addition to being reef-friendly. It will probably feel too heavy for an every-day defense, but that’s not to its detriment. It’s still light enough (and oil-free), great for active, outdoor lifestyles.
Made without oil, fragrances and oxybenzone, Neutrogena's Clear Face SPF50 sunscreen doesn't clog pores, is waterproof up to 80 minutes and applies (and washes off) easily. It's a simple iteration you can often find in the aisles of a store near you (or online for way less).
Oars and Alps competes with Ursa Major and Cardon for top moisturizer with SPF. Adding this to your morning routine makes it easy to remember sunscreen because it's blended into your anti-aging moisturizer. Plus, it's oil-free so it won't overfill your face or clog your pores.
This broad-spectrum face sunscreen (not a moisturizer) not only protects the skin from future damage but actively works to undo what's already been done. 1-percent niacinamide and 1-percent hyaluronic acid aren't as effective as a dedicated anti-aging serum, but it's still enough to shrink your pore size and slowly fade wrinkle lines.
Ursa Major adds another facial moisturizer to our list, this one with a physical zinc defense. We already celebrated it among other sunscreens for its nourishing, proactive, mattifying, and natural recipe. It combines soothing aloe, nourishing shea butter, moisture-boosting floral stem cells, and texture-toning squalane. If this was a roundup of the best moisturizers with SPF, then Ursa would sit atop the list with Cardon.
A physical-only (zinc oxide) shield, this face sunscreen builds a skin-safe defense over your daytime moisturizer. I love using it for daily indoor wear, too, to defend against all the skin-dulling and -aging blue lights that I absorb from screens. And for a zinc-only defense, it leaves no residue, which is a huge feat.
Cardon has one of our favorite moisturizers with SPF, since it incorporates soothing cactus extract and the anti-inflammatory + blemish-brightening powers of turmeric extract. If you want to combine your facial sunscreen into a lightweight daily moisture, rather than utilizing two products at the same time, here’s a cost-effective one that keeps skin hydrated and protected at the same time.
EltaMD is the easy fan favorite of the flock, famous for its cast-free zinc oxide formula (which also combines chemical-based octinoxate). It cannot go unsaid that this is Amazon.com’s top-selling face sunscreen. The product is lightweight, oil-free, and is particularly loved by acne-prone clients, as well as darker skin tones (again, for its lack of white cast despite a high physical zinc shield).
A zinc oxide 16% formula makes a thorough shield in this facial sunscreen. Dr. Dennis Gross has also packed it with lingonberry and sea buckthorn extracts, which promote recovery from UV and free radical damage. And for a zinc formula, the blend is extremely lightweight—you’d think it was a chemical sunscreen for its easy, cast-free blend if you didn’t know better.
Sprayable sunscreens are easier to apply but still safeguard your skin against the sun's harmful rays.