How to Choose the Best Sunscreen for Your Skin

Our experts reveal their top picks.

Photo: Kate Powers/Trunk Archive

This past April, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials announced that full-size sunscreens were a medically approved item and therefore acceptable to include in carry-on luggage. Dermatologists, aestheticians, and skin enthusiasts alike were all thrilled that the importance of sun safety seemed to be a priority. But then, less than a week later, the TSA retracted the statement, saying that it was a "mistake" and sunscreen should be limited to the usual 3.4 ounces (or less). Since then, the organization has decreed that individual TSA officers will decide whether larger-size sunscreens are allowed to clear a checkpoint — not exactly reassuring when you're rushing to catch that flight to Cancún.

What's nonnegotiable is that daily sunscreen application is a must to help protect against skin cancer, prevent premature aging, and amend discoloration. "Unless you live in a cave or your house is completely unexposed to any sliver of UV light, you should apply each day," says dermatologist Adeline Kikam (famously known as @BrownSkinDerm on Instagram), who recommends using a half teaspoon to cover your face and neck. Mona Gohara, a dermatologist at Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut in Hamden, encourages people to find a brand they can commit to. "Ninety percent of visible signs of aging comes from daily unprotected exposure to UV light," she says.

It's important to note that not all sun protectants are created equal. They vary in formulation, effectiveness, and inclusivity. The first thing to consider is whether to opt for a mineral or chemical solution. Mineral, or physical, sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which work to reflect light off the surface of the skin and are best suited for skin issues such as acne, rosacea, and eczema. "Some ingredients in chemical formulas can make existing breakouts worse," explains dermatologist Caroline Robinson, CEO and founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago. While great for sun-worshipping surfers, mineral sunscreens can leave behind a white, ashy residue. "Go for the tinted version so it blends better on darker skin tones," says Dr. Kikam.

Chemical-based sunscreens, meanwhile, work to absorb UV rays, making this approach more cosmetically appealing since there is a lower risk of developing a cast. But you'll want to steer clear of ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are banned for sale in places like Hawaii due to their potential environmental risk. The bottom line: Sunscreens are a personal choice, so pick one that works for you because you're going to need a lot of it.

Our Picks

The Classic

EltaMD UV Sheer Broad- Spectrum SPF 50+,
courtesy EltaMD

EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ Made with hyaluronic acid, the invisible mineral base won't dry out your skin but rather helps soothe irritation. If you are acne-prone or sensitive, this is the tube for you.

Buy it: $30;

A Hint of Tint

Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
courtesy Unsun

Unsun Mineral Tinted Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 Get the protection of an SPF with the benefits of a primer and color corrector all in one with this multitasker. It's ideal to wear alone or under makeup.

Buy it: $29;

Drugstore Staple

Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+
courtesy Neutrogena

Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+ We support anything that goes easy on the wallet but hard on blocking UV rays. As an added bonus, this formulation is water-resistant making it perfect for a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: $13;

Blue-Light Blocker

Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Mineral Sunscreen
courtesy Kate Somerville

Kate Somerville Daily Deflector Mineral Sunscreen In addition to the sun, over-exposure of blue light from your devices can do damage as well. This lotion uses zinc oxide to fight harmful light and strengthen your skin barrier.

Buy it: $50;

For Darker Skin Tones

Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Matte SPF 45
courtesy Black Girl Sunscreen

Black Girl Sunscreen Make It Matte SPF 45 Made with melanin in mind, this transparent formula blends seamlessly into all skin tones. Thanks to aloe, shea butter, and squalene, it keeps skin calm and hydrated too.

Buy it: $22;

Built In Skin Care

SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30
courtesy SkinCeuticals

SkinCeuticals Daily Brightening UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 If you're dealing with discoloration or dark spots, this formula uses glycerin and tranexamic acid to even out the skin and maintain moisture.

Buy it: $54;

Dr. Kikam's Pick

Tizo Photoceutical AM Replenish Lightly Tinted SPF 40
courtesy Tizo Skin

Tizo Photoceutical AM Replenish Lightly Tinted SPF 40 "This broad spectrum mineral sunscreen contains antioxidants, ceramides, and iron oxide, which is an ingredient known to block blue light. It's highly moisturizing and does not leave a white cast on darker skin tones."

Buy it: $48;

Dr. Robinson's Pick

Isdin Eryfotona Ageless Tinted Mineral Sunscreen
courtesy ISDIN, MPS

Isdin Eryfotona Ageless Tinted Mineral Sunscreen "This is one of my all-time favorite sunscreens because it is lightweight, blends easily, and contains peptides and DNA Repairsomes to both repair and protect the skin. In addition, the Ageless formula has iron oxides, which is helpful in protecting skin prone to hyperpigmentation."

Buy it: $66;

For more stories like this, pick up the June 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 21st.

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