The best facial sunscreens for 2020 – CNET

This story is part of New Year, New You, everything you need to develop healthy habits that will last all the way through 2020 and beyond.

What’s the best thing you can do to prevent wrinkles, premature aging and skin cancer? Wear sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology, the Skin Cancer Foundation and pretty much any dermatologist recommends that you should wear sunscreen every single day, especially on your face. While you can generally get away without wearing sunscreen all over your body during the fall and winter — because our bodies are bundled up for the cold — our faces are still exposed to UV radiation from the sun.

If you’re skipping sunscreen because you don’t want to slather a thick lotion on your face every day, I don’t blame you, and the good news is that you don’t have to. There are now hundreds of different formulas of facial sunscreen that are light, breathable and blend into your skin. Some even work as a makeup primer.

Read more: Banana Boat, Neutrogena, Supergoop: The best sunscreens for 2020

I’ve narrowed down those hundreds of products into a much smaller list. These are the best-selling sunscreens on Amazon, Walmart, Sephora and Dermstore, cross-referenced against lists of the best sunscreen from beauty magazines such as Glamour and Allure. Many of these formulas are from higher-end skincare brands, with two drugstore finds as well. While I am not saying you need to buy more expensive options, you’ll usually get a better formula that feels lightweight and blends well.

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This sunscreen is for people who hate thick, pasty sunscreens. It has the same look and feel of a facial moisturizer, blends in incredibly quickly and made my skin feel soft. Honestly, I kept touching my face after it sank in because it felt remarkably soft.

For people who are sensitive to fragrance, this is completely unscented. But you can also buy a version that has a white tea scent. Coola’s Classic Face Sunscreen is water resistant for up to 80 minutes, but doesn’t feel heavy at all, unlike the other water-resistant options I tried. Bonus, it also contains ingredients that are reef safe under Hawaii’s sunscreen regulations.

Out of every product I tested, I liked Coola’s the best as a daily sunscreen, either under makeup or on its own.

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Sarah Mitroff/CNET

This chemical sunscreen formula liquidly and has an unmistakable sunscreen scent. The formula is white, but blends in nicely, so there is not much of a whitecast — though it might leave one on darker skin. The sunscreen cream dries down matte with a powdery finish, but it creates a detectable film that feels more like a sunscreen you’d use on your body.

Because of that film, it didn’t feel light on my skin and I wouldn’t necessarily pick up this sunscreen for wearing under makeup on a work day. However, because it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, I would wear it to the beach, pool or on a hike. The sunscreen seems to stay put all day and it feels like it can hold up under sweaty or wet conditions. 

If you prefer a mineral-based sunscreen, the La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 50 is also a good choice. It’s just like the Ultra Light Sunscreen, but the formula uses titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to protect your skin against UV rays. Mineral sunscreens are often good for those with sensitive skin because they are less likely to cause irritation.

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Aveeno’s facial sunscreen feels more like a body sunscreen than any of the products on this list. Though it goes on thick, it does sink in nicely and leaves a soft, matte finish. The scent is also reminiscent of the typical sunscreen you’d grab when you head to the beach, albeit not as strong.

The formula is water- and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes and the formula is meant to be moisturizing like Aveeno’s other lotions and creams. Given it’s hydrating ingredients and the consistency of the formula, it’s probably a better choice if you have normal or dry skin, as opposed to oily or combination.

Read more: La Roche-Posay My Skin Track UV, Shade, Sunburn Alert: How to measure your sun exposure when you’re outside

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Supergoop’s sunscreen formulas are meant to not feel like sunscreen at all and this one is no different. Unseen is a thick clear gel that dries down to a soft matte finish, creating a great base for applying makeup over. And because it’s clear, it works for any and all skin tones — many other sunscreens on this list can leave behind a white film or have a tint that’s too light for darker complexions. 

There’s a hint of sunscreen smell, but it’s not overpowering in the slightest. The formula didn’t feel as hydrating on my skin as the Coola sunscreen did, so I wouldn’t wear it by itself. But if you already use a moisturizer and you wear makeup daily, Unseen will serve you well.

While I received a sample of Unseen courtesy of Supergoop, I’ve actually purchased products from the company long before I wrote this story. I can vouch for the brand’s Smooth & Poreless matte formula that applies like makeup primer and has a “universal” tint that would work for most fair-skinned people. The only downside I’ve noticed is that it can make your skin feel dry, so be sure to moisturize before applying it. 

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Despite its name, this sunscreen is not clear out of the pump. However, this mineral-based sunscreen rubs in without any whitecast (a white film that titanium dioxide or zinc oxide can leave on the skin). It’s designed for those with acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation and includes niacinamide, an ingredient that can soothe inflammation and reduce redness.

This formula is neither thick or thin, and the smell is non existent. I takes a bit of rubbing to get the formula to sink in and there’s a very thin, but detectable clear film that it leaves behind.

EltaMD’s UV Daily Moisturizing Facial Sunscreen has a similar consistency and finish on the skin, though it did leave a little bit of a white cast after I rubbed it in. This formula has hyaluronic acid to moisturize and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, and EltaMD says it’s gentle enough to apply after a chemical peel or microdermabrasion.

I didn’t fall in love with either formula, but I do think they are good if you have a specific skin concern — like rosacea or sensitivity. Both are formulated with various skin conditions in mind.

Also tested

I have a lot to like about this broad-spectrum protection offering Skinceuticals sunscreen. This UVA and UVB protection skin care formula felt hydrating on my skin. It glides on easily and sinks in quickly, drying down to a matte finish. There’s a faint universal tint that evens out your skin tone (though I suspect it would be too light for dark complexions), providing a blurring effect to soften the look of pores and dark spots. That makes it good to wear under makeup or on its own.

I loved how light the formula felt on my skin — almost as if I wasn’t wearing anything. Another bonus is that there is no fragrance, which is good for sensitive skin. 

Between this sunscreen and the Supergoop Unseen, I had a hard time picking which was better for wearing under makeup. Ultimately Supergoop won because the clear formula works on any skin tone, but if the universal tint of this Skinceitucal sunscreen works for your skin, it’s also a worthy choice.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Algenist has made a name for itself for using alguronic acid derived from algae to promote anti-aging. As for the Sublime Defense sunscreen, I thought it was just fine. While I can’t evaluate the anti-aging properties of the product (that would take years of testing and detailed reports of my skin’s wrinkles and other signs of aging), as a daily sunscreen, it’s okay, but doesn’t blow me away.

It has a very faint baby-powder scent and, for me, did not dry down to a matte finish, so I wouldn’t recommend it if you have oily skin. I will praise it for not leaving any kind of whitecast even though it does have titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Shiseido’s thin, watery formula takes a little effort to rub in and leaves a bit of a whitecast. Given the small container size and price, I’m not thrilled with it. However, I do appreciate that it dries matte and feels like a good base for makeup to hold on to.

Sarah Mitroff/CNET

Neutrogena, I wanted to love you, but I didn’t. The formula just feels so old-school compared to the other formulas I tested and it leaves a filmy finish on the skin. It’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes and has a very light scent, but there was just nothing special about this sunscreen. The best quality of this sunscreen is that it dries down matte, but there are plenty of better formulas out there that do too.

I’ve also used Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Liquid Sunscreen in the past and didn’t like it for the same reasons as the Age Shield.

Testing notes

I tested these products on my naturally oily skin on top of my everyday gel moisturizer. Not every formula on this list will work for everyone. My goal is to give you a sense of the viscosity and scent of each product and how they feel on the skin.

I purposefully left out daily moisturizers that have SPF in them because some dermatologists say that in order to get the level of sun protection on the product’s label, you need to apply more moisturizer than most people do. It’s generally recommended to apply sunscreen on its own, on top of moisturizers and other products.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.

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