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How to choose the best sunscreen for your face

Dermatology pros share what factors you should take into consideration.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 11, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
Applying Sunscreen on Face
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Dec 11, 2023 • 8 min read
Medically reviewed by Camille Dixon, PA-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

In this article

Why you should be using sunscreen
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There’s no one-size-fits-all in skincare. What works for one person may not necessarily have the same results for someone else. But it’s only natural to want the best, so our team of licensed dermatology providers reviews and assesses countless products on the market to offer a few recommendations. So here, you’ll find the products that hold up to our rigorous standards.

Sunscreen* plays an important role in maintaining your skin’s health and protecting it from the harmful effects of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. Yet, not all sunscreens are made equal: When it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for the face, you should take several factors into consideration. 

To help you discover the best sunscreen for your face, we’ll share what you need to know about this product and how it can help shield your face from the sun's harmful rays.

Why you should be using sunscreen

UV radiation from the sun can cause a range of skin problems with significant consequences, increasing the risk of developing skin cancers and accelerating the aging process. In fact, exposure to UV light has been estimated to be linked with 80-90% of all skin cancers!¹ 

Other conditions that may stem from UV radiation exposure include:²

  • Chronic actinic dermatitis: characterized by itchy plaques on sun-exposed areas.³ 

  • Polymorphous light eruption: a fairly common skin rash that emerges when the skin is exposed to sunlight.⁴ 

  • Actinic prurigo: an intensely itchy rash that can be triggered by sun exposure.⁵ 

It’s important to take precautions and protect your skin from harmful UV radiation to help avoid these skin-related issues.⁶

The importance of sunscreen for facial protection

Using a sunscreen specifically designed for the face is important because facial skin has unique qualities, compared to other body parts. For one, skin on the face is more likely to experience sensitivity.⁷ Therefore, it’s important to find a facial sunscreen that provides gentle protection.

Facial sunscreens can also offer a non-comedogenic alternative, meaning they don’t tend to clog pores. 

Tinted sunscreens have gained popularity for their dual benefits of sun protection and natural-looking coverage. By evening out the skin tone, they impart a radiant glow that can often replace the need for separate foundation or BB cream, streamlining beauty routines.⁸

Additionally, facial sunscreens may often include antioxidants to offer additional help in combating premature aging caused by harmful UV rays.⁹ Furthermore, they play a vital role in preventing or reducing skin hyperpigmentation triggered or worsened by sun exposure.¹⁰ It’s also important to note that sunscreen cannot prevent all harm from UV rays, so be sure to seek shade, and wear sun-protective clothing and sunglasses as well!

What should you look for in a sunscreen

While any sunscreen is generally better than no sunscreen at all, there are products on the market that can provide you with better sun protection than others. When on the hunt for a new sunscreen, here is what to look out for:

Broad-spectrum

When you're picking out sunscreen, it's important to get one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Think of UVA rays as the "aging" rays—they go deep into your skin and can cause long-term damage like wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays are the ones that burn your skin, leading to sunburns. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will shield you from both, keeping your skin looking young and healthy, and more importantly, reducing your risk of skin cancer. So, always look for "broad-spectrum" on the label and remember to reapply it every two hours and when sweating or swimming!¹¹

SPF

SPF, or sun protection factor, is considered a measure representing the minimal UV radiation amount one can absorb while wearing sunscreen before experiencing sunburn.¹² Choose a broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher and is water-resistant.¹³

The good news is that a high-SPF sunscreen that is both photostable and possesses a high UVA-PF (Protection Factor) can indeed provide significant protection against various indicators of cellular damage. Such sunscreens are capable of safeguarding the skin against multiple forms of harm caused by excessive ultraviolet exposure.¹⁴

Water resistant

When it comes to sun protection, using a sunscreen that easily comes off the skin provides little benefit, regardless of how frequently it’s reapplied. In contrast, waterproof or water-resistant sunscreens that adhere well to the skin offer better protection if you know you will be sweating or in the water. Interestingly, the lowest level of skin exposure occurs when water-resistant sunscreens are reapplied early during sun exposure, rather than waiting for 2-3 hours after the initial application. In fact, reapplying water-resistant sunscreen after just 20 minutes can result in 60% to 85% reduction in ultraviolet exposure compared to waiting for 2 hours before reapplication.¹⁵

What are the different types of sunscreens

Sunscreen ingredients fall into two distinct categories: mineral and chemical.

Mineral

Mineral sunscreens utilize physical UV filters, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, to reflect or deflect UV radiation away from the skin. This allows them to offer broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.¹⁶ Notably, these sunscreens have been evaluated by the FDA and have been recognized as safe and effective, classified as Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective (GRASE) products.¹⁷

Chemical

Chemical sunscreens are formulated with UV filters that effectively absorb UV radiation, offering broad-spectrum UV protection. One notable advantage of chemical sunscreens is their reduced tendency to leave a chalky or tinted white residue on the skin, making them more cosmetically appealing, particularly for individuals with darker skin tones.¹⁸ As a result of these benefits, chemical sunscreens are prevalent in the majority of readily accessible sunscreen products within the thriving $1.95 billion sun care industry in the United States.¹⁹

Discover personalized skincare solutions and sun protection 

To promote healthier and well-protected skin, it’s important to choose the right sunscreen for your face. Sunscreen plays a vital role in preventing sunburn, premature aging, and the risk of skin cancer. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

curology bottle
curology bottle

The Sunscreen by Curology offers broad-spectrum SPF 30 protection.* It has a quick-absorbing and non-greasy formula and contains 9.4% zinc oxide, which effectively reflects both UVA and UVB rays without clogging pores. With this sunscreen, you can confidently shield your skin from harmful sun damage.

By choosing the right sunscreen that suits your needs, you can maintain healthier and more protected skin, allowing you to enjoy the outdoors without compromising your skin’s well-being.

FAQs

Is SPF 50 too much for my face?

Nope! SPF 50 sunscreen is not too much for the face. Dermatologists strongly recommend the use of sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, as it effectively blocks approximately 97 percent of the sun’s harmful UVB rays. While sunscreens with higher-number SPFs offer a slightly higher level of UVB ray protection, it’s important to note that no sunscreen can completely block 100 percent of the sun's UVB rays.²⁰

How much SPF is good?

It’s recommended to use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.²¹

How do I choose a sunscreen?

The American Academy of Dermatology advises everyone to use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, SPF 30 or higher, and water resistance. This combination of features helps protect the skin from sunburn, premature aging, and the risk of developing skin cancer.²²

When should I use sunscreen?

It’s important to apply sunscreen every day when you plan to spend time outdoors (and even if you are indoors by a window!). The sun emits harmful UV rays throughout the year, regardless of the weather conditions.

Moreover, certain surfaces like snow, sand, and water have the ability to reflect the sun’s rays, intensifying their impact on your skin. This reflection significantly increases the need for sunscreen in these environments to ensure proper protection from the sun’s damaging effects.²³

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don't have to:

  1. Sander, M., et al. The efficacy and safety of sunscreen use for the prevention of skin cancer. CMAJ. (2020, December 14).

  2. Antoniou, C., et al. Sunscreens - what’s important to know. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. (2008, August 18).

  3. Paek, S.Y. and Lim, H.W. Chronic actinic dermatitis. Dermatol Clin. (July 2014).

  4. Oakley, A.M. and Ramsey, M.L. Polymorphic Light Eruption. StatPearls. (2023, August 8).

  5. Pile, H.D. and Crane, J.S. Actinic Prurigo. StatPearls. (2023, June 28).

  6. Antoniou, C., et al. Sunscreens - what’s important to know. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. Ibid.

  7. Farage, M.A. The Prevalence of Sensitive Skin. Front Med (Lausanne). (2019, May 17). 

  8. De La Garza, H., et al. Tinted Sunscreens: Consumer Preferences Based on LIght, Medium, and Dark Skin Tones. Cutis. (April 2022). 

  9. Matsui, M., et al. Antioxidants add protection to a broad-spectrum sunscreen. JAAD. (February 2007). 

  10. Fatima, S., et al. The Role of Sunscreen in Melasma and Postinflammatory Hyperpigmentation. Indian J Dermatol. (January-February 2020). 

  11. Gabros, S., et al. Sunscreens and Photoprotection. StatPearls. (2023, July 17). 

  12. Cole, C. Sunscreens – what is the ideal testing model?. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine. (2013, December 9).

  13. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. (2023, October 19). 

  14. Cole, C., et al. A broad spectrum high-SPF photostable sunscreen with a high UVA-PF can protect against cellular damage at high UV exposure doses. Photodermatology, Photoimmunology, and Phtotomedicine. (2014, May 27).

  15. Diffey, B.L. When should sunscreen be reapplied?. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (December 2001).

  16. Adamson, A.S. and Shinkai, K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA. (2020, January 21).

  17. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. An update on sunscreen requirements: The deemed final order and the proposed order. (2022, December 16).

  18. Adamson, A.S. and Shinkai, K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA. Ibid.

  19. Adamson, A.S. and Shinkai, K. Systemic Absorption of Sunscreen: Balancing Benefits With Unknown Harms. JAMA. Ibid.

  20. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  21. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  22. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

  23. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Sunscreen FAQs. Ibid.

Camille Dixon is a certified Physician Assistant at Curology. She received her Master of Medical Science in Physician Assistant Studies from Midwestern University in Downers Grove, IL.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our thoughts on sun protection: *Sunscreen is only one part of UV protection—cute sun hats and shades are also recommended.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

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Camille Dixon, PA-C

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