Makeup basics from a makeup artist: the 6 best sunscreens that you should definitely be using

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We all know we’re supposed to wear sunscreen, but do we? Here where I live in “sunny California,” sunscreen should be a way of life, given the year-round sunshine we have. Yet I can tell that my fellow Californians are not necessarily incorporating this vital element into their skin routines. In other parts of the country where it’s not as constantly sunshiny, it’s easy to think you don’t need it until summer rolls around. Well, study after study says that we do.

Now is the time to develop the habit of wearing sunscreen regularly. Here are some of my fave sunscreens as well as some interesting newcomers…

1. Peter Thomas Roth – Ultra Lite Sunblock 30

Peter Thomas Roth Ultra Lite Sunblock 30
I have had this sunscreen in my kit for years. It’s just a straight forward, broad spectrum, oil free, high SPF sunblock. Perfect for a day of outdoor shooting or layered over an oil-free moisturizer for daily use. What I always love about Peter Thomas Roth products is that they are clinically based; the formulations are gentle, and I never have to worry about using them even on the most sensitive of skins.

Dermalogica Super Sensitive Shield, SPF 30

Ultracalming Super Sensitive Shield
Sunscreen is a tricky proposition for those with sensitive skin. Not only are the fragrances, alcohol and colorings regularly used in cosmetic lotion bases problematic, but the actual chemical sun blockers — such as oxybenzone or avobenzone — may irritate sensitive skin as well. For this reason physical/mineral sunblocks are generally recommended for sensitive skin.

The Blue Lizard Australian sunscreen brand is a well-respected line of sunscreens. Their Sensitive sunscreen is a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen that is gentle on skin but does not skip on protection. It’s thick and oily, so it’s best left for use on the body only. (Note: they do make a face sunscreen, but it’s a combo of physical and chemical sun-blockers and it is not designated as “sensitive.”)

For the face, Dermalogica is always one of my go to brands. Like Peter Thomas Roth, Dermalogica is a clinically based brand whose products are researched, developed and tested by skin care professionals (the company was founded by a para-medical esthetician) for maximum efficacy. The Super Sensitive Shield uses physical sunblock (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) combined with good-for-you skincare ingredients (oats, camellia, lavender) so your skin is well protected and feels great. It’s not the cheapest product out there, but it works. And this is your FACE we’re talking about.

Pro Tip: Go easy on physical sunscreens. The sun blocking agents can often cause a white-cast on the face if you use too much.

3. Jason Natural – Facial Natural Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 20

If you prefer naturally derived products, you are no doubt familiar with the Jason Natural brand. Their Broad Spectrum 20 sunscreen is oil free, light in both weight and texture, and packed with antioxidants in a non-pore-clogging formula. I have used this sunscreen on myself personally and liked it very much even on my crazy oily skin. And Jason Naturals says that it can be used under makeup, and it won’t cause your foundation to change colors (which can happen with sunscreen).

4. Dermalogica – Oil Free Matte SPF 30

Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30
I have espoused my love for Dermalogica many times. I have long used Dermalogica’s Solar Defense Booster both on myself and in my kit. They now have a new sun protection product out made for the oily heads like myself. This is a lightweight, broad spectrum sunscreen that has oil absorbers to help keep the skin matte. Let’s face it: If you have a combination or oily complexion, a lot of sunscreens will make your already oily skin (or oily spots) all the more oily. I am very intrigued to see if this product actually helps keep the face a bit more matte while also keeping it sun protected.

5. Neutrogena – Clear Face Sunscreen

Neutrogena Clear Face Sunblock Lotion
The other problem in wearing sunscreen on oily skin is that if you are breakout prone, sunscreens can often cause more breakouts. I have even had some sunscreens that claimed to be non-comedogenic and non-pore-clogging do a number on my skin. Neutrogena has been putting out excellent skin care — including sun protection — at affordable prices since forever. Their latest addition to their sun care line is an oil free liquid-lotion with a matte finish. In addition to their proprietary broad-spectrum “Helioplex® technology,” the Clear Face sunscreen is formulated with botanicals to help calm reactive, breakout prone skin. Clear Face is available in SPF 30 and SPF 55.

6. Dr. T’s Supergoop

An unappealing name for a very appealing line of products, Supergoop is the brainchild of cosmetics industry veteran Holly Thaggard. Her goal was to create a comprehensive line of sun protection products using the latest in available sunscreen guidelines and technologies but leaving out controversial ingredients such as parabens, petrochemicals, fragrances, and phthalates. The result is a line of highly effective products that are good for both body and planet. I have yet to try any of these products, but as my own personal preference is towards more naturally derived — or at least less chemical — products, I look forward to doing so.

Your turn

We’d love to know what your go-to sunblocks are. Leave your favorites in the comments. And if you have any questions, or specific needs that weren’t addressed, feel free to ask away!

Comments on Makeup basics from a makeup artist: the 6 best sunscreens that you should definitely be using

  1. We love the Jason Natural sunscreens. I’ve used their mineral sunblock on my toddlers and their facial sunscreen on my face and their sport/ waterproof sunscreen on my body. My daughter has very sensitive skin and she’s never had a bad reaction. And as a family of 5 I appreciate that their line of sunscreens are very affordable because we go through a lot of it.

  2. Ymmv but I use the Blue Lizard Face on my crazy sensitive skin with no issues. I wouldn’t recommend it as a daily thing because it takes a fair amount of effort to get it off my face but for a day at the beach/pool or whatever it’s great.

    • Ooh, thanks for the recommendation! I didn’t know that Kiss My Face made sunscreen, and my family already loves/trusts some of their products.

      Sunscreen is something I know my family should be wearing more, but I have struggled to find products that aren’t chock-full of questionable ingredients. The result is that we often wear a level of SPF that is likely wayyyyyy too low (I know that SPF 15 just doesn’t cut it when out all day in the sunshine)–when we even bother to wear sunscreen at all.

      • I’ve worn Clinique’s City Block for about 30 years. I’m 61 and a lot of people think I’m about 45! It has minerals titanium oxide and zinc oxide. I’ve read that these are the safest ingredients to use. It’s slightly tinted so I use it on my face alone and then use Ombrelle for my body.

    • I’ve been using Yes To Carrots moisturizer / sunscreen which is good, but always on the lookout for other good face sunscreens!

      I hate hate hate the greasy feeling of sunscreen on my hands, so I’ll use lotion sunscreen just for my face and back of my hands, and then I use spray for anything else. I keep a spray bottle on the window sill next to my door as a reminder and to make it easy to use whenever I go out. It’s fully of crazy chemicals, but Colorado the sun exposure is already so high and nearly everyone in my family has gotten skin cancer that I feel it’s worth the trade off.

    • I just returned from a two-week hiking vacation in California, and I used the spray version of this sun screen for the first time. I cannot tell you how AMAZING this stuff is. Light, smells like coconut, applies evenly, not sticky. And the top button is even easy to push with sweaty hands!

  3. I use Cerave products. My moisturizer has a low-level SPF, and I use Cerave’s spray sunscreen if I’m going to be in the sun for longer than the amount of time it takes me to get from my car to the grocery store. Fair warning: the spray sunscreen smells like tumeric, hurts to breathe, and makes the floor slippery. But it works. They make a lotion version, which I haven’t tried yet.

    • My friend loves coopertone sport or bullfrog for her tattoos, but her artist said any broad spectrum sunscreen with zinc oxide in it works. Just make sure it’s the cream and not sprays, and a SPF of 40 or higher.

  4. I’ve been using this mineral sunscreen the whole summer and I think it’s going to be a staple. It’s not for swimming or day at the beach type applications, but for daily out in the sun things it’s been great. It works best if you’re a little damp, so I apply it after putting on moisturizer or foundation. I’m a wedding photographer, so I sweat and look super slimy if I wear regular sunscreen (plus white streaks, ha!) this has really solved my probs. Yes, it’s expensive but my Irish skin thanks me every time I *don’t* get a burn.

  5. Neutrogena! I have always liked neutrogena for just about any kind of product, including the sunscreens. My sister uses L’Oreal’s advanced sun care line and she loves it (has a wonderful scent to it so you don’t smell like sunscreen either). Of course Bullfrog has never let me down either 🙂

  6. I’m super pale and have been a religious sunscreen person ever since my mom slathered me every day when I was a kid. That’s all well and good; I don’t mind wearing sunscreen. With all the new reports of what chemicals are weird, I need to get away from the crazy Neutrogena or Coppertone/Banana Boat ones that destroy your ovaries or whatever they’re supposed to do, but my face gets crazy sweaty all the time and non-active/ultra sweatproof just run off and burn my eyes and stuff. Has anyone found a natural/low chemical/”healthy” sunscreen that’s super sweatproof, by any chance?

    • I really hope you are not referring to the latest EWG reports (which is what all the news stations are using as “proof”). Science has this to say about it: “Dermatologists who reviewed the group’s research say the biggest problem is that it lacks scientific rigor. In particular, they are critical of a sunscreen rating system that they say is arbitrary and without basis in any accepted scientific standard.”

      Basically, there isn’t any real documented proof. Most of the ones they claimed “didn’t work” are based off a chemical that breaks down easily in the sun (those sunscreens tell you to reapply more frequently) and most of then have added protection to prevent this break down, making it last longer or are infused with antioxidants to help as well. The other chemical they noted about disruptions of the body has no evidence of it, and the only known problem with it was that a small amount of people were allergic to it. It’s really dangerous to spread misinformation such as this group did, because it could start a panic and a widespread dis-use of sunscreen (some people just wont buy more expensive “natural” kinds or just distrust sunscreen in general) leading to an increase of skin cancers. So far, the science hasn’t indicated any kind of harmful effects of these and they’ve been on the market for years and they are still being monitored in labs today.

      That being said, wanting something with less chemicals is totally cool too and any type of mineral based sunscreen made with healthy oils will be naturally more “waterproof” than normal, perhaps the Jason line will be a good one to try? I’ve also heard great things about the MD SolarSciences active line of sunscreens.

  7. Coola Baby (marketed for babies but usable by anyone) is INCREDIBLE. It leaves a bit of a white film at first, but then sets and it’s like nothing is there. And it doesn’t stink or irritate like sunscreen, which is what kept me indoors for the first 32 years of my life before I found this stuff. Super clean ingredients too. It’s pricy, but totally worth it.

    • Back in my lifeguarding days, I used to swear by No-Ad. I went through sunscreen so quickly that those giant bottles were the best, plus it stayed on well and went on easily.

  8. After years of working in skin care, my favorite face sunscreen is CoTZ:
    Not at all greasy or irritating, gives a really nice matte finish, works amazingly as a makeup primer. Since it’s a physical instead of a chemical sunscreen it lasts way longer (as long as you don’t rub or wipe your face), and it also has a slight tint so it doesn’t make you look white like a lot of zinc sunscreens do.

    Also, for weddings and other special occasions I highly recommend Goldfaden MD Sun Visor:
    It’s INSANELY expensive ($45… I know, ridiculous) BUT, it’s a superfine mist that you can reapply over makeup as many times as you need to, it’s not at all greasy and doesn’t mess with your makeup at all. So it’s great for a beach wedding or something where you need good sun protection but don’t want to apply lotion over makeup. (Chemical sunscreens oxidize on the skin so they stop working after about 2 hours, which is why you need to keep reapplying.)

    Coola’s whole line is also really great:

    • I have heard from photographer friends that the camera’s worst enemy is sunblock on the subject’s face. They call it “reflector face” because the flash reflects of their coated faces.

  9. I love this post and I’m so excited for the rest of the series!
    I have been on the Sunscreen Odyssey of Fun and Doom But Mostly Doom this summer. I have melasma, I use prescription retinol at night and azalaic acid/kojic acid in the morning, I bike to work regularly, and I have light olive skin–which means I need something that is 50+ (because retinol/azalaic acid/kojic acid make skin extra sensitive to sun, and melasma is worsened by sun exposure), something that is sweat-resistant, and something that doesn’t show up white on my skin tone. And preferably under $50. Also, I HATE the super shiny sunscreen face that happens with most high SPF products. I want to glow, not shine like a disco ball dipped in vegetable oil. Anyway, I’ve tried a lot of products with hilarious results and finally settled on La Roche Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid. It rubs in quickly, it dries fairly matte, it doesn’t leave a white cast, and feels kind of like a make up primer. It’s about $30. My back up is Neutrogena clear face, but it dries very shiny on me and leaves a slightly white cast. I really wanted to like Cerave 50 SPF sunscreen (I love the rest of their products) but it was really hard to rub in and made me look like a ghost. Also, on a completely unrelated note, I desperately miss the Neutrogena pump bottle spray sunscreen. It was SPF 30+, smelled like oranges and went on clear and I used to wear it as a sort of summer perfume/sunscreen. I haven’t seen it in years …. 🙁

  10. I love Rodan + Fields sunscreen. My husband who usually burns all summer long has not burned once and he is awful at reapplying. It is a squeeze bottle so no ozone harmful spray and it is pharmaceutical grade. Have to love how the makers of Proactive have spread out.

  11. Yikes! Not only am I late to this conversation, but I’m not in the sunscreen know how. It has never occured to me to wear sunscreen everyday, and I live in California (and at the beach. Eeek!)
    Thanks to a commenter above I checked out, and apparently skin cancer is on the rise for Hispanics (which I am). So, thank you OBE, I’m going to implement a daily morning sunscreen for me and my daughter (I don’t think I’ll ever get my husband to do it, even though he burns all the time and we don’t!)
    The more you know!

  12. Does anyone know of something that would work well for a distance runner? I live in Colorado (higher sun exposure due to altitude) and go on sunny runs several hours in length. Any sunscreen I’ve tried just traps sweat against the skin, though, and makes me breakout like crazy. I also can’t easily carry it with me to reapply. Lately I’ve just been wearing a hat and hoping for the best, but I know that’s probably not very healthy for my skin. Ideas, anyone?

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