The moment when you suddenly realize you're an adult can come amid a seemingly random activity — depositing money in your newly formed 401k, making dinner that consists of something other than almond milk and cereal, leading your first department meeting at work. For us, though, that moment came when we finally mastered the fine art of applying sunscreen.
Finding your perfect SPF number and knowing exactly when you need to reapply, and how often, made us feel like we had become true, responsible grown-ups. Now, we can spend a weekend by the pool and not have to deal with the judgy looks of our coworkers on Monday when they catch sight of our lobster skin! But, along with that newfound diligence and lack of sunburns came something troubling — zits.
According to dermatologist
Jennifer M. Segal, MD, two things can cause sunscreen-related breakouts: occlusion of the pores by comedogenic materials, or a sensitivity reaction to chemical UV-blocking agents. Basically, the mineral sunscreens can sit on top of the skin and gunk up your pores, while the chemical ones can irritate the skin.
Yep, hell hath no fury like acne-prone skin after a thick coating of zinc oxide. Your pores look at SPF like you might look at a big vat of Crisco:
You can't seriously be considering putting that on, right? It's a cruel cosmic joke of damned if you do, and damned if you don't. Apply sunscreen and wait for the pimples to start cropping up, or ditch it and risk melanoma and wrinkles. The choice on that one is pretty clear for us — so we had resigned ourselves to a summer full of blemishes.
Until now. Thanks to some forward-thinking developments in formulations, all of this is starting to change. "Traditionally, mineral 'blocks have been very thick, but newer micronized formulations of zinc and titanium dioxide are smooth, cosmetically elegant, and very light," says Dr. Segal. Hallelujah.
Ahead, we've rounded up tried-and-R29-tested
mineral and chemical (for those of you allergic or unable to get on the mineral-SPF train) sunscreens that we've spent the last month slathering on our faces and bodies. Not one of these caused our skin to go ballistic, so we feel confident giving them our no-pizza-face seal of approval. Click through to see which sun-protection products made the cut.
This lightweight sunscreen is the only one our beauty writer wore all summer (and into fall!) . It's fast-absorbing and non-greasy yet hydrating enough to use without a separate moisturizer.
Farmacy Green Screen Sunscreen, $36, available at Sephora.
You'll be the TSA's favorite traveler with this carry-on-friendly stick fused with vitamin E, coconut oil, and avocado oil.
Coola Mineral Sport Sunscreen Stick SPF 50, $26, available at Sephora.
This oil-free cream is proof that the greasy, gross feeling usually associated with sunscreens is a thing of the past. We even look forward to using it.
Clinique Oil-Free Face Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $21.50, available at Sephora.
Yes, this NARS primer will make your skin sparkle, but it's also packed with SPF 35.
NARS Radiance Primer Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen, $36, available Sephora.
A sunscreen that doesn't irritate sensitive skin or clog pores? That's a winner in our books. Add a light tint and it's the only thing you need on rushed mornings.
Clinique Pep-Start Daily UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $19.50, available at Sephora.
Even if anti-aging products aren't normally your go-to, this formula sinks in fast and protects your skin from future damage with SPF 50+. Bonus: It's oil-free, so it won't feel greasy on the muggiest days.
Lancôme Bienfait UV SPF 50+ Super Fluid Facial Sunscreen, $39, available at Sephora.
This lightweight spray not only contains an SPF of 50, but it also helps to control oil and shine. Since it's a mist, it's easy to reapply over makeup. Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50, $28, available at Sephora.
This spray sunscreen is biodegradable, waterproof for up to 80 minutes, and doesn't contain
coral reef-destroying oxybenzone. All this, coupled with the fact that it doesn't break us out, makes it a clear winner in our book. Alba Botanica Very Emollient Fragrance Free Clear Spray, $8.81, available at Walmart.
On the hunt for a new day cream? You can't go wrong with this formula. It's lightweight, has an SPF of 30, and plays well under makeup.
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM with SPF 30, $14.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
Sure, this tinted cream won't replace your full-coverage foundation, but it will help even out your skin tone while providing sun protection.
SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 34 Tinted, $68, available at SkinMedica.
This super-lightweight formula absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a white, chalky residue behind despite its 23% dose of zinc oxide — which protects from UVA and UVB rays.
VMV Hypoallergenics Armada Indoor-Outdoor Skin Cover SPF 30, $50, available at VMV Hypoallergenics.
This pick is the sole SPF we've been slathering on since the sun decided to make a permanent appearance recently. Not only does it protect your visage, but it leaves you with a subtle hint of shimmer.
Dr. Jart+ Every Sun Day UV Illuminating Sunscreen SPF 36, $34, available at Sephora.
This pricey pick is worth its weight in gold — if dropping extra dough for a high-performance hybrid SPF is a priority for you. Functioning as a sunscreen, makeup primer, and pore-tightener in one, it's skin protection on steroids.
The primer benefit is a standout — the problem with most sunscreens is that while they shield from the sun, they pill up under makeup or cause blending issues. Not so here — everything from the lightest tinted moisturizer to the heaviest full-coverage foundation blends in seamlessly. One word of caution: It does feel sticky upon first application, but give it some time to absorb and you'll be rewarded with a powdery-soft finish. Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35, $68, available at Tatcha.
Most mineral sunscreens tend to be a bit heavy, but this sensitive-skin SPF has a fluid texture (with a light tint), which means the titanium dioxide sun filter doesn't feel (or look) chalky on the skin. It's safe for both those with hypersensitive skin (redness, flaking, scaling) and for those prone to pimples. No grease, no stinging, no burns, no problem.
Kiehl's Dermatologist Solutions Super Fluid UV Mineral Defense Titanium Dioxide Sunscreen SPF 50+, $38, available at Kiehl's.
With a name like Your Skin But Better, it's hard to resist snatching up this tube. Based on the rave reviews on every corner of the internet, you'll be glad you did. The full-coverage CC obscures pigmentation issues (like acne scars, the bane of any breakout-prone person's existence) and protects your face from UVA and UVB rays. We love a good quick fix that also has long-term benefits — especially when it means we don't have to sacrifice a clear complexion in order to get it.
It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ SPF 50+, $38, available at It Cosmetics.
You don't often see a proper sunscreen that can also replace two other integral steps in your skin-care routine. But improbably, this SPF from rock-star derm Dr. Dennis Gross — a true guru of all things acne — does just that.
We can personally attest to the magic of the Dark Spot Sun Defense cream. As evident in its name, it prevents dark spots by intercepting the sun's rays before they can cause the overproduction of melanin that causes them in the first place. Which, to be fair, is what any sunscreen does. But what makes this cream special is that it also functions as a repairing treatment in addition to a preventative. Melatonin, vitamin E, and three forms of vitamin C help reduce existing pigmentation issues, as well as fine lines and uneven skin texture. And if that weren't enough, it's also a pretty boss moisturizer. Smooth some on post-cleansing and toning, and it's all you need on your skin for the day — really. Dr. Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen, $42, available at Dr. Dennis Gross.
As anyone who's ever suffered from body bumps knows, sunscreen-induced pimples aren't just a problem on your face. When you're applying and constantly reapplying SPF on your back, you wind up with a slip-and-slide situation that clogs pores and encourages "bacne" to spring up like weeds in your flower garden.
That's because most body sunscreens aren't as concerned with the pore-clogging effects, since skin on your body tends to be less sensitive to breakouts. If you're lucky enough not to have to worry about this, well, good for you. For the rest of us, there's this lotion from Sun Bum. And it truly is a lotion in every sense of the word — it glides on effortlessly, sinks in within minutes, and softens the skin almost as well as your regular body hydrator. All that without riling up the p. acnes bacteria that causes your skin to freak out. So feel free to reapply it over and over again with confidence. No, seriously, did you reapply? Don't make us come over there and do it for you. Sun Bum SPF 30 Original Sunscreen Lotion, $15, available at Sun Bum.
When they say "light," they aren't kidding — this Korean import sinks into the skin almost on contact, leaving your face feeling fresh and residue-free.
Amarte Ultra Veil Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid, $56, available at Dermstore.
This unassuming bottle contains one of the legit best SPF moisturizers our skin has ever come in contact with. The ayurvedic formula combines organic neem, shatavari (an herb), and rose — plus non-nano micronized zinc oxide — into a silky, hydrating cream that magically manages not to feel heavy or sticky on your skin.
Pratima Neem Rose Face Sunscreen SPF 30, $32, available at Pratima.
Sunscreen Innovation Act has formally passed, it will still be years before we start to see new SPF ingredients hit the market — the FDA has to exhaustively test every new entrant before they'll be allowed into the marketplace. Tough luck for those of you hoping to get your hands on the futuristic SPFs our European friends have easy access to. Until then, this new sunscreen from Avène is the next best thing. The French brand tells us this is as close to its European formula it can legally come right now, and while the ingredients are familiar (hi, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide!), the formula is unlike any other mineral SPF you may have tried. Infused with antioxidant vitamin E and the brand's famous thermal waters, it goes on lightweight, won't clog pores, and doesn't leave behind an annoying white cast on the skin. We wore it for a week straight during a close-to-the-Equator tropical vacation and didn't encounter a single slice of red skin — or a blemish — the whole time. Avéne Ultra Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion, $28, available at Drugstore.com.
This overachieving cream pulls triple-duty for the skin, protecting it from the sun, fading existing dark marks, and imparting a soft luminescence to your visage. All of that without feeling greasy or tacky — we had to pinch ourselves mid-application to make sure we hadn't dreamed it up.
Shiseido White Lucent All Day Brightener Broad Spectrum SPF 22 Sunscreen, $57, available at Nordstrom.
This beauty brand specializes in products that address scars, but its SPF is also a workhorse for the acne prone, too. The milky formula is made without chemical actives, absorbs quickly, and doesn’t leave a white residue — or greasy sheen — behind.
Dermaflage ScarScreen SPF 30, $25, available at Dermaflage.
Leave it to a laser clinic to come up with one of the most effective, skin-friendly SPFs we've ever tried. Skin Laundry's SPF 35 moisturizer has been in heavy rotation in our routine ever since we first got it smoothed on our faces after trying SL's
laser facial. The rich cream gives sensitized skin the perfect hit of soothing, non-greasy hydration, plus that much-needed SPF. It pulls off the tricky task of calming, moisturizing, and protecting without making your pores feel claustrophobic. A must-try for anyone with sensitive or dry skin — hell, a must-try for everyone. Skin Laundry Advanced Protection Essential Daily Moisturizer with Broad Spectrum SPF 35, $25, available at Skin Laundry.
Another tinted wonder, this schmancy SPF from La Mer comes in five shades (sadly, the darkest is Tan) and features a weightless formula chock-full of skin-loving ingredients that promotes anti-aging benefits as it protects.
La Mer The Reparative Skin Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $95, available at Nordstrom.
Eco-friendly beauty brand
Coola has always been an R29 favorite, and we'd argue it has some of the best organic SPF around. So, when we saw it had partnered with Target to create the exclusive line Bare Republic, we got pretty excited. This mineral sunscreen has all the great stuff we love about Coola — healthy ingredients, non-clogging formulas, gorgeous textures — at a much more wallet-friendly price. Bare Republic Natural Mineral Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, $14.99, available at Target.
Residue-free and feeling like a soft whisper on the skin, this lightweight SPF fluid from Laura Mercier goes on sheer and features technology that helps skin adapt to different temperatures — meaning you don't have to retire this innovative sunscreen once autumn rolls around.
Laura Mercier Flawless Skin Daily Face Shield SPF 40, $45, available at Sephora.
A favorite of derms for patients post-laser treatments, this tinted mineral SPF keeps your complexion safe without irritating or aggravating delicate skin.
Elta MD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41 Facial Sunscreen, $29.50, available at Dermstore.
If you have allergies or sensitivities to physical sunscreen ingredients, try this chemical SPF cream from Eve Lom. The oil-free formula is also free of zinc and titanium dioxide, and uses a potent mix of firming and brightening ingredients to tone, smooth, and clarify your complexion. The addition of lactic acid also ensures breakouts won't be a problem — it might even help you fight off the ones you already have.
Eve Lom Daily Protection SPF 50, $90, available at Space NK.
This sunscreen has a cult following for a very good reason. It's fast-absorbing, finishes like a matte dream, and feels essentially non-existent on your visage.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra-Light Sunscreen Fluid, $29.99, available at La Roche-Posay.
With this tinted moisturizer, you get to fake a flawless complexion
and fight those harsh rays. Talk about a win-win. Nars Velvet Matte Skin Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 30, $45, available at Sephora.
This two-in-one sunscreen and primer multi-tasks, prepping skin for both makeup and sun exposure. The non-greasy formula is infused with green tea and antioxidants, so it's ideal for sensitive skin, even those with rosacea and acne.
Suntegrity Skincare Natural Moisturizing Face Sunscreen and Primer SPF 30, $45, available at DermStore.
Dry, combination, oily, acne-prone — this liquid sunscreen is a heavy-hitter for every skin type, tone, and texture. With a formidable SPF 50 for maximum protection, the lightweight formula leaves behind a natural-looking glow that’s neither dewy nor totally matte — and never, ever greasy.
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50, $34, available at Dermstore.
The creator of this lightweight SPF was inspired to make a formula that works with breakouts — without making blemishes worse. The result is this silky concoction, which is completely undetectable on the skin and gets you in the habit of wearing daily sun protection without fear of acne.
Panacea Skincare Daily SPF, $38, available at Panacea.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the
Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!