The Definitive Guide To Picking The Perfect Sunscreen

When it comes to sunscreen options, to quote the iconic rapper T.I., "You can have whatever you like." While we're fairly certain he was not, in fact, referring to the numerous ways in which you can protect yourself against sun damage, his words still apply: There are many, many sunscreens to choose from. So when and where should you be using each type? Does one type of formula tend to work better than the others?
Because UV rays are nothing to mess around with, we went straight to the source, and asked dermatologists and skin-care experts to clarify once and for all. The verdict? It's a toss-up. Every single pro we spoke to agreed that the ultimate deciding factor is personal preference. "The most effective sunscreen is one that you'll use every day," says medical doctor-turned-beauty entrepreneur Lamees Hamdan, Founder and CEO of Shiffa. "That's why I say choose the texture that most suits you."
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Curious about your options? Click ahead for a closer look at what's out there in the world of SPF.
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Lotions

The bread and butter of sun protection, lotions are typically the most tradition form of sunscreen, and can be used broadly across the face and body. Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, suggests using about a quarter-sized dollop for your face and a shotglass amount for the rest of the sun-exposed skin on your body. Lotions are particularly good for those with dry or sensitive skin because many are formulated with hydrating ingredients, like this one from Aveeno.
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This sunscreen is a classic for a reason: The oil-free formula protects acne-prone and sensitive skin. Plus, the size makes it perfect to throw in your bag and go.
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Another bestseller, this sunscreen absorbs quickly for an invisible, lightweight feel. It's non-comedogenic, so no need to worry about it clogging pores.
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Sprays

If you like it quick and easy, sprays might be the go-to for you. They're especially convenient for covering hard-to-reach areas, like the back, but it's not just a spritz and go kind of deal. Sprays should be held an inch from the skin and sprayed until the skin glistens and you can actually see it, Dr. Zeichner says. And the most important step: You must rub in the sunscreen for it to do its job.

There is one place you won't want to get overzealous with a spray — and that would be your face. You can use the sunscreen itself, but dermatologist Shari Marchbein, MD, says to spray it into the palm of your hand before rubbing it onto the face.
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This alcohol-free spray features a visible rub-in formula to avoid patchy coverage, and a blend of anti-aging antioxidants works to neutralize free radicals.
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This spray is clinically proven to protect skin from sun and water damage, giving you major bang for your buck. The sweat-proof formula is non-greasy so it rubs in easily and doesn't leave any residue behind.
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As a setting spray and sunscreen hybrid, this SPF-infused mist does one better than the rest: It can go on top of your makeup for a midday touch-up. Bonus: It controls oil production, so you never have to worry about needing extra blotting papers.
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The only thing better than the fact that this SPF 50 mist is formulated with 70% organic ingredients is that it's also free of oxybenzone and octinoxate.
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Sticks

Oily skin? Thanks to their non-greasy formulas, sunscreen sticks might be the answer for you. Not to mention the fact that they're incredibly convenient — you can toss one in your bag without having to worry about a leaky bottle. Smaller sticks are great for hands and face, while a larger stick, like this one from Neutrogena, can be used over the whole body. Dr. Zeichner recommends using a back-and-forth motion to apply for four passes to ensure you're fully covered.
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This broad-spectrum SPF is actually formulated to work harder when it comes in contact with water or sweat, thanks to the proprietary WetForce technology.
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Liquids

Liquid sunscreens differentiate from lotions in that they are extra light fluids, with a consistency similar to milk. They're light and easy to spread, which makes them ideal for use on the face. That being said, they're great for the rest of the body, too; this one from La Roche-Posay features a matte texture and is specifically formulated for sensitive skin.
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This sunscreen comes with a "universal sheer tint" to enhance your complexion without adding color. It's super lightweight and mineral-based, meaning it's safe to use on sensitive and acne-prone skin.
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This tinted sunscreen is specially formulated for those with dry or combination skin. It glides onto the skin without leaving any oily or white residue, and increases skin's natural defenses against the sun.
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Gels

Easily spreadable and formulated to have a barely-there consistency, gels are arguably the best form of SPF for sunscreen skeptics and non-believers. They're commonly formulated with hydrating or mattifying ingredients, like this one from Supergoop, which is oil-free and leaves makeup with a velvety finish.
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This sunscreen applies with a water-light, refreshing feeling, and its non-greasy finish leaves skin looking and feeling healthy and moisturized.
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Powders

The first thing you must know about powder sunscreens: They do not take the place of traditional formulations, but as dermatologist Doris Day, MD, says, they're the best in class for mid-day touch ups. Powders refresh makeup and add an SPF boost, which makes them a great way to top off your existing coverage to ensure you're protected all day long. (Hot tip: Dust your powder sunscreen along your hairline and in your part, too.)
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This doubles as a setting powder and an SPF, leaving behind a satiny finish and extra sun protection. It's formulated with non-drying ingredients, so it makes skin matte without depriving it of moisture, and comes in four shades to suit different skin tones.
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This slightly tinted powder is perfect for anyone sensitive to the strong scent that comes along with most creamy SPF formulas. Luckily, this is entirely free of that beachy fragrance and never leaves behind a white cast thanks to the transparent formula.
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