Of all the skin-care products we use, sunscreen is the most powerful — and perhaps the most scrutinized. To pass the basic buy test, it must be broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, and absorb without feeling greasy. One must decide between physical and mineral options and think about water resistance, too. And those considerations are just the start — after all, sunscreen is one of the only shields we have against premature aging from sun damage and skin cancer. But there’s one thing that even the most discerning of beauty nerds don’t know about SPF: which formulas the top dermatologists use on their own complexions.
So we polled a few of our favorites, and we were surprised by what we found. For one, the priciest sunscreen isn't necessarily the best sunscreen. In fact, a few of our pros swear by easy-to-find drugstore brands. Another big reveal? Derms
are just like us — they want tinted, quick-to-absorb formulas that look and feel as good as they perform. See their favorite picks, along with a few of our own, ahead.
"Believe it or not, my favorite sunscreen is Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 55," says
Jessica Krant, MD
, dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. "The texture is rich enough that it keeps my skin moisturized but dry enough that it applies with a matte, almost foundation-like finish. I can use it alone without additional moisturizer or makeup, and it has Neutrogena’s high-quality, stable Helioplex formula that I trust."
Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, $7.09, available at
"I use EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41," says
Debra Jaliman, MD
, dermatologist and author of
. "It is lightly tinted, contains antioxidants, and has a high concentration of zinc oxide (9.0%). Plus, it's water resistant for up to 40 minutes."
UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41, $22.19, available at
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"Due to my acne-prone skin, I need an SPF that's lightweight and doesn't clog my pores," says Audrey Noble, Refinery29's associate beauty editor of brand experiences. "This lotion hydrates my skin without making it oily, which is a huge win in my book."
Skin Nourishment Day Lotion SPF 15, $12.89, available at
Skin Nourishment Day Lotion SPF 15,
"I like this fella from Dr.Jart+," says Mi-Anne Chan, Refinery29 beauty writer. "It's oxybenzone-free (meaning it won't contribute to
the downfall of our coral reefs
) and protects with an SPF of 50. The best part? Most sunscreens feel like, well, sunscreen (read: greasy, thick, and generally unappealing), but this one feels like moisturizer and sinks in super fast."
Every Sun Day UV Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $34.00, available at
"I love that this is a high-SPF physical blocker that gives you the heavy-duty protection [you need] daily, yet at the same time is so lightweight you hardly notice it's on," says cosmetic dermatologist
Shereene Idriss, MD.
She also notes that the formula absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a white cast or residue. "Unlike chemical blockers, it doesn't aggravate and irritate your skin (always a plus). Finally, it comes with just enough tint to help even out my complexion while giving me a hint of radiance. It's just enough for me to start my day without a drop of makeup."
Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50, $34, available at
"This is my personal favorite because of the combination of UVA/UVB protection, infrared defense, antioxidants, and tint," says
Marina Peredo, MD
, dermatologist and associate clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Total Defense + Repair SPF 34 (Tinted), $68.00, available at
"I hate the smell of sunscreen so much that I avoided it like it was a cruise line virus when I was younger," says Kelsey Castañon, Refinery29 beauty news editor. "A few years (and a lot of sunburns) later, I’ve finally landed on a few that keep my skin protected without the chemical scent. But this one from Clarins is my absolute favorite. It has the slightest floral scent and happens to be packed with antioxidants (like tea and blackcurrant extracts) to protect my skin from free-radical damage. Plus, it’s oil-free, meaning it never clogs my pores. Win-win-win."
UV 50 Day Screen Multi-Protection, $43.00, available at
David Bank, MD
, dermatologist and author of
Beautiful Skin: Every Woman's Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age
, likes any sunscreen from EltaMD, because it uses finely micronized zinc oxide, which he calls, "the best sun-blocking ingredient." He also gives the brand props for creating formulas that don't look white and pasty. His favorite of the bunch? This formula, geared for sensitive or acneic skin. "It's oil-free and has hyaluronic acid to moisturize."
UV Clear SPF 46, $35, available at
Elizabeth Tanzi, MD
, dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., turns to a powdered sunscreen when protecting her own skin, calling this one, "The absolute purest form of powder sunscreen with colors that blend with all skin tones." Why powder over lotion? "The powder locks makeup in place, cuts down on facial oil on a humid day, and provides excellent sun protection," she says. "It can be applied several times a day to maintain protection and never messes up makeup."
Sunforgettable Brush-on Sunscreen SPF 50, $65.00, available at
"I talk about this face SPF to anyone who will listen — and everyone else, too," says Refinery29 West Coast senior beauty editor Lexy Lebsack. "It's incredibly light and soaks in immediately, but it's also hydrating enough to take the place of my morning moisturizer. It never makes me break out, plays well under makeup, and feels amazing. I kid you not, it's the one SPF that has made me wear protection every single day — and my skin has never looked better for it!"
Anthelios Ultra-Fluid Lotion SPF 60, $22.49, available at
This NeoCutis SPF is a favorite of
S. Manjula Jegasothy, MD
, cosmetic dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "It carries a very light tint that is compatible with all skin types, including darker skin like mine. It doesn't have a white-ish sheen that many of the micronized zinc or titanium broad-spectrum sunscreens have," she says. Because it contains a "proven patented growth factor complex, I know that it's helping to minimize fine lines as it protects my skin from UV damage," she adds. Oh, and it gets high marks for its pleasant scent, too.
Journee Bio-Restorative Day Cream SPF 30, $107.93, available at
"The SPF 50 is unbeatable, and the hydrating formula goes on smooth and feels lightweight, with no shine or slick feel," says Refinery29 beauty writer Rachel Krause. "It has a barely perceptible blurring quality that makes skin look better and brighter without face makeup, which is not a thing you want to be wearing when it’s 110 degrees. I caught my boyfriend slathering it all over his arms one morning and told him, in a voice as calm as I could muster, that it was a little too expensive for his purposes. 'How much could it be?' he wanted to know. '
Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil Sunscreen Broad Spectrum, $195.00, available at
Saks Fifth Avenue
“But if I were, for some sick reason, forced to only purchase sun protection under $20, I’d come to bat for this one every time,” Krause says. “It might not include the fancy shit I usually go for, like rose oil and the fresh blood of seven virgins, but it’s waterproof, weightless, won’t clog pores, and looks lovely under makeup. You just can't have everything, I guess.”
Ultra Sheer Water-Light Daily Face Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60, $8.49, available at
Foregoing makeup altogether is easier when your sunscreen leaves your complexion dewy, not sticky. But besides its broad-spectrum protection, the formula is also just as hydrating as your richest night cream, so you'll actually
to slather it on.
Thank You Farmer
Sun Project Water Sun Cream SPF 50, $35.99, available at
"I love this sunscreen because it's super lightweight, moisturizing, and doesn't have that fragrance-y sunscreen smell," says Refinery29 beauty intern Megan Decker. "I know that we all need to wear sunscreen every single day, but I hate making it a separate step in my routine because so often it leaves a white cast that takes forever to rub into my complexion. Luckily, I can wear this serum, and just this serum, and it makes my skin look brighter and more hydrated, no rubbing or waiting required!"
City Sunscreen Serum SPF 30, $42.00, available at
"Not sure why it took so long for the industry to come out with a quality sunscreen specifically for the melanin-blessed crew, but I'm glad that it happened. Bolden's formula is in a small tube, but I've been using it for around three months now and still should have enough to last me until Thanksgiving," Refinery29 beauty writer Khalea Underwood says. "Two pumps is really all you need when properly layered. If your skin-care routine already encompasses other moisturizing elements (like serums and face oils), then a dab of this sheer formula can go right on top of your heavier moisturizer. It's so light that I usually forget I have it on."
SPF 30 Brightening Moisturizer, $28, available at
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