Best facial sunscreen: light, lasting protection with skincare benefits

We've tried and tested the best facial sunscreens that are comfortable enough to wear every day

Collage of three of the best facial sunscreen formulas by shiseido, drunk elephant and supergoop
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

No skincare quest is as important as the one for the best facial sunscreen. When asked to name their top three beauty essentials, any dermatologist or skin expert worth their salt will list a quality SPF for your face right at the top. 

There's a good reason for this—sun exposure is considered to be the primary cause of premature skin aging, with many experts holding it responsible for up to 90% of preventable skin damage. The best facial sunscreen has the capacity to help stave off all kinds of ill effects from sun damage, which include loss of firmness, pigmentation, wrinkles, and rough skin texture. And while many of us whip out the SPF on hot days and holidays only, it should really be as much a part of your daily skincare routine as cleansing or moisturizing. 

This is because sun damage can happen at any time, from any UV rays, be they sunburn-causing UVB or age-accelerating UVA (which can penetrate clouds on the greyest of days) In better news, skincare brands know this so we are spoilt for choice when it comes to comfortable facial SPF designed to be worn every day. We get formulas packed with skincare ingredients that tackle concerns like dehydrated skin, work as hyperpigmentation treatments, or simply provide a radiant base for dewy makeup. Whether you want cream or gel, mineral or chemical, budget or luxe - and even makeup-sunscreen hybrids that act as the best cream bronzer while simultaneously protecting your skin, these are the best facial sunscreens for everyone, at every price. 

How to choose the best facial sunscreen for you

Picking the best facial sunscreen starts with decoding the key terms you'll see on their packaging:

  • UVA: The ultraviolet rays responsible for skin aging and skin cancer/melanoma (think "A" for “aging”)
  • UVB: The ultraviolet rays responsible for skin reddening and burning (think "B" for “burning”)
  • SPF: Refers to the Sun Protection Factor, and only determines protection from UVB rays. Dermatologists widely recommend using SPF 30 as a minimum 
  • PA: The Protection Grade of UVA is measured via plus signs (+)—the more pluses, the better the protection
  • Broad-spectrum: Absorbs or blocks both UVA and UVB rays. So if you are wondering does sunscreen prevent tanning, if it's broad spectrum then yes, it will.
  • Chemical sunscreen: These widely-used formulas contain chemical compounds that absorb and neutralize UV rays within the skin
  • Mineral sunscreen: Contain natural reflectors, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that physically block the sun and reflect UV rays away from the body
  • Reef-safe: Some chemical sunscreens can be damaging to fragile aquatic life when they rinse off your skin into the water supply or ocean. According to Save the Reef (opens in new tab), this is any sunscreen product with ingredients that “aren't on the HEL List (opens in new tab)"

The best facial sunscreens, by our beauty team

Shiseido Urban Environment Oil Free Age Defense SPF30

(Image credit: Shiseido)

1. Shiseido Urban Environment Oil Free Age Defense SPF30

Best facial sunscreen overall

Specifications

RRP: $48/£34
Type: Chemical
Texture: Light lotion
Key ingredients: Spirulina, black tea extract, hyaluronic acid
Fragranced: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
High SPF
+
Oil-free, matte finish; non-comedogenic
+
Super lightweight
+
Doubles as a makeup primer
+
Antioxidants protect against pollution
+
Eco-friendly plant-derived bottle

Reasons to avoid

-
Fragranced

Japanese skincare masters Shiseido can always be relied upon to create products with beautifully light and silky textures, and this facial SPF is no exception. It emerges from its 90% plant-derived eco-bottle as a milky fluid, with a slightly golden tone then disappears into the skin with zero residue, no greasiness or chalky finish. Texture wise this is closer to face moisturizer with SPF than most sunscreens, but offers far more robust protection. It's oil-free, so a great choice for combination skins but also contains hydrating hyaluronic acid to gently plump the skin, so dry types should get on well with it too. 

Aside from looking and feeling great, this packs in plenty of antioxidants, which bolster your skin's natural defences against pollution, smoke and UV, to really double down on skincare benefits. The classy, ultra-light bottle is exceptionally handbag-friendly. And while the cream itself is fragranced, said scent is so subtle and unobtrusive it really shouldn't be a problem for anyone. 

La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune400 Invisible Fluid spf50+

(Image credit: La Roche Posay)

2. La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune400 Invisible Fluid spf50+

Best budget facial sunscreen

Specifications

RRP: £18 (UK only)
Type: Chemical
Texture: Fluid
Key ingredients: Unique Mexoryl 400 filter, glycerin
Fragranced: No

Reasons to buy

+
Unique filter to protect against long UVA
+
Protects from sun damage, pollution, and blue light
+
Great for sensitive skin
+
Non-comedogenic, unscented
+
Sheer finish
+
Handy bottle

Reasons to avoid

-
None, we love his

There is a reason dermatologists consistently recommend La Roche Posay sunscreen, well actually there are many reasons. Firstly this French pharmacy brand is known for its excellent formulations. They don't chase trends or launch products just for the sake of it. Instead, they work hard to create trustworthy, non-irritating, enjoyable-to-use suncare at reasonable prices (including one of the best aftersun lotions for sensitive skin) What's not to love about that? 

This product is an update of the much-loved Anthelios Invisible Fluid, one of the best La Roche Posay products of all time. It has retained the light, and non-greasy texture plus sheer finish of the original but added in a unique and powerful new UV filter, called Mexoryl 400. This 10-years-in-the-making ingredient targets long UVA rays, which have been shown to cause the most skin damage due to their ability to reach the deep dermis layer. This, in turn, protects your collagen-producing fibroblast cells like no other formula, which translates to plumper, more even-toned, firmer skin. Packing so much technology into a nice comfortable, well-priced sunscreen is no mean feat, so we applaud La Roche for pulling it off.  We also love the slimline, pocket-friendly bottle, and unfragranced formula making this one of the best sunscreens for sensitive skin. Top marks all around. 

Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

(Image credit: Drunk Elephant)

3. Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

Best facial sunscreen for dry skin

Specifications

RRP: $34/£29
Type: Mineral
Texture: Cream
Key ingredients: Sunflower shoot extract, algae extract, raspberry seed oil
Fragranced: No

Reasons to buy

+
Broad-spectrum UVA/ UVB protection
+
Safe for sensitive skin
+
Fragrance- and essential oil-free
+
cruelty-free

Reasons to avoid

-
Mineral SPF can leave residue

Drunk Elephant is one of those brands that's universally loved by skincare fans of all ages and all skin types. Their clean beauty ethos may or may not agree with you, but it's a combination of snappily named and cleverly formulated products plus fun eye-catching packaging that we adore, and this facial SPF ticks all those boxes. As the name suggests, this sunscreen is made with physical mineral blockers, yet as these formulas go is fairly sheer. The rich, creamy texture goes on smoothly and sinks in nicely, although we did find it needed a little more blending than your average sunscreen to look truly invisible. 

Formulated with sunflower shoot extract, rich algae extract, and raspberry seed oil, this powerful zinc oxide broad-spectrum SPF quenches fine lines and wrinkles, targets pigmentation, dullness, and uneven texture while defending against damage and external environmental aggressors. As this SPF is also fragrance-free, it's one of the best facial sunscreen options for sensitive skin types and anyone who prefers to avoid chemical filters. It may not be the cheapest product on our list, but the generous 90ml tube actually makes it pretty great value too. 

Kiehl's Super Fluid Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50

(Image credit: Kiehls)

4. Kiehl's Super Fluid Daily UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50

Best facial sunscreen for oily skin

Specifications

RRP: $62/ £29
Type: Chemical
Texture: White fluid
Key ingredients: Vitamin E, sunscreen actives
Fragranced: No

Reasons to buy

+
High SPF
+
Ideal for dry and sensitive skin types
+
Non-comedogenic, unscented
+
Sulfate-, paraben-, and phthalate-free

Reasons to avoid

-
Might be too matte for dry skins

When it comes to the best facial sunscreen for oily skin, we turn to the skincare experts at Kiehl's for a formula that delivers on multiple fronts. This particular product is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and boasts SPF 50+ for true protection. Most importantly delivers a pore-blurring soft-focus effect rather than an ultra-powdery matte one. This will be hugely beneficial under makeup, acting as one of the best primers for oily skin, making it a great product for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

Ingredients-wise it is formulated with gentle antioxidant, soothing vitamin E, as well as your classic chemical sunscreen actives that help protect your skin from UV damage. If you have very dry skin that needs plenty of extra hydration there's probably a better formula out there for you. Otherwise, this non-comedogenic sunscreen is super comfortable for daily wear.  

Supergoop! (Re) Setting 100% Mineral powder

(Image credit: Supergoop)

5. Supergoop! (Re) Setting 100% Mineral powder

Best powder facial sunscreen

Specifications

RRP: $32/£28
Type: Mineral
Texture: Translucent powder
Key ingredients: Mineral blockers, ceramides
Fragranced: No

Reasons to buy

+
Handy portable applicator
+
Sensitive skin friendly
+
Great for oily skins
+
Soft-focus finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Powder won't suit all

This ultra-clever new launch from cult sunscreen brand Supergoop! is a true gamechanger that, after testing, has taken permanent residence in our handbag. It combines a loose, translucent SPF with a little pop-out brush that the powder filters through so you can apply it whenever you like. This makes it an excellent option for on-the-go top-ups as well as acting like the best setting powder for oily or combination skin types. 

We love an effective mineral-based formula—zinc oxide generally doesn't irritate skin—and this would be very unlikely to trigger flare-ups for those prone to redness and rosacea. This also means if you are a fan of professional tweakments or at-home chemical peels it's gentle enough to shield vulnerable, post-procedure skin from UV exposure. This product’s weightless consistency delivers a barely-there finish that’s virtually undetectable, gently mattifying without looking chalky. There's very little to nitpick about this, although if we had to we would say that although the universal shade is sheer and forgiving, it might be nice to see another one with warmer undertones. 

Ultrasun Face Tan Activator SPF30

(Image credit: Ultrasun)

6. Ultrasun Face Tan Activator SPF30

Best facial sunscreen for safe tanning

Specifications

RRP: $47/£26
Type: Chemical
Texture: Cream
Key ingredients: Grape seed extract, Bronzyl melanin activator
Fragranced: No

Reasons to buy

+
Protects while boosting tan
+
UVA, UVB and HEV (blue) light protection
+
Hydrating and soothing ingredients
+
Long-lasting lamellar technology
+
Pleasant texture

Reasons to avoid

-
If you prefer not to tan

Here at w&h we're all about keeping it real. Us beauty editors can bang on about the importance of sun protection and the evils of sunbathing, but it would be ridiculous not to acknowledge that some people—okay, many people—just love having a tan. Skin health expert and Ultrasun founder Abi Cleeve is a realist too, and so has developed this genius facial sunscreen that protects your skin from UVA, UVB and HEV light, all the while gently activating melanin (the dark pigment that tanning stimulates) to safely build a natural bronze without skin trauma. 

As well as this clever combo, the formula is also designed with Ultrasun's unique lamellar technology, which allows the ingredients to be absorbed and bind with the skin for true all-day protection that won't wash off. It also contains nourishing squalane, anti-inflammatory grape seed extract and is non-comedogenic and vegan friendly. The texture, a mid-weight cream, feels comfortable and hydrating without being greasy, and the clever pump bottle ensures you get every last drop out. We love everything this brand does, but we especially love this for offering an attractive solution to tan fans rather than alienating them. 

Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50

(Image credit: SkinCeuticals)

7. Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50

Best facial sunscreen for mature skin

Specifications

RRP: $35/ £25
Type: Mineral
Texture: Sheer fluid
Key Ingredients: Artemia salina
Fragranced: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
100% mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide
+
Transparent finish
+
Great under makeup
+
Paraben-free; non-comedogenic
+
Good for all skin types

Reasons to avoid

-
Lightly scented

This offering from elite skincare brand Skinceuticals has been quietly yet confidently making its way onto dermatologists' best facial sunscreen lists for years. Not only does it offer impressive SPF50 plus broad-spectrum UVA protection, it is also unusually transparent on the skin. Even liberal application doesn't leave a white cast, which is all the more impressive when you know this sunscreen is completely mineral-based.

Sensitized, aging and hyperpigmented skin types will appreciate the non-reactive components of this 100% mineral filter sunblock. The addition of artemia salina—a plankton extract that boosts skin’s natural protection against UV, heat, and environmental stress—amps up the protection offered by the silky liquid. The texture may feel a little heavier than your average chemical blocker, but the benefits of never having a flare-up or stinging eyes make it more than worth it. 

Garnier Ambre Solaire Over Makeup Super UV Protection Mist SPF50

(Image credit: Garnier)

8. Garnier Ambre Solaire Over Makeup Super UV Protection Mist SPF50

The best facial sunscreen mist

Specifications

RRP: £6.50 (UK only)
Type: Chemical
Texture: Transparent mist
Key ingredients: Glycerin, antioxidants, hyaluronic acid
Fragranced: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Easy to apply
+
Broad spectrum protection
+
Weightless feel
+
Great for top-ups 

Reasons to avoid

-
Mist can waste some product

The thing about sun protection is, even the best facial sunscreen usually needs topping up to be able to do its job properly. And once you've applied a full face of makeup, it's pretty unappealing to rub another cream on top of that midday and mess up your hard work. That's why we love this mist from Garnier, which offers SPF50 sun protection in a completely invisible and non-greasy spray that lands on top of makeup but doesn't disturb it or make it melt away. This makes being a diligent re-applier so much easier that you'll actually get the full benefit of your sun protection. 

The cruelty-free formula contains hyaluronic acid and glycerin, so it hydrates while it protects, plus it has antioxidants from scutellaria baicalensi root extract to double up on protection. Naturally, with this being a mist, you will lose a little bit of product into the air with each application, so you may want to use a lotion as your AM application, then this for top-ups. Either way, a tiny bit of wastage is a small price to pay for such convenient protection. 


How to be sunscreen smart

There's more to sunscreens than acronyms and packaging symbols. Make these considerations to ensure you are fully protected, and respecting your environment: 

  • Calculate your ideal SPF: The Australian Academy of Science explains clearly what SPF numbers actually signify. This is calculated by measuring the time (in seconds) it takes for skin to slightly redden when covered in sunscreen, divided by the time it takes for it to redden without protection. So, if it took 300 seconds for skin to burn with sunscreen, and 10 seconds to burn without it—300÷10—a sunscreen would carry an SPF 30. So apply and reapply regularly.
  • Sunscreen isn't just for the beach: Remember, it's not just sun-loungers in the midday sun that your skin needs protection from; broad-spectrum sunscreens now also work to protect against the blue light that's associated with screen time and smart tech, as well as free radicals that can be caused by pollution and urban environments. That's right, you need sunscreen at your desk and in cities, too.
  • Be reef safe: Even the best facial sunscreen won't be able to accompany you on coastal holidays if it isn't reef safe. In order to protect their coastlines and underwater habitats, some parts of the world have committed to sunscreen bans on chemical sunscreens—and some mineral ones—that contain ingredients that aren't considered reef-safe. At the moment, Hawaii, Key West (Florida), Palau, Rivera Maya (Mexico), Los Cabos (Mexico), Bonaire, Aruba, and the US Virgin Islands have sunscreen bans that don't allow the delivery or sale of particular products to their region. Before you travel, it's good to be aware of this.

We'll almost certainly be seeing more legislation around reefs in the future, so why not get ahead, embrace science-backed skincare and choose products that alleviate damage to our oceans.


Fiona McKim
Fiona McKim

 As woman&home's Beauty Channel Editor, Fiona Mckim has tried more products than she’s had hot dinners and nothing makes her happier than raving about brilliant finds on womanandhome.com or her instagram grid (@fionamckim if you like hair experiments and cute shih-tzus). Fiona joined woman&home as Assistant Beauty Editor in 2013 under industry legend Jo GB, who taught her everything she needed to know (learn about ingredients and employ extreme cynicism). She has since covered every corner of the industry, from interviewing dermatologists and celebrities to reporting backstage at Fashion Week and judging the w&h Beauty Awards.

With contributions from