Best facial sunscreen: our favorite protective formulas for every skin type

These best facial sunscreen picks shield the skin from sun damage and are comfortable under makeup, too

best facial sunscreens collage of main sunblock products
(Image credit: Future)

When asked to name their top three beauty essentials, most dermatologists and makeup artists will list a quality SPF for your face among their picks, and with good reason; sun exposure is considered to be the primary cause for premature skin aging, with many experts holding it responsible for up to 90% of damage (the other 10% is widely thought to be down to genetics).

SPF has the capacity to protect from sun damage, skin sagging, and wrinkles, so take sunscreen selection seriously before heading to the beach or vacation. This essential layer also serves as the foundation of your everyday makeup look, making it one of the most important aspects of your daily skincare routine

While full sunscreen creams are important for holidays, don't think SPF usage should be reserved only for sunny, bright, arid, desert-like days; this essential daily skincare product should be applied every day, whatever the forecast. And, much like choosing an outfit that can stand up to changeable weather, when it comes to choosing the best sunscreen for the face, several decisions come into play: tinted or clear; cream or gel; mineral or chemical? 

We tested the top choices across the market to see which facial sunscreens offered sufficient protection as well as comfort for consistent daily wear. From premium options to affordable alternatives, this collection includes something to suit every skin concern and budget. 

How to choose the best facial sunscreen: key terms to look out for

Before we dive into our list of best facial sunscreens, we've summarised some of the terms that you'll invariably see on the packaging—we want to help you make the best-educated decisions for your skin and sun-safe routines, after all. 

  • 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
  • Chemical sunscreen: These widely-used formulas contain chemical compounds that transform UV rays into heat that is then released from 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: According to Save the Reef, this is any sunscreen product with ingredients that “aren't on the HEL List"

The best sunscreen for the face, as chosen by beauty experts

best sunscreen for face Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

(Image credit: Drunk Elephant)

1. Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defense SPF 30

Best facial sunscreen for most skin types

Specifications
RRP: $34/ £29
Type: Physical/ mineral
Texture: Sheer cream
Ingredient callouts: Sunflower shoot extract, algae extract, raspberry seed oil
Fragranced: No
Reasons to buy
+20% zinc oxide offers broad spectrum UVA/ UVB protection+Safe for sensitive skin+Fragrance- and essential oil-free; cruelty-free
Reasons to avoid
-Can leave a white cast-Can feel greasy

Loved by women of all ages with different skin types, this SPF is a universal favorite. As the name suggests, this ultra-sheer physical sunscreen is super lightweight. This formula goes on smoothly and, as well as protecting the skin from the sun's harmful rays, targets fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, dullness, and uneven texture. 

Formulated with sunflower shoot extract, rich algae extract, and raspberry seed oil, this powerful zinc oxide broad-spectrum SPF defends against damage and external environmental aggressors. And, as this SPF is also fragrance-free, it's ideal for sensitive skin and those who avoid chemical sunscreens.

With clean ingredients and plenty of product for the price, it's a no-brainer.

best sunscreen for face Kiehl's Super Fluid Daily UV Defense

(Image credit: Kiehl's)

2. 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
Ingredient callouts: 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+Matte
Reasons to avoid
-Pricey-Contains oxybenzone, a non-reef-safe ingredient

When it comes to the best sunscreen for oily skin, we turn to the skincare experts at Kiehl's for one that delivers on multiple fronts. This particular product is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and boasts SPF 50+ for true protection. It delivers a matte finish, which can be beneficial under makeup, and for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

This offering is formulated with skin-benefiting vitamin E, to minimize the look of pores, as well as your classic chemical sunscreen actives that help protect your skin from UV rays. As it contains oxybenzone, a chemical that's been known to bleach coral, this product is rendered non-reef safe so can not be shipped to Hawaii. Otherwise, in more urban settings, this non-comedogenic sunscreen is super comfortable for daily wear.  

best sunscreen for face Tula Protect and Glow Sunscreen

(Image credit: Tula)

3. Tula Protect & Glow Daily Sunscreen Gel SPF 30

Best facial sunscreen for dry skin

Specifications
RRP: $36/ £25
Type: Chemical
Texture: Gel
Ingredient callouts: Probiotic extracts, pineapple extracts, wild butterfly ginger root
Fragranced: No
Reasons to buy
+Protects from sun damage, pollution, and blue light+Provides a glow+Non-comedogenic, unscented+No white cast, sheer finish
Reasons to avoid
-Some might find it a bit too dewy as a makeup base

Perhaps the biggest multitasker of this collection, Tula Protect & Glow Daily Sunscreen is packed with powerful probiotic extracts to balance out your skin and deliver beneficial results. It also tackles blue light and pollution. 

We love this sunscreen because it doesn't have that white tint many SPFs leave, and for how glowy our skin looks after application. This sunscreen's sheer coverage won’t overwhelm your skin either, and while we feel it's best for drier types, those with acne-prone skin can also benefit—as it's non-comedogenic, there's no risk of this product clogging pores.

best sunscreen for face Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 42

(Image credit: Shiseido)

4. Shiseido Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen SPF 42

Best facial sunscreen for combination skin

Specifications
RRP: $35/ £25
Type: Chemical
Texture: Light lotion
Ingredient callouts: Rose apple leaf extract, thiotaurine, Paeonia albiflora root extract, Scutellaria baicalensis extract
Fragranced: Yes
Reasons to buy
+High SPF+Oil-free, matte finish; non-comedogenic+Super lightweight+Doubles as a makeup primer+Dermatologist- and ophthalmologist-tested+Has antioxidants to protect against free radical city pollution
Reasons to avoid
-Fragranced-Contains octinoxate, a non-reef-safe ingredient-Small bottle, needs a good shake before application

This ultra-light sunscreen is water—and sweat-resistant, making it ideal for summer days at the pool, afternoons at the park or just anywhere you expect to get major UV exposure. This lightning-fast absorbent formula is not only feather-light, but it also works double-duty to eliminate excess oil and reduce the appearance of pores—in the same way a makeup primer does. The formula layers well and preps skin for the best foundation you have on hand, producing a really even finish. 

The bottle might be small but, as a little bit of product goes a long way, it will last quite a while. We recommend giving the bottle a good shake before application and using your fingers to blend the product in properly over your face as it contains zinc oxide. And, something to note if you're planning to undertake any ocean water sports: this sunscreen lists octinoxate as its first chemical active, meaning it's not allowed to be shipped to reef-conscious states such as Hawaii. 

On the upside, its antioxidant-rich formula—of rose apple leaf extract and thiotaurine—has been tried and tested against the big-city pollution and free radicals of Tokyo (where the product was developed), meaning it's ideal for daily use in urban areas. 

best sunscreen for face elta MD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46

(Image credit: elta MD)

5. EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Best facial sunscreen for sensitive skin

Specifications
RRP: $37/ £47
Type: Physical/ mineral
Texture: Clear lotion; also comes in sheer tints
Ingredient callouts: Niacinamide, transparent zinc oxide
Fragranced: No
Reasons to buy
+Formulated for those with sensitive skin, reactive skin, rosacea, or post-procedure skin+Non-greasy, fragrance-, oil-, paraben-free; non-comedogenic+Lightweight silky feeling when applied+No residue, no white cast, unscented
Reasons to avoid
-Might be too light for very dry skin

From the broad-spectrum protection to the fact that it goes on clear with no white cast, there's little to nitpick about this dermatologists' go-to. We love an effective mineral-based formula—zinc oxide doesn't irritate skin—and the lightweight texture is a bonus. 

Whether worn alone or under makeup, this powerful formula won't trigger any flare-ups for those prone to redness and rosacea, meaning it's also gentle enough to shield vulnerable, post-procedure skin from UV exposure. 

This product’s weightless consistency absorbs quickly and delivers a barely-there finish that’s virtually undetectable unless you want it to be—yes, this facial sunscreen is available in both tinted and regular versions.

best sunscreen for face Supergoop! Glow Screen

(Image credit: Supergoop!)

6. Supergoop! Glow Screen SPF 40

Best facial sunscreen for dull skin

Specifications
RRP: $37/ £47
Type: Chemical
Texture: Lotion
Ingredient callouts: Hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, sea lavender, cocoa peptides
Fragranced: No
Reasons to buy
+High SPF+Promotes radiance+Doubles as a makeup primer+Hyaluronic acid offers hydration+Protects against blue light+Clean, vegan
Reasons to avoid
-Might be too glowy for oily skin-Not recommended for very sensitive skin

This do-it-all SPF product protects your skin from sun damage, while also working as a makeup primer that virtually retouches your skin (yes, it actually reduces the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and pores). As you might have gathered from the name, the formula is also hydrating and glow-inducing, and serves as the ideal barrier between your skin and makeup—it has a gripping effect that helps keep cosmetics in place all day. With the help of crowd-pleasing ingredient hyaluronic acid, it also boosts moisture for a plumped, hydrated effect.

Reviewers love this sunscreen; lightweight and easy to apply, it creates a dewy finish (rather than leaving a white cast). It isn't, however, ideal for use on oily skin, as it can skew towards greasy if you already suffer from a shiny T-zone. There's an added bonus too: if you’re a work-from-home veteran, this SPF's blue-light-blocking properties protect your skin during long hours in front of a screen.

best sunscreen for face IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream with SPF 50

(Image credit: IT Cosmetics)

7. IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream with SPF 50

Best facial sunscreen for full coverage

Specifications
RRP: $34/ £17
Type: Mineral
Texture: Cream
Ingredient callouts: Collagen, peptides, niacin, hyaluronic acid
Fragranced: Yes
Reasons to buy
+High SPF+Great coverage+Poreless finish+Handy for traveling/ on-the-go; all-in-one foundation, color corrector, serum, primer, dark spot concealer, and moisturizer+Sulfate-, paraben-, and phthalate-free
Reasons to avoid
-Not formulated for sensitive skin-Only 12 shades available-Fragranced

If you are a full-coverage foundation wearer on a daily basis, and are looking to combine your SPF with your base products, then the industry-famous IT Cosmetic CC Cream is for you. With SPF 50 and borderline perfect coverage, this CC cream is a physical mineral sunscreen that delivers a flawless, airbrushed-looking finish, while not scrimping on other skincare benefits either.

Packed with collagen, peptides, and hyaluronic acid, this formula enhances elasticity and locks in moisture to diminish the look of fine lines and wrinkles. Niacin helps the fight against hyperpigmentation too, so those prone to (or paranoid about) dark spots can rest easier. 

This formula blends easily and delivers complete coverage and sun protection, without feeling heavy on the skin—something we would expect from a regular BB or CC cream. Our only gripe is that this could do with a far more extensive shade range—a full-coverage offering should have more than 12 skin tones in its roster.

best sunscreen for face Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense Sunscreen

(Image credit: Skinceuticals)

8. Skinceuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50

Best facial sunscreen for mature skin

Specifications
RRP: $35/ £25
Type: Mineral
Texture: Sheer fluid
Ingredient callouts: Artemia salina
Fragranced: Yes
Reasons to buy
+100% mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide+No white cast, transparent finish+Light and non-greasy; 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 "best-of" roundups in terms of suncare. Sheer Physical UV Defense has been slaying the competition: the impressive SPF 50 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 reaction to UV, heat, and environmental stress—amps up the protection offered by the silky liquid. Long-term fans have been quietly using this product on their dermatologists' recommendation for years, and now it seems the secret's out!

Sunscreen essentials: what you need to know about sun-safe skincare today

There's more to sunscreens than acronyms and packaging symbols. Many people still don't fully recognize the damage that the sun can do to the skin, thinking that applying any SPF, even a factor 8 or 15, is satisfactory protection for a day on the beach. The fact is, that's really not the case—something that becomes clear when you begin to understand the nitty-gritty (and maths) behind those SPF figures, for example.

The Australian Academy of Science explains clearly what SPF numbers actually signify—specifically, how well the sunscreen protects against burning. 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 slightly redden without any 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. 

Apply and reapply regularly. And 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. 

But, that said, some sunscreens are no longer able to accompany you beyond the cities you live in to protect you during your coastal vacations. 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. By all means, enjoy the water and your favorite watersports, but use reef-safe, mineral sunscreens to protect the local environment while you do. 

We expect we'll be seeing more of this in other places in the future, so why not get ahead of it now, embrace the science-backed skincare, and choose products that help alleviate damage to our oceans.

Miriam Herst-Stein
Miriam Herst-Stein

Miriam Herst-Stein specializes in branding, content creation, and storytelling. She brings ten years of experience customizing content to large corporations such as Unilever in her role as Deputy Editor for their publication All Things Hair, as well as to small businesses just beginning to step up their content. She graduated from Stern College with a degree in journalism and is currently pursuing her masters in professional creative writing at The University of Denver. A NYFW reporting veteran, she has written for ByrdieBirchboxLoveStoriesTV, and the Huffington Post, and has interviewed a long roster of celebrity stylists including Ursula Stephen and Justine Marjan. Born and raised in Chicago, she now lives in Brooklyn with her husband and their large collection of color-coded books. You can find her on Instagram @miriam.herst.stein.