How to choose the best facial sunscreen for your skin type

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Shannon Lawlor
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Best sunscreen for every skin type

Whether you find SPF formulas too sticky, pore-clogging, irritating or dense, this expert-approved guide to finding the right sunscreen for you is sure to help.

Struggle to find the will to apply SPF every morning? You’re not alone. Despite the fact that skin experts advise that daily sunscreen application is the single best thing we can do to keep skin healthy, unpleasant formulas mean many of us opt to get our SPF fix from our moisturisers, or simply choose to skip it altogether.

But the bad news is, unless you’re applying a separate sunscreen every single morning - after your skincare routine, before your make-up - it’s highly likely your skin isn’t getting adequate protection from the sun’s harmful rays. Up until recently, most sunscreen formulas have been thick, sticky and generally troublesome to use. This year, however, has seen wearable SPF formulas hit the big time, with different products available for all different skin types and concerns. 

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When it comes to shopping for your sunscreen, much like other beauty products, it is important to remember that not all formulas are made equal. While one particular product might work wonders for a friend, that’s not to say you will experience the same results. Why? Because everyone’s skin has different wants and needs.

In terms of how much to use, the rules for SPF application remain the same no matter the formula (two finger lengths’ worth applied to the face and neck in the morning), but the results you experience in terms of wearability can vary drastically. Whether you find that SPF exacerbates your shininess or turns your skin red and irritated, it’s important to ensure the product you’re applying contains ingredients suitable for your skin type.

To help get to the bottom of exactly what sunscreens are best for different concerns, we’ve enlisted the help of some of the top dermatologists out there. Keep scrolling to see what they have to say.

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What’s the difference between chemical and physical SPFs?

Before we get into what products are best for what skin type, it’s worth getting your head around the difference between the two main types of sunscreen on the market: chemical blocks and physical blocks.

“Both the terms chemical and physical refer to categories of sunscreen filters that are used to absorb harmful wavelengths of energy. Chemical filters contain carbon atoms and are organic molecules, while physical blocks use inorganic molecules (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide),” says Dr Beibei Du-Harpur, dermatologist and skin researcher.

While it might seem like a lot to get your head around, understanding the difference between the two can help you make more informed choices about the formulas you use. Typically, chemical formulas are more lightweight, while physical formulas tend to be thicker and can often leave behind a white cast. On the other hand, physical formulas are recommended more for those with sensitive or irritable skin. 

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How to know what to look for

When it comes to shopping for sunscreen, be sure to remember these general rules, depending on your skin’s needs.

For oily skin…

If your skin is already prone to oiliness, you might find that SPF can leave it looking shiny. “Look for sunscreens that describe themselves as oil-free or mattifying as they are less likely to leave a shine or glisten on the skin,” says Dr Mary Sommerlad, consultant dermatologist for Vichy. 

For dry skin…

For dry skin types, look for formulas that deliver as much moisture and nourishment as possible. “Products that contain hyaluronic acid can help retain moisture in the skin and give it a smoother feel. When shopping, look for phrases like ‘hydrating’ on the packaging, which imply the sunscreen contains ingredients that can help add and lock fluid into the skin,” advises Dr Sommerlad. “Shea butter and glycerin are commonly added to formulations to help soften and hydrate.”

For sensitive skin…

It is common for those with sensitive skin to struggle to find a daily sunscreen that works for them. Most SPF formulas of yesteryear were formulated with very strong fragrance and utilised potentially irritating chemical blocks. Nowadays, there are plenty of sensitive skin-friendly options around. “Traditionally, people recommend physical sunscreens for those with sensitive skin, but now there are numerous chemical formulas that are also suitable. My biggest tip is to avoid fragranced sunscreens and formulas that require a lot of rubbing in. Instead, choose lightweight, fast absorbing SPFs,” recommends Dr Sommerlad.

For darker skin…

While not a skin type, it’s worth noting that if you have a darker skin tone, you will also need to pick your formula wisely. “Previously, most sunscreens left a white cast on the skin, which was more pronounced on darker complexions, giving an ‘ashen’ appearance. Now, there are many great options out there for Brown and Black skin tones. Look for lightweight formulations that are more fluid than cream based, as these tend to absorb faster,” says Dr Sommerlad.

Typically, sunscreens that utilise a large number of physical blocks are prone to leaving a white cast on the skin. “The main filters responsible for causing a white cast are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and avoiding them can reduce the risk,” explains Dr Du-Harpur.

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