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Put This on Your Face: Sunscreen

Welcome back to Put This on Your Face, the series where I tell you what you should be putting on your face. In the past, we’ve talked about some trends hitting the makeup world and #beautytok (multisticks and lip oils, to name a few). Today, however, we’re taking a slightly different approach and talking about the classics. One classic, really. Sunscreen.

It might seem weird to have a whole post dedicated to sunscreen just as we turn the corner into the “official” winter months, but sunscreen is a year-round preventive health necessity! It helps with maintaining an even skin tone, it prevents premature aging, and most importantly, it decreases your risk of skin cancer. I know I have a reputation for not being prescriptive in this column, but we’re taking a pretty significant departure from that, because you need sunscreen daily! I mean it!

If you’re reading this and thinking “But I’m an indoor gay, I don’t need to wear sunscreen daily”, I am here to tell you that unfortunately, that is not true! Not the part about you being an indoor gay (I believe that’s true and wholly respect it) but the part about you wearing sunscreen. If you get significant natural light in your home, you’re likely getting some UV exposure with it (glass doesn’t protect against all UV light).

SPF (Sun Protection Factor, if you’re curious) is a measure of how much UV radiation it takes for someone to get a sunburn on protected skin relative to the amount needed to get a sunburn on unprotected skin. Basically, the higher the SPF value, the more sunburn protection you’re getting. Experts recommend SPF 30 or higher and say you should reapply every two hours if you have extended sun exposure. Because this is Put This on Your Face, I’m only going to talk about face sunscreens here, but please know that this SPF 30 and reapplication rule applies to all parts of your body that are getting sun exposure!

Liquid Sunscreen

There are, in general, two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens are the mineral ones, the ones that are able to deflect UV rays away from the skin. They do tend to leave more of a white cast than their chemical alternatives, which isn’t super surprising considering they remain on the skin like a barrier against the sunlight. If you have sensitive skin, physical sunscreen might be a better choice as it’s less irritating than chemical sunscreen.

Supergoop! (unrelated to Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop) is a heavy hitter in the sunscreen world and has a physical sunscreen — the Mineral Sheerscreen Sunscreen ($38). It’s admittedly pricey, on par with its other offerings, but very sheer if that’s what you’re going for. If you want something more matte, the brand also makes a Mineral Mattescreen Sunscreen ($38) that is slightly tinted! First Aid Beauty’s Mineral Sunscreen ($28) is another fan-favorite. Neutrogena’s Sheer Zinc Face Mineral Sunscreen ($17) is half the price of the Supergoop! and also sheer. EltaMD is a brand that my derm recommends all the time, and they make a physical sunscreen too, the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum ($39).

The chemical world requires a bit more planning than the physical one. Because physical sunscreens sit on your face like a shield, you don’t need to wait for anything to be absorbed by your skin before going outside. With chemical sunscreens, that’s unfortunately not the case — you’ll want to wait 15 minutes before sun exposure. That being said, they do (typically) blend into the skin better, so if that’s important to you, perhaps chemical is the way to go.

Cetaphil’s Daily Facial Moisturizer ($15) has SPF in it, making it a multitasking morning product. If you’re worried about a white cast, Black Girl Sunscreen ($15) is specifically made for skin with more melanin in it, so you know it won’t leave a white cast. Supergoop!’s bestseller, the Unseen Sunscreen ($36), is a primer-sunscreen duo and great for layering under makeup. Fun fact: Trader Joe’s makes a dupe of this, but it’s always sold out at my local Trader Joe’s locations. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on it, I’ve heard it’s just as good as the real thing for a fraction of the price ($9). There’s the innisfree Daily UV Defense Sunscreen ($15) if your skin is on the drier side, and the Cetaphil Oil Control Moisturizer ($18) if your skin is more oily.

Stick Sunscreens

One of the coolest skincare products I’ve seen lately (leaving out all the tech-y things like the NuFace, TheraFace, etc.) is all the stick sunscreens on the market. They’re great for tossing into your bag without having to worry about spills! Also, you can apply them over makeup, making the whole “two hours” rule much easier to follow. The Shiseido Clear Sunscreen Stick ($29) goes on clear, is water resistant, and can be reapplied over makeup with minimal smudging. The Supergoop! Glow Stick Sunscreen ($25) is great for dry skin and imparts a glowy sheen all over your face. For a mineral alternative, you could try the EltaMD UV Stick Broad-Spectrum ($34), or the Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Vitamin E Sunscreen Stick ($13).

Makeup / Sunscreen Combos

We all know I love a multitasking product! Some of my favorite sunscreens are tinted ones that I use under my makeup or that I sub in for a lightweight foundation. The Revlon ColorStay Makeup For Normal/Dry Skin ($16) is a medium-to-full coverage foundation with sun protection. Rare Beauty’s Positive Light Tinted Moisturizer ($29) has a wide shade range and is a bit lighter coverage! Both the Saie Slip Tint Dewy Tinted Moisturizer ($36) and the Tower 28 SunnyDays SPF Tinted Sunscreen Foundation ($30) have gotten great press, but the former was a bit too oily for my liking. My personal favorite is the ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint ($48). It’s pretty sheer, so if you’re looking for something full coverage, it’s probably not the best bet, but it is a physical sunscreen and super hydrating (squalane and hyaluronic acid will do that). If you’re in the market for a setting powder, the tarte SEA Set & Protect Mineral Sunscreen Powder ($30) is a physical powder sunscreen that sets makeup and has sun protection in it!

There are so many sunscreens on the market! Honestly, the best way to find the right one for you is to figure out what kind of formulation you want (physical or chemical) and to try out different products from there. The only way you can go wrong is if you don’t use any sunscreen at all!

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Ashni is a writer, comedian, and farmer's market enthusiast. When they're not writing, they can be found soaking up the sun, trying to make a container garden happen, or reading queer YA.

ashni has written 48 articles for us.


  1. I’ve really enjoyed the unseen sunscreen since supergoop showed up in a couple AS posts.

    I know this is off-topic for face things, but any advice on everyday sunscreen for arms? I’ve been told I need to use it, but I haven’t found a good daily product that isn’t super thick and white but comes in a big enough size for daily application to the body.

    • I use anything labeled “kids” for the body (a pro tip from a friend who works in daycare). For example Nivea Kids is good. They are usually unscented, waterproof, affordable,great for sensitive skin and have SPF50.

  2. As a sweaty, outdoor gay I struggled with hating sunscreen for years! But this year I switched to Korean and Japanese sunscreens and I’m now a sunscreen gay. They are only available in the US thru importers bc they have newer active ingredients that aren’t FDA approved. But to me it’s worth it! They don’t sting my eyes! They feel like lotion not a gross layer of grease from my childhood!

  3. I’m pale and have sensitive skin so I’m always looking for simple mineral sunscreens with high SPF.
    My favorite for beach/extended outdoor sun time is Coppertone Pure and Simple for Face SPF 50. It is like 5ish dollars at Target if i remember correctly, it’s high SPF, it goes on smoothly, and it doesn’t have any ingredients that bother me. The only problem is that the container has leaked when I’ve traveled by plane, so it stays in the bathroom and i bring something else when i go on trips.

    I also really like the Vacation brand Mineral Lotion for my face! It’s SPF 30 and it’s a little pricier, but it feels smooth and creamy and has never left a white cast. I also have their Chardonnay Oil for my body which is chemical but smells incredible, and I love smoothing on an oil in the summer instead of a cream.

    This list is reminding me how much I love super goop… I’ve been wanting something tinted for light make-up days so i think it’s time to go shopping!

  4. Thank you for this. Any suggestions for one that doesn’t cause eye irritation when sweating? I had to stop putting it on my forehead as sweat from that area with sunscreen on would get into my eye & cause irritation.

  5. I hear you about needing sunscreen, but not only am I an indoor gay, I work nights and sleep all day. I also stay in my room during daylight hours with the blinds closed. I have been accused of being a vampire multiple times.

    (Seriously though I am planning on getting some nice face specific sun screen for my planned trip to Singapore in July when my long distance fiancée and I are planning on getting married.)

  6. Okay, but what if my commute is walk 10 mins/bus 10 mins (each way), I keep my blinds closed all day at work and my apartment is shaded by trees and has tiny windows??? I hate both sunscreen and the sun and avoid both as much as possible. Sunscreen just seems so pointless to me because of the reapplication factor and the my active avoidance of the sun. (Of course this inevitably leads to being caught outside unprepared and burning every summer.)

  7. Love autostraddle and love that you published a sunscreen article! Thank you for encouraging it.

    I was bummed to see several statements that are oft-repeated myths about sunscreen (e.g. “need to wait for it to absorb in”, “physical sunscreens remain on the skin”, “physical sunscreens work by deflecting uv rays”). These don’t represent what we know about how sunscreen works, and often are and I think they’re misleading at best, potentially detrimental. “Physical” and “chemical” are already misleading and confusing categories – both are made up of chemicals, but the active ingredients are inorganic chemicals (mineral) vs organic chemicals.

    Personally, I feel like the best thing is to find a sunscreen that works best for you and that you’ll wear enough of. I’m not a fan of the texture and white cast of inorganic sunscreens, and find their advantages to be overstated, so I tend to encourage people towards organic ones. My current fav is NYX Bare With Me, though it is scented, which not everyone likes.

    More science and info here – https://labmuffin.com/chemical-vs-physical-sunscreens-the-science-with-video/

    Happy to drop some more links if anyone is interested to read up on sunscreen science — it’s super interesting!

  8. Ditto Kay’s comment above – it would be great if this post could be updated to correct the part about the absorption and wait time for chemical (organic) vs. physical (inorganic) sunscreen. For both kinds, it’s best to wait 15 minutes after application so it can dry down and form a barrier on your skin for better protection. I used to believe the myth that organic sunscreens need that time to activate on your skin before it can protect you, but ever since I learned it’s for the barrier to form I just apply and go while trying not to let it rub off on anything since I’m usually in a rush!

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