If you’re on #sunscreentok, you’ll know that SPF is not only every dermatologist’s remedy for preventing wrinkles and sun damage, but also a favorite hack among beauty influencers to achieve that flawless, radiant complexion.
You’ve also probably heard mention of a few popular drugstore and luxury sun care products on the app, including ones that can double as a makeup primer, and ones that give you an ethereal glow.
And yet, with every beauty influencer on TikTok peddling a zillion different sunscreens, it can be difficult to know which one to buy. Should you go for a lotion, gel, or spray? Should you consider a tinted sunscreen? Which one is least likely to make you break out?
“The best sunscreen is one that you’ll actually want to use on a daily basis, meaning not too greasy or chalky or stinky,” says Dr. Jessie Cheung, a dermatologist in New York City.
When it comes to formulation, Dr. Cheung says to consider both your skin type and activity level. “Gels and powders are great if you have oily skin or if you’ll be in the water or sweating, and lotions and creams are good for dry skin types,” she explains. “Sprays are convenient to apply, but you have to be careful, as it’s easy to miss an area during application. Foams are good for large surface areas.”
It’s critical to choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and broad spectrum protection, which means the sunscreen is able to block both UVA and UVB rays. “SPF 15 gives you protection from 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 gets you to 97%,” Dr. Cheung says. “I personally use an SPF 30 sunscreen every day.”
With all of that in mind, I tested several popular sunscreens that haunt my FYP on TikTok, and landed on three favorites. All of these sunscreens offer broad spectrum protection (a must, per Dr. Cheung).
I tested both chemical and mineral sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens “absorb UV rays by changing their chemical structure to reduce sun damage,” whereas mineral sunscreens contain ingredients that “create a barrier on your skin that reflects UV light,” according to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The ingredients in mineral sunscreens tend to create a thicker formula and often leave a white cast compared to chemical sunscreens, but they offer the most sun protection.
In order to determine which sunscreens I liked best, I tried each separately and noted the product’s effects on my skin for an entire day, checking in to see how my skin was doing two hours after application, and at the end of the day.
Throughout the testing period, I pretty much followed the same routine, ending each day with an outdoor walk that lasted about an hour. For context, my skin tends to be oily, primarily in the T-zone area. In the past, I have struggled to find a lightweight, unscented sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast or unnatural shine, so I was eager to test out some of the most highly-regarded products on the internet.
Here are my three favorites:
Type: Tinted, Chemical, Lotion
According to the brand website, GlowScreen is a tinted sunscreen that comes in four different shades. Among these, I opted for the shade Sunrise which promises a “champagne glow,” but other shades Dawn, Golden Hours, and Sunset are available for a “pink pearl glow,” “bronze glow,” and “deep bronze glow,” respectively. In addition to leaving your skin with a dewy finish, GlowScreen “hydrates skin” and can be used as a makeup primer. SuperGoop also assures users that the dewy effect won’t translate into greasy skin. Still, the website does recommend people with oily skin use GlowScreen in conjunction with one of their matte sunscreens — applying the latter in the T-Zone area and the former everywhere else — to control any unwanted shine.
Initial thoughts after application: This sunscreen is very hydrating and gave me the most natural glow immediately after I rubbed it on my face. I could see myself using it as a substitute for foundation since it’s tinted and gives a light amount of coverage. It does have a slight glue-y smell upon initial application, but I couldn’t smell anything throughout the day.
After 2 hours: My face still looked really good — or at least the same as it was two hours ago. My face was hydrated and the product didn't feel sticky or like it was weighing down on my face.
At the end of the day: Someone actually complimented me on how “healthy” my complexion looked about four hours into my day, which immediately earned this sunscreen some bonus points. It didn’t dry out my skin and it also didn’t leave my face feeling greasy. I did notice a bit of an oily sheen at the end of the day, but that’s somewhat typical for me, even without sunscreen. It’s nothing that a little powder and blotting paper can’t fix. I totally understand the hype about this product and although it’s on the pricier end of this list, I would buy it again. It's advertised as something to put on before makeup, but this gave my skin that naturally glowy look that I would definitely put this on my face without anything else on top.
La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Light Face Sunscreen Fluid
Type: Mineral, Fluid
Anthelios is a lightweight sunscreen that promises “a tinted matte finish on skin for a healthy glow.” According to the brand’s website, the product is non-greasy and fast-absorbing, in addition to being suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Unlike the first two, however, Anthelios isn’t advertised as a product that can double as a makeup primer. It is also only available in one shade.
Initial thoughts after application: This was a liquid sunscreen that had a slight tint to it, which left a natural finish on the face. I really liked it because it basically felt weightless and almost like water on my face. I did notice, however, that it left a sort of filmy residue on my skin that I couldn’t quite rub off.
After 2 hours: The product absorbed into my skin very quickly because it felt like I hadn’t applied anything in the first place. The filmy residue seemed to settle a bit more into my skin by this point, but it was still noticeable when I looked in the mirror very closely. I didn’t really see a “natural glow” as the product claims, but it just looked like my normal skin, with a subtle amount of shine that was only noticeable on my temples.
At the end of the day: The sunscreen did a good job at keeping my skin hydrated, but the initial residue it left wasn’t ideal. However, the brand does emphasize that Anthelios is great for sensitive skin, so maybe someone with the skin type would love it.
Summer Fridays ShadeDrops
Type: Mineral, Fluid
ShadeDrops is a lightweight, fast-absorbing, serum-like sunscreen that leaves the skin with a “soft, natural finish.” The Summer Fridays website claims that it is “super moisturizing” because of one main ingredient: squalane. This oily substance, which occurs naturally in human skin, is often used in skincare products due to its hydrating qualities. Similar to Anthelios, it is a mineral sunscreen that does not double as a makeup primer.
Initial thoughts after application: This sunscreen felt very light and refreshing on my face. I really liked this liquid consistency — it seamlessly glided on my face and seemed like it even blurred out some of my smaller blemishes. Unlike the first two sunscreens, this one had more of a matte finish, so it didn’t give my skin any glow. It had a bit of a sunscreen-y smell, but it’s not noticeable after application.
After 2 hours: I still looked just as I did right after application and didn’t notice any oiliness, dryness, or really any issues with the product or how it felt on my face. The product is so lightweight, I honestly forgot I even had any sunscreen on.
At the end of the day: By the end of the day, my complexion looked so good, and my face felt great. Since it’s so moisturizing, it would be a great product to have on hand during the colder months. It is so lightweight, but I felt its hydrating effects last on my face for the entire day. I would definitely purchase this again!
PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of Walgreens