How to Shop for Sunscreen (According to Actual Dermatologists)

Dr. Shah and Dr. Love swear by these sunscreens, from the best sheer mineral formulas to the best affordable creams (that won't break you out).

Mar 15 2022, 4:23pm

Sunscreen, we owe you an apology. Either we’ve neglected you for years, or avoided the crucial midday reapplication of your milky nectar. We’ve spent so much time indoors this winter trying to make villager friends in Animal Crossing that we forget to find the coolest friend in you, Our Holy Savior of Pores. Well, no more! We’re thawing out for spring, and putting sunscreen front and center in our ongoing mission to find the best affordable skincare products for emerging from hibernation as a shiny, hydrated Adonis. 


If this sounds extra, please remember: We are kindred spirits. We are also hot, slovenly people with a food pyramid base of Amy’s Chili, boiled hot dogs, and fernet—and there’s no reason for us to feel intimidated by sunscreen. “Really, the only reason to avoid an ingredient in sunscreen is if you're allergic to it,” dermatologist Dr. Muneeb Shah tells VICE. “I also recommend avoiding ingredients that are ‘high risk’ of developing allergies such as oxybenzone and fragrance.” Shah’s entire ethos as a dermatologist is to “educate, not influence” the public on good skincare practices on platforms such as TikTok (where he’s amassed 13.5 million followers) and Instagram, where he taught us how to wash our face without getting water everywhere. We also spoke with Dr. Elyse Love, an NYC board-certified dermatologist at the helm of the hallowed GlamDerm office in Manhattan, for a 360-degree deep dive on how to pick the perfect sunscreen for your needs.

First, understand where you’re going to apply your sunscreen. “Sunscreens for the face tend to be more elegant, lightweight, and more cosmetically appealing,” Shah says, as they won’t give off a white cast. They often tend to cost a little more money than sunscreen that’s marketed for the body, and will come in smaller tubes. “However, the same [SPF] principles apply when it comes to sun protection,” he says. “Look for SPF30+, broad-spectrum, and water-resistant (if you're going into the water) [sunscreens].” Loveis of a similar opinion, and told VICE that “there are plenty of formulas that are okay for [both] face and body use.”Like Shah, Love told VICE that it’s important to remember that “the American Academy of Dermatology recommends broad-spectrum SPF of at least 30 for everyday use,” but that “for high-sun exposure activities, such as skiing, beach vacations, and outdoor runs, SPF 50 to 100 is more appropriate.”  

Check, and check. But how come the FDA only recommends a minimum of SPF15? “I personally side with the AAD and recommend SPF30+,” says Shah, “given that most people don't apply a thick enough layer to reach the SPF levels mentioned on the bottle. SPF15 blocks 93% of UVB light and SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB light.” Oh, and don’t forget that the words “broad-spectrum” always bode well on sunscreens, because they indicate that the solution also blocks UVA light, which can also play a role in skin damage.  

We had many burning questions (no pun intended) to ask Shah and Love about sunscreen, from which brands they prefer to wear while working out, to which budget and splurge sunscreens they recommend. Whether you’re trying to find a new everyday sunblock spray, the best sunscreen to apply under makeup, or just a solid sunscreen that won’t make you look like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, the good doctors have whipped up the perfect sunblock cheat sheet and sung the praises of the most reliable, skin-soothing brands to carry you into spring.  

The best budget and splurge sunscreens

Sunscreen can be expensive stuff, but many of us are shopping for it in the drugstore instead of from bougie skincare brands. Granted, says Shah, “[the word] ‘affordable’ is really relative, and [I think affordable] sunscreens can range anywhere from less than $10 to $80.” Some of his favorites include Black Girl Sunscreen, CeraVe Hydrating Sunscreen with Sheer Tint, CeraVe AM Moisturizer, Biore Aqua Rich Sunscreen, Isntree Watery Sun Gel, and Cetaphil Healthy Radiance Whipped Day Cream

Black Girl Sunscreen
Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
$23.64 at Amazon

$15.99 at Ulta

Hydrating Sunscreen Face Sheer Tint SPF 30
$11.99 at Amazon

$16.99 at Ulta

AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30

$11.87 at Amazon

UV Aqua Rich Watery 50 g Sunscreen SPF 50 +
$14.99$12.96 at Amazon

$13 at Walmart

Hyaluronic Acid Watery Sun Gel SPF 50+

$26 at Amazon

“Supergoop! Everyday Play is my all time favorite sunscreen,” says Love. “It is lightweight, easy to spread, OK for face and body, SPF 50, and comes in variable size containers. I like to keep the larger size by my front door and prefer the smaller sizes for travel.” 

PLAY Everyday Lotion SPF 50 with Sunflower Extract
$32 at Amazon

$10 at Supergoop!

She also says that Neutrogena Hydro Boost is an excellent drugstore sunscreen, and one she always picks up when traveling without a checked bag. “The SPF 50 water gel lotion is lightweight and spreads easily without a greasy finish or odor,” she explains. “It is also fine for face and body use.” 

Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50
$13.99 at Amazon

$15.99 at Ulta

Amongst her colleagues, Love says the Elta MD UV Clear is a big hit. “It’s loved by all skin types and tones for its lightweight, SPF 46 protection,” she says.

UV Clear Facial Sunscreen SPF 46 Sensitive Skin or Acne-Prone Skin

$30.88 at Amazon

If there’s anything worth investing in, it’s that gorgeous face of yours. If you’re looking to spend a little more on sunscreen, Love says the ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica Tinted SPF is a good choice. “[It’s] a mineral-only sunscreen that blends into the skin well without a white cast,” she explains. “It also has DNA [reparative] technology that works to reverse signs of sun damage.” 

Eryfotona Ageless
Ultralight Tinted Mineral Sunscreen

$70 at ISDIN

Shah also stands by the cult-fave Supergoop! brand, and specifically its Unseen Sunscreen and Glow Screen, as well as EltaMD’s UV Clear and UV Restore sunblocks. 

Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

$36 at Supergoop!
Glowscreen SPF 40 Limited Edition Jumbo

$46 at Supergoop!
UV Restore Anti Aging Face Moisturizer For Women Broad-Spectrum SPF 40

$33.19 at Amazon

The best sunscreens for dry, combination, and oily skin?

In summer, we are greasy boys and ghouls. In winter, we are parched, flaky dragons. Luckily, Shah understands, and says that for dry skin, we should stock up on sunscreens that double as moisturizers, such as the Cetaphil Whipped Day Cream and La Roche Posay Toleriane Double Repair Sunscreen.

Healthy Radiance Whipped Day Cream SPF 30
$27.88 at Amazon

$24.99 at Ulta

La Roche-Posay
Toleriane Double Repair Facial Moisturizer (SPF 30)
$19.99 at Amazon

$19.99 at La Roche-Posay

Combination skin can usually handle either normal or extra-hydrating sunscreens, but Shah advises those with oilier skin to “look for mattifying sunscreens or ones that have niacinamide,” such as EltaMD UV Clear and Black Girl Sunscreen’s Make it Matte formula. 

Black Girl Sunscreen
Make It Matte Sunscreen (SPF 45)

$17.99 at Ulta
UV Clear Tinted Face Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

$39 at Amazon

The best sunscreen to use over and under makeup

When it comes to applying sunscreen under and over makeup, our doctors’ favorite choices were unanimously Supergoop!. “[The] Unseen Sunscreen is great under makeup because it has a primer texture,” says Shah, while Love says that she prefers the brand’s mist and powder formulas when applying sunscreen over makeup. 

(Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder SPF 35
$32 at Amazon

$30 at Supergoop!

(Re)setting Refreshing Mist SPF 40
$32 at Amazon

$32 at Supergoop!

The best sunscreen for working out

Warmer weather can’t come soon enough, but we dread the sweat that comes with it whether we’re working out, or schlepping our buns home from work on the subway. I recommend mineral sunscreens that are water-resistant,” says Shah about the best sunscreens to wear while working out or sweating, “because they're less likely to drip and burn the eyes. EltaMD UV Sport [is great].”  

UV Daily Face Sunscreen Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid (SPF 40)

$30.50 at Amazon

Love agrees, and says that “stick formulas are great” for avoiding teary, streaky sunscreen in your eyes. In addition to EltaMD’s stick sunscreen, she also recommends SkinBetter’s Sunbetter Sheer UV Stick. 

Sunbetter Sheer SPF 56 Sunscreen Stick

$55 at Skinnbetter Science
UV Stick Broad-Spectrum SPF50+ 36g

$34 at Dermstore

See? That wasn’t so hard. Now you’re ready for that springtime picnic bender.

The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story.


Evergreen, Sunscreen, Skincare, sunblock, ceraVe, supergoop

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