The Best Derm-Approved Sunscreens for Your Post-Quar Adventures

To keep you protected from brunch to the beach, we talked to Los Angeles-based dermatologist and author Dr. Jessica Wu about the best and most effective sunscreens for all types of skin.

Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
Design by Maitane Romagosa for Thrillist
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Even though the concept of indoor hangs is making a serious comeback, the summer months move the party outdoors. For those of you who have been working from home during the pandemic, you might have started slacking on your SPF game. If you’re vaxxed, waxed, and unprepared for the sun’s attacks, you should refresh your understanding of sunscreen, and maybe even make an upgrade.

“Sunscreens are often divided into ‘chemical’ and ‘mineral’ categories, although ‘mineral’ ones also contain chemicals,” says Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your FaceDr. Jessica Wu. “Therefore it’s more accurate to divide them into ‘mineral’ and ‘nonmineral’ categories.”  

Those with sensitive skin should stick to mineral sunscreens with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium oxide because they sit on top of the skin. Though this makes them less likely to cause allergic reactions, this can leave a white film on darker skin tones. Nonmineral sunscreens tend to be better options for those with darker skin, especially if the formula includes Mexoryl SX.

"While those with deeper skin tones do have some natural melanin protection from the sun, all skin tones are vulnerable to sun damage,” says Wu. “There are a growing number of companies that have developed sunscreens that rub in invisibly so they don’t leave a white cast on the skin. Look for those that say ‘invisible’ or ‘clear’ on the label.” 

You should also keep in mind that location will affect the sun’s intensity. That doesn’t just mean your Caribbean getaway could affect your skin more intensely; camping trips and hikes at higher elevation—or even just a trip to Denver—will require a more diligent approach. Wu also recommends the use of protective clothing and hats to handle the sun’s UV radiation. 

When it comes to specifics, Wu believes most people need SPF 30 to 50 for day-to-day use, reapplying every three to four hours. Makeup that includes sunscreen can be used the same way. If your work or play requires a lot of face time with the sun, however, go for an SPF 50 sunscreen and reapply every two to three hours. There’s no such thing as a truly waterproof sunscreen, but a “very water resistant” label will work wonders at the beach or with watersports (as long as you don’t forget to reapply once you’re out of the water).

Naturally, as with all new additions to your skincare routine, always test out a new product before you need it. An allergic reaction is the only way you could get buyer’s remorse for these incredible sunscreens.

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Best Overall Sunscreen

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen
This Australian sunscreen is a little more expensive than your average pharmacy brand, but it’s worth every penny. The mineral formula is water resistant and beloved by those with sensitive skin. Even though there’s a white cast at first, it disappears when fully massaged into the skin, making it a great option for all skin tones. As an added bonus, reviewers report that it doesn’t stain clothes or react to hard water in the washing machine.

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If You Don’t Want to Work for a White-Cast Free Sunscreen

Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen and Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30
Wu, like many dermatologists and skincare gurus out there, loves Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen for an easy to apply option that doesn’t leave wearers looking like a ghost. The non-greasy formula has amassed an intense following over the years, but some people might have a little sticker shock. A more affordable and Black-owned option is Black Girl Sunscreen which also moisturizes to help simplify your routine.

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For a Water Resistant Splurge

MD Solarsciences Mineral Tinted Crème SPF 30
When Wu paddleboards, she makes sure to put on the tinted version of this creme: “It stays put in the water, and the tint tells me how much I’ve applied and when I need to reapply.” The tint blends well with most complexions, but will leave a white cast on darker tones.The untinted version carries the same benefits while packing a bit more punch with SPF 50 and a transparent, matte finish. 

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For That No-Makeup Look

Thrive Causemetics Buildable Blur CC Cream SPF 35
Though most popularly known for its mascara, Thrive Causemetics also boasts an inclusive CC cream with 20 shades. Despite its active ingredients including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, this makeup doesn’t cause flashback, making it an ideal day-to-night staple for sunset dates and hangouts.

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For Fair Skin Tones and Those Who Burn Easily

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk Sunscreen SPF 100
There isn’t much competition in the triple-digit SPF space, but La Roche-Posay isn’t slacking off. This easy-to-absorb, water resistant formula feels light on the skin, won’t clog your pores, and won’t leave a white cast. If you find anything better you’re also paying triple-digit prices and/or you’ll need a prescription. Just don’t get complacent; you still need to reapply as the day goes on!

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Best Overall Spray

Sun Bum Original Sunscreen Spray
With versions ranging from SPF 15 to 70, this sunscreen spray has you covered. The pleasant, mild coconut scent and ease of application makes it a great option for impatient, fidgety kids (or adults). As a nonmineral sunscreen, there’s a chance of an allergic reaction, but many reviewers with sensitive skin praise this product. You can use this spray as your daily driver or just as fast, reapplication sunscreen for when you don’t want to massage your legs at brunch.

J. Fergus is a lifestyle writer known for food, alcohol, cannabis, and tech coverage—the modern rhombus of vices. Their words have graced the likes of Foodbeast, Tastemade, The Manual, and Chowhound. Their words have also been known to disgrace Twitter.
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