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Best sunscreen for face – by skin type

“Best sunscreen for face” is one of the most searched skincare topics – so the MoleMap team has put together our top-rated list of facial sunscreens (which all have the tick of approval from dermatologists). Whether your skin is sensitive, dry, oily, or prone to acne – we’ve got you covered.
MoleMap Team
November 16, 2023
15 minutes

This arti­cle explains every­thing you need to know about the best sun­screen for face by skin type:

  • which sun­screens are rec­om­mend­ed by dermatologists
  • which sun­screens are best for each skin type
  • the dif­fer­ence between chem­i­cal and min­er­al sunscreens
  • and which sun­screens offer the best pro­tec­tion against the dam­ag­ing UV rays that can cause skin cancer.
Best sunscreen for face

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When should I apply sun­screen to my face?

In Aus­tralia and New Zealand, we unfor­tu­nate­ly have the high­est skin can­cer inci­dence and mor­tal­i­ty rates in the world1. In fact, stud­ies show that hav­ing just five blis­ter­ing sun­burns before the age of 20 can increase your melanoma risk by 80%.2

That’s why skin can­cer experts agree that it’s essen­tial to wear a broad-spec­trum, SPF30+ sun­screen all day, every day, espe­cial­ly in the sum­mer months.

In fact, sun­screen guide­lines for both Aus­tralia and New Zealand rec­om­mend that we should be apply­ing sun­screen every day when the UV index is pre­dict­ed to reach 3 or above1. And not just in sum­mer, even in win­ter, the sun’s harsh rays can still dam­age your skin.

It’s rec­om­mend­ed that sun­screen is applied every day to the face, ears, neck, scalp if uncov­ered – and all parts of the body not cov­ered by cloth­ing. Aim to apply sun­screen as part of your morn­ing skin­care rou­tine to pro­tect your skin from the harm­ful effects of every­day sun expo­sure – and remem­ber to reap­ply it after every two hours of sun exposure.

This applies to the whole fam­i­ly – includ­ing babies, chil­dren and teenagers. Aus­tralian brand New Day Skin cre­ates facial sun­screens espe­cial­ly for teens and tweens.

Best sunscreen for face

Why do I need the right kind of sun­screen for my skin type?

Choos­ing a sun­screen that’s specif­i­cal­ly for­mu­lat­ed for your skin is cru­cial. It saves you wast­ing your pre­cious dol­lars on sun­block​‘tri­al and error’ – or worse, break­ing out in spots just before that impor­tant sum­mer event!

If sun­screen isn’t right for your skin type, it can cause irri­ta­tion, block­ages, break-outs and even aller­gies. Think of it like choos­ing a mois­turis­er and aim to choose a sun­screen that’s specif­i­cal­ly for­mu­lat­ed for your skin type.

The best sun­screen for your face gives you effec­tive, broad-spec­trum pro­tec­tion against UV rays (ide­al­ly SPF30+ or high­er), and is some­thing you feel com­fort­able wear­ing. Which brings us to our next point…

Best sunscreen for face

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What’s bet­ter: min­er­al or chem­i­cal sunscreens?

Sun­screens come in many dif­fer­ent tex­tures and for­mu­la­tions but, essen­tial­ly, there are two main types available:

  1. Min­er­al sun­screens (block­ers) – also known as​‘phys­i­cal’ sun­screens. These sit on top of the skin and phys­i­cal­ly block out/​reflect rays, as well as absorb­ing them. Look for min­er­al sun­screens that con­tain zinc oxide and/​or tita­ni­um oxide – prefer­ably both – to pro­vide broad-spec­trum coverage.
  2. Chem­i­cal sun­screens – con­tain spe­cif­ic chem­i­cals designed to absorb UV light. The UV is then trans­mit­ted into a very low heat ener­gy. These sun­screens sit in the out­er, non-viable lay­er of the skin, and absorb UV light through­out the day. The active ingre­di­ents in chem­i­cal sun­screens include avoben­zone, octi­nox­ate and oxybenzone.

Each type has its pros and cons and it real­ly comes down to per­son­al pref­er­ence and skin type. Min­er­al sun­screens tend to be less irri­tat­ing, so they tend to work best on sen­si­tive skins (includ­ing children’s del­i­cate skin) – how­ev­er, they can feel​‘heavy’ and be dif­fi­cult to ful­ly blend into the skin.

On the oth­er hand, chem­i­cal sun­screens can be a bet­ter option if you want a water-resis­­tant for­mu­la, play sports or sweat a lot and/​or want a sun­screen that quick­ly absorbs into the skin.

Sun­screen tech­nol­o­gy and for­mu­la­tions are improv­ing all the time. For exam­ple, many of La Roche Posay’s sun­screens con­tain a mix of both phys­i­cal and chem­i­cal block­ers, plus they are der­matolog­i­cal­ly test­ed for sen­si­tive skin.

Look for a sun­screen that:

  • Pro­vides broad-spec­trum pro­tec­tion against both UVA and UVB
  • Is specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored to your skin type
  • Is ultra-light and non-greasy so you can wear it every day
  • Doesn’t sting the eyes
  • Min­imis­es the impact on the environment

Read on to find out which sun­screens are rec­om­mend­ed for each skin type.

Best sun­screen for face type – sen­si­tive skin

If you have fair or sen­si­tive skin, look for a sun­screen specif­i­cal­ly for­mu­lat­ed for sen­si­tive skin, fra­­grance-free or hypoal­ler­genic. If you have sen­si­tive skin, it is best to always patch test a prod­uct before using.

Best sun­screen for face type – sen­si­tive skin
Above: Best sun­screens for sen­si­tive skin (left to right) Cetaphil Sheer Min­er­al Liq­uid Sun­screen SPF 50, Ultra Vio­lette Clean Screen SPF30, Neu­tro­ge­na Sen­si­tive Skin-Face Min­er­al Sun­screen Broad Spec­trum SPF50

Our favourite sun­screens for sen­si­tive and fair skin include:

1. Cetaphil Sun 50 Sheer Min­er­al Face Liq­uid Sunscreen

This broad-spec­trum SPF 50 liq­uid sun­screen is for­mu­lat­ed for sen­si­tive skin. Its light­weight for­mu­la blends quick­ly into the skin with­out leav­ing a white cast or greasy residue; and leaves a dry, mat­te fin­ish that’s suit­able for use alone or under make-up.

2. Ultra Vio­lette Clean Screen SPF30

Made in Aus­tralia, this envi­ron­­men­­tal­­ly-friend­­ly, min­er­al-based sun­screen is gen­tle on sen­si­tive, reac­tive and acne-prone skin and ide­al for those con­cerned about eczema, rosacea or der­mati­tis. Clean Screen fea­tures an invis­i­ble, broad-spec­trum for­mu­la­tion that’s loaded with zinc oxide to help defend skin from sun dam­age, and also organ­ic green tea and cucum­ber to soothe and bal­ance the skin and reduce inflammation.

3. Neu­tro­ge­na Sen­si­tive Skin-Face Min­er­al Sun­screen Broad Spec­trum SPF50

This gen­tle, 100% min­er­al liq­uid for­mu­la is non-clog­ging, oil-free and hypoal­ler­genic – plus it’s free of para-aminoben­­zoic acid and fra­grance, which means it’s suit­able for those with both sen­si­tive skin and acne to wear dai­ly. And, amaz­ing­ly for a gen­tle sun­screen, it’s also water-resis­­tant for up to 80 minutes.

Best sun­screen for face type – oily skin

If you often get a lit­tle​ ‘glowy’ through­out the day, search out sun­screens that have a mat­te fin­ish or lighter gel for­mu­la­tions which feel less heavy on your skin. Here are three of our faves:

Best sun­screen for face type – oily skin
Above: best sun­screens for oily skin (from left to right) Neu­tro­ge­na Invis­i­ble Dai­ly Defense Face Serum with SPF 60+, Shi­sei­do Urban Envi­ron­ment Oil-Free UV Pro­tec­tor SPF30, Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorb­ing Mois­tur­iz­er SPF30

1. Neu­tro­ge­na Invis­i­ble Dai­ly Defense Face Serum SPF60+

Oil-free and non-greasy, this light­weight hydrat­ing serum is infused with gin­ger extract to help improve skin radi­ance. It is water and sweat-resis­tant for up to 80 min­utes, so great for those who like to work up a sweat but keep look­ing cool! This SPF 60+ serum is also free from oxy­ben­zone and parabens.

2. Shi­sei­do Urban Envi­ron­ment Oil-Free UV Pro­tec­tor SPF42

This is an ultra-light, oil-free sun­screen lotion for every­day face pro­tec­tion. Oil-free and​‘mat­ti­fy­ing’, yet light­weight in feel, it’s designed to con­trol excess sebum while guard­ing against envi­ron­men­tal aggres­sors. It pro­motes the nat­ur­al beau­ty of skin by pro­tect­ing against the three major caus­es of skin cell dam­age – UV rays, oxi­da­tion and over pro­duc­tion of sebum – for soft, health­i­er-look­ing skin.

3. Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorb­ing Mois­tur­iz­er SPF30

If you tend to​‘shine’ much more than you’d like, this is the sun­screen for you. Cetaphil’s face sun­screen not only pro­tects the skin with SPF 30+, but con­trols oil while main­tain­ing hydra­tion. Fra­­grance-free, light­weight, and non-come­­do­­genic (non-clog­ging), this fast-absorb­ing yet mois­tur­is­ing sun­screen leaves a mat­te fin­ish for flaw­less wear.

Best sun­screen for face type – dry or mature skin

If you have dry or mature skin, choose a facial sun­screen that con­tains hydrat­ing, ultra-nour­ish­ing ingre­di­ents like hyaluron­ic acid, ceramide or col­loidal oat­meal. Ingre­di­ents such as glyc­erin and saf­flower also leave the skin feel­ing deeply hydrat­ed, with a nat­ur­al satin finish.

Best sun­screen for face type – dry or mature skin
Above: Best sun­screens for mature skin (from left to right) Avene Intense Pro­tect 50+, La Roche-Posay Tole­ri­ane Dou­ble Repair Face Mois­tur­iz­er UV SPF 30,La Roche Posay Anthe­lios Ultra Facial Sun­screen SPF50+

Our top picks for dry or mature skin are:

1. Avene Intense Pro­tect 50+

For thirsty skin, this anti-dry­ing for­mu­la­tion pro­vides hydra­tion for up to 8 hours. It offers an invis­i­ble fin­ish with no white streaks – even on dark­er skin tones. One of its star fea­tures is TRI­A­SORB™, an organ­ic sun fil­ter with the abil­i­ty to absorb and reflect UVB, short UVA and long UVA rays, as well as high-ener­gy vis­i­ble blue light.

2. La Roche-Posay Tole­ri­ane Dou­ble Repair Face Mois­tur­iz­er UV SPF 30

This mois­tur­iz­er with sun­screen pro­vides all-day hydra­tion and pre­bi­ot­ic ben­e­fits for the skin bar­ri­er. For­mu­lat­ed with a high con­cen­tra­tion of La Roche-Posay’s pre­bi­ot­ic ther­mal water, ceramide‑3, niaci­namide and glyc­erin; it has a light­weight, refresh­ing tex­ture that’s eas­i­ly absorbed into the skin.

3. La Roche Posay Anthe­lios Ultra Facial Sun­screen SPF50+

Ide­al for nor­mal to dry skin types, Anthe­lios Ultra Facial Sun­screen SPF50+ is a light and mois­tur­is­ing broad-spec­trum sun­screen that’s ultra-com­­fort­able, fra­­grance-free and der­ma­to­log­i­cal­ly test­ed. With Baicalin, an antiox­i­dant that fight free rad­i­cals on the skin’s sur­face, it’s also anti-eye sting­ing and leaves no white marks – bonus!

Best sun­screen for face type – acne-prone skin

If your skin is prone to break­outs, choos­ing a sun­screen can be a conun­drum: many acne med­ica­tions can make your skin more sen­si­tive to sun­burn — how­ev­er, many sun­screen for­mu­las can con­gest your pores, which leads to pim­ples and more breakouts!

The best sun­blocks for your skin can cre­ate a flat­ter­ing mat­te look, and pro­tect the skin with­out increas­ing break­outs. Always check the label and make sure it says​‘non-come­­do­­genic’ — this tells you the for­mu­la­tion won’t clog up your pores. Two pop­u­lar non-come­­do­­genic sun­screen ingre­di­ents to look out for are zinc oxide and tita­ni­um dioxide.

Best sun­screen for face type – dry or mature skin
Above: Best sun­screens for acne-prone skin (from left to right) La Roche-Posay Anthe­lios Melt-in Milk Sun­screen SPF 100, Eliz­a­beth Arden Pre­vage City Smart Broad Spec­trum SPF50 Hydrat­ing Shield, Neu­tro­ge­na Clear Face Liq­uid Lotion Sun­screen SPF55

Here are our top 3 picks for acne-prone skin:

1. La Roche-Posay Anthe­lios Melt-in Milk Sun­screen SPF 100

With a high SPF lev­el of 100, this for­mu­la is suit­able for sun-sen­si­tive skin that might also be oily or acne-prone. Wear­able alone or under make-up, it blends eas­i­ly with­out leav­ing a white cast.

2. Eliz­a­beth Arden Pre­vage City Smart Broad Spec­trum SPF50 Hydrat­ing Shield

Rec­om­mend­ed by der­ma­tol­o­gists, this rep­utable sun­screen is gen­tle enough for mature, acne-prone skin. The for­mu­la has a slight tint, which helps elim­i­nate any red­ness or white residue after application.

3. Neu­tro­ge­na Clear Face Liq­uid Lotion Sun­screen SPF55

An ultra-light lotion that’s also water-resis­­tant. Neu­tro­ge­na Clear Face con­tains avoben­zone, an organ­ic sun­screen fil­ter that’s effec­tive in pro­vid­ing broad-spec­trum UV pro­tec­tion, and it’s non-clog­ging, oil-free and fra­­grance-free. It’s also great val­ue, so it’s ide­al for dai­ly use.

Which SPF rat­ing should I look for in a sunscreen?

Facial sun­screens tend to be at least SPF (sun pro­tec­tion fac­tor) 50+, and for good rea­son. A high SPF sun­block can pro­tect your skin from the dam­ag­ing UV rays that cause pre­ma­ture aging and even help reverse the signs of dam­age by reduc­ing dark spots, improv­ing tex­ture and boost­ing skin bright­ness3.

The SPF tells us how long we can expect to be exposed to UVB rays before burn­ing com­pared to wear­ing no sun­screen. The high­er the SPF, the greater the expect­ed pro­tec­tion — for exam­ple, a SPF15 sun­screen pro­vides about 94% UVB pro­tec­tion, but pro­tec­tion is increased to 97% with SPF30 and to 98% with SPF50+.

What’s best in a sun­screen? UVA, UVB or both?

Check your sun­screen before you buy to ensure it is​‘broad-spec­trum’, which means it con­tains both UVA and UVB pro­tec­tion. Utravi­o­let A (UVA) has a longer wave­length, and is asso­ci­at­ed with pre­ma­ture skin aging, eye dam­age, while Ultra­vi­o­let B (UVB) has a short­er wave­length and is asso­ci­at­ed with skin burn­ing and skin can­cer4.

Remem­ber that apply­ing sun­screen doesn’t just help to reduce sun­burn, it can also help to reduce the signs of aging. Aging UVA rays are present all day long and all year round – even in win­ter – and you can still be exposed to UVA radi­a­tion inside a car or close to a window.

What’s more, UVB expo­sure has been proven to play a strong role in devel­op­ing melanoma, the most dan­ger­ous of the three most com­mon types of skin can­cer.

Mon­i­tor your skin

The good news is that all types of skin can­cer can be treat­ed if they’re found ear­ly enough.

MoleMap offers three types of skin can­cer checks – to suit every bud­get. And if you’re wor­ried about a mole, spot or lesion any­where on your body, we encour­age you to book a check now.

To sum up, (and we can’t stress this enough!) we rec­om­mend that you always, always, always wear sun­screen on your face, neck, ears, chest and any part of your body that’s exposed to the sun, every day, espe­cial­ly dur­ing the sum­mer months.

And wher­ev­er pos­si­ble, cov­er up with high UPF sun pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and/​or stay in the shade. Your future skin will thank you for it!

References: 1. Australia: Melanoma Institute - https://www.melanoma.org.au/understanding-melanoma/melanoma-facts-and-statistics/ New Zealand: Melanoma.org - https://www.melanoma.org.nz/facts-risk-factors 2. American Association for Cancer Research: Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers, June 2 2014 (6), 1080 - https://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/23/6/1080 3.https://journals.lww.com/dermatologicsurgery/Abstract/2016/12000/Daily_Use_of_a_Facial_Broad_Spectrum_Sunscreen.7.aspx 4. Skincancer.org/risk-factors/uv-radiation

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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