How to Shop for Sunscreen

Finding the right SPF isn't easy, as there are important variables to consider, such as the level of protection it offers and whether it's good for your skin type. But, shopping for sunscreen doesn't have to be such a chore—you just need to know what you're looking for. Follow an expert's guide to picking the perfect SPF, including the three crucial factors you should always keep in mind.

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The third installment of The Sweet Guide to Sun Care 2016 is all about finding the right sunscreen for you. Keep checking in throughout the week to keep tabs on how you can better protect your skin this season.

You're preparing for this weekend's picnic in the park and gathering up all of your supplies—there's the food, wine, blankets, and board games (may we suggest: Linkee). But, as you hopefully know by now, you also need to be bringing some sunscreen along. It should be the guest of honor, in fact. But which sunscreen? The choice can be overwhelming and what do words like "broad spectrum" and "physical" even mean to you in this context anyway? Very little, we imagine. 

Missed a spot? Photograph courtesy of Caroline von Tuempling/Getty Images
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Well, it's time to familiarize yourself with sunscreen lingo, so you can pick the right product to keep your skin healthy and looking its best. We asked Michele Racioppi, New York-based aesthetician and director of education for the skin-care brand Cosmedicine, to give us her tips on shopping for sunscreen, so you never have to waste any precious leisure time in the skin-care aisle again.

You'll want to keep a copy of these key guidelines for your next trip to the drugstore. (Tap to save to your camera roll!)

Stick With Face-Friendly Products

"When searching for an SPF, look for one that's specifically designed for the face," Racioppi says. If you're outdoors for a while, she suggests picking one that's water resistant and broad spectrum.  If labeled broad spectrum, it will be able to protect against both UVB and UVA rays.

Product Recommendations

Multi-Active Jour, $53,
Even the Score, $95,
Urban Environment Oil-Free UV Protector SPF 42, $32,
UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 by EltaMD, $32,
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Keep It Lightweight if You're Oily

This might seem like a no brainer, but the lighter the formula, the less likely it is to clog your pores. "If the formulation is non-comedogenic, that's a plus," she says. Another tip for acne-prone skin: "Many of my oily skin clients like when their SPF moisturizer is mattifying," Racioppi says. That means the finish won't be greasy, resulting in a less shiny surface.

Product Recommendations

Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Face Cream by Clinique, $22,
Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30, $50,

Don't Forget to Moisturize

Although sunscreen often has the look and consistency of lotion, your skin still needs hydration, since there's a difference between a pure SPF and a moisturizer with SPF. "If it's 'SPF only,' using an appropriate daily moisturizer first and then layering an appropriate SPF on top can help keep the skin nourished and balanced," Racioppi says. "Protection is important, but so is keeping the skin properly hydrated."

Dry Skin Needs a Little Extra Care

People with parched skin should pay close attention to the ingredients in their sunscreen. "Some examples of key ingredients to look for are hyaluronic acid or glycerin for hydration and something rich in emollients for moisturization," Racioppi says. For added coverage, she recommends using both a moisturizer and SPF with these ingredients to ensure proper hydration

Product Recommendations

Sublime Sun Advanced Sunscreen SPF 50+ Liquid Silk Sunshield, $11,
Mineral Ultra Light Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 50, $28,

Minerals Are Good for Sensitive Skin

"Look for formulas that are designed for sensitive skin," Racioppi says, adding "fragrance free products may help reduce the chances of a reaction." Mineral-based sunscreens are great alternatives, as minerals are naturally calming. "Generally, physical sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are less likely to cause a reaction. I always recommend patch testing the product first prior to use, especially for sensitive skinned clients."

Product Recommendations

Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+, $14,
Sunscreen Lotion Sensitive Skin SPF 60 by Neutrogena, $10,

The Three Things You Should Always Remember

After you know what to choose based on your skin type, here are three other factors Racioppi suggests you you should consider while shopping.

  1. "Look for 'broad spectrum' products, because when sunscreen is labeled as such, that means the SPF offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays."
  1. "I always suggest checking with your skincare professional to help determine what SPF number would be best for your skin."
  1. "SPFs that contain antioxidants for added protection from free radical damage"

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