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Looking for the best sunscreen is a little like shoe shopping in the dark: you really don’t know what you’ve got on until you step into the light. Luckily for you, there are many dermatologists, skin aestheticians, scientists, and even maybe a med student (wink, wink) who devote their lives to this sort of thing. So, without further adieu:
Best Sunscreen for Maximum Protection: Neutrogena Spectrum+
Neutrogena Spectrum+ SPF 100 is like wearing blue jeans, literally, preventing a possible 99.9% of the UVB rays from damaging your skin when applied properly. The UVA protection is also amazing, with Helioplex, a stabilized, patented combination of oxybenzone and avobenzone. Helioplex has been demonstrated to provide longer-lasting UVA protection than Mexoryl, found in L’Oréal products (American Academy of Dermatology, 2003).
When applied, Neutrogena Spectrum+ SPF 100 is a little thicker and greasier than other sunscreens, so I would not recommend it to anyone with oily skin. Small amounts tend to dry clear, though the more Neutrogena Spectrum+ SPF 100 you put on, the more likely you are to get white streaks. I still religiously apply Neutrogena Spectrum+ SPF 100 over Skinceuticals CE Ferulic each morning, then wait a few minutes before applying my foundation (covering any white streaks), and am continually happy with the results.
Best Physical Sunscreen: NIA 24 Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 100
I looooove NIA24 Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 ($55.00,NIA24.com). I have incredibly sensitive skin, so when I first used NIA24 Sun Damage Prevention three years ago, I experienced a lot of redness and dryness, so I had to gradually work up to everyday use. Once I got to daily application, my skin was incredibly brightened, soft, and smooth.
I wasn’t alone in experiencing the rough-to-amazing effect: The product contains 5% Pro-NiacinTM, a derivative of vitamin B3, shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (Dermatologic Surgery, 2006). According to NIA 24, the rough experience in the beginning is typical, due to the sheer strength of the formulation. I say it was worth it, at least for me!
NIA24 Sun Damage Prevention 100% Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 contains 9.4% micronized Titanium Dioxide and 3.6% Zinc Oxide. Although I would prefer the percentages to be reversed – zinc oxide has been shown to block a greater spectrum of UVA rays than titanium dioxide – I still love NIA24 Sun Damage Prevention.
Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin
Straight avobenzone, the number one UVA protector, has a short UVA half-life. Colorless carotenoids, found in Rodan+Fields Essentials SPF 30, stabilize the UVA component in sunscreens. Colorless carotenoids also stop UV penetration and UV-induced free radical generation. Unlike other stabilizing ingredients, colorless carotenoids are also not greasy.
Indeed, Rodan+Fields Essentials SPF 30 absorbs well, without being greasy. Rodan+Fields Essentials SPF 30 is also more lightweight and soothing than most other sunscreens, which is why I loved it when I tried it a few months ago.
Best Sunscreen For Oily Skin
In the days of yore, before Helioplex was deemed the #1 in UVA protection, there was Mexoryl. And before just a few years ago, skin care devotees (including yours truly) had to import Mexoryl from Europe. Luckily, now you can get both the water-soluble Mexoryl SX and the lipid-soluble Mexoryl XL in LaRoche Posay SPF 60 Fluide Extreme for double the protection. Best of all, LaRoche Posay SPF 60 Fluide Extreme has this amazing milky consistency that provides a high level of UVA and UVB protection without a greasy feel or telltale white streaks – perfect for oily skin! (For more on products for oily skin, please see What Are the Best Products for Oily Skin? << FutureDerm.com)
Best Organic Sunscreen
DDF Daily Organic SPF 30 has 3.2% titanium dioxide and 6% zinc oxide, providing a better physical block than most organic sunscreens on the market. Despite its high concentration of zinc oxide, DDF Daily Organic SPF 30 does not leave white streaks on the skin, at least in my experience. DDF Daily Organic SPF 30 is soothing to the skin and does not itch or burn.
My only reservation about this product for my organic sunscreen fans is that I cannot find the percentage of organic ingredients in which it contains. While the company maintains that the product is free of chemical sunscreens, DDF Daily Organic SPF 30 does contain quite a few silicone-based ingredients (cyclopentasiloxane, dimethicone), and samples of the product have been distributed with parabens. So DDF Daily Organic SPF 30 may still be sub-optimal for the true-blue organic skin care enthusiast. Nevertheless, I still love this product.