The best face sunscreen solves a real problem. You don’t need to read our full SPF explainer to understand why protecting your skin from the sun is important. For one, sunburn—that’s the obvious short-term problem that you’ve got to handle. But with each minute spent in the sun—whether you’re burning or not—you’re absorbing UV rays that compromise the quality (and DNA makeup) of your skin cells. UV rays “photo-age” the skin, by crippling elastin and collagen levels. That leads to wrinkles, fine lines, rough texture, dark spots, and more. And naturally, these things are much more noticeable on your face.
While you won’t notice SPF’s difference from one 15-minute walk in the park, you will absolutely notice the difference between someone who has routinely SPFed for decades, and someone who has not. In short, if these two people were the same age, the sun-exposed one would look significantly older. So, you need sunscreen on your body, and especially on your face. It should be SPF 30 or greater, applied every day. (In winter too.)
But don’t go slathering any old sunscreen onto your mug. The best face sunscreen is much closer to moisturizer than pore-clogging, coconut smelling stuff you used at the beach as a kid.
Face Sunscreen vs. Body Sunscreen
The difference between face sunscreen and body sunscreen is roughly analogous to the difference between face wash and body wash. Face sunscreen, like the cleanser, is gentler on the sensitive skin of the face, and with a formula mindful of things like acne, anti-aging efforts, oil accumulation, and the like.
Face sunscreens are often oil-free to prevent clogged pores and aggressive sweating, as well as fragrance-free to prevent redness and irritation. Body sunscreens are a little less discriminate about these things—and can usually afford to be. This is also why you’ll see face sunscreens packaged in much smaller vessels: They tend to be a little more expensive.
Many products are dual purpose, though, and can be applied to face and body: They’re typically engineered for the face’s sensitivities, and perhaps don’t pack all of the nutrients of a standalone facial sunscreen. The most important thing is that they won’t clog your pores or irritate your face.
Face Sunscreen vs. SPF Moisturizer
So, what then, is the difference between a face sunscreen and an SPF-packed moisturizer?
Think of an SPF moisturizer as the product you wear on a daily basis—when you’re simply coming and going, maybe spending 10 or 15 minutes outside at a time. You need to wear moisturizer every day, to protect the hydration levels in your skin and to prevent toxins from causing similar photo-aging as UV rays. So, why not wear one in the daytime that also has SPF?
Face sunscreen, then, will have slightly fewer hydrating, good-for-your-face ingredients, and will primarily just defend against the sun’s rays. This is what you’ll add to your regimen for afternoons in the park, days on the beach, a long run, and so on. You can layer this over your SPF moisturizer, or simply opt for a non-SPF hydrator. As long as you get your SPF 30+, you’re set.
The Best Face Sunscreens
Here are GQ’s picks for the best facial sunscreens.
The Best Overall Face Sunscreen
The texture of this stuff is just next-level—it goes on totally matte, and features serious sun protection.
The Best Mineral Face Sunscreen
Many people prefer physical, or mineral, sunscreen, rather than chemical defenses. These can tend chalky and white, but the K Beauty geniuses at Dr. Jart have made one that goes on easily.
The Best Face and Body Sunscreen
This one’s a bit more affordable—it won’t feel like a total waste to use it on your legs.
The Best Face Sunscreen for Athletes and the Beach
If you plan on sweating or swimming, water resistant sunscreen is a must.
The Best Face Sunscreen for Dry Skin
This one’s a tick closer to a moisturizer.
Best Spray-On Face Sunscreen
Perfect for easy re-application or spraying straight onto fussy kids.
The Best Tinted Face Sunscreen
Why not get a little more handsome when you apply your sun protection? This one comes with a light tint that smooths out your skin.