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How to Pick the Perfect Sunscreen for Your Skin Type

Your skin has unique needs, even when it comes to sun protection. In this video, learn what sunscreen dermatologists recommend for common skin types.

Lauren Smith
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Alexandra Schwarz
Updated on January 29, 2022

As if a stroll through a typical drug store’s sunscreen aisle isn’t overwhelming enough, if you have certain skin concerns, picking the right sunscreen can be tricky. Whether you’re prone to breakouts or have skin that’s drier than the Sahara, choosing the right sunscreen can help alleviate your skin issues (or at least not make them worse).

First of all, anyone over six months of age should use sunscreen daily, according to Keith LeBlanc, Jr., MD, dermatologist and founder of The Skin Surgery Centre in New Orleans. “Children under the age of six months should not be exposed to the sun since their skin is highly sensitive to the chemical ingredients in sunscreen as well as to the sun’s rays,” says Dr. LeBlanc. Instead, protect infants using shade and clothing. (Here’s more tips for preventing sunburn for children.)

Here’s how dermatologists suggest you think about picking the right sunscreen for your skin type and tone:

  1. Acne-prone or greasy skin: You already have a fair amount of naturally occurring oils on your face, so adding sunscreen can sometimes exacerbate the issue. To protect your face safely and without added grease, try an oil-free sunscreen. If your skin is particularly sensitive to chemicals or additives, look for sunscreens that are labeled as fragrance-free or hypoallergenic. (Here are the other common toxins in beauty products to avoid.) 

  2. Dry, flaky skin: You’re probably already a pro at moisturizing, but did you know you can look for sunscreens that help moisturize your skin? Look for a moisturizing sunscreen cream to apply every morning. This is recommended over a moisturizer with added SPF, according to Joyce Davis, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City. These products are designed for cosmetic purposes, says Dr. Davis, and will provide less protection than a product formulated for sun care.

  3. Skin on the fair end of the spectrum: You should wear SPF 30 at a minimum; some experts suggest going up to SPF 50 especially for days when you’ll be outside at the pool or beach for hours. Of course, no matter how high the SPF, you need to keep reapplying sunscreen every two hours. A higher SPF does not mean you get away with applying less frequently!

  4. Skin on the dark end of the spectrum: Yes, you should still wear sunscreen: Dr. Davis recommends everyone wear at least SPF 30 for optimal UV protection, no matter how dark your skin is. A comfortable, lightweight cream or lotion will do the trick (and be sure to cover all exposed skin, not just the face).

Regardless of your skin tone and type, look for the following words on your sunscreen bottle:

BROAD SPECTRUM: This means your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

SPF 30 (or higher): Stay clear of the 8s, 15s, and so on. We’re notorious for applying way less sunscreen than the amounts used in testing, which means you’re getting less SPF than you think.

WATER-RESISTANT: No sunscreen is 100-percent waterproof. But while you’re doing all that swimming and sweating under the sun, you’ll want as much of the sunscreen to stay on as possible. But either way, you’ll still need to reapply sunscreen every two hours.

Now that the sunscreen aisle is a bit less intimidating, go stock up on the sunscreen your body needs and enjoy some sunshine—the safe way.


Sunscreen FAQs. Schaumburg, IL: American Academy of Dermatology. (Accessed on January 30, 2022 at https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs.)

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