I never really liked sunscreen. When I was younger, I used to lie about applying it—and then get an awful burn as punishment. Spray sunscreens came out and made the process a little easier, but still felt terrible on my skin. Then teenage-dom came around and my skin went to shit. That’s when I truly started skipping SPF when I honestly knew better. My skin was oily and prone to breakouts (still is) and adding anything sticky just made it worse. Beyond a super-strength cleanser and a lightweight gel for moisture, I don’t like anything to touch my skin. So my rule of thumb was to use sunscreen when 100% absolutely necessary, and stick to a hat at all other times.
That felt bleak, and honestly—dangerous. You can’t avoid sunscreen forever; things catch up to you, warnings get scarier, and best of all, products get better. I am here today to tell you I have found the sunscreens that are safe and effective for oily, sensitive types. It might just cost an arm and a leg, but hey, that’s life. Avoiding skin cancer should come at any cost.
By and large, the formulas that worked for me are thin and fluid, not plastic-y and mattifying, like I expected. They mix easily with my moisturizer and I can apply them at the beginning of the day in tandem with my set routine. It also means I can keep my $50+ bottle of sunscreen at home and not lose it (or lend it around the office…). You feel me? Good, because here are my recommendations:
Dermalogica Oil Free Matte SPF 30 is one of my favorites. It doesn’t leave a weird film, doesn’t break me out, and doesn’t smell terrible. (It should be noted that I very much trust Dermalogica’s Medibac Clearing Line, a gentler method of treating acne geared towards adults.) Nothing bad to say here.
Shiseido Urban Environment SPF 42 Oil-Free UV Protector is hilariously small BUT amazing. It’s very liquidy, but goes on smoothly, meaning you don’t need to use too much to get coverage. It’s also water-resistant which is actually quite rare when it comes to light-but-also-high-end SPFs for face.
Lancer Sheer Fluid Sun Shield is another milky one that I really like—it’s even lighter than the Shiseido. Once you’ve got it on, it feels like nothing; it’s gone immediately. Kate Somerville Daily Deflector is quite similar and in a same range for price per size. Great stuff.
Avène Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen SPF 50 could go down as the sort of ‘old reliable’ of this bunch. When I first got into skincare, I went Avène crazy and found this little guy. I hear it doesn’t mean much once you go over SPF 35, but this one is SPF 50 and that makes me feel safer than normal. I save this for days at the beach or other days that I’m out a lot in direct sunlight. The finish is also a little less matte on me, so I don’t use this one everyday.
And the one I’d like to use when I’m over 40: Algenist Sublime Defense. For when I need anti-aging and lightness and luxury and I’m like, fuck it, give me SPF 50 just in case.
Photographed by the author.
If you've got oily skin, Tom's got recommendations: Read his guide to the very best heavy-duty cleansers here.