The Best Sunscreens For Oily Skin

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.

—Tom Newton

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.