Maybe you hate the greasy, mineral-y feeling of traditional zinc-based sunscreens. You keep getting white specks caught in your eyebrows or facial hair. You’re using it as a base under makeup, and it keeps pilling. You’ve had a bad reaction to every mineral sunscreen you’ve ever tried. You want it to rub in clear—heck, you want it to go on completely clear.
The antidote to sunscreen usage woes is chemical sunscreen, specifically clear ones with a gel-like texture. Chemical sunscreens work via a chemical reaction. The active ingredients in them are UV filters, meaning they absorb UV rays before your skin can.
It's true that chemical sunscreens get a bad rap, and there are a few reasons why:
1) If you have rosacea or an allergy to any of the ingredients in chemical sunscreen; if you are a baby or are putting sunscreen on a baby, it’s best to opt for a mineral sunscreen instead. Even though the chance of a reaction is less than one-percent, they’re still lower with zinc, a known irritation soother.
2) A couple of ingredients commonly used in chemical sunscreens—oxybenzone or octinoxate—have been shown to damage coral reefs. (The only sunscreen on this list to use one of them is currently being reformulated, BTW. More on that below.)
3) The FDA has recently discovered that chemical sunscreen ingredients penetrate the bloodstream at higher rates than previously thought.
We still don’t know what the implications may be—studies have proven inconclusive, and scientists recommend more research. But what we do know is that skin cancer diagnoses are at an all-time high, and that sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer. It can only do its job when you wear it.
If the only sunscreen you’re willing to use is a chemical sunscreen, use it. And if you’re waiting for the least sunscreen-y sunscreen out there to convince you of daily use, here are five to try.
The Most Matte: Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield SPF 30
This one feels the most silicone-y, which, if you’re applying under makeup, is actually a good thing. It has a slightly thicker consistency than the other sunscreens on this list, making it perfect for smoothing over pores, indented scars, and fine lines. Plus, it dries down totally matte with a powdery finish.
The Cooling Serum: Glossier Invisible Shield SPF 35
So nice you can actually trick yourself into believing you’re just applying another serum, not a sunscreen. The consistency isn’t as drippy as a good hyaluronic serum, but it’s close—and it feels just as hydrating. If you’re looking for an SPF that completely absorbs into skin, this is it. And if you’re concerned with reapplication, this one makes it the easiest to do throughout the day without messing up face makeup.
The True Neutral: Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
It’s the one most mentioned in Top Shelves as of late (see Cat Cohen, Claire Saffitz, and Elaine Welteroth for reference) because as far as textures go, it’s super middle of the road. Not completely matte, and yet not at all greasy. Unfortunately, the current formulation includes octinoxate, so you shouldn’t wear it when you’re going to be at the beach—Supergoop is working to reformulate by 2020.
The Healthy Glow: Sonrei Sea Clearly Gel Sunscreen SPF 50
Still a gel, but a little bit richer—when it sinks in, skin feels less velvety matte and more like you just put on a light lotion. The result is a slight glow that’s not oily, and a soft sheen that’s still good to go under foundation. The best thing about this one, though, is its size—at three-point-four fluid ounces for 25 dollars, it’s by far the best bang for your buck. Use the full recommended amount (1/4 teaspoon) without worrying about using up the whole thing.
The Dewy Sheen: Supergoop Sunscreen Stick SPF 50
Think of it as a face oil with SPF—it’ll leave your skin a little bit shiny, but in the way that looks purposeful. For the person who wants to glow, and thinks their sunscreen should do that for them. Also for the person who prefers their sunscreen in portable stick format for easy travel and reapplication. Also for the person who wants the highest dermatologist-recommended SPF. Is that you? If so, this sunscreen is your perfect match.
Photos by Tom Newton