Tips For Ensuring You're Buying The Right Sunscreen For Your Skin Type

Besides living in a windowless cave or donning a full bodysuit in the sunlight, wearing sunscreen is the best way to prevent skin cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology Association urges everyone to wear a broad-spectrum, SPF 30+ sunblock every single day (even when it's cloudy outside or in the middle of winter) to protect their skin against the sun's damaging UV rays.


However, a 2020 survey conducted by RealSelf discovered that only 11% of Americans slather on sunscreen daily. Why are so many people skipping this essential step? One reason participants cited in the survey was that they didn't like the way sunscreen felt on their skin. Despite sun protection being so necessary, finding the right one for your skin tone and type isn't always as simple as grabbing the first bottle you spot on store shelves.

Fortunately, though, there's a formula for everyone as long as you know what to look for. Follow these tips to find the best sunblock to suit your skin's needs.

Sensitive skin

Skin sensitivity or irritation brought on by skin care products is fairly common: A 2019 review article published in Frontiers in Medicine noted that up to 70% of women and 60% of men have sensitive skin. Still, not all sunscreens are suitable for those with red, itchy, stinging complexions.


If topical products tend to trigger skin reactions for you, or if you already deal with a sensitive skin condition such as eczema or rosacea, opt for a mineral sunscreen (aka physical sunscreen). Mineral sunscreens usually contain ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block the sun's rays from penetrating your skin. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, use chemicals like oxybenzone and avobenzonethat absorb harmful rays, but this process can sometimes aggravate the skin. "The heat that's generated as a chemical sunscreen deactivates UV rays can trigger irritation for people with sensitive skin," medical aesthetician Annie Christenson explained to Houston Methodist. "Mineral sunscreens simply reflect these rays, so they don't have this issue."


As a rule of thumb, WebMD suggests choosing formulations made without fragrances, deodorizing ingredients, and alcohol.

Oily and acne-prone skin

A sunburn can wreck your complexion, but so can acne spots. Unfortunately, it can be a challenge for those with oily and acne-prone skin to find sunscreens that don't break them out. If you can relate, don't give up just yet. The perfect sunscreen for oily skin does exist, though it might not be the one you have stashed away under your bathroom sink at the moment.


Healthline explains that chemical-based sunblocks can exacerbate irritation, making blemishes even worse. To avoid clogged pores, choose lightweight, gel-like products, and scan the label for "oil-free" or "non-comedogenic" — these phrases signal that the sunscreen should not cause new pimples. You can also check the product label for ingredients known to control oil and treat acne, including tea tree oil and niacinamide.

If you're concerned about piling on too many products at once, especially on your face, try a moisturizing SPF. Regardless of the type of sunscreen you choose, be sure to reapply it throughout the day, specifically every two hours.

Dry and mature skin

If you have dry or mature skin, sunblock may help with smoothing out and warding off any fine lines and wrinkles, as well as other signs of aging.

While any sunblock is better than none, dry and mature skin may respond best to a chemical formula rather than a mineral-based one, "which is less likely to settle into fine lines and wrinkles," Dr. Sara Perkins, a board-certified dermatologist, explained to The Cut.


One of the mainstay ingredients found in mineral sunscreens is zinc oxide, which has astringent properties, according to Michigan State University's Center for Research on Ingredient Safety. In other words, after applying a mineral sunscreen, your skin will produce less oil, drying out your already-parched skin, especially during the winter months. To combat its drying effects, reach for rich, creamy lotions to help lock in moisture. Even better, search for a moisturizing sunscreen with ingredients like shea butter, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid.

Melanin-rich skin

From an all-over deep skin tone to dark spots and melasma, melanin is the pigment that gives skin its gorgeous color, but some sunscreens leave a dreaded white cast that, if you have darker skin, might turn you against SPF altogether. Thankfully, this is an issue generally associated with mineral sunscreens since many chemical formulations blend in to match your skin tone.


If you do prefer to go the mineral route, more brands are working hard to create formulas that blend seamlessly into darker skin. A solution worth trying is reaching for mineral sunblocks with pigments added to mask any white residue. "Choose a tinted sunscreen for extended protection against visible light wavelengths," dermatologist Dr. Justine Kluk suggested to My Imperfect Life. "This is especially relevant if you are prone to dark marks such as melasma or post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation."

WebMD says mineral sunscreens formulated with micronized and nano-sized minerals might keep the white cast at bay, though the safety of these tiny particles regarding inhalation and ingestion is still up for debate.