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Skincare · February 28, 2019

The Birchbox Guide to: The Best SPF For You

What's All The Fuss?

Heres what New York dermatologist Daniel Belkin, MD says: The purpose of sunscreen is to prevent ultraviolet light from damaging your skin cells. Over time, exposure to the suns UV rays leads to DNA damage that contributes to photoaging. Belkin adds, chronic sun exposure accelerates normal aging by damaging the way our skin makes collagen, leading to loose, wrinkly, or discolored skin.

Youve probably heard of UVB and UVA rays, but what is the difference between the two? According to Belkin, a general rule of thumb is that UVB rays cause sunburn and skin cancer, and UVA rays cause photoaging. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is measured exclusively by UVB rays, so it's crucial to look for sunscreens that protect from UVA rays, which will be labeled broad spectrum and help prevent early skin aging.

The Number Game

So, how do you choose the best SPF number for you, and what do you need to know about its value? (For example, can I add my face moisturizer that has SPF 15 with my foundation that has SPF 20 to reach 35?)

Dr. Belkin says, SPF is a determination made in a clinical study of the product. So, an SPF of 15 essentially means that a fair-skinned person can spend 15 times longer in the sun without getting red. If you use it the way theyve tested, which most people dont (usually apply about half), you get the right SPF. If you use half the amount you get half the SPF. If you use double, you get double the SPF. Mixing a moisturizer with SPF 15 to a foundation with SPF 20 should get you better coverage than each alone but likely not a value of 35. A shot glass is probably a little more than you would need to cover your whole body, but still is a nice rule of thumb.

According to Dr. Belkin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends seeking shade if your shadow is shorter than you are, during peak hours (about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and reapplying sunscreen every two hours.

Now that we've established the basics, here's how to pick the best formula for you.

Mineral SPF

These sunscreens are made with plants and other naturally-derived ingredients that form a physical blocker, causing them to reflect the suns rays like a mirror. Their formulas boast gentler ingredients that are great for sensitive skin. According to Belkin, mineral blockers are good ways to ensure you are getting broad spectrum coverage as they block both UVA and UVB rays.

Some of our favorite mineral sunscreens:

COOLA Mineral Sunscreen Matte Finish SPF 30 - Cucumber
Matte is the operative word here. Who doesnt love a sunscreen that helps nix shine? This is an all-star SPF made with rose hip seed oil, plankton extract, and shea butter. Its also TSA-approved, wont leave any residue behind, and wears beautifully under makeup. Oh, it also smells amazing (Think: fresh cucumber water on a spa day).

Love Sun Body 100% Natural Origin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
This sunscreen smells like vanilla and flowers and rubs in like a thick, luxurious butter. The non-greasy formula dries clear and protects your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, while using high-quality, all-natural ingredients like almond and coconut oil.

Chemical SPF

Not all sunscreen chemicals are created equal. These lotions contain the main active ingredient avobenzone, which absorbs the suns rays and converts them to energy that is less damaging to the skin. This boasts the same low-hazard rank as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, the active ingredient in mineral sunscreen. According to Dr. Belkin, chemical absorbers, or organic blockers have been used safely for decades and the use of the word chemical can be misleading. The types of chemicals used in your sunscreen are simply more complex molecules, akin to cinnamic acid, the essential oil found in cinnamon.

Some of our favorite chemical sunscreens:

Avne Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+
Extremely lightweight, this formula blends like a dream and wears well under makeup. Its infused with vitamin E and thermal spring water, so it soothes and hydrateswhile remaining water-resistant.

Clarins Multi-Active Day Cream SPF 20 - All Skin Types
Calling all stressed-out complexions: Weve found your match. This face cream hydrates and soothes your skin while protecting it from the sun. The formula has ingredients like teasel extract, which is packed full of antioxidants that protect from free radicals, and myrothamnus extract to minimize the look of fine lines.


Were living fast-paced lives, so why shouldnt we be reaching for skincare products that work just as hard as we do? These formulas wear many hats in your routine (Reminder: So should you when you're out in the sun!).

Some of our favorite multitaskers:

COOLA Organic Makeup Setting Spray SPF 30
The matte-finish mist is changing the 'screen game by setting your makeup and protecting your skin from sun damage. With just a few spritzes it locks in moisture and reduces the appearance of pores, wrinkles, and fine lines. Spray, and go.

COOLA Dawn Patrol Classic Primer SPF 30
This velvety formula is the opposite of our sunscreen of yesteryears. It creates a smooth base for seamless makeup application, acting as a 2-in-1 primer and sunscreen.

BB Creams and CC Creams

The true workaholics of the beauty world, these creams are part moisturizer, part sunscreen, and because theyre tintedpart makeup.

Some of our favorite BB and CC Creams:

Dr. Jart+ Premium Beauty Balm SPF 45
This dewy formula acts as a four-in-one tinted primer, moisturizer, sunscreen, and treatment serum. It provides supreme coverage to uneven skin tone, while using adenosine to improve elasticity, arbutin to brighten, an antioxidant bio-peptide complex to promote collagen production, and a mineral SPF for broad spectrum protection.

Marcelle CC Cream SPF 35 Complete Correction
This hypoallergenic formula is creamy (yet oil-free), and works hard to control shine, lightly conceal, hydrate, and even out tone for a radiant complexion. It also helps impart immediate brightening benefits thanks to tiny flecks of light-reflecting pigments.

Supergoop! Daily Correct CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 35
This customer favorite works as a primer, hydrating mineral sunscreen, and foundation to minimize uneven tone and inflammation, and conceal blemisheswithout aggravating them any further.