The Chemists' Comprehensive Guide to Sunscreens PT. 2

By now, hopefully we’ve given you a general idea of why you should use sunscreen (premature aging and skin cancer! do we need to say more?!) and are up to date on sunscreen news (chemical sunscreens could use some PR help). Now that you have a sense of the state of the sunscreen world, let’s get to the good stuff and talk products and how to pick your next winning sunscreen sidekick!

one chemist strategy to shop for your sunscreen

Step 1: You feeling Chemical or Mineral?

The category is vast, confusing, and keeps adding new launches. It doesn't help that a lot of the sunscreen filter INCIs (ingredient names) are lengthy and confusing. One really easy way to eliminate a good chunk is choosing if you’re going chemical or mineral. A quick reminder of the pros and cons of each category:

  • Chemical Sunscreens
    • Pros: lighter textures, less chance of a white cast
    • Cons: can have high levels of alcohol, see part 1 for the controversies typically associated with chemical sunscreens


  • Mineral Sunscreens
    • Pros: can be a more promising option for sensitive skin types
    • Cons: draggy, greasy texture. Mime potential is high here.

Step 2: Choose from the Sunscreen Product Landscape

It’s time to choose your format! Many are perfectly happy with the classic liquid lotion format (*cough* Gloria *cough*), but there can be particular advantages to the other categories.

Liquid Emulsions and Oils

This is by far the largest category with the widest variety of textures, finishes, and protection levels. This is truly the classic route, but we find wanting to reapply a lotion after being sweaty and out in the sun is harder than some of the other formats.


This can be extremely handy for outdoor activities. The texture can be a lot lighter, and some even give a cooler finish which makes reapplying not as gross when you’ve already been sweating outside. Just remember that for sunscreen sprays, for best practices, spray the solution on your hand and then apply onto the skin area.


Victoria admits, the thought of rubbing a stick of sunscreen on her oily, acne prone face makes her shudder a little. But there’s a convenience advantage here. Sunscreen sticks are very travel friendly and can really be a lifesaver when you’re in a pinch. Not to mention we appreciate the dual purpose for lip area (often forgotten when it requires the most help). The other upside is that sunscreen stick formulation has improved immensely so you can find some decent textures that don’t feel like your swabbing butter all over your face. 

All-in-one tinted sunscreens, SPF moisturizers, and hybrid foundations

We really like the comprehensive coverage of all-in-ones considering our naturally lazy souls. Just remember that you need to apply these products like sunscreens and not moisturizers or foundations. 


This is probably our least favorite format of the bunch. It’s difficult to know just how much powder you should be applying to actually get the claimed sun protection. We definitely don’t recommend this as your main sunscreen go to, but we can understand the need for a touch up especially when you don’t have time to redo your makeup. We’d consider this as a last resort and would still recommend tinted sunscreens or hybrid foundations over this format.

Step 3: Does Your Sunscreen Fit Your Routine?

After picking your format, it’s time to narrow down your sunscreens by claims:

  • Your Level of Protection: We typically recommend looking in the sweet spot of SPF 30-50 for the right amount of protection without too much of a texture tradeoff. Don’t forget your UVA coverage! If you’re based in the US, we do love the brands that went out of their way to test their sunscreen’s UVA potency with the PA system.
  • Wet Life, Sweat Life: For active folks, do look for products that claim water resistance to ensure your sun protection holds up with your active lifestyle. Be sure to follow this time limit (typically 60 or 80 min) as opposed to the classic 2 hour reapplication rule.

Step 4: Use it!

Let’s review how to use...just one more time!

All sunscreens are tested for 2 hour protection (unless it’s for water sports). So it’s important to reapply after the 2 hour mark. Sunscreens don’t work like batteries. If you’ve applied in the morning and only went outside for 10 minutes, you don't have an hour and 50 minutes worth of protection to use at the end of your work day. 

Apply generously! Most people have been found to under apply sunscreen, which is why we preach #textureisking when it comes to sun protection products. Regardless of the filter system and format you've decided to go with, use a product that you’re willing to slather on thick and slather on frequently.

Proper Storage

Hear it from us the chemists, sunscreens are one of the most challenging formulas to make. The filters can be fussy in formula, in packaging, in a specific climate. So it’s important to remember to follow the expiration date to get proper protection and try not to leave it in heat for long periods of time (think baking in the sun, your car, etc. for long periods of time)

*Annnnnd if you're still feeling lost, here's a little snapshot of where you can start depending on some skin-arios.

sunscreen scenario notes


  • First narrow down the filter system that works best for your skin type, remember that texture is king here.
  • Then pick the product format that best fits your lifestyle and sign off on all the claims (SPF, UVA, water resistance) 
  • Apply generously, reapply, and try not to leave it out in excessively hot, sunny locations.
  • Checkout some of our favorites and our community's favorites here


Can you comment on negative interactions between avobenzone and zinc oxide?

Hilary M Tool August 06, 2021

Can you comment on negative interactions between avobenzone and zinc oxide? I’ve heard that one degrades the other, but not sure if that goes both ways. This would come into play if one were to apply a mineral sunscreen, then a foundation that contains a chemical spf on top, or if one applied a chemical sunscreen for first application and mineral for reapplication, or vice versa.

Emily H June 29, 2021

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