How To Choose Between A Liquid, Powder Or Spray Sunscreen

Sometimes it’s hard to choose what sunscreen to buy with so many options out there. What’s the difference between an SPF8 and an SPF15? Is an SPF100 really necessary? Should you choose liquid sun creams, sprays or powders? Gone are the days when an SPF8 cream was your only option. Now you can set your makeup with an SPF powder, or never have to touch sunscreen with your hands by using a sun protection spray formula.

Liquid sunscreens are easy to use and everyone probably has them in their bathrooms already, but there’s something to be said about traveling with the new powder or spray formulas. A powder sunscreen is great to pop in your gym bag to ensure you have sun protection on you, wherever you go. A spray is a great option for people in a hurry, and they tend to be more sheer than traditional options. Nobody likes a white cast left behind by their sunscreen. With all the new and convenient sun protection technology out there, you have to wonder if it’s as effective as your old standby liquid formulas.  

The fact of the matter is that it’s more important to wear sunscreen in the first place than which formula is better, and to make sure you’re wearing it year round so you’re not over-exposed to the sun. But if you’re in the drugstore and you’re not sure what to buy, there are some tips from a top dermatologist that may help. Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Founder of Capital Laser & Skin Care and Professor in the Department of Dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center offers up some helpful suggestions.

It’s all about the application 

User error is a very real issue, no matter which formula you’re using. Traditional lotion sunscreens tend to be more popular for the very fact that it’s easier to ensure you’re covering your whole face or body. “The sprays are my least favorite because half of the spray ends up in the air rather than on the skin, but it can be good for hard to reach areas,” Tanzi says. Everyone who has ever had to apply sun protection on their own back can relate to this. She recommends applying a spray sunscreen indoors so that it doesn’t get blown away in the wind, and so you’re covering your whole body. Try a formula with a little bronze pigment in it so you can see exactly where it’s going to make sure you have adequate coverage.
Buy it now: Target, $16 

It’s what’s inside that counts 

Tanzi loves the idea of a powder sunscreen because of the ingredients. “They are a pure form of zinc or titanium, sit on the surface of the skin and reflect light off,” she says. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are what’s known as physical blockers because the sun’s harmful rays are blocked from entering the skin in the first place, almost like a protective forcefield. Look for high concentrations of zinc oxide in your SPF formulas, anywhere from 15%-25%.
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Layering is key 

Because sunscreen should be an important part of your daily routine, Tanzi advocates layering sun protection on your face. “Often I have patients use a lotion or moisturizer with at least an SPF 30, then apply powder sunscreen on top,” Tanzi says. “Powder sunscreen can also be applied several times a day to maintain protection and never messes up makeup. Reapplication is the key to effectiveness”.
Buy it now: Colorescience, $56

Lisa Bensley is the founder of BeautyByBenz, a health and beauty blog that is really just an excuse to buy too much makeup. When she is not writing, she's probably boxing, obsessing over her Dachshund, Stanley, reading, or binge-watching Law & Order: SVU. Follow her (and Stanley's) antics on Instagram.