Types of Sunscreen (For Face & Body)

We all know that sunscreen is essential for protecting ourselves from sunburn, skin damage, and cancer. However, when it comes to shopping for sunscreen, you can quickly become overwhelmed with all the options.

From face vs. body sunscreens to the different formulas, there are many types of sunscreen to choose from, with little to no clarity on the differences. But that’s what we’re here for, to help make shopping for sunscreen an easier feat.

In this guide, we’ll help you get a better grasp of the different types of sunscreen and the pros and cons of each, so you can make an informed decision when it comes to protecting your skin. Keep reading to learn more about how the kinds of sunscreen differ from each other and what factors to consider when making your selection.

What Are the Different Types of Sunscreen?

There are two main types of sunscreen categories: mineral sunscreen and chemical sunscreen. However, sunscreen can be categorized in other ways as well, such as face vs. body sunscreen, varying SPF levels, water-resistant formulas, and the different application methods—liquid, spray-on, powder, etc. With these subcategories, the nuances between sunscreens are more difficult to decipher—especially when you don’t know how to read the label.

First, let’s cover the main difference between the two kinds of sunscreen.

Mineral Sunscreen

With innovations in the skincare industry, mineral sunscreen was created as an alternative to chemical sunscreen, which is what traditional formulas are made of. Mineral sunscreen, also known as physical sunscreen, is made from mineral ingredients, including titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Mineral sunscreen works by sitting on top of the skin and reflecting the sun’s rays away.

Pros

  • Natural ingredients
  • Non-irritating
  • Doesn’t absorb into skin
  • UVA/UVB protection


The mineral sunscreens by Colorescience also protect against environmental factors such as pollution, blue (HEV) light, and infrared radiation.

Cons

  • May not be as widely available
  • Some mineral formulas cause white cast

Colorescience has carefully formulated our sunscreens to prevent white cast and blend in seamlessly with your complexion, so you can wear it confidently whether you’re bare-faced or have on makeup.

Mineral vs chemical sunscreen facts infographic

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreen works by absorbing into the skin and converting the sun’s rays into heat that’s then released from the body. While it is effective, that means that the chemicals in the sunscreen are entering your body, which can potentially have harmful effects on your health.

Pros

  • Provides sun protection
  • A lot of options on the market

Cons

  • Has chemical ingredients
  • Can irritate sensitive skin
  • Introduces chemicals into the body
  • Takes about 15 minutes to activate

Another concern with chemical sunscreen is its impact on the environment. This is because some of the chemicals in these sunscreens can harm aquatic ecosystems—several states and countries have even banned the use of chemical sunscreen.

Sunscreens for Your Face vs. Body

You might be wondering, “do you actually need different sunscreen for your face and body?” Not necessarily, but having formulas that cater to each can make application much easier. While they typically share the same ingredients—especially if they’re from the same brand—some formulas are easier to use on your face, while others work better on your whole body. Not to mention, body sunscreens usually come in larger containers since they need to go further.

Best Types of Sunscreen for Your Face

Sunscreens for your face should be easy to apply. The best types of sunscreen for your face are those that are non-comedogenic (doesn’t block your pores) and blend in well with your skin or makeup. The last thing you want is white cast in your vacation photos.

Colorescience has several mineral sunscreens specifically designed for face application, including our award-winning Sunforgettable® Total Protection™ Brush-On Shield SPF 50.

Best Types of Sunscreen for Your Body

Choosing a sunscreen for your body is a bit easier since you’ll be less worried about how it impacts your appearance. Sunscreens for your body should be easy to spread over a large surface area. If you’re active or tend to sweat a lot, you may want to choose a water-resistant sunscreen that will be able to withstand moisture for longer periods of time than regular formulas.

Shop our Total Protection™ Collection to find 100% mineral sunscreens powered by EnviroScreen™ Technology with formulas for both your face and body.

Infographic explaining how to choose the best type of sunscreen with picture of woman applying sunscreen to cheek

Best Sunscreen for Different Skin Types

If you have skin concerns, you might be wary about switching up your sunscreen formula—especially when putting it on your face. However, there are many sunscreen options for individuals prone to breakouts, irritation, and more.

Since chemical sunscreen can include harsh ingredients, it’s usually not the best solution for those with skin concerns. On the other hand, mineral sunscreen is a safe option for those with:

  • Sensitive skin
  • Oily skin
  • Dry skin
  • Acne-prone skin
  • Rosacea

And to help make sure your skin is clear of all sunscreen residue, you can use our hydrating cleansing cloths to refresh, hydrate, and protect your skin. If you suffer from redness, dullness, or oily skin, you may want to pair one of our primers with your sunscreen, which can also help your makeup last longer.

Woman at beach in sunhat, sunglasses and yellow swimsuit putting sunscreen on her body

Comparing SPF Levels

Another factor that differentiates types of sunscreen is SPF level. SPF level is the protection level a sunscreen offers against UVB rays. Here is how the different levels of SPF break down in terms of UVB rays blocked:

  • SPF 15: blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30: blocks 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50: blocks 98% of UVB rays
  • SPF 100: blocks 99% of UVB rays

As you can see, the protection only varies minimally with each level over SPF 30. Generally speaking, it’s recommended that you always wear sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher. It might seem counterintuitive not to go straight to SPF 100, however, it can lull you into a false sense of security, which can be dangerous if you forgo reapplication for too long. While many people assume SPF 100 means you're 100% protected, that simply isn’t the case.

American Academy of Dermatology SPF level recommendation

Water-Resistant Sunscreen

You may notice the term “water-resistant” popping up on more sunscreen labels recently. Water-resistant sunscreen has been specifically formulated to withstand sweat or being submerged in water for a set period of time. Depending on the water-resistance level of the sunscreen, that time may vary.

Water resistance is determined by the FDA based on a test. To be considered “water resistant”, sunscreen should protect wet skin for up to 40 minutes. To be considered “very water resistant”, sunscreen should protect skin for up to 80 minutes. Depending on the type of water resistance of your specific sunscreen, you’ll need to reapply every 40 to 80 minutes. You can find a variety of water resistant sunscreens in Colorescience’s product offering.

If you often swim or play sports, run, or do other physical activity outdoors, a water-resistant sunscreen may be the best fit for you to ensure you’re sufficiently protected.

Different Types of Sunscreen Application

Last but not least, there are several different types of sunscreen application options available.

  • Lotion: Probably the most traditional type of sunscreen, sunscreen lotion is usually a thicker liquid formula that is applied by hand. Lotions are most popular for body sunscreens.
  • Powder: Mineral sunscreens are available in powder form, which is applied using a brush. Powder sunscreen is usually used for the face since it’s applied like makeup and provides even coverage.
  • Stick: Sunscreen sticks allow you to glide the sunscreen on both your face and body. Sticks are a great option for those on the go and allow for quick, invisible application. They’re also easy for kids to use.
  • Spray: Spray sunscreen is an aerosol formula that is applied by spraying it on. The downfalls of this type of sunscreen is that it is more difficult to apply evenly and often leads to more waste, meaning you’ll have to replace it more often.

Which application method is best for you more or less comes down to personal preference. The most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that you apply even, full coverage—focusing on hard-to-reach spots that may be overlooked and especially sensitive areas like under your eyes.

Woman applying Colorescience Sunforgettable powder sunscreen to nose with a brush.

What to Look for When Choosing a Type of Sunscreen

With all the options on the shelves and online, it’s important to know what to consider when choosing a new sunscreen. Now that you have a better understanding of what the main types of sunscreen are and how they differ, here are some key takeaways to keep in mind when making your purchase:

  • Make sure you’re getting sufficient SPF protection—remember, SPF 30 or higher is best
  • Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks against both UVA and UVB rays for more comprehensive protection
  • Find the right sunscreen for your skin type—mineral sunscreen is gentle and safe for all skin types
  • Using a fragrance-free sunscreen is less likely to cause irritation
  • Water-resistant sunscreen is good for those who are active because it can protect you even when you’re wet
  • Spray sunscreen may seem easy to apply, but it also leaves you at risk of uneven coverage

Above and beyond the type of sunscreen you’re using, proper application and reapplication is just as important. Check out our blog on how often to reapply sunscreen to make sure you’re using your sunscreen correctly for maximum protection. And, whatever you do, never skip on your sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy or you’re going to be inside most of the day.

Find a Sunscreen Formula That Works for You

Spending time in the sun is so much more enjoyable when you can feel confident that you’re protected. Finding the right sunscreen for you is important, so that you can take care of your skin and spend time outside worry-free. Colorescience has a diverse line of mineral sunscreens that are safe for sensitive skin and all ages. Shop our collection of physical sunscreens to upgrade your sun protection.

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