The Best Sunscreens That Don't Leave White Residue, According to a Dermatologist
Not all sunscreen is created equal. While personal preference definitely plays an important role in choosing a sunscreen, most people agree that the best sunscreens are ones that don't leave white residue. But can you find a sunscreen with no white cast that's gentle enough for sensitive skin and is safe for kids? Virginia Tracey, M.D., a dermatologist in Syracuse, New York, says yes, and adds that, "One of the most important things about choosing a sunscreen is finding a product that you like enough to actually wear regularly and reapply."
Before we get to these dermatologist-recommended sunscreens, it's important to discuss the different types of sunscreen—and explain why some types of sunscreen leave a white sheen or streaks after applying. As an informed consumer, you'll know what labels to look for and which to avoid.
What to Look for in a Sunscreen
No matter what brand you buy, Tracey advises seeking out sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum." These sunscreens block both UVA and UVB radiation and, yep, you need to protect yourself from both types. Tracey explains that UVA contributes more toward physical signs of aging, while UVB contributes more toward sunburns. But both types of ultraviolet radiation contribute to skin cancers, so a broad spectrum is your best bet.
It's also important to choose an SPF (sun protection factor) that's at least 30. A lower SPF isn't recommended by dermatologists, despite the fact that many face sunscreens and lotions max out at 15 or 18.
Why Do Some Sunscreens Leave a White Cast or Residue?
If you're looking for more natural sunscreen options, you're not alone. Natural and "skin-friendly" sunscreens are becoming increasingly popular. But so many of these natural sunscreens leave a white cast or residue. Tracey explains that these types of sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients are physical blockers—they quite literally create a physical barrier between the sun and your skin. So a sunscreen with zinc oxide should leave a little white residue. That's a sign it's working! (If you need proof, just recall the iconic image of a beach lifeguard on their perch, with a big white triangle of sunblock on their nose; that's zinc oxide in action.)
What Type of Sunscreen Won't Leave White Cast?
Remember that physical sun blockers—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—are most likely to leave white residue on your skin. Tracey suggests looking for sunscreens labeled "sheer." Sheer sunscreen won't leave white residue, and many daily facial lotions are actually now formulated with sunscreen, so you don't have to use two different products (just make sure yours has at least SPF 30).
The Best Sunscreens That Don't Leave White Residue
I was curious what, as a dermatologist, Tracey would choose for her top sunscreen picks. Here's what she says ... and uses herself.
The Best Overall Sunscreen That Won't Leave White Residue: Elta MD UV Clear
"I like Elta MD UV Clear as a daily face sunscreen because it does not leave a white residue, is gentle on sensitive skin types and will not exacerbate acne or rosacea," says Tracey.
The Best Everyday Sunscreen: Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion
Says Tracey, "For kids (including my own!) I like Supergoop Play Everyday Lotion. It's a great sunscreen and comes in a large 18-ounce pump bottle with a handle that makes sunscreen application easy."
Do Tinted Moisturizers Work as Sunscreen?
Many makeup brands contain SPF, but do they work? If they match your skin tone and have at least SPF 30, they'll work for coverage. Know yourself: If you won't stick to applying an SPF and your makeup, be sure that one does double duty. As Tracey puts it, "If sunscreen is in your makeup, that makes it easy to use every day, and I like that!" If you deal with melasma, a skin condition that causes darkening in sun-exposed areas, consider a tinted sunscreen with ferrous oxide or iron oxide (like this CC cream from Supergoop). That will provide additional coverage and protect you from future damage.
Remember: The best sunscreen that won't leave white residue is the one you'll actually use. Every day. More than once, if you're exposed to the sun for prolonged periods or get wet. Once you've purchased your sunscreen, apply it everywhere, including commonly missed areas like the tops of your ears, back of your neck and upper chest. It's worth trying a few brands until you find a sunscreen you like. As Tracey reminds us, "Sunscreen is one of the most important ways to prevent both skin cancers and signs of aging like wrinkles and dark spots."