Sunscreen is the worst. It feels horrible, it gives skin a weird tacky texture, and I swear it messes with the efficacy of all the serums and moisturizers I use, (I have no proof, but am extremely paranoid about it). I spend most days inside anyway, so the most exposure I’m getting on a regular basis is the 15 minutes after my workout walking to grab a smoothie for breakfast. I’m probably Vitamin D deficient at this point, or at least that’s what I tell myself to feel better after consciously deciding to pass up sunscreen each day.

Sunscreen is important, though, and if you don’t hear it from your mother/dermatologist/friends enough, this is another reminder. In a few weeks, I’m going to be sitting beach-side in Mexico soaking up those harmful rays for hours each day, which has made me want to to try and be better to my skin. And so began the research process: How high should SPF be? What’s the best point in my routine to apply it? Is there a sunscreen that won’t make me break out? Are there ANY that won’t make my skin look ghostly? My findings are as follows:

WHAT IS SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor- the more you know! The number on your sunscreen measures the duration of the protection you’re getting from UVB rays, not the strength of the formula. A good rule of thumb is nothing below SPF 30, even if you’re a 9-5er. You can always go higher, though- the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends between 30-50 SPF universally.

WHAT STAGE OF MY SKINCARE ROUTINE SHOULD I APPLY SUNSCREEN?

Before moisturizer and foundation, after all of your other skincare products. Sunscreen is essentially a barrier between your skin and the sun, so the closer the placement is to your skin, the better.

CAN YOU LAYER MULTIPLE SUNSCREENS FOR MORE PROTECTION?

Sort of! Let’s back up: most people aren’t applying sunscreen correctly in the first place. You only reap the full benefits of sunscreen with ‘perfect application,’ which includes a very, very thick layer of the product. In general, the average person applies 1/3 to 1/2 that much, so if you’re using an SPF 30, chances are you’re getting more like an SPF 10-15.

When you layer two sunscreens, you’re always going to be maxed out by the highest SPF coverage of the two. So in a scenario where you apply an SPF 25 sunscreen and an SPF 15 BB cream, the MAX protection you can get out of it is SPF 25, not SPF 40, and only if you apply both perfectly, which most people don’t. But! Knowing that most people don’t abide by the rules of ‘perfect application,’ you could theoretically get more out of layering. If we’re using the same scenario of SPF 25 sunscreen and SPF 15 BB cream, you’re probably getting SPF 10-15 out of the sunscreen and SPF 1-5 out of the BB cream, so you increase your chances of getting closer to the max SPF 25 by combining them.

IS THERE ANY REASON NOT TO LAYER SUNSCREENS?

Only if one of your sunscreens has octinoxate and the other has avobenzone. Studies say octinoxate degrades avobenzone, so it will render your sunscreens ineffective. Check your ingredients, people!

WHICH SUNSCREEN SHOULD I BUY?

Lucky for you, all of this research yielded a Holy Grail, the sunscreen to end all other sunscreens: Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence. It’s colorless, light, thin, scent-free, and has no lingering white cast, like a miracle in a little blue tube. It’s not just inoffensive; it’s downright enjoyable. It feels cold on your skin when you apply it, like when you put on a facemask that you’ve stored in the fridge. The light texture means I don’t mind applying layers and layers of it, so I’m hopefully getting close to the full SPF, and once it dries down, my skin looks and feels better than it has with any primer I’ve tried to date. I’m moisturized, but not sticky. It’s almost a matte-moisturization, where there’s no shine, but my skin feels soft and plump. The one downside is that, since it’s from Japan, it takes eons to get to you once you order. I was desperate and paid $20 for rush shipping, and that still took over a week, but a handful of the eBay and Amazon offerings come in two-packs, so if you stockpile an order or two, you should be set for at least a few months.

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