Unlike most of us playing catch up, Crystal Ung has been a sunscreen devotee since middle school, when she added drugstore moisturizer with SPF to her daily skin care routine. In the last few years, that devotion to sun protection has only escalated as Ms. Ung, a 34-year-old jewelry designer in Los Angeles, has adopted a multilayered SPF routine that would make any dermatologist proud.
“I decided to try different, non-cream formats because I wanted a way to refresh my sunscreen throughout the day,” said Ms. Ung, who now carries an SPF powder and facial spray in her purse so that she can reapply throughout the day. She has plenty of new options to choose from.
Once a sleepy category that most consumers considered an afterthought, SPF has been made over into a daily necessity that’s incorporated in serums, mists, powders and even hair sprays. Prestige brands like Supergoop and Coola are moving in on drugstore aisle go-tos like Neutrogena and Aveeno with sleeker packaging and reimagined formats that tap into a larger obsession with multistep skin care.
“We’ve always been focused on creating SPF products that people will actually want to wear everyday, and I knew the only way for us to accomplish this was to break the typical sunscreen mold,” said Holly Thaggard, the Supergoop founder. “We also want to help people protect more sun-sensitive spots like the scalp, and that calls for specialized formats.”
While dermatologists are on board with finding new ways to convert consumers to SPF, some of them fear that the new products are being applied incorrectly.
“You need about a shot glass worth of sunscreen to cover exposed skin to get adequate protection, and ideally it should be reapplied every two hours,” said Dr. Neera Nathan, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Sunscreen in makeup or serum alone usually doesn’t cut it because you need to apply a lot more product than you think to get the SPF on the label.”
Here, then, is a guide to trying these new products without sacrificing your skin health.
Use drops with caution.
Of all the new sunscreen formats, sunscreen drops may be the most beloved by skin care aficionados, thanks to their positioning as multitaskers that are said to fight against pollution, relieve redness and hydrate skin. Made by brands like Coola and Dr. Barbara Sturm, the lightweight, serum-like texture is appealing to consumers with oily skin who hate the feel of a thick cream, as well as those with darker skin tones who want to avoid the chalky look of many traditional sunscreens.
They are also one of the riskiest new products thanks to their dropper format, which can lead to less UV coverage than needed, and their likeness to serums, which consumers have been taught to use in small doses. “The directions for use on these products are often very vague, and ‘a few drops’ won’t get you the SPF you need to be adequately protected,” said Dr. Annie Gonzalez, a dermatologist in Miami.
What’s more, Dr. Gonzalez said, many consumers play “chemist” with these formats, mixing them with other ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids and retinol that can dilute the formula and, in some cases, render it unstable. It’s best to run your full product routine by a dermatologist before use and use drops as a nice add-on rather than the main SPF event.
Make powder and mist the final act.
Powder and mist sunscreens have their place. “Powder sets my makeup very nicely and seems to help me look less sweaty in the summer without suffocating my pores,” said Marcela Pelaez, a 32-year-old public relations executive in New York who has tried multiple powder sunscreens and is now partial to Ilia Moondance Radiant Translucent Powder.
Although the Food and Drug Administration has not yet classified powders as GRASE, or “generally recognized as safe and effective,” dermatologists generally believe they’re a harmless and potentially helpful component to layer into your broader SPF routine. That means you’ll want to use powder or mist only after moisturizing with a sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or higher and then reapply throughout the day to double up and mattify or refresh the skin.
“We are all using much less sunblock than we should, so the use of multiple products is a great way to offset where we may be cutting it short,” said Dr. Panta Rouhani Schaffer, a dermatologist in New York.
It should be noted, though, that reapplying powder or mist every two hours (as is the recommendation for SPF) is not equivalent to reapplying your traditional sunscreen. On long days spent outside, you’re better off going makeup-free to allow for easy reapplication of your facial sunscreen.
Mind your head.
Do you really need a separate sunscreen for your scalp? Not necessarily, but protecting it with some form of SPF or a UPF hat is recommended by dermatologists, particularly if you have fair skin or are outside a lot. The scalp is also one of the most vulnerable sites for skin cancer, with delays in diagnosis common.
“The sun hits the top of your head more directly than other areas, and protecting it becomes increasingly important as we age and hair thins,” Dr. Nathan said.
While any broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or above will do, mists, powder sprays and sticks created specifically for hair can be more appealing because of their less greasy formulas. The key with any of these options is reapplication, particularly if you’ll be in the water. Coola Scalp & Hair Mist meets the mark for beach days and should be reapplied every 80 minutes. The Supergoop Poof Part Powder is better for dry hair days.
Overall, taking a layered approach to SPF instead of relying solely on a new format is your safest bet. As Dr. Schaffer put it, “I love the ease of application of the new formulations, but these drops, sprays and powders need to be part of a larger sun-protection game plan.”
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