As we all know by now (right?), ample melanin doesn’t eliminate your risk of skin cancer. But the chalky, ashy look of many sunscreens—especially the mineral kind, which physically blocks harmful UV rays by reflecting them—can really wreck a brown skin girl’s summertime glow. Thankfully, recent years have seen a real improvement in facial sunscreens aimed at a broader range of skin tones. Here, Chatelaine editors Denise Balkissoon and Radiyah Chowdhury share their favourites picks of the season.
Our Absolute Faves
Radiyah Chowdhury: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
In May 2020, Supergoop fulfilled my dreams when they finally launched their wildly popular Unseen Sunscreen in Canada. As the name suggests, the broad spectrum formula is a clear gel—not a white cream—seemingly guaranteeing its success for the purposes of this piece. It’s meant to blend easily on all skin types, have a natural finish and act as a daily primer for smooth makeup application. It’s also packed with antioxidants, oil-free and formulated exclusively with ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin. While it has a silicone feel that some may not like, I find that it fades quickly. My only criticism is that it’s fairly pricey.
Denise Balkissoon: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Fluid Tinted Lotion SPF 50
My number one pick is a widely used favourite for a reason—it’s very lightweight and not frighteningly expensive, as well as available at most drugstores. It’s a mineral formula that blends in easily, and it’s SPF 50, which is slightly more than the minimum suggested by dermatologists. It also comes in a small bottle that’s easy to toss into your bag of the day, so there’s no excuses for not re-applying every two hours.
The Rest of the Best
Fenty Skin Hydra Vizor Invisible Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
DB: It feels audacious to criticize Rihanna, but while I love many Fenty Beauty products, I wish the skincare line wasn’t quite so heavily scented. I’m allergic to a common fragrance fixative, and I also don’t want to smell like a West Indian aunty (I can say this because we both have West Indian aunties). If you don’t mind smelling like a calypso rose, this sunscreen is great. It’s super lightweight and doesn’t leave any ashy cast at all. And when it comes to foundations for darker skin tones, Rihanna is still killing the inclusive beauty game.
Black Girl Sunscreen Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30
DB: A fragrance-free sunscreen—that’s what I’m talking about! As the name suggests, this sunscreen was formulated with the melanated in mind from the very beginning. That means it does rely on chemicals filters like avobenzone and homosalate (which work by absorbing UV radiation and converting it to heat) to protect against UV rays. It is, however, free of octinoxate and oxybenzone, two chemicals known to harm coral reefs and ocean wildlife.
RC: I adhere to the two-finger rule when it comes to sunscreen application (a solid line of sunscreen on your index and middle finger) to ensure I’m wearing enough, so I need my sunscreens to blend nicely and quickly. Black Girl Sunscreen is a dream in this regard, and it does what it promises by leaving no white cast behind. It’s also infused with jojoba and avocado, which makes it very moisturizing. If your skin is oily, know you will look like a glazed donut for a while after application.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50
RC: Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost SPF has been called a dupe for Black Girl Sunscreen. Before I get into it, know that it contains irritating fragrance and dyes, so it’s not suitable for sensitive skin. Otherwise, the consistency is easy to work with (it’s not too runny) and, while the sunscreen is blue right out of the tube, it blends into the skin seamlessly. As it contains hyaluronic acid, it’s also quite hydrating without being greasy, and it doesn’t feel heavy on my oily skin.
Garnier Green Labs Serum Creams with SPF 30
RC: This line of products are, as the name implies, a combination of serum and cream meant to save you time in the morning. The serum creams come in three types: Hyalu-Melon (with plumping hyaluronic acid), Pinea-C (with brightening vitamin C) and Niacina-B (with pore-perfecting niacinamide). Each is a broad-spectrum formula, meaning that it protects both against UVB rays, which are responsible for sunburns and skin cancer, and UVA rays, which cause visible signs of aging and hyperpigmentation. The serum-cream combos are fairly lightweight and seamless when it comes to blending and absorbing into skin. The Niancina-B is free of fragrance and ideal for oily skin—it’s also my favourite of the three. (Note that I still opt for individual serums and moisturizers before using these as sunscreens.)
Dr. Renaud Moisturizing Emulsion Face SPF 30
DB: This one is very thick and very white, yet goes on sheer—what magic! Quebec-based skincare line Dr. Renaud has done a decent job of a hybrid cream that works well as both a sunscreen and a moisturizer. Plus, it’s also sweat-resistant and reef-safe, so you can take it to the beach.
Aveeno Protect+ Hydrate Face Moisturizing Sunscreen SPF 50
RC: This Aveeno pick is yet another impressive drugstore option. This is a lightweight formula that blends nicely into the skin without any white cast. It’s moisturizing without being greasy and water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, but it’s worth noting that it does contain fragrance.
RC: Formulated with vitamin C and peptides, this sunscreen claims to smooth the skin’s appearance. While I didn’t notice a difference (and can’t claim it doesn’t do as specified because I didn’t use it for very long), the broad-spectrum moisturizer blended in nicely, absorbed in my skin quickly and left no trace. I was worried my face would feel oily because of the added skincare ingredients, but it didn’t. However, it is quite pricey for how much product you get.
Coola Sun Silk Drops Skin Serum SPF 30
DB: Silky indeed, this barely-there formula becomes invisible as soon as it touches your face. It apparently shields you from not just UV rays, but pollutants, infrared light and blue light as well. The creamsicle scent fades quickly, and hyaluronic acid helps plump you up. The only downside? It’s the priciest of the bunch.
Coola Mineral Matte Tint BB Cream Unscented SPF 30
DB: The tint on this mineral sunscreen seems suspiciously beige, but it actually blends easily into beyond-beige skin. This is another option for those who can’t (or don’t want to) wear fragranced products—it’s also another that’s a decent combo product, with shea butter to keep you moisturized and a bunch of oils, including evening primrose, to calm skin and help it retain elasticity.
RC: Another mineral option that blends in quite well, the matte tint just wasn’t for me. It made my skin feel waxy, despite claiming that it’s formulated for oily skin types.
Ava Isa Sun-é-Serum Drops SPF 35
DB: This offering is from the Grimsby, Ont., based Sunscreen Company, which helped Venus Williams develop a sunscreen for her EleVen brand (the line is sadly not available in Canada). Happily, this serum from the company’s Ava Isa line is apparently very similar. The drops are designed to be ultra-matte, which was a little drying for my skin, but they blend nicely despite being packed with ray-blocking zinc oxide, the culprit behind many chalky sunscreens. The line also offers a trio of lip-specific SPF-infused products, both tinted and sheer, to keep that pucker protected.