Sunscreen has one very important job: to protect our skin from the sun. At its worse, sun damage can lead to skin cancer, but it also contributes to hyperpigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles, rough texture, and more. Sunscreen has always been treated as a preventative measure, but traditional formulas haven’t been able to do much to fight off existing UV damage. Now, though, there’s a new category of products that pair SPF with reparative ingredients—think: antioxidants to fade dark spots, peptides to restore skin elasticity, and exfoliants to smooth texture—to address both past and future signs of skin aging.
Certain brands, like Supergoop! and EltaMD, have been leading this charge for a while, but now, nearly every sunscreen launch you’ll see for summer 2022 goes above and beyond to include skin-bettering ingredients. The past few weeks alone, for example, have brought us Murad’s brightening Correct & Protect SPF 45 ($69), Avon’s firming Isa Knox Anew Solaire SPF 50 ($29), and Starface’s acne-friendly Clear as Day Broad SPF 46 ($24).
“I’m in my 40s. I didn’t wear sunscreen in my 20s—nobody told me to,” says Stephanie DiPisa, founder of Solara Suncare. “I want my products to help reverse past damage. Sunscreen is the best way to prevent some of that damage. But for those of us that didn’t have that in our routine for a long time, we are left with problems to solve.” The brand launched its Fortune Teller Brightening Sunscreen Serum ($64), which includes skin-brightening and inflammation-fighting antioxidants earlier last month.
According to Melissa Hago, a beauty and wellness trend forecaster at Fashion Shoops, this boom is happening in two ways: Some brands are stepping up their existing sunscreen formulas with new actives, while others are opting to mix SPF with the active ingredients they already hero.
“Skin care, for so long, received the most innovations and we’re seeing it trickle down to other areas like makeup, fragrance, and sunscreen,” says Hago, who serves as Fashion Snoops vice president of creative. “It’s an exciting time for sunscreen. It’s not just about the regular SPF. We’re seeing ingredients that haven’t traditionally been used.”
How to incorporate a smart sunscreen into your routine
If you’re in the market for a streamlined skin-care routine, smart sunscreens could be the answer. New formulas are here to fade dark spots, smooth fine lines, treat acne, and (of course) protect your skin from the sun—all in a single step.
“Instead of maybe using three different products in the morning, you can just use one smart sunscreen and cover all your bases,” says Ivy Lee, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Pasadena, California. Just be sure to manage your expectations. A souped-up sunscreen will give you a little extra boost, but it isn’t going to give you quite the same results as a more tailored routine. If you’re looking to manage issues like acne or hyperpigmentation or acne, you’ll want to keep more potent products in rotation and use your SPF as an added bonus.
Instead of re-applying these formulas every two hours, the way derms recommend for standard sunscreens, you’ll want to stick with a single a.m. application. Slathering on actives like vitamin C or peptides multiple times throughout the day won’t give you any additional benefits, and regularly reapplying harsh ingredients like salicylic acid comes with the risk of stripping your skin.”Save these smart sunscreens for the morning and then you can follow up with a more affordable, or a more simple product for reapplication,” says Dr. Lee.
And if you have sensitive skin, Caren Campbell, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Napa and San Fransico, says you may want to steer clear of these more complex formulations. “I am a purest when it comes to sunscreen,” says Dr. Campbell. “Best to use one focused on sun protection without additional possibly allergenic ingredients”
Smart sunscreens that are addressing multiple skin concerns
The most overwhelming new category is brightening sunscreens, which help manage hyperpigmentation like acne scars, melasma, and sunspots. Your skin gets tan (which, by the way, is a sign of sun damage) because UV radiation induces melanocytes to increase melanin production, thus increasing pigment. So if you have a pimple that leaves behind post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, un-protected sun exposure will make that spot darker. Including antioxidants in sunscreens helps to brighten hyperpigmentation over time.
“We have something called SuperBright Complex,” in the Solara fortune teller SPF, says DiPisa, “which is just our way of bucketing a select and curated group of ingredients like traditional vitamin C and botanical adaptogen vitamin C, like amla extract and licorice root, to provide that longer-term effect.”
Antioxidants also have protectives element that makes your SPF’s environmental damage-fighting abilities even stronger. “These are ingredients, like your vitamin C, your niacinamide, and your carotenoids,” says Dr. Lee. “They really help boost the efficacy of your sunscreen and minimize the DNA damage that you get from ultraviolet radiation.”
Solara Suncare Fortune Teller — $64.00
Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, SPF 30
—Brightening and protective amla and licorice root blends
—Nurturing and protective argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and aloe
—Light-reflecting mica and iron oxides
Murad Correct & Protect — $69.00
Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, SPF 45 PA++++
—Brightening and reflective carotenoids amla and licorice root blends
—Hydrating beet root extract
Iris and Romeo Weekend Skin — $47.00
Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, SPF 50
—Brightening time-release vitamin
—Hydrating and soothing vitamin E, chamomile, and allantoin
Smoothing and restorative sunscreens
“Ultraviolet radiation causes DNA damage to our skin cells. It’s the same DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer, but it also can accelerate the aging process,” says Dr. Lee. “It breaks down the collagen in our skin then we lose that suppleness and the smooth texture that we have in our youth.”
This shows up on your skin in the form of fine lines, wrinkles, and crepiness. Any dermatologist will tell you that sunscreen is the most important anti-aging tool, and that’s becoming even more true as formulas combine SPF with skin-smoothing, collagen-boosting ingredients like antioxidants and peptides.
“Today everyone leads busy lives, so we need multi-tasking beauty products more than ever,” says Miki Hilburger, Avon’s skincare marketing director. “Avon’s Isa Knox Anew Solaire contains skin benefiting ingredients such as niacinamide known to help visibly minimize enlarged pores, paeonol and peony extract to help stimulate the production of collagen, and panthenol to help prevent water loss for lasting hydration in the skin.”
Sunscreen and acne haven’t always gotten along. That’s because sunscreen formulations have traditionally included oil, which can lead to increased clogged pores in acne-prone skin. “Anytime someone who has acne or is prone to acne is shopping for skin care, I have them look for on the label for non-comedogenic,” says Dr. Lee. “Non-comedogenic means it doesn’t plug the pore. Comedone means pore. So it’s non-comedogenic.”
Starface just launched an acne-friendly SPF that’s made with that also includes oil-absorbing dimethicone. “Our goal was to create an acne-safe sunscreen that you actually look forward to wearing every day—one that doesn’t make you choose between protecting your skin and breaking out,” says Starface president Kara Brothers-Phillips.
There’s also a new and exciting crop of anti-acne sunscreens that include active ingredients like salicylic acid and lactic acid that help treat and prevent breakouts. It’s easy to overdo acne treatment, so you may not want to use these along with other strong actives.
“If you are already on a prescription regimen for acne, usually including medications that are in the vitamin A or retinoid category, at nighttime, you don’t want to add on with an anti-acne sunscreen,” says Dr. Lee. “That’s because you’re going to make your skin even more prone to that irritation that from traditional acne regimens. Once your acne’s better controlled and you don’t have to use a stronger retinoid, or your skin is more used to that retinoid, then you can add these in.
Acnemy Zitcontrol — $21.00
Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, SPF 50
—Exfoliating and oil-clearing salicylic acid
—Anti-microbial zinc PCA
Replenix Oil-Free Sunscreen
Broad-spectrum mineral sunscreen, SPF 50+
—Hydrating hyaluronic acid
—Exfoliating lactic acid
Star Face Clear as Day — $24.00
Broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen, SPF 46
—Moisturizing butyloctyl salicylate
—Skin-smoothing VP/eicosene copolymer
Check out the video below to see how our beauty editor adds sunscreen into her daily routine.
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