We’re not exaggerating when we say that the latest crop of sunscreens to hit the market — labeled as sunscreen serums — might be the most lightweight formulas we’ve ever slathered onto our skin. While this category has been around for a while, there’s been a clear pattern in which our favorite skin-care brands (e.g. Supergoop, Coola, and ZitSticka) have been launching their own iterations of these hydrating, fluid-like formulas.
They’re essentially multitasking face serums with familiar moisture-boosting ingredients we love for our skin, like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe. The difference is that sunscreen serums contain, of course, the added benefit of broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection and without the dreaded white cast that leads many, unfortunately, to forgo SPF altogether. Whether you fall under that category or are an avid sunscreen user as is, you’ll want to listen up and try out these breathable formulas for yourself.
Cosmetic chemist Laura Lam-Phaure believes the serum-like texture can be attributed to a lack of ingredients — specifically, the absence of thickeners. “They often allow the formula to gain viscosity and can contribute to a creamy-like feel that resembles a more traditional sunscreen,” she explains. But without said thickeners or even a smaller concentration of thickeners, you’ll get a more serum-like consistency. Perhaps the best benefit of these less viscous formulas is a far lesser likelihood of a white cast — because just about everyone is turned off by the feel and look of chalky sunscreens.
Similar to moisturizers with built-in SPF, Lam-Phaure urges users that “just because the formula is in a serum-like dosage form, it doesn’t mean you can apply less product,” she notes, encouraging more product or layers in order to ensure adequate protection. As previously shared by New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, a nickel-sized dollop (or half a teaspoon for the face and neck combined) is the recommended amount. As always, Allure recommends an SPF of 30 or higher reapplied every few hours. And of course, these rules apply whether you’re staying indoors or venturing outside.
We expect to see more brands launching sunscreen drops and serums to accompany the growing demand for lightweight sunscreens that “mitigate a lot of unwanted properties that are often presented in traditional cream sunscreens,” as Lam-Phaure puts it.
Because there are so many sunscreen innovations to sort through on the market, we rounded up 15 editor- and dermatologist-approved formulas that deserve a spot in your skin-care routine, stat. Fair warning: You may never go back to traditional face sunscreens.