8 Facial Sunscreens You Can Wear Under Makeup

One of the beauty categories that seems to have improved most in terms of its offering over the past few years – especially at more affordable price points – is facial sunscreens that work well under makeup. Ten years ago, it was impossible to find a high SPF facial sunscreen product that wasn’t thick and greasy at Clicks or Dischem; the good ones were all from pricey, high-end dermaceutical brands. These days, French skincare brands like Vichy, Bioderma and La Roche-Posay are nailing it with their huge variety of lightweight sunscreens, giving all different skin types tons of choice well under the R500 mark.

Facial sunscreens you can wear under makeup

As the title would suggest, the products I’ve recommended below all layer discreetly under makeup and don’t get greasy through the day.
I’ve divided the list into chemical and physical (mineral) sunscreens because a) they’re very different, b) some people have a preference and c) there is a school of thought that chemical sunscreens is potentially harmful. I don’t personally subscribe to that theory but I’ll leave you to research and decide for yourself. The most important thing to know is how they differ: physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients (typically broad spectrum zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide) and work by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens contain ultraviolet filter that absorb UV radiation, preventing them from penetrating the skin. Some formulations use a combination of both (like the Vichy Idéal Soleil SPF 30 mentioned below) but are dominated by either chemical or mineral sun-blocking ingredients.

Whichever type you choose to use, there are now quite a few options to choose from that make it easy to get the necessary sun protection we need every day without compromising our makeup:

Chemical facial sunscreens you can wear under makeup

Chemical sunscreens

For skin like mine that tends to get shiny in the T-zone and can be quite oily in warmer weather, I like to use feather-light lotions or gels that sink away into nothing. My first love was the The Body Shop Skin Defense Multi-Protection Essence SPF 50 (R220) but lately I get a lot of use out of the Vichy UV Protect Anti-Shine Cream SPF 50 (R230) which is slightly more of a gel texture and leaves the skin with a really healthy-looking sheen that forms a great base for a glowy skin day. If you’re very oily then I would recommend Vichy Idéal Soleil Mattifying Corrective Care SPF 30 (R285) because it’s very matte and will help to control shine. It also contains niacinamide and salicylic acid so it’s good if you’re acne prone too. Similarly suitable for those with over-active sebaceous glands is the Bioderma Photoderm Max Aquafluid SPF 50+ (R250) which is super-lightweight and has a completely dry-touch finish, and La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Anti-Shine Dry Touch Gel-Cream SPF 50+ (R245).

For drier skin types, slightly richer formulations are usually more comfortable and provide your face with some added moisture throughout the day. I can’t seem to find my Heliocare Gel SPF 50 (R350) but I also love this one – it works particularly well on dry skin (but is also fine on my more combination complexion), making it look wonderfully juicy.

Physical mineral facial sunscreens you can wear under makeup

Physical sunscreens

In my experience, physical sunscreens tend to be much lighter in texture and more mattifying on the face, which makes them especially suitable for oilier skin types. All the ones I’ve tried leave an ashy cast on the skin so I would only wear them under makeup otherwise you’ll look rather pale and sickly, or downright crazy if you have darker skin! Luckily they are ideal for this purpose because they create a very smooth, non-sticky base for makeup and don’t tend to interfere with foundation products, as long as you leave them to dry down properly (which I would recommend for the application of all facial sunscreens – I always leave them to absorb for at least 2-3 minutes before putting on my base). The two I would recommend are essentially the same price (R1 difference!), perform very similarly and come from extremely high-quality skincare brands: Exuviance Sheer Daily Protector Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 (R536) and SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 (R535). The downside is they’re more expensive than chemical sunscreens so if you have any drugstore recommendations in this category, please let us know!

NB: You need to use at least a quarter of a teaspoon of sunscreen in order for it to be effective so don’t skimp. This is also why I leave mine to absorb for a couple of minutes (because there’s quite a lot of it on my face) otherwise it could cause pilling when you go in with your base products. And don’t rely on sunscreen in primers or foundations – you usually don’t use enough of it on your face for the product to offer the full protection indicated by the SPF number so don’t fool yourself!

Leave your recommendations for other sunscreens that work well under makeup below 👇

15 comments on 8 Facial Sunscreens You Can Wear Under Makeup

  • Jacqui

    Just read your post on sunscreens, been using the Bodyshop one since you recommended last year and love it. Thanks for sharing more options!
    One thing to mention, that I’m only realising in my late-30s is that it is ESSENTIAL to continue sunscreen down onto your décolletage. Every damn day. It’s something I never bothered (with unless at the beach) when I was younger and now totally regret. My face is in much better condition due to sunscreen/makeup compared to my chest. I’m not against tanning I love a good beach session but keep that chest hidden! I’ve also bought into the halter neck crop top bikini style for this reason and it’s a game changer.

    • Jules (author)

      That’s such a good point and something I never do! But I’m going to try to be better about it because it’ll pay off in the long run for sure.

  • Zakeeyak

    Thank you so much for this post! I’ve been good about sunscreen for years but honestly just walk into Clicks and buy whatever says SPF 50 and is cheap. Recently though I’ve decided that life’s too short to deal with the grease and have been looking for alternatives – thank you for the excellent shortlist!

    • Jules (author)

      Glad to be of service! 😉

  • Caryn

    Hi Jules. Thanks for this. What is the difference between the La Roche Possay BB cream and their normal sunscreens? I have an oily t-zone and have been using the Body Shop sunscreen after your recommendation. I like the idea of the La Roche Possay BB cream but not sure if it will be better to use the Anti shine? Xx

    • Jules (author)

      The BB Cream is slightly richer and is obviously tinted, whereas the Anthelios Anti-Shine dries down more matte and has no colour. I also feel like I can wear more of the Anti-Shine and get the required dose whereas I wouldn’t want to put as much of the BB Cream on my skin because it’s slightly heavier in texture (better for drier skin I think).

  • Janita

    Avene emulsion SPF 50 and Avene Cleanance SPF 30.

    I’ve tried most of the chemical suncreens on the list, and this is where I am settling for the moment….

  • Prettiful Blog

    I also love The Body Shop and Vichy Anti Shine. Have you tried the Yung Skin one, it has such a lovely texture. And for when my skin is acting up I like the dermalogica oil free matte.

  • Shalane

    I am so glad I came across this post. I have been slacking in the sunscreen department and need to step up my game. I use a few Vichy products and will definitely go and have a look at theirs. Lovely post.

  • Aimee

    Hi Jules, I just bought the Vichy anti shine cream and find it quite sticky? Is this how it should be ? I am new to using facial sunscreen so am not sure…. Thanks 🙂

    • Jules (author)

      Hmmm… no I don’t find it sticky at all. What do you put under it and long to do you leave between putting on moisturiser and SPF?

  • Niecole

    Always love your posts Jules, as I’m an oily faced gal myself and I appreciate your honesty about products. Please won’t you do an update on your skincare routine? 🙂

  • Leanne

    Hi Jules,

    I’m about to ask a question that you’ve possibly covered on the blog before but in what order should I put my lotions and potions on? Moisturizer then sunscreen then foundation? Also, how the hell do I reapply sunscreen without effing up my make-up?

    • Jules (author)

      The order of products is as follows: Antioxidant > Serum > Moisturiser > SPF > Foundation (assuming you’re using all those products). Reapplying sunscreen is tricky and honestly, I think it’s more of a hassle than it’s worth. You could use an SPF spray but it tends to disrupt makeup or make you look really greasy. I’m never directly in the sun for long enough that I really need to reapply and when I am (e.g. on the beach), I’m not wearing makeup so it’s not an issue.

  • Catherine

    Hi Jules

    I love the Heliocare sunscreen!! I have very reactive skin and it’s the only one I find that doesn’t aggravate my skin. You can get it at Ohmm Face and Beauty in Newlands 🙂

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