"Like serums, they go on smoother than cream and a little bit goes much, much longer of a way," says Dr. Chi. "Let's say you put a layer of a moisturizing serum with SPF 30 on your face and neck. That's fine if you're just going to be indoors during the day. But because it's going to be diluted across your face, I don't think it's enough if you're going to be doing anything outdoors. I would then layer another powdered sunscreen, or a tinted sunscreen over it, if you're going to be doing outdoors-type stuff."
In order for your sunscreen to be effective, you have to apply enough. Derms usually go by the metal bottle-cap full measurement or enough to cover two full fingers. If you used that much of a serum, it'd be hard to blend in and you'd be going through a very tiny, likely expensive bottle very quickly. The same can be said for tinted sunscreens—who actually applies that much tinted sunscreen?
"That's my biggest pet peeve is when people say, 'Oh, I've got sunscreen in my makeup,' and then of course we live in California here, and they're like, 'Oh, but I don't like to use too much makeup,'" says Dr. Chi. Sun serums are great for layering under SPF makeup.
They're also good for layering different types of protection by pairing a physical mineral sun blocker (i.e., zinc oxide, iron oxide, titanium oxide) with a chemical blocker (avobenzone, homosalate, etc.). "Then you've got both the physical, to scatter the rays and block the rays, and also the chemicals to absorb the rays," says Dr. Chi. Olay Regenerist Whip Face Moisturizer SPF 25 uses chemical blockers but doesn't meet the dermatologist-bare-minimum standard of SPF 30. When it's layered with zinc oxide Ava Isa Sun Serum Drops SPF 35 ($45), you're better protected.
7 sunscreen serums perfect for layering
Dr. Chi uses a chemical sunscreen serum from La Roche-Posay. “I think it’d be really good for people that have dry skin that need the extra layer of moisture,” she says. She applies a thin layer to her face under a tinted sunscreen but lays it on thick on her neck.
“The sunscreen that I wear on my neck, it can’t be tinted because then it just gets all my clothes,” she says. “Because it’s an SPF 30, and I can put a lot on my neck and it doesn’t look weird. Whereas you put a lot of it on your face, and now you’re looking shiny.”
The Ava Isa Sundrops are great because even though the active ingredient is zinc oxide, it blends into my complexion flawlessly, something that’s hard to accomplish with a mineral sunscreen on deeper skin. Because mineral sunscreens tend to be a bit drying, I layer this over my Agrestal Rose Hydrating Oil ($70).
This sun serum lives up to its name. It provides great protection with an unrivaled silky-smooth texture. From Venus Williams’s Eleven, the zinc-oxide serum is lightweight and leaves behind a demi-matte finish.
Supergoop is the reigning queen of sunscreen, and the City Serum doesn’t disappoint. It goes on smooth and is packed with antioxidants like Vitamin E and B5. This chemical sunscreen is noticeably thicker than the other serums on this list, feeling closer to a lotion than a true serum. However, it is incredibly lightweight and rubs in totally clear.
The Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Face Serum 60+ has the highest SPF on this list. It uses chemical blockers, is free of fragrance, is non-greasy, super lightweight, and hydrating. It’s also infused with ginger extract to help improve skin radiance and an antioxidant complex to protect against environmental skin stressors.
One drop of the Dr. Barbara Strum chemical sun drops provides great coverage. Like the Supergoop serum, it goes on thick but blends invisibly to leave your skin feeling soft and hydrated.
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