We put EltaMD’s UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 to the test after receiving a complimentary sample from the brand. Keep reading for our full product review.
For most of my life, I committed the cardinal sin of skincare: I never wore sunscreen unless I was at the beach. In fact, I’d go a full eight months out of the year without slathering a single pump of SPF across my face and think nothing of it. For me, sunscreen was a necessary evil between May and August, not a basic tenet of beauty.
Fortunately, landing my first job in lifestyle editorial in my mid-20s changed my approach. I realized that fresh-faced 20-somethings like myself were religiously applying sunscreen every day, rain or shine, and that all the anti-aging serums and rejuvenating facials in the world would never replace a solid daily SPF.
I’ve been experimenting with facial sunscreen products ever since, including NARS’ cult-favorite Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer ($45), ILIA’s Super Serum Skin Tint ($48), and Neutrogena’s Clear Liquid Sunscreen Lotion ($13). But after just three weeks of daily wear, I can confidently say that EltaMD’s UV Clear Facial Sunscreen ($37) is the best SPF I’ve tried. This is easily the most non-irritating, absorbent, and low-maintenance facial sunscreen I’ve come across; it’s essentially a nice mid-range moisturizer that happens to have SPF 46. What’s more, it’s specifically formulated for sensitive, acne-prone skin (a huge win for me and my eczema and pimple-plagued complexion).
In short, I finally feel like I’ve found the gold standard in facial sunscreens. Find my unfiltered review of EltaMD’s cult-favorite SPF below.
BEST FOR: All skin types, but it’s particularly formulated for sensitive skin that’s prone to acne, rosacea, and hyperpigmentation.
USES: Featuring SPF 46, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and lactic acid, this daily facial sunscreen protects sensitive and acne-prone skin from UVA and UVB rays while improving complexion over time.
ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: 9% transparent zinc oxide, 7.5% octinoxate
POTENTIAL ALLERGENS: Hypoallergenic
ABOUT THE BRAND: EltaMD Skincare is rooted in medicine—the company has been the leading producer of dermatologist- and physician-dispensed sunscreens in the U.S. for more than 25 years. They also sell a line of wound and skincare products often used in burn centers, rehabilitation clinics, and hospitals.
About My Skin: Sensitive and acne-prone with a touch of eczema
My skin is so sensitive that by necessity, my routine borders on boring. If I had it my way, I’d test every anti-aging serum, rich moisturizer, and exfoliating mask on offer, but I keep things extremely bare-bones for fear of inciting a fresh crop of eczema, acne, or both. My skin is happiest when I do next to nothing, so adding a new product into the mix—even something as ubiquitous and basic as sunscreen—always makes me a bit nervous.
Facial sunscreen in particular turned me off in my teens and early 20s—the idea of slathering thick, fragrant sunblock on my face every day before applying a full face of makeup triggered alarm bells in my head. But facial sunscreens have come a long way in the last decade as companies have slowly honed and perfected their formulas, and EltaMD’s lightweight, silky SPF is exhibit A.
The Science: Works as both a chemical and mineral sunscreen
Sunscreens fall into two camps: chemical and mineral. Chemical formulas act like a sponge with ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone that absorb harmful UVA and UVB rays and turn them into heat to release from the skin. These sunblocks can be oily and runny but absorb well. Mineral sunscreens sit on top of skin and reflect UV light using the likes of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They’re typically thicker, so they take longer to blend and may leave a white cast.
Both are effective, but mineral formulas are generally considered safe while chemical sunscreens have incited toxicity concerns in recent years (more on that, below).
EltaMD is a long dermatologist favorite and board-certified dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group actually recommends UV Clear specifically, noting that it’s approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation. “This is a classic favorite because it is non-comedogenic, so it doesn’t cause breakouts or acne and contains niacinamide to calm sensitive skin,” she explains.
Of course, choosing the best facial SPF is a personal decision. You can thank chemical ingredients like octinoxate for the lightweight, absorbent feel of most top-rated facial sunscreens, but if you’re dead-set against any and all chemical ingredients, EltaMD’s UV Clear may not be for you.
The Feel: More like a moisturizer than a sunscreen
Upon pumping a dollop of EltaMD UV Clear onto my hand, I was immediately struck by the texture. It doesn’t have the greasy, runny consistency of a standard sunscreen, instead, it holds its shape until you blend it in, like a whipped moisturizer. And it doesn’t smell like most sunscreens, either. If anything, it has a faint, almost chlorine-like scent that isn’t nearly as overpowering as it sounds; I actually find it refreshing.
The Ingredients: A mixed bag
EltaMD UV Clear is a bit of a mixed bag, ingredients-wise—it contains 9 percent transparent zinc oxide (a “mineral” ingredient) and 7.5 percent octinoxate (which falls into the “chemical” camp). The latter ingredient has been banned in Hawaii along with oxybenzone but is otherwise legal worldwide.
Studies are far from conclusive, but ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate have been linked to hormone issues and may be categorized as endocrine disruptors. What’s more, these chemicals may damage the ocean’s delicate coral reefs.
It’s worth noting that the toxicity studies conducted on octinoxate tested “oral ingestion and other extremely high doses, which isn’t relevant to human exposure,” says Nazarian. Chemist Gloria Lu of Chemist Confessions adds: “There is ongoing research to further look into these ingredients and see if any of these truly are endocrine disruptors, but for now, there’s no concrete validity.”
Otherwise, though, the product is gluten-free and free of allergens, making it a good choice for sensitive skin.
How to Apply: Allow just a little time for the product to sink in
Like most sunscreen products, you’ll want to apply a dollop of this to the skin, and allow time to sink in. But that not much time, to be honest. I was most impressed with the application—it melted into my skin seamlessly and was dry within 30 seconds. Thanks to the transparent zinc oxide and octinoxate, it left zero white cast and I felt nearly bare-faced minutes later. Even after weeks of daily use, I don’t feel that this product has irritated my skin, clogged my pores, or incited any breakouts (I have my hormones to thank for those). It’s essentially the most non-sunscreen facial sunscreen I’ve ever had the pleasure of wearing.
The Results: Soothing protection perfect for a daily routine
While facial sunscreen is usually more about prevention than results, EltaMD UV Clear also contains skin-soothing hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and lactic acid for a radiant complexion. Of course, it takes longer than three weeks to see these benefits, but I do feel like I’m getting more than just sun protection when I apply it every day. My skin feels more moisturized and nourished on a daily basis, which has been especially helpful in colder, drier months.
I’ve also learned that a facial sunscreen will never stay in my daily routine if it doesn’t sit nicely under makeup. Luckily, after layering foundation, concealer, powder, bronzer, and a touch of highlighter overtop UV Clear, my skin felt as lightweight and non-greasy as ever. It truly does not feel like you’re wearing anything, which is somewhat of a feat for sunblock. You can wear it daily under makeup in December, or by itself to the beach in August.
The Value: I’d honestly pay more for this
EltaMD UV Clear isn’t your average sunscreen—it’s a well-rounded skincare product. This SPF is meant to improve your skin over time, in addition to staving off and reversing sun damage. Plus, it’s fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben-free, and noncomedogenic.
In other words, you’re getting a lot more than what you’d typically find in a facial sunscreen, which explains the $37 price tag. With the exception of a few drugstore finds, similar products clock in around $50 and up, so UV Clear is actually somewhat of a steal.
Similar Products: From $8 to $80, you’ve got options
Revision Skincare Intellishade Original Tinted Moisturizer, SPF 45: Another dermatologist favorite, Revision Skincare Intellishade ($80) boasts impressive reviews on Amazon. It’s formulated with UV-blocking octinoxate, octisalate, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide, plus anti-aging peptides, brightening vitamin C, and a nourishing blend of white birch extract, yeast extract, and plankton extract.
SkinMedica Total Defense + Repair SPF 34: SkinMedica’s Total Defense + Repair Sunscreen ($68) packs a powerful, anti-aging punch. It features 7.5 percent octinoxate, 3 percent octisalate, and 8 percent zinc oxide, with added benefits from squalane, niacinamide, and the brand’s SOL-IR® Advanced Antioxidant Complex, which defends against infrared light.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Non-Greasy Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30: A drugstore gem, this daily facial sunscreen from Neutrogena ($8) shows why the brand is such a favorite for affordable yet effective products. Packed with hyaluronic acid, the non-greasy formula delivers a powerful dose of hydration in addition to the requisite UVA and UVB protection (for under $10).
I clearly can’t say enough positive things about EltaMD UV Clear, which would make for an affordable, low-maintenance staple in any routine. If you’re looking for a daily sunscreen that’s lightweight, non-irritating, and has added skincare benefits, your search ends here.