Summer Sunscreens – All-Natural or High-Performance?

June 9, 2015


Hi Wild Beauties! I’ve been away for a while – I’ve been off working on a cosmetic foundation finder IOS app with a team based out of Los Altos, California. I will be writing about that here in much more detail when the app is released into public, but I can tell you that I’ve been busy doing extensive skintone studies – and wracking my brain finding new ways to illustrate to the scientific team exactly how makeup artists match foundations to skin tones. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also going to result in the most scientifically accurate cosmetic app out there – so the work is quite gratifying.

But now that I’m back in NYC, it’s summer! And having scrutinized the skin tone + condition of hundreds of women in New York and California in the last couple months, I will say “Get Your Sunscreen!” Sun damage is no joke, and most of it comes from incidental exposure – the kind you get when you’re just walking from here to there.

I decided to look for something new – and since I was charting out several foundation lines for the app project, I’d be visiting Sephora a few times. (I know, poor Me – I have to go to Sephora for work!) But my visits kept bringing me by the Sephora Sun Safety Kit – and wanting a new sunscreen, I knew I had to get it.


Summer Sunscreens - All-Natural or High-Performance?

The Sephora Sun Safety Kit (sold out online, but I’ve seen it in stores here in NYC) collects 16 of Sephora’s best-selling sun products in a handy vinyl tote. Fifteen of the products have at least SPF 15 sunscreen in them. So it’s a great place to start exploring.

Physical or Chemical Sunscreens – What’s the Difference?

In the store, Sephora helpfully marks their sunscreen displays. telling us which sunscreens are physical and which are chemical. But what’s the difference?

Physical sunblock ingredients are physical pigments that reflect the sun’s UV rays away from the skin. You can see these listed on labels as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. They have the advantage of being all-natural, but also can leave a whitish cast on the skin, as they are reflective white pigments.

Chemical sunscreen ingredients filter the sun’s UV rays. They also neutralize UV rays via chemical reaction. You can see names like PABA, oxybensone, sulisobenzone and Parsol 1789, also called avobenzone. If you’re wary of “chemicals”, the names of these will sound scary, but they’re also quite effective. And they work well with modern, waterproof “sport” formulations.

Is one better than the other? That depends on what you’re looking for. I love natural skin care products, but when the sun is strong I want to be sure I’m getting at least a minimum of reliable protection. And many ‘natural’ lines have chemical sunscreens included with natural ingredients.

Add to this that women with tan and dark skins will not want the whitish cast given by physical sunscreens, and you have a very mixed bag of recommendations. However, out of the Sephora kit, a few stood out:

Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47

Summer Sunscreens - All-Natural or High-Performance?

The most all-natural of the Sephora kit, Josie Maran Daily Moisturizer relies on physical sunscreens and antioxidants to protect skin from the sun, plus argan oil to moisturize. It’s creamy but dries down to a dry finish, and has a light, almost coconutty scent. 2 oz for $32 at Sephora.

KORRES Suncare Yoghurt Nourishing Fluid Veil Face Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Summer Sunscreens - All-Natural or High-Performance?

I love Korres products – they’re high performance products with a natural base. Though I’m surprised that the active sunscreens in their moisturizers are chemical, I’ve noticed that they also don’t separate or break down on the face the way that many “natural” moisturizers with sunscreens do. This sunscreen is a proper “sun product” – it smells tropical and is highly emollient. I’m putting it in my beach bag. 1.69 oz for $35 at Sephora.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50


This is a surprising combination – physical sunscreen in a very modern base (the ingredients list is so long it’s alphabetical instead of volume-based). But it feels like it will stay on the skin even during the most humid days, though, so it’s going into rotation as a daily facial sunscreen. 1.7 ox for $42 at Sephora.

Shiseido Wetforce Ultimate Sun Protection Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ For Face

Here’s the most high-performance out of the bunch – and that means chemical sunscreen plus water resistant, modern formulation. But when I’m headed to the beach I do not want to mess around – and it’s good to know that there’s at least one sun product that will let me have my fancy cosmetic cake plus real sunscreen performance too. Shiseido’s Wet Force technology actually gets more effective after 15 minutes in water or 30 minutes of sweating. But it’s not rub-proof, so reapplication is still necessary. It’s also going into the beach bag. 2 oz for $36 at Sephora.

tarte Tarteguard 30 Sunscreen Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30

Summer Sunscreens - All-Natural or High-Performance?

Ok, this was not in the Sephora kit – but they gave it to me as my 100 point sample. And it’s pretty awesome: physical sunscreen in a non greasy lotion. It’s a little perfumey – it reminds me of my old favorite Chanel Prevention Serum from the 80’s, which is a good memory. Someday I will write about that. This goes into full daily rotation. 1.7 oz for $32 at Sephora.

So, What’s the Best Sunscreen?

I’ve found five new awesome sun protection products – most of which are good for daily use. You can see that my favorites include both physical and chemical sunscreens – I usually base my daily choice on what I think the day will bring. A sunny day with lots of activity – meetings all over town or a weekend visit to Governor’s Island? High performance sunscreen all the way. A casual day – working inside or visiting galleries? Letting my skin relax with a natural moisturizer or physical sunscreen. (And if I’m going all-out – say, fishing with my brother – I use a sport product from the drugstore. Very pore-clogging and unnatural – but avoiding sunburn is worth it!)

Daily sun protection is your best anti-aging ally, so don’t skip it – it takes a little while and some experimenting to find the right sunscreen, but in the end, your skin will thank you for it.

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