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You’ve probably heard of the popular Swiss American skin care brand EltaMD.
This company’s product line — which the brand says is medical-grade quality — is pretty big, offering a slew of cleansers, skin treatments, and sunscreens.
The line includes a facial SPF that’s a leading pick among dermatologists. According to EltaMD, it’s formulated for people with acne-prone or hyperpigmented skin, as well as people with rosacea.
As a gal who avoids sunrays like it’s her job, I put EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF to the test and chatted with a few experts to get the scoop on the product’s listed ingredients. They also talked me through using SPF in general and offered useful tips for sun protection.
Keep reading for a deep dive into this facial SPF and to determine if it’s a good choice for you.
- lightweight feel
- not greasy or sticky
- easy to apply
- absorbs quickly
- no overwhelming scent
- no film or residue left behind
- can be worn under makeup
- noncomedogenic, oil-free, and paraben-free
- approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation
- may cause irritation if used alongside retinol
- not budget-friendly
- includes octinoxate, a common but questionable ultraviolet (UV) filter
- small bottle
This Skin Cancer Foundation-approved product is oil-free, paraben-free, and noncomedogenic, which means it won’t clog your pores. Thanks to the anti-inflammatory vitamin B3 on the ingredients list, it’s commonly recommended for people with sensitive skin.
Before we dig into details, the first thing to know about this product is that it’s a broad-spectrum sunscreen — which means it protects against both ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays. This matters because both types of UV rays can damage your health.
While UVB rays cause most types of skin cancers, UVA rays can also contribute to skin cancer. They’re also linked with premature skin aging.
The formula is SPF 46, which means the product checks another important box. The
When it comes to sunscreens, there are two main types: physical sunscreens (also called mineral sunscreens) and chemical sunscreens.
EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 includes both. One of the active ingredients is a mineral compound called zinc oxide, which works by reflecting and scattering UVA and UVB rays.
Zinc oxide is included in the formula at a 9 percent concentration, which is lower than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved maximum of 25 percent. Some experts suggest opting for a sunscreen with at least 10 percent zinc oxide.
The other active ingredient is a chemical UV filter called octinoxate — an ingredient you can find in a ton of cosmetic and skin care products like makeup, shampoo, hair dye, lotion, lip balm, and nail polish, to name a few. Although it’s commonly used, there are questions about its safety.
This ingredient is also thought to have
However, whether octinoxate causes risks to humans is unclear right now. Thorough research on humans is still needed.
EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 uses octinoxate at 7.5 percent, which is the maximum concentration approved by the FDA.
Chemical sunscreen safety
Dr. Erum N. Ilyas, a board certified dermatologist in Pennsylvania, explains that physical sunscreens — zinc or titanium-based options — are often recommended to minimize or lower the risk of absorption.
But she also says concerns about absorption potential of chemical sunscreens into the bloodstream comes down to the extent of the body surfaces these products are applied.
According to Ilyas, if chemical sunscreen is limited to the face and mineral sunscreen is used on the body, then absorption concerns are potentially less of an issue.
She adds that if you’re spending a significant time outdoors or exposed to extreme cold or wind, the use of a zinc-based sunscreen stick will allow for even coverage and potentially help form a barrier on the skin.
Dr. Marie Hayag, a board certified dermatologist in New York City, says that for acne-prone skin, she prefers mineral sunscreens (this SPF uses both mineral and chemical ingredients), as they’re less prone to causing irritation. She adds that it’s also good to look for sunscreens that are labeled noncomedogenic (which this one is).
In addition to the active ingredients, the sunscreen contains some other key ingredients that the brand says promote the appearance of healthy-looking skin:
- Niacinamide (vitamin B3). Ilyas says that niacinamide has gained a lot of popularity as a skin care ingredient, given its benefits. It’s hydrophilic, which means it loves water or moisture. “It has anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties, as well as antimicrobial activity. It actually even has photoprotective qualities as well.” A facial SPF with niacinamide can also work to reduce inflammation in the skin in addition to oil or sebum production.
- Sodium hyaluronate (hyaluronic acid). Hayag says hyaluronic acid is hydrating. It binds its weight in water up to a thousand times and acts as a sponge.
- Tocopheryl acetate (vitamin E). Vitamin E has antioxidant properties, which can help prevent skin damage triggered by free radicals from UV exposure.
- Lactic acid. “Lactic acid is an exfoliant that increases cellular turnover and also possesses anti-aging properties like improving skin firmness and thickness,” says Hayag.
Silky-smooth and soft, this SPF applies and soaks in like a facial moisturizer: quickly and with no sticky mess.
Thanks to the airless pump, dispensing it is easy and fast too. The formula comes out white and absorbs to clear almost instantly.
The bottle is 1.7-ounces, which seemed small to me at first. However, considering this product is only applied to the face, I found that size didn’t end up being an issue and that a little of the product went a long way.
Application and makeup
Many sunscreens can leave you with a white cast, which can be brutal to rub in completely and even tougher to get to work well with makeup. Luckily, that’s not the case with this one. Just like a good moisturizer, you forget it’s there and it doesn’t leave any signs behind.
A big area of concern with any sunscreen is scent. The brand says on the product page that this sunscreen is fragrance-free, but there is a light scent. I didn’t find the scent offensive or overwhelming.
I was interested in seeing if any grease or oil would build after a few hours of wear, but the opposite seemed to happen for me. I found that it actually helped mattify my makeup, and as someone who wears makeup regularly, this was a nice bonus. It layers quite nicely under my makeup, and it was easy to move into my makeup routine after applying it (no long dry time needed).
I even think this SPF could prep your skin for makeup like a traditional primer, although it’s not advertised for that purpose. I’m a big fan of multitasking products, though, and this proved to be a multitasker. There’s also a tinted option available, which I did not test (and it is at a slightly higher price point, by the way).
As easy as it applies and how lovely it works with my makeup, I should mention that I initially put it on after applying retinol. Naturally, this led to some tingling. The next day, I skipped my daytime retinol and applied the SPF, this time, without the sting.
Does EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 work?
Strolling out in the daytime sun wearing only this SPF (no makeup, no hat), I wondered if my face would be red or pink by the time I got home, but all was well. I didn’t see that reapplying was necessary, nor did I find a red face in the mirror.
I should point out that that product testing took place in December and January in Northeast Ohio, but still the sun was bright and consistent (and sun protection is important all year long).
How well does EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 wear?
You may be wondering how this SPF holds up after wear and tear. I did a cardio workout routine wearing only the sunscreen (no makeup). I worked up a moderate sweat but didn’t experience any stinging in my eyes or any goopy mess on my face. If you sweat a lot, I can’t promise you won’t need to wipe your brows a few times.
Does EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 cause breakouts?
Drum roll, please. In my experience, no. Even after sweating or using it under makeup, I did not notice a breakout from using this sunscreen for several days.
Is a multitasking facial sunscreen a good idea?
There seem to be a couple schools of thought on this right now.
Ilyas says it’s not unreasonable to use multitasking products in your acne skin care routine, with good reason.
“Adding too many products will inevitably add more layers on your skin,” she said. “Even though individual products may be listed as noncomedogenic or non-pore clogging, this term only applies to the individual product tested. It does not necessarily still apply when multiple products are used together.”
Dr. Amir Karam, a board certified facial plastic surgeon in San Diego, California, offers a different perspective on a multitasking SPFs.
While he points out the slew of benefits from ingredients like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid, he thinks it’s more beneficial to keep those ingredients separate, getting them from products like serums rather than your sunscreen.
He also points out that bringing these ingredients together in a sunscreen may cause sensitivity for some. The lactic acid in this product may be particularly sensitizing.
Right now, this SPF only has a few Google reviews, and they are not exactly glowing. One mentions that it seemed to burn their sensitive skin, while another said it was too oily for their oily skin type.
There are plenty of reviews on the brand’s website and on Dermstore, however.
I noticed some reviews mention a flaking effect, but this did not happen in my experience. I found it to be moisturizing. I also noticed a review that said this SPF was not a good match for their rosacea, reporting redness and itching.
Positive mentions point out that it’s not greasy, the scent is light, and it works. One reviewer calls it “the holy grail.” Multiple reviews say they stopped using other SPFs once they found this one. A couple of reviews point out a smoothing effect after using this SPF over time.
I would say this SPF is best for those who want a fast, simple facial sunscreen that they can trust won’t be greasy or smelly. In my experience, this did not lead to breakouts, so I feel comfortable saying it’s a good choice for many acne-prone users. I can’t speak to those who experience rosacea, however.
Of course, SPF is necessary and important for all skin types, but Ilyas explains other benefits for acne-prone skin types: “Acne has a high tendency to discolor or hyperpigment the skin, especially with sun and blue light exposure.”
Using a sunscreen daily, Ilyas says, can reduce or minimize the post inflammatory pigmentation.
Plus, she also points out that many acne products work by exfoliating, which leaves the lower layers of skin a bit more exposed to the damaging effects of UV.
“Using sunscreen can reduce the impact of damage on the DNA of these cells,” Ilyas says.
Right now, this SPF is available for $37.
It’s unclear if this product goes on sale regularly, but if you’re interested in a subscription service, some savings are available that way, both on the brand’s website and on the Dermstore website.
Comparing this SPF with similar products shows that this is actually a fair price for the product. You can find a good facial sunscreen at a lower cost (some are even under $15), but if you’re acne-prone or have sensitive skin, you may benefit from the other added ingredients and find that this pick is worth the splurge.
It’s worth pointing out that it seems best to buy this SPF from authorized sellers.
Some reviewers on Amazon and Walmart’s websites — via third-party sellers — have raised concerns that they received fake products, noting a rancid smell, yellow color, or that it caused breakouts. This product should be white in color and not have any rancid odor.
I can’t say I’ve tested similar facial SPFs because I generally use mineral sunscreen instead of chemical options. Physical sunscreens can take longer to apply or rub in and can come with a noticeable smell. This is not the case with this sunscreen.
Like mentioned earlier, wearing SPF can help prevent skin cancer and premature skin aging.
Hayag says using a broad-spectrum facial SPF of 30 or higher every day is hugely important when the sun’s out or not. “This means no skipping out on SPF during the winter months (even if it’s cloudy or snowy), because the sun emits harmful UV rays year-round.”
Ilyas says there’s an assumption that a sunburn is based on the skin heating up in the sun and leading to a burn based. “Heat, however, is the result of infrared radiation from the sun that is felt as heat. UV is not associated with temperature; you cannot feel it.”
She explains the UV exposure is what is responsible for placing our skin at risk of skin cancer. This key distinction helps explain why, she says, some of the worst sunburns she sees are in the months of March and April.
“The weather is cooler, the sun is out, and layers of clothing are shed during these months. With the lack of excess heat as a reminder, the chances of spending extra time outdoors can lead to some surprisingly intense sunburns.”
Keep in mind that it’s important to wear sunscreen, even if you’re spending the day indoors. UVA rays can reach your skin through windows, breaking down collagen and contributing to premature skin aging.
Where should facial SPF go in my skin care routine?
Ilyas says facial SPF, in general, should be in a morning routine to get on top of UV exposure throughout the day. Generally speaking, SPF should be applied as your last step in your routine (or the final step before applying makeup).
“If you are planning to be indoors or working from home in front of a computer screen, it is also important to wear facial SPF to avoid blue light’s impact on the skin,” Ilyas says.
When people think about discoloration and the skin, they’re often focused on UV light and its effects. However, Ilyas explains that blue light is getting more attention these days, given the widespread use of portable electronics and reliance on these for work and school.
Which facial SPF should people with acne-prone skin avoid?
Hayag says acne-prone skin types should avoid fragrances and comedogenic ingredients like cocoa butter. “Fragrances are more likely to cause irritation and inflammation to your skin, while ingredients that feel very rich and heavy, like cocoa butter, can clog pores.”
How much SPF do I need to use?
Hayag says to apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin — don’t forget your ears and neck.
When outdoors, reapply sunscreen about every 2 to 3 hours and after swimming or sweating.
Hayag says a good rule is to use about a shot glass (2 tablespoons) for face and body or about a nickel amount for the face.
Other sun-safe tips
- using sun protective lip balm
- wearing sun protective clothing, like a wide brim hat (she likes Wallaroo Hat Company)
- wearing sunglasses that protect 100 percent against UV light, which Hayag says can also prevent cataracts
If a quick, no-mess broad-spectrum SPF is on your shopping list, this is a winner.
It absorbs quickly, is lightweight, noncomedogenic, leaves no white cast or annoying sunscreen smell, and requires little to no upkeep — although, reapplying every 2 hours is standard for all sunscreens.
Plus, this pick includes ingredients that may benefit acne-prone skin types, like niacinamide and hyaluronic acid.
If you’re concerned about ingredients like octinoxate — which has links to harmful effects on the environment and animals — you may want to explore facial sunscreens that use only physical UV filters like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. However, the disadvantage with those types is that they’re more likely to leave a white cast or more noticeable scent.
Be sure to carefully check out where you purchase this product, so you can avoid buying a dupe, which can lead to messy results.
Breanna Mona is a writer based in Cleveland, OH. She holds a master’s degree in media and journalism and writes about health, lifestyle, and entertainment.