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You shouldn't skimp on SPF this winter—here's why

Plus, we help you find the best sunscreen for your skin.

A person wearing a winter jacket and hat in a snowy location holds a tube of suncreen and touches her hand to her cheek. Credit: Getty Images / dragana991

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When winter jackets come on, the daylight hours shorten, and the skies dim with snow-filled clouds, we tend to think we can relax on our sun protection. After all, we’re indoors most of the season and wearing thick layers when we do emerge from our igloos, er, homes.

Still, the sun’s powerful rays don't just disappear during winter, even though it feels that way in most places in the U.S., and you’ll want a loyal sunscreen on deck to protect exposed skin (however little there may be) throughout these chilly months.

To better understand why sun protection is often overlooked—but shouldn’t be—in the winter, we consulted Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.

Why you need sunscreen all year long

At the most basic level, you need sun protection during the winter because the sun is still out. “Everyone thinks the temperature is lower, which means the sun is weaker, but that’s not really the case,” says Nussbaum. The sun’s damaging rays are twofold: UVA rays are the ones linked to premature aging, while UVB rays are the one responsible for sunburns.

The UVB rays, which are the ones that are related to sunscreen’s SPF, are weaker during the winter months, because the earth is tilted away from the sun on its axis. Still, it is possible to get a sunburn from these rays in winter, especially if you're at a high altitude where there is less of the earth's atmosphere to block the sun, or if the rays are reflecting off of snow and ice.

UVA rays, however, can reach your skin even when you’re sitting at your desk and light is flooding in the windows, as well as when you go outside, however briefly, on that morning coffee run. “You’re still getting UVA rays, even if in smaller amounts,” says Nussbaum. “Over the course of time, it truly adds up.”

For these reasons, it’s important to choose a product with “broad-spectrum” protection, which is proven to reduce cumulative sun exposure linked to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles, and skin cancer.

How to choose the best sunscreen for winter

If you, like many others, suffer from parched skin in the winter, you’ll want to swap out your summer sunscreen for one that promises to moisturize. Look for products made for the face that include broad-spectrum protection and claim to help dry skin with moisturizing ingredients. Apply your SPF after moisturizing and before applying makeup, if that’s part of your skincare routine.

Below are five face sunscreens that moisturize and offer additional skin benefits.

1. For a smooth finish: Summer Fridays ShadeDrops Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mineral Milk Sunscreen

A cream-colored, rectangular bottle of sunscreen lays on a pink backdrop with sunglasses next to it.
Credit: Reviewed / Timothy Renzi

Go with the Summer Fridays ShadeDrops Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Mineral Milk Sunscreen for a smooth finish.

We crowned this SPF the best mineral sunscreen for the face, as it feels lightweight and sits well under makeup. Our tester found it easy to blend in a quarter-sized amount, and the results were a smooth, comfortable finish. While protecting your skin from UV rays, the serum-like sunscreen also moisturizes using ingredients like vitamin E and squalane. Plus, the mineral formula means that this SPF uses reef-safe zinc oxide, but our tester claims it won’t leave a white cast like other zinc-containing options.

$36 at Sephora

2. For hydrating oily skin: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion

Two turquoise bottles of sunscreen lay on top of a circular flower vine.
Credit: Neutrogena

Try the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion if you have oily skin.

This lotion, which has a gel-like consistency, provides broad-spectrum protection and claims to quench the skin’s thirst for up to eight hours with ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Those with an oily skin type will appreciate the chemical sunscreen’s oil-free, lightweight-feeling formula.

$14 at Amazon

3. For tackling blemishes: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

A white cylindrical tube of sunscreen sits on a granite sink with soap and a container of cotton swabs behind it.
Credit: Reviewed / Jessica Kasparian

Exfoliate your skin with the EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46.

Not only will this sunscreen protect the skin from the sun, it’ll even keep blemishes at bay using exfoliating lactic acid and hydrate skin using hyaluronic acid. Our tester loved how it blended into the skin without leaving a whitecast and how it doesn’t feel greasy, even upon layering the formula for reapplications. The brand claims this fragrance-free sunscreen is suitable for those with sensitive skin, acne or rosacea.

$37 at Amazon

4. For rich hydration: Pipette Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50

A light green tube of sunscreen stands on an orange backdrop.
Credit: Reviewed / Timothy Renzi

Choose the Pipette Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 for an ultra-hydrating formula.

This Pipette mineral sunscreen glides onto the skin and blends with ease despite its thick, creamy consistency. While testing it among other mineral sunscreens, our tester called this a “tall glass of water,” thanks to its moisturizing feel that comes from squalane and glycerin.

$12 at Ulta

5. For a glowy effect: Supergoop! Glowscreen Sunscreen SPF 40

A white tube of sunscreen on a peach background with ingredients laying around it.
Credit: Supergoop

Add a sheen to your skin with the Supergoop! Glowscreen Sunscreen SPF 40.

This is the sunscreen to reach for if you want your skin to have a glowy sheen. It hydrates the skin using hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, protects the skin with antioxidants from sea lavender, and claims to prevent blue light damage with cocoa peptides. The formula comes in a champagne shade called “Sunrise” and a bronzed hue called “Golden Hour” to suit your skin tone.

$36 at Sephora

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.