This article is inspired by a friend of mine. She is quite pale, and she wanted my opinion on the best sunscreen for fair skin. This may seem silly to some – after all, skin is skin right? Not really.
Some people need more help than others and are at a higher risk for skin cancer or other types of skin damage from the sun’s powerful rays. According to the Mayo Clinic there are a number of risk factors that can increase your chance of getting skin cancer. Chief among these is pale skin, due to the lack of melanin to protect your sensitive skin cells from danger.
So of course, the hunt was on. While there are basic rules everyone can follow to find a ‘good’ sunscreen, I wanted to find the absolute best sunscreen for my friend’s easily burned skin.
If you have skin that is prone to burning because you are rather fair (or even simply photosensitive from a medication or medical condition), it is oh so important to choose a sunscreen that can shield you from the sun’s damaging radiation without feeling like you’re wearing a biohazard suit. What I mean is, you need a product you can wear every day without being acutely aware of a thick layer of, well, goop on your skin. Otherwise you simply won’t end up wearing it as religiously as you need to.
When you’re at high risk for complications arising from skin damage due to sun exposure, consistency is key. You need to ensure you’re covering all exposed skin every time you go outside, and reapplying every few hours to prevent your delicate skin from turning into a painful, red crisp. This also means you’ll want to find a sunscreen that is relatively inexpensive (while maintaining high quality protection) so that you can use a large amount of it on a regular basis without emptying your wallet.
(SimplySunSafe provides more specific information for people with fair skin that includes guides on sunscreen for redheads and sunscreen for sun allergy. Check them out if they better suit your personal needs.)
After thorough research into requirements for sunscreen to be effective for even the fairest skin, SimplySunSafe recommends Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the best sunscreen for pale skin. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for fair skin.
To be certain that your sunscreen is good enough to protect your especially sensitive, pale skin, make sure it has the following must-have features:
Broad spectrum protection
If you were buying hairspray, would you buy a brand that only protected your ‘do from wind damage and not humidity? Probably not. The same principle applies to sunscreen. Even though we simply see the sun shining as a single ‘beam’, it is actually a complex phenomena that contains multiple types of UV radiation. The ones we usually worry about are UVA and UVB.
UVA radiation is what’s responsible for accelerated signs of aging (A=aging) such as wrinkles or sagging skin, as well as the invisible cellular damage that can eventually become skin cancer. UVB rays are those responsible for turning our skin into hot, tender, blistery mess (B=burning) that we call a sunburn.
Not all sunscreens are going to protect you from both UVA and UVB radiation. This type of protection is called broad spectrum protection, and products that offer it will typically show a label that says either ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘UVA/UVB’ to let you know you’re getting your money’s worth.
If you still aren’t sure, try checking the active ingredients. Anything containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will provide broad spectrum protection, though zinc oxide is the more effective of the two at protecting from UVA rays.
Best SPF for Fair Skin
Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is one of the biggest influences on consumers’ purchasing decisions when it comes to choosing a sunscreen. That’s what makes it so surprising that many people are rather unsure as to what the number so boldly displayed on the packaging actually means. In this case more is not always better.
Think of the SPF rating as a fraction. It indicates what percentage of the sun’s UVB radiation you are shielded from. For example SPF 15 means that only 1/15 of the UVB rays from the sun actually affect your skin. However, this doesn’t mean that SPF 30 is twice as strong as SPF 15, or that SPF 100 provides total protection. Take a look at the table below for a clearer picture:
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
Now that you have a better idea of how SPF ratings really work, you may remember a time when you shelled out extra cash to purchase the SPF 100 options over the SPF 30 or 50 option. If you’re trying to find the best sunscreen for very pale skin, it does make sense to try to get the ultimate level of protection. However, once you rise above SPF 30, the differences in protection offered are not great enough to justify spending a whole lot more.
In fact, in 2012 the FDA changed the packaging regulations for sunscreen companies so that the maximum rating is now ’50+’, and also says that SPF 30 is sufficient for most people to be adequately protected from the sun.
Physical is better than chemical
Just as there are different types of radiation coming from the sun that can harm our delicate skin, there are also different ways that sunscreen protects us from this harm. Sunscreens are broadly classified into two types: physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients that soak into your skin and absorb the light before it can damage your cells, whereas physical sunscreen is more like a mirror or a coat of armor that sits on top of your skin and bounces light away.
While both types of sunscreen are effective at their job, physical sunscreen is definitely the way to go. Just a couple of reasons to choose physical sunscreens include that they work immediately upon application, last longer, and are less likely to cause skin irritation. More importantly, they stop more UV reaching the skin, which is the whole point of sunscreen!
Plus, the active ingredients in chemical sunscreen are known as endocrine disruptors; these are chemical that soak into your skin, enter your bloodstream, and act as hormones such as estrogen within the body. This has a negative effect on your body’s hormone balance and is known to cause health issues after prolonged use.
Some chemical sunscreen ingredients such as oxybenzone are known to be particularly dangerous and the FDA has warned consumers away from using them. Quite a few of these dangerous chemicals are banned in other countries, and while they are still legal in the US they are by no means harmless and SimplySunSafe will never recommend to you a product that is purely chemical or contains oxybenzone.
Suitable for daily use
One of the few downsides to physical sunscreen formulas is that they can sometimes feel thick or oily on the skin, making them unpleasant to wear for extended period. This means that if you are searching for the best sunscreen for white skin you need to make sure you choose something with a formula you can wear everyday.
If you simply go for the highest SPF rating or the greatest concentration of active ingredients, over time the important ritual of applying sunscreen regularly will start to fall to the wayside. We can’t have that.
I don’t want any of my readers to go through what I went through when I had my skin cancer scare, so part of this particular review process was to pay special attention to user feedback regarding the texture of the sunscreen and whether or not it irritated the skin with prolonged use.
When looking for a dependable daily sunscreen, it’s also important to consider the finish, or how it looks on your skin once you’ve thoroughly rubbed it in. Is it nearly invisible? Is it so shiny you look as if you’ve just rubbed your face with butter? Does it leave a strong white cast and make you feel you’re impersonating a mime?
These sorts of considerations aren’t necessarily important if you’re looking for an ultra-tough waterproof sunscreen to get you through your triathlon, but for general use, most people don’t want to be mistaken for a slightly melted wax candle.
Most of the time, if a sunscreen has a very high concentration of active ingredients there is a good chance you’ll have the white cast to some degree or another. In terms of the ‘shine factor’ you’ll get with a sunscreen, it can help you read the inactive ingredients to see if it is heavy in oils – or you can bypass that laborious process and simply start with the 5 products recommended here!
Best Sunscreen for Fair Skin Comparison
|Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral||Blue Lizard Sensitive||thinkbaby Sunscreen||Block Island Natural Mineral||Kiss My Face Face & Body|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (14.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (2%)||Zinc Oxide (10%) & Titanium Dioxide (5%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Zinc Oxide (22%)||Zinc Oxide (6%) & Titanium Dioxide (6%)|
|Finish||Non-oily, doesn’t feel thick at all||Very minimal oil, not thick after rubbing||Only slightly oily, feels thick||Only slightly oily, doesn’t feel very thick||Slightly oily|
5 Best Sunscreens for Fair Skin
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specification, and participating in skincare forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for fair skin. All of these sunscreens provide broad spectrum, physical protection of SPF 30 or greater, do not contain oxybenzone, and are suitable for daily use.
Alba Botanica is a fabulous brand that consistently strive to provide its customers with high quality, natural products at an easily accessible price point. With this sunscreen being considerably cheaper than the other options on this list, they’ve certainly achieved that goal.
Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection of SPF 30 through a mixture of zinc oxide (14.5%) and titanium dioxide (2%). A these concentrations, you’re getting fantastic, balanced sun protection from the best ingredients available.
This sunscreen has a pleasant, smooth application, and a finish that is neither thick nor oily, great for wear on body or face. It is also fragrance free, so facial applications will not leave you smelling a strong odor all day.
You can also wear it on top of any scented moisturizers you may use on your body without the scents conflicting. This combination of no fuss application, lack of strong odors, high quality protection, and ultra low pricing is what won this fabulous product the first spot in our lineup.
- Hydrating ingredients
- Smooth texture
- Takes time to dry
Blue Lizard’s Sensitive Formula has the highest EWG rating out of any of their products, providing high quality broad spectrum protection of SPF 30+.
It features two active ingredients, zinc oxide (10%) and titanium dioxide (5%). This is great because it gives you a high enough concentration of active ingredients that you feel confident about your level of protection, without being so high as to leave a pasty or white cast on the skin with application.
This product is one of the more expensive on this list. It makes up for its higher cost, though, with some great features.
Aside from the first place pick, Blue Lizard has the most pleasing finish on the list. It can be a bit shiny/oily when first applied, but if you are diligent about rubbing it in well then this usually gives way to a transparent look with minimal or no white cast.
The cap on the bottle turns blue in the presence of UV light, which I love as a fun little reminder to reapply often.
- Formulated for sensitive skin
- Smooth, cosmetic texture
- Bottle turns blue in UV light
- Lower levels of active ingredients
Thinkbaby is the super-gentle, high-SPF version of Thinksport (a favorite sunscreen of mine). This company is one you can feel secure buying from. Their sunscreens were the first to pass the Whole Foods premium care requirements and have a top rating from EWG.
They really do care about providing high quality products to their customers. Thinkbaby is representative of this philosophy, offering broad spectrum protection of SPF 50+ with zinc oxide (20%) as the active ingredient.
As discussed in the SPF section above, the FDA does state that SPF 30 is normally sufficient protection for most people. However, lighter skin does leave you needing more protection under certain circumstance.
For instance, if you are searching for the best sunscreen for your irish skin, but you live in Miami – that blazing tropical sun is going to cook you like a potato chip. For users in a situation such as this, the extra bit of protection offered by switching to SPF 50+ can be worth it.
The trade off for this extra smidgen of security against UV rays is the finish of the sunscreen. While the texture is thin enough for easy application, the high concentration of active ingredient does leave a bit of a sheen on the skin.
This is a compromise you’ll have to make, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. However, if you are particularly sensitive to that sensation or want to wear this on your face under makeup then it may not be the best choice for you.
- High SPF
- Great value
- Reliable water resistance
- Thick formula
This Natural Mineral Sunscreen from Block Island Organics offers the highest concentration of active ingredient on this list, with a whopping 22% zinc oxide. That translates into broad spectrum protection with an SPF rating of 30.
It is also the most expensive sunscreen on this list, undoubtedly due to the high concentration of active ingredient.
While the finish of this sunscreen is not overly oily, it does leave a pronounced white cast. It can be expected to show up on all but the most extremely fair skin, and even then it would be impossible to wear this underneath makeup and get a smooth application of product.
The cost of this option combined with the possibility that you would need to buy an additional product for everyday wear on the face is what has pushed this option down to 4th place, despite its high concentration of zinc oxide.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Lightweight formula
- Hydrating ingredients
- Likely white cast
Kiss My Face Organics Face & Body Sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection of SPF 30 in their face and body sunscreen. Featuring two active ingredients, zinc oxide (6%) and titanium dioxide (6%), this option is reasonably priced for its quality.
The product does not have added fragrance but does contain green tea extract and sage, which gives it a pleasant, natural scent. Of the recommendation on this list, this sunscreen has the thickest formula, leaving a finish that may feel heavy to sensitive users.
The heaviness of this sunscreen comes not from the active ingredients, but from a high concentration of beeswax. This does mean that it doesn’t leave a pronounced white cast, and some users found that it is alright for facial use.
If you are looking to wear this product under makeup, it is recommended that you add a drop or two of liquid foundation to tint the sunscreen rather than try to apply makeup directly on top.
This product still offers you great protection, but due to the thickness of the formula combined with a lower concentration of active ingredients it does take the last spot on our top five list.
- 87% certified organic
- 80-minute water resistance
- Thick formula
- Low levels of active ingredient
The intent of this guide was to provide a solid starting point for anybody who, like my friend, is searching for a high quality sunscreen to protect them. I hope that this was an informative read and that, in addition to some great recommendations, you learned a thing or two that will help you be a more mindful consumer when you purchase sunscreen in the future.
SimplySunSafe recommends Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 as the top sunscreen for those with very pale skin, but each sunscreen listed here is a great choice that will provide you with high quality protection.
Everybody has different preferences and it may be useful to try a few different options from this list to find a product that best suits your personal needs. A great tip for this process is to go to a store specializing in beauty or skincare products; they typically provide samples of their product so that you can ‘try before you buy’.
While I do make an effort to provide the best product recommendations in these guides, if you use or know of a sunscreen for fair skin that you are in love with, let me know! I love discovering and researching new products to add to my arsenal of top-notch recommendations!
SimplySunSafe also has sunscreen guides for a range of skin types including sunscreen for dark skin.