An important note on sunscreen safety: The FDA is currently proposing big changes to sunscreen regulations, and only physical sunscreens with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are currently recognized as safe. Until they reach a more robust conclusion in late 2020, the FDA advises, “Americans should continue to use sunscreen with other sun protective measures as this important rule-making effort moves forward.” Our GH Beauty Lab experts agree, and test a range of formulas (both mineral and chemical) that protect against sunburn.
Sunscreen in a powder form? Yes, you read that right: Though SPF most often comes in creamy lotions, sheer sprays, or good ol' white zinc oxide, now sunscreen and powder have officially joined forces to give you mess-free protection, shine control, and sometimes, a little coverage, too.
Powder SPF can be used anywhere, but according to Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City, it's best used as a touch-up for the face, neck, chest, and hands, which are areas prone to daily UV exposure, and for hard-to reach-or often-forgotten areas like the hairline and scalp. They may not be as practical for the whole body based on the amount you would need to apply to ensure appropriate coverage.
"Most powdered formulations are comprised of titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both, which are typically good options for those with sensitive skin," Dr. Garshick says. "Plus, some powders have a mattifying effect, which is great for oily skin." If you have melasma, look for one made with iron oxides for additional protection against blue light, which can contribute to hyperpigmentation.
Here's what else you need to know before you swipe on powder sunscreen:
Are powder sunscreens safe?
Yes, as long as the product has proper drug fact labeling. "Under the FDA’s guidelines, all sunscreens are considered drugs and need to undergo efficacy testing," explains Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D.. While there isn't a ton of research on this newer sunscreen formula, Dr. Garshick considers them safe based on their active ingredients which "exist naturally as powders," she explains.
But Aral adds a caveat: "As per the FDA’s new proposed rule on sunscreens, more information and data is needed on powder sunscreens before they can be included," she says. "At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we are particularly interested in what the FDA’s ruling would be regarding the particle size allowed in these types of sunscreens as there is concern that inhaled nano-sized particles can be detrimental to health."
Are powder sunscreens effective?
Yes, but not as your only form of sunscreen. "The efficacy of sunscreen comes from the robust films they form on skin which shield or absorb the harmful sun rays," says Aral. "It's harder to form such protective films on skin using only powder ingredients, and they could be limited to lower SPF numbers or not provide a broad-spectrum protection."
Dr. Garshick agrees that powder sunscreens are not meant to be used as the only sunscreen to protect the skin, but thinks that they offer a great extra layer of protection. "They complement liquid sunscreens nicely," she says and. Once absrobed, follow up your cream or liquid sunscreens with powder.
As for water-resistance, some powder SPFs are water-resistant, but each product is different so make sure you check the label before diving in. "Powder sunscreens may wash off easier, as they lack certain ingredients that adhere to skin and make lotion or spray formulas water-resistant," Aral explains.
Now that you've got the 411 on all things powder sunscreen, check out the GH Beauty Lab expert, dermatologist, and reviewer top picks below and get swiping!