Friday, May 24, 2013

Sunscreen comparison: Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30 vs. ULTA Sun Faces Dry Touch Liquid Daily Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

I've been on a quest to find the best daily sunscreen for my face, ever since my favorite was unceremoniously discontinued. I've tried a few so far, but I still haven't found anything quite as perfect as the one I lost. In the last month or so, I've been trying out a couple of new ones, both of which are chemical formulas (i.e. not mineral/physical sunblocks containing zinc or titanium), since mineraal sunscreens make me break out, without fail. They both have a thin, liquid formula. One of these products will be my main sunscreen for the next few months, and the other one is going to be returned. Which is which, and why?

Paula's Choice Skin Balancing Ultra-Sheer Daily Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($21):
(Click the link above for product information, including ingredients and package photo.)


  • Dries completely matte. About a minute after you apply it, it's invisible, and you can't feel anything on your skin.
  • Leaves no film/greasiness behind.
  • Completely unscented (other than the usual chemical sunscreen smell, which I don't notice after a short time).
  • Thin, liquid formula that is easy to apply, and you don't have to use as much to get full coverage as you would with a cream or thicker lotion.
  • Sets in place quickly and doesn't smear into eyes etc. as the day goes on.
  • Includes "antioxidants and cell-communicating ingredients to help skin look and act younger".


  • This is the big one for me: It has a scratchy/gritty feeling on application. It's like rubbing liquid sandpaper or fiberglass on my face (if such things existed). I find it really unpleasant. It doesn't leave any grit behind or actually abrade my skin, but the sensation is definitely there.
  • Some flaking/balling up if you try to rub in in too much. You can end up with little whitish bits that you have to sort of dust off your face after you finish.
  • Only SPF 30. The usual reason for not raising SPF is to allow for a better feeling on the skin, so I assume if they had raised the SPF, it would have had to be more greasy. But since it feels unpleasant to apply anyway, I'd rather have the higher SPF.
  • Burns around eyes immediately after applying. This is normal for me with chemical sunscreens. The sensation fades after 10-15 minutes.
  • Poor packaging. It's in a soft, squeezable tube like most sunscreens. The difference is that because this is a liquid formula, rather than a thicker lotion, it is hard to control the amount dispensed from the tube. You have to be really careful not to squeeze out too much.
  • Really fucking expensive. A 2 oz/59 ml tube costs $21, which is 36 cents per ml. Compare that to a tube of the popular Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen: 3 oz/88 ml for $10, or 11 cents per ml. Remember: it's usually not a good idea to spend too much money on sunscreen. That just encourages you to use it sparingly, so that you don't run out and have to replace it right away.

ULTA Sun Faces Dry Touch Liquid Daily Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70 ($10):
(Click the link above for product information, including ingredients.)


  • It leaves very little film/greasiness on my skin when compared with other sunscreens, though more than the Paula's Choice.
  • Almost invisible on the skin, other than a slight sheen.
  • Completely unscented (other than the usual chemical sunscreen smell, which I don't notice after a short time).
  • Thin liquid formula that is easy to apply, and you don't have to use as much to get full coverage as you would with a cream/thicker lotion.
  • Excellent packaging (see photo at the top of the post). It comes in a plastic bottle with a very narrow spout, so you can dispense it one drop at a time if you want to, though it's easy to get as much as you need out. This type of packaging is ideal for a liquid formula. It also has a bead inside the bottle to help with mixing.
  • SPF 70. Even though once you get above 45, the improvements in protection become increasingly small, I'd still rather have higher than 30, since that tends to only provide SPF 10 protection in actual practice.
  • Doesn't smear into eyes etc. as the day goes on.
  • Water/sweat resistant for up to 80 minutes.
  • More affordable. For $10 you get 1.4 oz/41 ml. That's 24 cents per ml. (Though I got it with another product when ULTA had a BOGO deal, which they continually do for their store band products, so it actually cost me less than that.)


  • Takes longer to dry/set, so my skin looks a bit greasy for a while.
  • Shine never completely goes away, and so I find that I have put powder over it. It's not a really awful shine, but it's more than my bare skin, so I like to get rid of it.
  • Can feel a slight film on my skin throughout the day that never completely goes away, either. It doesn't get worse, though, and it doesn't cause my makeup to smear or my skin to get oily. It's just kind of there.
  • Burns around eyes immediately after applying. This is normal for me with chemical sunscreens. The sensation fades after 10-15 minutes.
  • Small bottle.
Note: The ULTA sunscreen is apparently a "dupe" of sorts for the Neutrogena sunscreen. I haven't tried the latter, but if you don't have access to an ULTA in your area and don't want to buy online, that might be a good alternative. It's slightly more expensive.


Maybe you have already guessed, but I'm returning the Paula's Choice sunscreen. For that amount of money, I don't want something that is so unpleasant to use. I really liked the way it looked and felt after it was already on my skin, but I found the application so awful that I would actually avoid using it. That kind of defeats the purpose. I tried this stuff despite the price, because I am usually a huge fan of Paula's Choice products, and it had good reviews. (Incidentally, I tried to submit a review to their website, and it never appeared. I hope that was just a technical glitch, and it wasn't rejected for being negative. I promise I didn't say "fuck" in my review.) Luckily, Paula's Choice has a fantastic return policy.

In the end, since I wear makeup most days anyway, I prefer to contend with the slight greasiness of the ULTA sunscreen. It's less greasy than most other types I've tried, and it doesn't cause my makeup to slide around or smear into my eyes and burn. Even if these two products cost the same amount, I would still choose the ULTA - the fact that it's significantly cheaper and has a higher SPF is a great bonus. 

If a completely matte, non-greasy finish is vital to you, and you won't use its cost as an excuse not to use as much as you should, you might want to try the PC sunscreen. If you can stand just slightly being able to tell that there's something on your face, the ULTA one is a better buy. 

In the end, I still haven't found my perfect, dream sunscreen, but this ULTA stuff will do in the meantime.

Have you tried either of these products? What did you think? Would you choose a matte finish or a comfortable application? What's your favorite sunscreen?


  1. Try the Olay somethingerother big ol' bottle of sunscreen for combo/oily skin....what is it called.....lemme go get a link:

    It's something like six ounces (it lasts FOREVER), and it actually worked okay under makeup on my SUPER oily skin. Not as good at the Paula's Choice, but a heck of a lot cheaper. And Olay gets pretty consistently good reviews on PC, so I guess I trust them to do a good job more than I distrust them.

    1. Oh I bet that's good! I'm really looking for something SPF 30 or higher. I also like the Simple moisturizer with SPF at that level, as well.

  2. You're right - I forgot about the SPF 30. I've been searching for the perfect drugstore daytime moisturizer for crazy oily skin for as long as I can remember. It might be a chupacabra - doesn't exist. The best I've found is Paula's Choice. Though, Wayne Goss (You know 'bout him on the Youtubes, right?) says that one should spend money on the things that go on your face (skincare, brushes, and foundation) and then go drugstore on everything else.

    But I'm cheapasf, so I'd rather not spend on any of it. What's better - forking over 'serious' dough for a good moisturizer or doing as best you can with SPF 15? Do you spend a lot of time in the sun? Is there SPF in your foundation? Does foundation SPF even count, even if you slather it on like I do?

  3. PC says this works for oily skin!

    Maybe super oilies like me could just use sunscreen as a moisturizer?

    1. Oh yes! Chances are, if you have oily skin, you don't need a moisturizer at all. I use one at night just to get rid of the dry skin around my nose and mouth and cheeks (the combination part of my combination-oily skin), and for the antioxidant shit that's in it. During the day, if I'm using moisturizer, it's for the sunscreen, so I don't really care how good it is at moisturizing. I'm convinced that people who tell you that everyone needs a moisturizer are just trying to sell you something - or have been brainwashed by someone who is trying to sell you something.

      My experience with Neutrogena Sunscreen is that it's fine, but I didn't like it as much as my old PC stuff. I think the ULTA one I'm reviewing here is probably on par with Neutrogena, so I'll just keep using it since I already have it.

  4. Which Paula's Choice one do you like? I have heard of Wayne Goss - I think that makes some sense, but that it isn't really a great rule to follow, because more money spent does not mean a better product. There are foundations for $9 that work as well or better for some people than foundations for $30. Sunscreen is another one. There are terrible $35 sunscreens and great $8 ones. I am limited by my skin type and sensitivity to physical sunscreen ingredients. Honestly, if I had been more careful and realized that I was going to get so little product from Paula's Choice for my $21, I would have thought twice. I bought it because it was getting rave reviews, and I liked my previous PC sunscreen so much better than anything else I'd ever tried (but that one was a bigger bottle for $17). I'd also tried PC sunscreens that I didn't like . . . it was a bit of a shot in the dark, and in the end it wasn't worth it for me. If you have to spend more money to find something that you can actually stand to put on your face on a daily basis, that might be worth it, but you might find the same thing for cheap.

    I don't spend a lot of time in the sun. If I'm barely going outside, I'll make do with the SPF 15. The sun that comes in through the window still has those aging properties, so it's best to use it even if you have an office job. Maybe that seems extreme, but it's a personal choice - I figure since I'm going to be stuck with this ghastly pallor either way, I might as well avoid as many wrinkles as possible. And I don't normally wear foundation. I'm not an expert on sunscreen, but I have a lot of links to people who are under my sunscreen tag on the right, so that's one place to find info about how much sunscreen you actually need and how much actual SPF you're getting from it. I'd say the amount of protection you get from foundation is pretty negligible.

    Overall, I think the only point we maybe disagree on here (but maybe not) is that by "forking over 'serious' dough" you're going to end up with a better product. Cosmetic prices are kind of arbitrary. Better to do a few minutes of research and find something affordable that suits you than to buy something expensive with the expectation that it is more effective.

    1. Another suggestion is to check out the Nouveau Cheap blog. I know she has oily skin, and probably has good recommendations for affordable daily moisturizer, especially if you can use titanium/zinc sunscreens.


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