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Price Tag Cage Match: Sunscreen

By Amalah

(Update: we have since written a sunscreen guide for families that gets updated every year if you would like to read that.)

Ladies and Probably No Gentlemen, meet today’s contenders:
Please note we actually have TWO Cage Matches going down today: one for stand-alone sunscreens and one for moisturizers plus sunscreen. Also note my cheap-ass use of free samples.

In the pricey fancypants corner…

we have Philosophy’s Pigment of Your Imagination SPF 18 with kojic acid and an adorably wee little sample of Chanel Precision Rectifiance Intense (SPF 15). The Philosophy stuff claims to brighten and even out your complexion, while helping to fade brown spots on your face. Um. Yes please! The Chanel stuff is a “retexturizing line correcting cream” that also speaks French and thinks your shoes are kind of tacky.

In the drugstore corner…

we have two products that were the most recommended by Smackdown readers: Aveeno Positively Ageless Daily Moisturizer with SPF 30 and a generously-sized sample of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock (SPF 55). Okay, technically more people recommended Aveeno’s Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer plus blah blah blah, but I used to use that very product until I realized it really hates my pores (it gave me mad blackheads after a couple months of use). HOWEVER, that was a long time ago — and pre-Philosophy skincare epiphany — so I was willing to give it another try. But since the Chanel product boasts anti-wrinkle benefits, I decided to test Aveeno’s anti-aging version instead.

Okay. Deep breath, and on to the bloodbath. Let’s start with the stand-alone suncreens:

First off, I’m a little biased here, because a stand-alone sunscreen is absolutely what I need. I use Philosophy’s Hope in a Bottle Exfoliating Moisturizer every day, twice a day, and it’s a freaking miracle worker on my clogged-up pores. And for those of you without T-zone problems, I think Philosophy’s Hope in a Jar Moisturizer for All Skin Types is pretty much the greatest thing you will ever do for your skin. (Well, that and the Purity wash.) My loyalty to these products cannot be shaken, even while I lament the idiotic lack of SPF in them.

So OBVIOUSLY I should totally love Pigment of Your Imagination, right? It’s Philosophy, for God’s sake! And it sounds so good! Skin-brightening! Brown-spot-fading!

Wrong. Hate this stuff. HATE. Worst product of the bunch. F-.

Now for the back-pedaling: the first few times I used it, I applied it after my regular moisturizer and before my makeup. And holy God, the shine! The SHINE! My skin looked greasy all damn day, and no amount of oil-absorbing sheets or powder helped. Using my foundation primer helped, but there was still a definite “dewy” look to my forehead, and by “dewy” you know I mean “teenage fry-cook.”

Then I pulled the cotton balls out of my brain and tried putting the sunscreen on first. BEFORE my moisturizer. And it was like night and day. No more crazy shine! Just my usual normal face.

And that right there is why this stuff gets no love from me. I’m guessing that the SPF benefits work just fine (I did not get a sunburn while using any of the products, at least), but this stuff makes a lot of other promises. And those other promises are the only reasons I could comprehend shelling out 30 damn dollars for this. I did not notice ANY skin-brightening or spot-fading effects. My one lone little pregnancy-induced sun spot is still there and still as brown as ever. And any credit for my smooth, even complexion should probably go to my regular moisturizer and regular foundation primer — NOT the sunscreen. Oh, and I noticed several new blackheads on my chin after a few days of use.

Basically: over-promises, under-delivers, over-damn-priced. NEXT!

I have to confess that everything about the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer made me nervous about trying it. It’s a sunblock (not a screen), offers an insanely high amount of SPF protection, and it doesn’t seem to be made specifically for your face. I actually spotted the full-size version being sold next to Banana Boat and Coppertone instead of the skincare aisle at my local grocery store. Plus, I get really suspicious when beauty products start tossing around made-up science-y names like “helioplex” or “megaboostica” or “greenteastic.”

So I expected this stuff to suck and wondered if I could get AlphaMom to pay for the inevitable spa facial I would need to undo the damage it did.

Okay, y’all know where I’m going with this, right? It’s great. Better than great. I love it.

Neutrogena is not kidding with the “dry-touch” part. It looks like any regular old lotion, but it vanishes into your skin within seconds. Your skin feels like silk — completely dry to the touch but soft and moisturized. If you’ve ever cursed out a sunblock for leaving stubbon white streaks on your skin, this stuff will blow your mind.

Needless to say, it left no trace of shine on my face. (But applying it FIRST is definitely the way to go. FIRST.) And despite my misgivings, I did not notice any complexion/pore/acne problems.

My only complaint? It smells like sunblock. Not crazy strong, or anything, but it’s definitely there. Neutrogena added in a slight citrusy/floral fragrance to mask it, so I would mostly say it smells…fresh. Like summer and the outdoors and the beach and…yeah. Sunblock.


Neutrogena, duh. At $8.49 (compared with Philosophy’s $30 price tag), it’s beyond a bargain — and it also offers nearly three times more SPF protection. My whiteness and family history of skin cancer thanks it for that. Buy a couple tubes and slather up the whole family at the pool this summer in less time, with less mess and less greased-pig-at-the-country-fair effects.

Okay! Now on to the combos.

There’s no other way to say this except to just say it: the Chanel stuff is GLORIOUS. It’s like rubbing liquidized pearls on your face — no, scratch that. It’s like rubbing Haagen-Daz triple chocolate truffle ice cream on your face. It even SMELLS luxurious. After using it just one time, my skin already put Noah’s newborn baby bottom to shame. My complexion looked bright and lovely and I decided that I just had to have a full-size bottle of this indulgently rich lotion.

So I went online to see how much it was. And then I died.

Do you know how much Haagen-Daz I could buy with $72? A LOT MORE THAN 1.7 OUNCES, THAT’S FOR DAMN SURE.

(Sniffle. I am now hoarding the last precious bits of my free sample. It’s my special-occasion sunscreen, y’all!)
So it was with a heavy heart that I put the Chanel away and cracked open the Aveeno. And I was immediately struck with how…sunblocky it looked. In fact, out of all four products, this was the only one that would probably get mistaken for a squirt of Coppertone. But it rubbed in fairly easily and had a pleasant perfumey smell.

And then…


Whew, that’s actually really perfumey. That’s like…gah.

I swear, for about 10 minutes afterwards, you can SMELL YOUR OWN FACE. It drives me crazy. In their quest to mask the smell of the sunscreen (it is SPF 30, after all), Aveeno went a little too far with the fragrance. And although the bottle is labeled hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic, a little common-sense voice in my head wonders about what that fragrance would do to really sensitive or acne-prone skin. (There are also several warnings about mushroom extract, for those with a mushroom allergy.) (Apparently, shitake mushrooms prevent wrinkles! Who knew!)

After applying my makeup, however, the smell eventually went away. Or I just stopped noticing it. My skin was soft and well-moisturized without feeling too greasy to the touch. I definitely had some forehead and T-zone shine going on, and it became more noticiable after a few hours. It wasn’t nearly as bad as the Philosophy version, but…well…there’s just nothing I LOVE about this product. It’s passable and serviceable and all-around totally okayish.

As for the “anti-aging” benefits (of both the Aveeno and the Chanel), obviously I can’t really testify to any great results after a couple weeks of use. Maybe they do prevent wrinkles. But you know what DEFINITELY prevents wrinkles, really and truly and scientifically tested? Sunscreen. So there you go.


Eesh. I guess the Aveeno moves on to Round Three by default. We’ll say the Chanel had to forfeit due to a groin injury. A really expensive groin injury.

There probably wouldn’t be a Round Three if the Aveeno had been more of a clear-cut winner. But for the sake of beating this topic into the ground, let’s make the two drugstore products duke it out.

The Neutrogena sunblock costs less than 10 bucks, while the Aveeno Positively Ageless sells for $19.99. (I got it for $15.99 at Giant with my Bonus Card.) If I hadn’t procrastinated on this column long enough, I would TOTALLY go back out and find another product to try, because I really don’t believe the Aveeno is worth $20.

So I can’t offer the perfect solution for those of you who want a sunscreen-and-moisturizer in one, BUT I can tell you what I would do if I were you. Because it is my column. Also kind of the point, I guess.

I would buy the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer. In fact, I am buying the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer as soon as my sample runs out. And then I am tossing all the greasy, runny sunblocks in my medicine cabinet and using this one exclusively.

Then (if I were you), I’d treat myself to a Philosophy moisturizer. Hope in a Jar works for almost everybody. There’s a version for sensitive skin and then there’s Hope in a Bottle for oily or congested skin. At $35, you’re talking $15 more than the price of the Aveeno. It’ll last you for many months. Think about how much money you spend at Starbucks, honestly.

The combination of the Neutrogena and the Philosophy will make your skin very happy. I am sure of it. Cheap meets not-quite-as-cheap. East meets west. Boy meets girl.

Yeah. This column broke my brain. I’m out.
The Ultimate Sunscreen Champion of the World!

Published April 5, 2007. Last updated April 22, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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