The Ultimate Guide to the Best Sunscreens

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Sunscreens

With summer right around the corner, you’re probably ready to bask in some much-needed sunshine. But before you start checking off your summer bucket list, you need to find the best sunscreen to shield yourself from those blazing rays.

If you’re thinking of skipping sunscreen so you can get a sun-kissed glow, think again. UV rays from the sun can lead to wrinkles, sun damage, and skin cancer — so you should wear sunscreen every day to protect your skin. But what SPF do you really need? Which is better: mineral or chemical sunscreen? We’ve got the answers to all your burning questions.

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The Top 8 Best Sunscreens

Which sunscreen is the most effective? Your mileage may vary, so you may want to try a few different brands to see which one works best for you. Here are eight tried-and-true options.

1. Trader Joe’s Spray Sunscreen SPF 50+

best sunscreen - trader joes sunscreen

Next time you’re shopping for two-buck Chuck and cauliflower pizza crusts, nab some sun protection too. This broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen spray is a Consumer Reports top pick, and you’ll love the classic beachy smell with notes of fresh mint.

Get it at Trader Joe’s.

 

2. Badger Active Unscented Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream

If you’re looking for the best natural sunscreen, this fragrance-free cream is water-resistant and gentle enough for sensitive skin. However, like many mineral-based products, it goes on thick and needs to be rubbed in quite a bit to avoid any visible white residue.

Get it at Amazon.

 

3. La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk

If you’re looking for the best sunscreen for your face, this velvety lotion provides excellent broad-spectrum coverage with little to no skin residue. The one possible drawback is the price tag — it’s definitely not a bargain option.

Get it at Amazon.

 

4. Equate Sport Lotion SPF 50

This lotion-based, broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen is an inexpensive, effective choice for skin protection. It has a classic beachy scent and a water-resistant formula that won’t run in your eyes when you’re breaking a sweat outdoors.

Get it at Amazon.

 

5. Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Spray SPF 50+ Sunscreen

If you like piña coladas, this tropical coconut-scented sunscreen is for you. The non-greasy, moisturizing formula applies smoothly with little residue and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Get it at Amazon.

 

6. Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+

This zinc oxide sunscreen is one of our favorite reef-safe sunscreens. Some mineral sunscreens feel thick or greasy, but this water-resistant formula absorbs easily without feeling oily.

Get it at Amazon.

 

7. Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50

With its shimmery formula and tropical coconut-and-mango scent, this sunscreen just feels like summer. Plus it’s oil-free, water-resistant, and helps soften and protect skin.

Get it at Amazon.

 

8. Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen 50+

If you’re looking for the best mineral sunscreen, this one ranks near the top — and you can find it at most drugstores. It’s fragrance-free, paraben-free, and water-resistant. Plus, the bottle turns blue in UV light to remind you to protect your skin.

Get it at Amazon.

 

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How Do I Choose the Best Sunscreen?

Bottom line: The most effective sunscreen is the one you’ll wear and reapply consistently.

If your sunscreen smells weird or feels chalky or greasy, you probably won’t be vigilant about applying it. So go with whatever formula you like best, whether it’s spray or cream, mineral or chemical.

“Look at the SPF factor — if that’s 30 or more, then that’s good, whether it’s mineral or chemical,” says Abdulaziz Madani, MD, dermatologist at Tufts Medical Center.

One caveat: If you have sensitive skin or notice irritation when using chemical products, you may want to opt for a mineral sunscreen, since those are typically non-allergenic, Madani says.

And don’t forget that accessories like wide-brimmed hats and sun-protective clothing can provide extra protection from UV rays.

 

Types of Sunscreen

The American Academy of Dermatology divides sunscreen types into two categories:

  • Chemical sunscreens contain active ingredients that absorb the sun’s rays — such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.
  • Physical (mineral) sunscreens contain active ingredients that deflect the sun’s rays — such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Both types can protect you from the sun, but you may have heard some negative buzz about the safety of certain ingredients in some chemical sunscreens. So when choosing the best sunscreen, what ingredients should you look for? Which should you avoid?

In 2019, the FDA proposed an update to their safety standards for sunscreen. Here’s what you need to know about this proposal:

  • Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are considered safe and effective.
  • Aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate are proposed as not safe and effective for sunscreen use.
  • More information is needed to determine the safety of cinoxate, dioxybenzone, ensulizole, homosalate, meradimate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, padimate O, sulisobenzone, oxybenzone, and avobenzone.

For now, the FDA — along with the AAD and the Skin Cancer Foundation — recommends you continue to use broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher. “Preventing skin cancer and sunburn definitely outweighs any proven claims of toxicity or human health hazards from ingredients in sunscreen,” Madani says.

(Note: For wee ones under six months of age, the FDA recommends keeping them out of the sun and covered up, and consulting your health-care provider before using sunscreen on them.)

Last but not least, there are three key things you should look for on your sunscreen label:

  • Broad spectrum: This means your sunscreen shields against both UVA rays (which hit the deepest layer of your skin and can lead to aging and skin cancer) and UVB rays (which target the top layers of your skin and cause you to burn).
  • SPF 30: SPF stands for “sunburn protection factor,” and an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks about 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. Higher SPFs “can go from 97 percent to maybe 98 to 99, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of UVB rays,” Madani says. And you’ll still need to reapply just as often.
  • Water-resistant: Even if you’re not going swimming, summer heat can cause you to sweat. Water-resistant sunscreen products will better protect your skin — but if you get wet, you’ll need to reapply.

How Much Sunscreen Do I Need?

The AAD recommends applying sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before you go outside, even on cloudy days. “Up to 80 percent of the UV radiation can penetrate light cloud cover,” Madani says.

Use a full ounce — the amount that would fill the palm of your hand or a shot glass — to cover your entire body. If you’re using spray sunscreen, it’s best to spray it on your hand first, then rub onto your skin. That way, you know how much is actually going on your skin, versus blowing away in the wind.

Don’t forget often-overlooked spots like your feet, lips, and scalp. Set your phone to remind you to reapply every two hours — or sooner if you’re sweating or swimming. And if you’re going on summer road trip, wear sunscreen, because car windows typically don’t block UVA rays.

Last but not least: Don’t believe the myth that a “base tan” will protect you. Any tan is a sign of skin damage, and anyone of any skin color can be vulnerable to sun damage. Wearing sunscreen every day is the best way to protect your skin.

marygrace taylor author

About

Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning writer who makes health and nutrition simple, readable, and fun. Her work has been featured in Parade, Glamour, Redbook, Prevention, Family Circle, Women’s Health, Refinery 29, Men’s Health, Shape, Greatist, and Fitness. Follow her on Twitter.

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