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The best sunscreen for the beach

Beach sunscreens

As you gather your beach gear to head out for fun in the sand and sun, don't forget sunscreen. Slathering on SPF is crucial to protecting your skin from the sun's damaging rays. According to the CDC, exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays can result in skin damage in just 15 minutes. That's why it's important to use reliable sunscreen with SPF for a day at the beach.

Not all sunscreens are suitable for extended time under the sun. In addition to a high SPF rating, a broad spectrum formula protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen that resists moisture is necessary for splashing in the waves. Read on to find out more about beach-friendly sunscreens and our favorites on the market.

What is SPF and how does it work?

When you apply sunscreen you'll notice its SPF is represented by a number on the package. SPF, or sun protection factor, indicates how long the product will protect your skin from turning red and beginning to burn when exposed to the sun.

SPF is based on the time it would take for the effects of UV rays to show without protection from sunscreen. For example, if your skin typically begins to turn red after 15 minutes in the sun, it would take 50 times that exposure after applying an SPF 50 sunscreen.

You'll find sunscreens with SPF in a wide range, with 15, 30, 50, 60 and 80 being the most common. At least SPF 30 is recommended for any extended time spent outdoors; however, the protection doesn't increase drastically with SPF 50 and above. While sunscreens with SPF 15 and up provide protection in the 90% range, remember that no product offers 100% protection.

Sunscreen and the sun's rays

The sun emits skin-damaging ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays (UVA and UVB rays) that can lead to skin cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both types of rays.

Keep in mind that even when using sunscreen with a high SPF, you may need to reapply it after exposure to water or sweat. Using water-resistant sunscreen can help. You'll also want to maximize the effectiveness of the product you choose. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are steps you can take to make sure you get the best protection from your sunscreen.

  • Apply it generously to all skin that is at risk of sun exposure.
  • Wait about 15 minutes after application before exposing your skin to the sun.
  • Never use expired sunscreen.
  • Use it even on cloudy or overcast days.

Sunscreen formulas

Sunscreens are made of synthetic chemicals or natural minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Synthetic sunscreens tend to be more effective and work by absorbing the sun's rays. Their natural counterparts protect by creating a barrier.

The best sunscreens to use at the beach

As you shop for sunscreen, you'll find sprays, lotions, sticks, oils and gels. Regardless of the type you prefer, you'll find quality sun protection in our list of favorites.

Top sunscreen

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk, Broad Spectrum SPF 60

What you need to know: Dermatologist-tested sunscreen that provides lasting protection in the sun and water.

What you’ll love: Smooth and fast-absorbing. Broad-spectrum and water-resistant. Free of fragrance, oil and parabens.

What you should consider: Somewhat pricey. May irritate sensitive skin.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and Lovely Skin

Top sunscreen for the money

Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

What you need to know: Nice-smelling moisturizing sunscreen that's also a solid deal.

What you’ll love: Has an awesome coconut scent. Broad spectrum formula with moisturizers and vitamin E. Affordable large bottle.

What you should consider: May cause breakouts.

Where to buy: Sold by Macy's and Ulta

Top moisturizing sunscreen

Dermalogica Dynamic Skin Recovery SPF 50

What you need to know: Broad spectrum SPF 50 in a moisturizing lotion by a premium brand.

What you’ll love: Rich in antioxidants and moisturizers plus offers dependable protection. Lightweight and easy to blend.

What you should consider: Pricey. Some users experienced breakouts after use.

Where to buy: Sold by Dermalogica, Amazon, SkinStore and Ulta

Top oil-free sunscreen

Jack Black Oil-Free Sun Guard Sunscreen SPF 45

What you need to know: Long-wearing oil-free sunscreen that contains vitamins.

What you’ll love: Skin-nourishing, oil-free formula absorbs fast and stays put. Broad spectrum coverage.

What you should consider: Rare reports of irritation. Tube is on the small side.

Where to buy: Sold by Sephora, Amazon, LovelySkin and Ulta

Top transparent sunscreen

Coppertone Sport Clear SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion

What you need to know: Long-lasting transparent sunscreen by a top brand.

What you’ll love: Gel-like formula goes on clean and provides lasting broad-spectrum SPF 50. Lightweight and affordable.

What you should consider: Tends to sting, due in part to the high alcohol content.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top mineral sunscreen

Supergoop! Mineral Sheerscreen SPF 30

What you need to know: Cruelty-free, reef-safe sunscreen by a trusted brand.

What you’ll love: All-mineral sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection. Creamy consistency.

What you should consider: Pricey. Leaves a bit of a white cast.

Where to buy: Sold by Supergoop! and Sephora

Top stick sunscreen

Neutrogena Beach Defense Stick Sunscreen SPF 50+

What you need to know: Broad-spectrum stick form that's best for short beach visits.

What you’ll love: Easy-to-apply stick. Nice scent. Feels lightweight.

What you should consider: Not effective for an extensive time in the sun.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top sensitive skin sunscreen

Epionce Ultra Shield Lotion SPF 50

What you need to know: Luxury broad spectrum sunscreen that's ideal for sensitive skin.

What you’ll love: Not likely to cause skin irritation. Creamy consistency feels nice on the skin.

What you should consider: Feels a little greasy. Expensive for such a small tube.

Where to buy: Sold by LovelySkin, SkinStore and Amazon

Top scented sunscreen

Hawaiian Tropic Ultra Radiance Sheer Touch Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

What you need to know: Broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen with a scent that pairs perfectly with summer.

What you’ll love: Delightful tropical scent in sheer lotion that’s easy to apply. Oil-free. Nice price.

What you should consider: May irritate sensitive skin. Takes some time to absorb.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top sport sunscreen

EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 Full Body Sunscreen

What you need to know: Mineral-based broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects and lasts.

What you’ll love: Sheer formula goes on smooth; zinc oxide base. Doesn't run and holds up well to moisture.

What you should consider: Expensive considering the small tube.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon, LovelySkin and SkinStore

Top spray sunscreen

Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Spray SPF 50+ Sunscreen

What you need to know: Worth a look if you prefer spray-on sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection.

What you’ll love: Spray-on formula is easy to use. Wears well and resists water and sweat.

What you should consider: Somewhat drying to the skin. On the expensive side. 

Where to buy: Amazon and Sephora

Top kids' sunscreen

Banana Boat Simply Protect Kids SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion Spray

What you need to know: Spray sunscreen that's formulated especially for kids.

What you’ll love: Has fewer ingredients than many adult sunscreens. Tear-free formula. Broad-spectrum.

What you should consider: Claim of SPF 50 is questionable. The spray nozzle is prone to jamming. Not for babies.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top oil sunscreen

Supergoop! Glow Oil SPF 50

What you need to know: Oil formula that's suitable for users who need moisture over powerful protection.

What you’ll love: Hydrates skin while it protects. Gives skin a dewy appearance. Contains antioxidants.

What you should consider: Somewhat messy. Several reports of sunburn when not applied generously.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top fragrance-free sunscreen

Alba Botanica Sport Sunscreen SPF 45

What you need to know: Scent-free sunscreen with powerful protection and natural, vegetarian ingredients.

What you’ll love: Made with natural ingredients and doesn't contain fragrance. Reliable protection.

What you should consider: Feels oily, and the consistency is runny.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top tinted sunscreen

Colorscience Even Up Clinical Pigment Perfector SPF 50

What you need to know: Skin-perfecting sunscreen that offers reliable perfection and just enough tint to even out skin's appearance.

What you’ll love: Contains pigments that improve imperfections for an even skin tone. Smooths fine lines. Broad-spectrum protection.

What you should consider: Expensive. Streaking is possible.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon and LovelySkin

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Jennifer Manfrin is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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