Best Sunscreen Lotions

Updated May 2019
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

25 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
95 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for the best sunscreen lotions

Last Updated May 2019

Believe it or not, being outside, breathing in the fresh air, and relaxing beneath the midday sun isn't exactly a healthy activity. Those warm, revitalizing rays can cause premature aging and permanent damage on a cellular level. However, that can only happen if you forget to apply sunscreen lotion.

Sunscreen lotion is a simple yet powerful product that helps keep you safe, so you can enjoy nature and live your most exhilarating life. But the labeling can be confusing and some of the bonus features might not have as much of an impact as you think. In other words, you may need help when it comes to choosing the best.

Don't worry. After reading this article, your choices will be as clear as the cloudless summer sky. You'll understand SPF and the difference between sunscreen and sunblock. If you already know what you're looking for, consider one of the options we've provided elsewhere in this handy guide.

The average person uses less than half of the sunscreen that is recommended by the product's label. This means he or she is not receiving adequate protection from the sun's damaging UV rays.

The three essentials

There are seemingly endless options available when it comes to sunscreen lotions. As long as the one you choose offers all three of these essentials, you are making the right choice.

Broad-spectrum protection

There are two types of UV rays that damage the skin: UVA and UVB. A sunscreen lotion that protects you against both will have the words "broad spectrum" printed on the label. If a sunscreen only protects you from a sunburn and not UVA rays, which damage the deeper tissue, then the product provides inadequate protection. No matter which sunscreen lotion you purchase, make sure it is labeled "broad spectrum."

SPF 30

SPF stands for "sun protection factor," and it only applies to UVB rays. That is why you could have an SPF of 100+, but if it isn't a broad-spectrum sunscreen, it won't provide adequate protection. SPF is easy to understand. If you can stay in the sun for 1 minute before getting a sunburn, and you apply a sunscreen lotion of SPF 15, that means you can stay in the sun for approximately 15 minutes. An SPF of 60, means the same individual could stay in the sun for about an hour. A sunscreen lotion with an SPF of 30 is considered safe for most individuals, if used as directed, so the minimum SPF you want is 30. A higher SPF allows you to stay in the sun longer, but only offers incrementally better protection. [See the FAQ below for more information on SPF.]

Water-resistant

Even the best sunscreen lotions wash off in the water or become increasingly ineffective when you sweat. What you want to look for when purchasing sunscreen is a lotion that is resistant to water and sweat. All this means is it will take a little longer for the sunscreen to become ineffective. There are two types of water-resistant sunscreen lotion: 40-minute and 80-minute. Your best option is to go with a sunscreen lotion that remains effective for 80 minutes while swimming.

Above and beyond protection

This tube may be small, only offering 3 ounces of sunscreen, but it is potent. The fast-absorbing, non-greasy formula offers one of the highest broad-spectrum forms of protection on the market. It is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Additional features

Size

Some sunscreen lotions come in a small 1-ounce package, while others can come in containers as large as a gallon. Since 1 ounce is the minimum amount of lotion needed to adequately cover an average-size person, and you need to reapply every two hours, it's almost always more cost effective and efficient to purchase sunscreen lotion in larger quantities.

Application method

Spray-on lotion is not recommended due to inhalation concerns (especially if you’re using it on children). Squeeze tubes or pumps are the simplest way to know that the sunscreen is actually getting on your skin, not blowing away in the wind. But whichever method works best for you is what you should get — some protection is better than none.

Formula

Sunscreen lotions are available in a wide variety of formulas. As long as the additional ingredients are not inhibiting the product's effectiveness, you can mix and match options such as nongreasy, fast-absorbing, moisturizing, and vitamin-fortified. Additionally, there are hypoallergenic lotions available for individuals with sensitive skin. If you are uncertain of how your skin will react to a new sunscreen lotion, apply a dab on your wrist and watch for any signs of an allergic reaction before using.

Bug repellent

Although you can purchase a sunscreen lotion with bug repellent added, using two separate products often produces better results.

Reef-friendly

There is increasing evidence that sunscreen lotions have a negative impact on fragile marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs. Although research is still being conducted, if you are concerned about the environment, ingredients such as oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor are currently believed to be hazardous to marine ecosystems. Some areas, like Hawaii, also have a ban on certain sunscreens that are not reef-safe to protect its fragile ecosystem.

Fragrance

If smell is important, choose a sunscreen lotion that appeals to your nose. You can find sunscreen lotions infused with hints of tropical fruits, flowers, and even Kona coffee for an island-getaway feel.

EXPERT TIP

Sunscreen doesn't last all day. Remember to reapply every two hours or after swimming, sweating, or towel drying.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

If your lotion does not have an expiration date printed on the container, discard it after three years, which is sunscreen’s maximum shelf life.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Although some sunscreen lotions have the added benefit of bug repellent, combining the two in one may weaken the effectiveness of the sunscreen while increasing the toxicity of the bug repellent.


Staff  | BestReviews

Sunscreen lotion prices

The price for sunscreen lotion is fairly consistent. Most anything you want is available in the $8 to $10 price range. What you have to pay attention to is how much you are getting as some charge $9 for 14 ounces while others charge $10 for 2.7 ounces.

If the cost is less than $8, you are likely getting a travel size, which might only provide enough sunscreen lotion for one or two applications. When the cost moves to $20 or above, you are often getting a pack with multiple containers.

Some brands will charge more for name recognition, but that's about all the benefits you will receive. Some brands also charge a little more for a higher SPF or specially formulated lotions, which may or may not be worth the higher price.

Protection you can trust

Neutrogena's Beach Defense gives you everything you want in a sunscreen. When applied correctly, it offers broad-spectrum water-resistant protection from over 98% of the sun's harmful UV rays. The fast-absorbing feature allows you to apply the lotion just 15 minutes before it is fully active, while the oil-free formula has a pleasing tropical fragrance.

Ten tips for better protection

  • Apply early: Sunscreen takes 15 to 30 minutes to reach its full protection potential.

  • Slather yourself: When you think you've put enough on, you're likely only about halfway there.

  • Reapply often: Every two hours is recommended.

  • Sunscreen is not waterproof: Water-resistant does not mean waterproof. If you go in the water (or sweat), you need to reapply.

  • Ditch the sprays: They do not cover well, and there may be risks to inadvertently inhaling the mist.

  • Not for babies: Do not use sunscreen lotion on infants under six months old. Babies should be kept out of the sun.

  • If light gets through, UV rays get through: If you can hold your clothing up and see light shining through it, UV rays can get through, too.

  • A tan or naturally dark skin isn't protection: Even if you think you tan more easily than burn, you should always protect yourself from UV rays with sunscreen.

  • Don't forget your eyes: Don't put sunscreen lotion in your eyes — wear sunglasses with UV protection instead.

  • Apply daily: Using sunscreen every day may help keep you looking younger while protecting you from those harmful UV rays — the sun can do damage even when the weather is cold.

Other products we considered

As you might imagine, there are many products on the market that offer the water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30 (and above) protection that you need. If you'd like a few more purchasing options, consider the following sunscreen lotions. Coppertone's ULTRAGUARD Sunscreen is a water-resistant, broad-spectrum lotion that has an SPF of 70. It is fortified with moisturizers and vitamin E to help hydrate and nourish your skin. Banana Boat's Ultra Sport Sunscreen Lotion offers an SPF of 50+. The 12-ounce container of water-resistant, broad-spectrum lotion features a hand pump to make it easier to slather on all the protection you desire. Sun Bum's Original Moisturizing Sunscreen is not only a broad-spectrum, water-resistant lotion, but it's also hypoallergenic and made with reef-friendly, vegan ingredients. The SPF is 50.

Although many people only think about the sun in the summer, it is highly advisable to use sunscreen lotion year-round.

FAQ

Q. What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

A. When most people think of sunscreen, they are thinking of protection from UVB rays. These are the rays that immediately damage the skin and cause sunburn and skin cancers. UVA rays, on the other hand, actually penetrate the skin and damage the deeper tissue. This kind of exposure may lead to premature aging, wrinkling, and suppressed immunity as well as contribute to the development of skin cancer.

Q. Is sunscreen the same thing as sunblock?

A. No. Sunscreen penetrates the skin and works to absorb the UV rays before they can damage the skin. Sunblock, on the other hand, sits on the top of your skin and provides a physical barrier that reflects and scatters UV rays to help prevent them from entering and damaging your skin.

Q. Which is better: sunscreen or sunblock?

A. As long as the container is labeled "broad-spectrum" and "water-resistant" and the SPF is 30 or above, both deliver adequate protection.

Q. Is an SPF of 100 twice as good as an SPF of 50?

A. No. The SPF numbers can be quite misleading. Believe it or not, in the best-case scenario, an SPF of 100 only provides about 1% better protection than an SPF of 50. Furthermore, an SPF of 100 only provides about 2% better protection than the recommended SPF 30. Higher is not bad, it just doesn't provide the additional protection that most people imagine it does.

The team that worked on this review
  • Allen
    Allen
    Writer
  • Alvina
    Alvina
    Photographer
  • Amos
    Amos
    Director of Photography
  • Angela
    Angela
    Editor
  • Branson
    Branson
    Videographer
  • Ciera
    Ciera
    Production Assistant
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Steph
    Steph
    Web Producer
  • Vukan
    Vukan
    Post Production Editor

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey