Best Sunscreen Oils

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
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.Read more 
How we decided

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

37 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
289 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

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

Buying guide for best sunscreen oils

Last Updated November 2019

You take your skincare seriously. You invested in a high-end mineral sunscreen to protect against the sun’s aging, damaging effects. And you ended up with dry, flaky skin anyway.

You’re not alone. Many who purchase quality sunscreen hoping to improve their complexions are disappointed when they experience a very different outcome. Most mineral sunscreens include zinc oxide, a powerful, natural barrier to both UVA and UVB rays. Unfortunately, zinc oxide is also a powerful astringent. This means that it constricts skin cells and restricts the release of the skin’s natural oils, which often leads to drying.

If your mineral sunblock is making your skin feel like the Sahara, maybe it’s time to explore sunscreen oil. Sunscreen oils deliver the same protection as other formulas, along with a helping of moisturizing goodness. They work with your body to create a chemical barrier against the sun’s harmful rays and help hydrate your skin. Bonus: some sunscreen oils simultaneously protect your skin and allow it to tan.

Still, knowing what makes a good sunscreen oil can be tough to absorb. Not to worry. Use this buying guide to weigh all the variables and find a sunscreen oil that’s right for you.

Most users apply only a fraction of the sunscreen they need for adequate protection, greatly reducing its effectiveness.

Key considerations

There are many factors to consider when choosing sunscreen, but the most important — and the most confusing — is its SPF rating.

SPF rating

Every sunscreen has a sun protection factor rating — SPF for short. This number indicates the level of protection a product offers against UVB rays, the kind of rays responsible for sunburns. Experts usually simplify the math by advising daily use of a sunscreen rated SPF 15 to 30. But the specifics break down as follows:

  • Sunscreens rated SPF 15 protect against 93% of UVB rays.
  • Sunscreens rated SPF 30 protect against 97% of UVB rays.
  • Sunscreens rated SPF 50 protect against 98% of UVB rays.
  • Sunscreens rated SPF 100 protect against 99% of UVB rays.
     

But a sunscreen’s SPF rating doesn’t address protection against skin-aging UVA rays. For that, you need a formula advertised as broad-spectrum. The best sunscreens provide both superior SPF ratings and broad-spectrum coverage.

Delivery method

Getting sunscreen oil onto your skin can be trickier than applying other forms of sunscreen. Half the challenge is dispensing the right amount and keeping it from staining nearby objects.

Pour spouts are the simplest type of sunscreen oil dispenser. These bottles allow you to pour out larger amounts, so you’re less likely to under-apply. Unfortunately, it gives you less control over the amount dispensed, which may not be a good thing considering the price of many oils.

Spray pumps give you more control over the amount of oil you dispense. They can, however, take a bit of time to fully apply. Also, some pumps are prone to clogging and can accidentally shoot stray drops onto nearby fabrics.

Aerosol sprays give you the same controlled application as spray pumps, but do it much faster. Many dispense fine mists, so they’re less likely to leave staining spots on nearby clothing or bags. They spray quickly, however, and may run out faster than expected.

Moisturizing ingredients

One reason sunscreen oils are so moisturizing is that they imitate sebum, the nourishing oil your body produces naturally. While all sunscreen oils hydrate your skin, they may use different ingredients to achieve that goal. These ingredients may address specific skin concerns.

Sunscreen oils made with grapeseed oil or coconut oil, for example, are beneficial for skin that’s sensitive or prone to acne. Those that use acai oil or fatty acids may be better to help plump and elasticize aging skin. Formulas including argan oil instantly hydrate parched skin. Be sure to read up on the ingredients used in the formula you choose to make sure they’ll be beneficial for your individual skin concerns. Watch for sunscreen oils that use essential citrus oils: these have an invigorating scent but may increase your skin’s photosensitivity.

Chemical ingredients

Sunscreen oils protect your skin through a chemical reaction, so they’re going to contain chemicals. Some individuals, however, have concerns about the long-term effects of chemicals such as homosalate, avobenzone, and octocrylene as well as paraben preservatives. These substances can linger in the body after use and are linked to potentially harmful hormonal changes. If you are concerned about exposure to these substances, as well as others like PABA and phthalates, research your ingredient list carefully.

EXPERT TIP

Sunscreen oils are a great alternative for users with dry, normal or combination skin. Use with caution, though, if you have naturally oily skin.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Different situations call for different sunscreen oil formulas.

Daily wear

Sunscreen for daily wear requires lighter consistencies that can protect invisibly under makeup. Daily wear sunscreen oils absorb quickly and don’t leave a greasy finish. Look for formulas including meadowfoam seed oil, argan oil, and grapeseed oil.

Outdoor wear

If you’re interested in sunscreen for outdoor wear, look for thicker formulas that have staying power on your skin. Protectants that include coconut oil, hemp oil, and acai oil are good candidates for longer-lasting sunscreen. Keep in mind, these sunscreen oils may leave a shinier, greasier finish on your skin. 

Waterproof or water-resistant

Sun protection for the pool, beach, or water sports need to be waterproof or water-resistant. These formulas are usually thicker and longer-lasting than everyday formulas and may not wash off easily. Be careful to follow re-application instructions carefully, since water tends to compromise oil over time.

Scented

Scented formulas are a plus for oils used for everyday wear. Some have a fresh scent that makes you smell like you’ve spent a day at the beach. Again, however, be cautious with citrus-scented sunscreens, as citrus-based essential oils can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

EXPERT TIP

Be extra vigilant about reapplying sunscreen oil between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest.


Staff  | BestReviews

Sunscreen oil prices

Inexpensive: The least expensive sunscreen oils start around $1.60 per ounce. At this price, sunscreens will generally offer broad-spectrum, 25 to 30 SPF protection and may be dispensed via aerosol or pump. Most sunscreen oils in this price range will use more common oils, like coconut and hemp seed, rather than luxury oils.

Mid-range: The next tier of sunscreen oils generally costs $5 to $6 per ounce. Sunscreen oils in this price range will usually be rated SPF 30 to 50 and provide broad-spectrum protection. These sunscreens may blend common oils with more expensive ones such as acai oil and grape seed oil.

Expensive: The priciest sunscreen oils will likely top $10 per ounce. In this price range, sunscreen oils will either have a high SPF rating along with broad-spectrum coverage or contain a significant percentage of luxury oils that justify the price tag.

EXPERT TIP

If you’re swimming, dry yourself off before reapplying sunscreen oil. Otherwise, you may get a frustrating reminder that oil and water don’t mix.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Sunscreen oils are time-limited. Re-apply your sunscreen at least every 2 hours to maximize protection. Some sunscreens boast longer coverage, but many experts warn that the formulas deteriorate after about 120 minutes.
  • Apply them dry. Make sure you’ve washed and dried your face before applying. Skin products that are silicone-based or water-based can compromise the oil’s ability to protect.
  • Protect your clothes. Wait a few minutes before getting dressed to allow oil to absorb into your skin and protect you fully, as well as to avoid getting oil on your clothes.
  • Take a pause before heading out. Sunscreen oil takes about 20 minutes to start protecting your skin, so wait before going out in full sun.
  • Use sprays cautiously around kids. Avoid using sunscreen pumps or sprays around young children, who can accidentally inhale the mist. Inhaling sunscreen mist can irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory conditions.

Other products we considered

If you need some water resistance, consider Clarins SPF 30 Sunscreen Care Oil. Exotic Indonesian Nyamplung Oil teams up with aloe vera to moisturize and soothe your skin. But don’t let the fancy ingredients fool you, this formula is tough enough to resist everything from sweat to salt water. For a less pricey option, check out Sublime Sun Advanced Sunscreen Oil from L’Oreal Paris. This fast-absorbing sunscreen is great for everyday wear, thanks to its SPF 15 rating and dry, lightweight finish.

Unlike physical sunscreens, many sunscreen oils let your skin tan without burning.

FAQ

Q. How do chemical sunscreens work?
A.
Chemical sunscreens are applied to the skin, and absorb light rather than reflect it. The sunscreen molecules absorb the radiation from UV rays, and then release the radiation as heat as the molecular bonds slowly break down. Some like the protection chemical sunscreens offer, since, unlike physical sunblocks, they can’t be brushed off once applied. They do, however, take about 20 minutes to start working, and must be reapplied more frequently in direct sunlight. This is because abundant UV rays break down the chemical bonds more quickly.
 

Q. How can an oil protect your skin from sun damage?
A.
If you’ve heard horror stories of people who used to “lay out” in the sun doused in baby oil, think again. There is no comparison. Modern sunscreen oils really protect the skin. Users are advised to wait 20 minutes for the chemical protection in sunscreen oils to take effect, which is more than enough time for natural, beneficial oils to absorb into the skin. Those baby-oil babes of the past used no sun protection at all, and slathered themselves with a reflective mineral oil that absorbed poorly, if at all.


Q. Should I use my sunscreen oil on children?
A.
It’s tempting to share, but we suggest you skip the sunscreen oil for your kids. Most formulas are applied using aerosols or pumps, application methods most pediatricians don’t recommend for children. No one should breathe sunscreen as it’s sprayed, of course, but it’s especially risky for young children to inhale the sunscreen mist. Pediatricians recommend parents use a physical sunblock on children for their first several years of life. In a pinch, stand at a safe distance from your children, spray sunscreen oil on your own hands, and apply to your child’s skin manually.

The team that worked on this review
  • Amber
    Amber
    Writer
  • Kristin
    Kristin
    Writer
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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