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Best Sunscreens

Updated September 2018
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.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
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.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 27 Models Considered
  • 5 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 145 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.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    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.

    Shopping guide for best sunscreens

    Last Updated September 2018

    Whether you’re young or old, fair skinned or dark complected, you need to wear sunscreen. In fact, everyone but toddlers under six months of age should face each and every day armed with a bottle of skin-loving SPF.

    Why is sunscreen so important? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells us that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. It is also one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

    In addition to staying in the shade, donning a hat and sunglasses, and wearing clothing that deflects UV rays whenever possible, the CDC recommends that you use sunscreen.

    Indeed, a “healthy” tan isn’t as healthy as it once seemed, and lots of consumers have become more conscientious about buying and applying sunscreen.

    Regardless of the season, avoid exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., the peak hours during which UV exposure is at its highest.

    But what is the best sunscreen for you? All formulas are not the same.

    At BestReviews, we rolled up our sleeves and dug into the sunscreen space, evaluating the products you see on store (and virtual) shelves to determine which are best.

    Check out our favorite five sunscreens. To catch up on general sunscreen facts, please keep reading.

    CAUTION

    Don’t forget to protect the delicate skin on your scalp from UV exposure. You can (and should) wear a hat, preferably of the wide-brimmed variety.

    Choosing the right spf

    When you examine a bottle of sunscreen, one of the first things you’ll note is the “SPF” displayed prominently on the label. SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and it’s vital that you’re aware of which SPF you’re putting on your skin.

    • SPF 15 protects your skin from approximately 93% of the sun’s damaging rays.

    • SPF 30 protects your skin from approximately 97% of the sun’s damaging rays.

    • SPF 100 protects your skin from approximately 99% of the sun’s damaging rays.

    • No sunscreen will protect you from 100% of the sun’s damaging rays.
       

    SPF is not the only important factor to consider when selecting a sunscreen. Arguably more important is whether the lotion you choose offers full-spectrum protection, also known as broad-spectrum protection.

    See the next section to learn about UVA rays, UVB rays, and why you need a full-spectrum sunscreen to protect you from both.

    EXPERT TIP

    It’s true that some brands of makeup – particularly foundations and lip products – advertise sun protection. But don’t rely on these alone unless the SPF is at least 15.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Uva rays and uvb rays

    The best sunscreens protect you from UVA rays and UVB rays, both of which are harmful to health and present in our atmosphere all the time. Interestingly, the outcome of UVA exposure may be slightly different from that of UVB exposure.

    UVA Rays

    The atmosphere is dense with UVA rays, and the average person’s exposure to them over a lifetime is immense. UVA ray exposure ages the skin and may cause or contribute to the development of skin cancer. UVA rays can reach human skin through glass, so you’re not safe from them when sitting inside your car or beside a window. These are the rays emitted by sunlamps in tanning booths, albeit at much higher concentrations than those of the sun.

    UVB Rays

    UVB rays cause sunburn and are strongly associated with the development of skin cancer. In the U.S., UVB rays are most prominent between the early spring months and mid-fall. They are not thought to penetrate through glass or pose a hazard to someone sitting inside a car or building. However, these cancer-causing rays are present outside all year long. For this reason, it’s wise to wear sunscreen even when it’s not blazing hot outside.

    Reef-safe sunscreens

    If you want to be environmentally friendly you should definitely look into buying reef-safe sunscreens. These sunscreens don't use specific chemicals that have been proven to damage coral reefs. Whenever you swim in the ocean with sunscreen, a fair amount of it goes into the ocean. Be on the lookout for sunscreens with oxybenzone and octinoxate – those are the main culprits of breaking down the coral.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Some types of clothing have an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF. For example, a shirt with a UPF of 30 would theoretically protect you from all but 1/30th of UV radiation from the sun.

    Sunscreen water resistance

    Several years ago, the FDA did away with the “waterproof” label on sunscreen bottles. Instead, water-resistant sunscreen is now classified in one of the following ways.

    • Resistant to water for 40 minutes.

    • Resistant to water for 80 minutes.
       

    If you’re going to be sweating or swimming, wear water-resistant sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are water resistant, so it’s very important that you pay attention to the label.

    If you were to wear a sunscreen that is not water resistant into the pool, for example, you could end up with a nasty burn before you even notice what’s happening to your skin.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Most sunscreens contain both chemical and physical components. The chemical ingredients absorb UV rays, and the physical particles reflect UV rays.

    Sunscreen and skin type

    Even if you know the SPF and degree of water resistance that you want, you still have some decisions to make about which type of sunscreen is best for you.

    Aged skin

    Some older people make the mistake of assuming they don’t need sunscreen anymore. This is simply not true. UV exposure at any age can increase your risk of skin cancer, wrinkles, and other damage.

    Allergies/rosacea

    If you suffer skin reactions due to allergies or rosacea, consider a fragrance-free sunscreen without alcohol.

    The jury is still out on the safety of spray sunscreen. Some people worry that the airborne particles could be hazardous to health. If you are a person with limited mobility, spray-on sunscreen may be a good option for you. Otherwise, consider a lotion, cream, or gel product.

    Acne-prone skin

    For those who tend to suffer acne breakouts, consider a fragrance-free gel sunscreen. The gel contains alcohol, which may be less likely to clog your pores than a cream. However, if you’re currently under medical treatment for your acne, you might prefer a light lotion or cream to avoid over-drying.

    Dark skin

    If you have dark skin, look for a product that rubs in completely so you don’t end up looking chalky. And don’t make the mistake of assuming that you don’t need sunscreen because your skin is dark; all humans are vulnerable to skin cancer and therefore need sunscreen.

    If you’re currently being treated for acne, protection from the sun is especially important, since your skin may be more sensitive to it during treatment. If you have ever been a skin cancer patient, it is particularly important for you to wear a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 every day.

    Dry skin

    If you have dry skin, consider a sunscreen that contains lanolin or oil. Many of these will be marketed as creams or lotions.

    Young skin

    Babies under six months of age should not wear sunscreen. Instead, they should be kept out of the sun completely. But once a child reaches toddlerhood, he should definitely wear sunscreen. Some parents choose to avoid ingredients that have a reputation for being “hormone interrupters” such as retinyl palmitate and oxybenzone. Instead, these parents concentrate on using formulas that contain a heavier concentration of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

    EXPERT TIP

    Don’t wait until you’re under the blazing sun to apply sunscreen. Slather it on 15 or 20 minutes before you go outside so it has a chance to sink into your skin. Reapply it (generously) every two hours after that.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Tips

    • High-SPF sunscreen should be reapplied just as often as lower-SPF sunscreen. Don’t assume that your SPF 100 sunscreen will protect you for more hours than a bottle of SPF 30; it won’t.

    • Babies younger than six months of age should be kept out of the sun. Sunscreen is not considered a safe option for infants.

    • Find a formula designed specifically for children. If you’re looking for a sunscreen for your kids, scan the ingredients list for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, both of which are thought to be less irritating to young skin.

    • Avoid storing your sunscreen anywhere it gets hot. Exposure to high heat can break down the ingredients in the lotion, rendering it ineffective. Don’t store it in your car or garage. Instead, keep your sunscreen in a cool, dry place.

    You might associate wearing sunscreen with a day at the beach or outdoor water park. In truth, you should wear sunscreen every day – not just during occasional summer outings.

    FAQ

    Q. Is it better to wear a sunscreen with a high SPF?

    A. If your goal is to shield your skin from harmful UV rays, opt for a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. To bolster your protection, you could go even higher than that; there are many bottles with an SPF of 50, and you’ll even see some with an SPF of 100. Regardless of which SPF you select, however, bear in mind that the lotion must be reapplied every few hours to remain effective.

    Q. I can’t find an expiration date on my bottle of sunscreen. Is it safe to use?

    A. Sunscreen is thought to last no more than three years from the date of its manufacture. (The FDA mandates that all sunscreens retain their effectiveness for at least this long.) If you’re not sure how old your bottle is – or whether it’s been exposed to high temperatures that could degrade the formula – it’s probably best to replace it.

    Q. My doctor says I’m low in vitamin D. Should I stop wearing sunscreen?

    A. Wearing sunscreen can indeed decrease your skin’s ability to manufacture vitamin D. However, it’s not necessarily a good idea to trade one health hazard (low vitamin D) for another (exposure to harmful UV rays). Talk with your doctor about the best course of action for you. Your health practitioner may recommend dietary supplements or an increase in foods rich in vitamin D, such as fatty fish and dairy products.

    Q. I have seen sunscreen with SPF 2. What good is such a low SPF?

    A. Sunscreen with a low SPF may help protect you from getting a sunburn, but it certainly won’t protect you from premature aging or skin cancer. In fact, all sunscreens sold in the U.S. with an SPF under 15 are required to carry a warning label that explains this fact to consumers.

    Q. What is the difference between organic and non-organic sunscreen?

    A. Non-organic sunscreens may contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which go a long way toward reflecting the sun’s rays. Organic sunscreens contain chemicals like oxybenzone that absorb the sun’s rays. Which is better? That’s up for debate, but scientists do agree that you should wear one or the other to protect your health.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Alvina
      Alvina
      Photographer
    • Amos
      Amos
      Director of Photography
    • Branson
      Branson
      Videographer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Ciera
      Ciera
      Production Assistant
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Jennifer
      Jennifer
      Writer
    • Katie
      Katie
      Editorial Director
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor
    • Steph
      Steph
      Web Producer

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