What are The Sunscreens?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

To best protect your skin from sun exposure, all of the experts we spoke with recommend using broad-spectrum sunscreens in either chemical or mineral formulations because they protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Our experts say to look for mineral (also known as physical) sunscreen if you’ve got sensitive skin, heat sensitivities, or if you’re using the sunscreen on babies 6 months or older because the mineral formulation sits on top of skin to physically block UVA and UVB rays (as opposed to chemical formulations that sink into skin and absorb rays, which can cause irritation in more sensitive skin). They all also say to look for products that are water-resistant and protect for anywhere from 40 to 80 minutes (after which you have to reapply), and to use products with a minimum SPF of 30.

Even if you aren’t going outside much these days, experts say it’s still important to wear sunscreen indoors because harmful rays can penetrate windows and some evidence suggests blue-light from computer and smartphone screens can damage skin. Below, our experts’ picks for the 21 best sunscreens at various price points. Every one of them can be used all over the body, but we’ve categorized them considering other details, including price, ingredients, ease of use, and availability. (For more sunscreens for hyper-specific uses, see our lists of the best ones for lips, face, and kids and babies; we’ve even got some picks for bald men’s heads.)

Best overall sunscreen

The best sunscreen is the one you will use consistently and apply correctly, according to dermatology physician assistant Sydney Karp, who says she works with patients to determine “what they will actually use and not just let sit on their counter.” And liberal application is key to any sunscreen’s efficacy, according to dermatologist Susan Bard, who says you should apply “approximately one ounce (a shot glass’s worth) to the entire body every two hours or any time you get wet.” She and five other experts we spoke to — including cosmetic surgeon Kenneth Rothaus; cosmetic dermatologist Sonam Yadav; aesthetician Andrew Kelly of Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa; dermatologist Yoram Harth; and dermatologist Kenneth Mark — recommend Neutrogena as their go-to brand. It’s been around for forever (time-tested), relatively inexpensive (so you can stock up and not worry about generously slathering it on every two hours), and you can buy it pretty much anywhere. Plus, it comes in several forms, depending on your preference.

Yadav and Harth both recommend Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch because of its lightweight, mattifying feel that won’t clog your pores. This is a chemically formulated liquid sunscreen (but it also comes in spray and stick form). Sapna Palep, founder of Spring Street Dermatology, says the spray-on version is her favorite for getting full-body coverage as well as applying sunscreen to kids who can be “moving targets.” She says it spreads easily and is very water- resistant so it’ll stay on when you’re getting in and out of the pool or ocean. There’s also a mineral formulation with zinc oxide.

Best mineral sunscreen for face

Morrill told us that another reason to consider mineral sunscreens is because some chemical ones contain oxybenzone, which research indicates can significantly destroy coral-reef ecosystems. She also noted that some findings show the ingredients in chemical sunscreens aren’t just absorbed into your skin — but into your blood, too. Spanish brand Isdin’s mineral sunscreen comes recommended by three of our experts (Kelly, Karp, and Mark). It’s on the thin side, so it doesn’t leave a white chalky film behind, and it has the added benefits of antioxidants, vitamin E, and DNA repair enzymes that help combat previous sun damage. Mark really likes this sunscreen because the company “did a study where people who used it on a consistent basis saw a reduction in the number of precancerous lesions on the treated area.” It can be used all over, but since it’s much more expensive than many other brands, Mark recommends using it on the face or other specific parts of the body that tend to see the most sun damage.

Dermatologist Elyse Love, who works at Spring Street Dermatology and GlamDerm, loves the tinted version of the sunscreen above. “It is a physical-only sunscreen that provides SPF 50 coverage with an elegant tint, a lightweight formula, and no white cast,” she says. Like the one above, it also contains enzymes that have been shown to reverse signs of sun damage. Love especially recommends a tinted sunscreen for anyone with hyperpigmentation, as she says, “They typically provide additional protection from blue light, which may worsen hyperpigmentation.”

Best (less expensive) sunscreen for face

Morrill told us she still loves this sunscreen from La Roche-Posay, which comes in both chemical and mineral formulations, when it comes to protecting her face. Three other experts recommend it, too, with Harth saying, “For general use on the face, I would recommend La Roche-Posay Anthelios SPF 50 Mineral Sunscreen because it’s suitable for face and body, it contains vitamin E, herbal extracts, and antioxidants to soothe stressed-out skin and shield you from the sun.” But if you’re looking for something even cheaper, Morrill says CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 is a worthy dupe. “You cannot beat this drugstore pick. It checks all the boxes: broad-spectrum protection SPF 30, sheer application, antioxidants to boost the sun-protective factor, anti-aging ingredients, and hydration at $14 a bottle, you never have to feel stingy.”

Best face sunscreen for mature skin

This sunscreen has all the elements our experts recommend. It’s a broad- spectrum, reef-safe physical sunscreen that’s well over SPF 30. It’s specifically recommended for the face, but celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar particularly likes its smooth finish. It’s moisturizing (which is great for mature skin which tends to be dry), but isn’t a two-in-one moisturizer-SPF. “I’m not a fan of only using a moisturizer with SPF in lieu of a separate sunscreen, as a quality SPF helps protect from premature aging, including wrinkles, and skin cancer.”

Best mineral drugstore sunscreen

When we asked about mineral sunscreens you can buy at any drugstore in a pinch, this one from Blue Lizard was the first thing mentioned by Harth and Kelly (the brand also makes one of our top recommended facial sunscreens, too). Kelly suggests keeping a tube of it in your car, since a lot of people forget to apply when they’re driving. “You get so much sun damage on the driver’s window side of your face and body. Once you hit 50 or 60 years old and your collagen and the elastin starts breaking down, you’ll start to see that damage a lot more.” He likes Blue Lizard because it doesn’t have any chemicals, fragrance, or commonly known irritants in it. Plus, the bottle turns blue in harmful UV light to remind you to apply. Because it’s a thick, mineral sunscreen that doesn’t budge on the skin, Palep loves Blue Lizard for athletes who sweat out in the sun for hours.

Best mineral sunscreen for the body

While this is gentle enough to use on your face, Aguilar likes using it all over the body because it’s a “non-greasy SPF and will not leave oily residue all over your clothing.” Beyond that, it’s a reef-safe, mineral sunscreen that’s also hypoallergenic. Additionally it’s lightweight and sheer, so it won’t leave a white cast as long as you rub it in. Aguilar likes that it also has powerful antioxidants like rose hip and green tea as well as moisturizing ingredients like avocado and jojoba oils. For application, Aguilar says, “I like applying SPF prior to getting dressed, and reapplying on any areas that are exposed to the sun throughout the day; doing my best to never forget the back of my hands.”

Best spray-on sunscreen

EltaMD is a favorite among dermatologists, Strategist editors, and celebrities alike, and an array of its sunscreens were recommended by 9 of our 12 experts, including this spray-on sunscreen. Karp says, “The EltaMD UV spray is great because although it sprays on white, it rubs in clear and feels light on the skin. Additionally, it’s water-resistant for 80 minutes.” Rita Linkner of Spring Street Dermatology likes EltaMD’s spray-on sunscreen, too. “I love EltaMD’s UV Aero SPF 45, as it is still mineral-based with zinc oxide and water-resistant. [Editors’ note: It includes octinoxate, so it’s not completely chemical-free.] I recommend spray sunscreens for touch-ups during the day every two hours if you are outdoors, or after drying off post-water to stay sun safe all day.”

Best powder sunscreen

If you’re looking for a purely physical sunscreen that isn’t a thick cream, Palep recommends Colorscience’s brush-on sunscreen powder. It won’t leave a white cast, and with four different shades, you can choose one that best matches your skin tone. We’ve previously named Colorescience the best powder sunscreen after eight additional dermatologists raved about — and it’s a must-have for Dr. Pimple Popper. Lead Aesthetician for SkinSpirit med spas, Karen Fernandez is a fan, too. She likes that it doubles as makeup, is good for oily or acne-prone skin, and that it’s easy to reapply on the go. “I love using it as the finishing touch of powder to my morning routine and then reapplying as needed throughout the day,” she says. “It is small enough to fit in a pocket or makeup bag and totally mess-free.” It’s also water-resistant up to 80 minutes, and Fernandez says, “It doesn’t run into your eyes when you sweat, and stays on in the water.”

Easiest sunscreen to apply

Many of our experts — including Linkner, Mark, Karp, Harth, and Rothaus (who sells his own brand of spray-on sunscreen at his offices) — say they like spray- on sunscreens because they’re easier to cover a large area of skin quickly. Morrill says they’re “imminently less annoying to apply at the beach,” but it doesn’t take a team of researches to tell you that oftentimes, a lot of what you spray out is lost in the breeze. This frothy foam that Morrill recommends isn’t sticky like lotion, absorbs on the spot, and provides full coverage. Kiddos also love it, too, she says.

If you’re still wary of the spray-on stuff, Love, who is a fan of Supergoop! too, says Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Sunscreen for the body is just as easy to spread and is also lightweight. There are SPF 30 and 50 options, both offering broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. It’s oil-free so it won’t leave you feeling greasy, and it has an “invisible” finish so you shouldn’t have to worry about a white cast.

Best sunscreen for kids and babies

All of our experts agree that babies over 6 months — the age when dermatologists say they can start wearing sunscreen — should exclusively use mineral sunscreens that are hypoallergenic and have been tested for efficacy. When we wrote about sunscreen for kids and babies earlier this month, Lindsey Bordone, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Columbia University Medical Center and three other dermatologists recommended this specific brand from Neutrogena, which is formulated for babies, features a broad-spectrum SPF 50 shield against UVA and UVB rays, and is dermatologist-tested, water-resistant, and hypoallergenic. This specific product was also recommended by Mark.

Best tinted sunscreen

“Women of color are often left out of sunscreen talk, and it’s exceptionally challenging for them to find a good sunscreen that doesn’t leave a white cast,” said Sarah Payne, an expert aesthetician and co-founder of Sarah Nicole Skincare. She recommends this all-mineral sunscreen from EltaMD for everyone, including women of color, although she mentioned that women with deeper skin tones will want to test before committing. Payne says, “It’s ideal for sensitive and aging skin, with a light tint to help balance uneven skin tone. There’s also hyaluronic acid in the formula, which makes it glide and feel wonderful if your skin feels irritated.”

This sunscreen offers similar protection to the PCA daily sunscreen mentioned above, but it has a slight tint and is water-resistant. It’s also lightweight and unscented if you’re sensitive. Aguilar, who doesn’t wear makeup, says tinted sunscreens are her favorite because they enhance skin tone while they protect.

Best tinted sunscreen for dark skin tones

If you prefer a tinted sunscreen (and one that can double as a moisturizer), Kikam recommends this one from Tizo that’s formulated with skin-repairing ceramides and antioxidants like vitamins C and E. “It also contains iron oxide, an ingredient known to block visible and blue-light which has been linked to hyperpigmentation in darker skin types,” she says. “It’s a creamy and highly moisturizing sunscreen that does not leave a whitish cast.”

Best sunscreen for acne-prone skin

Not only was this specific sunscreen from EltaMD recommended by 6 of our experts, it was also the favorite sunscreen from our article about the best sunscreens for your face. And although the directions only mention using it on the face and neck, you can use it all over, making it ideal for those dealing with body acne, too. Kelly says that he uses this combination mineral and chemical sunscreen himself on a daily basis, and told us that he loves it because of its “serum-like” texture, explaining that “it provides both chemical and physical blockers for the skin and contains actives like hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and lactic acid, which are great at fighting acne-prone skin while conserving moisture.” Palep, who uses EltaMD UV Clear because it doesn’t clog her pores, adds that niacinamide is an added bonus for correcting hyperpigmentation from acne scars or prior sun damage.

Look for an oil-free or fluid-like SPF if you have oily or acne-prone skin, says Aguilar. This Jaxon Lane sunscreen has a silky texture and penetrates quickly. “It is probably one of the thinnest SPFs that penetrates without leaving the infamous ‘white film,’” she says. It’s made for men, but anyone could benefit from the UVA and UVB protection, as well as vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, green tea, licorice root, and ginseng in this moisturizing sunscreen. If you hate traditional sunscreen, you’ll love that this is fragrance-free and “literally feels like water,” according to Aguilar.

Best sunscreen for dry skin

Since it’s designed for babies’ delicate skin, Kikam recommends this gentle sunscreen for anyone with dry or sensitive skin. “It’s a lightweight, moisturizing, non-sticky and fast-absorbing sunscreen that is aesthetically pleasing on all skin including darker skin types,” she says. Along with offering excellent UV protection, Kikam likes that Pipette’s sunscreen contains squalane to replenish moisture in the skin and antioxidants to calm irritation.

Best cruelty-free sunscreen

Morrill originally named Pacifica her favorite cruelty-free sunscreen — and she says her opinion hasn’t changed. The environmentally friendly and 100 percent vegan line “is not only free of just about any scary additive you can think of, but also happens to be ridiculously good-looking.” And to ensure you’ll use it on the regular, it comes in a stick, spray, and lotion, depending on your preference (just check the ingredients before buying, as not all of Pacifica’s products are chemical free).

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