The 10 Best Sunscreens
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in April of 2015. We're just politely pointing out that "lobster" is not the best look on you. So slather on one of these sunblocks before catching some rays. We've included formulations good for sensitive skin and vegetarians, biodegradable and reef safe options, and those that offer broad-spectrum coverage for extended sun exposure. You'll also find selections suitable for young children. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
January 22, 2020:
There are dozens upon dozens of excellent sunscreens on the market these days and in every variety possible. For our list, we wanted to include selections to satisfy a range of needs, from those with sensitive skin, to vegans, to people who want something with a high SPF, as well as solutions that can go under makeup, are suitable for children, and reef-safe for tropical destinations with strict sunblock regulations. And if you'd like to look at more great biodegradable options for your next beach vacation, we have a list for that, as well.
We updated Banana Boat Sport Performance to reflect the newest formula and removed Obagi Sun Shield, Neutrogena Sport Face, and Banana Boat Ultra Defense Max. We wanted to add another economical option in lotion, rather than spray, form, and so we included the Coppertone Ultra Guard, which has a light texture, SPF of 70, and virtually no scent. It also has an ergonomic bottle that's easy for wet hands to grasp.
We brought on La Roche-Posay Anthelios at the expense of Obagi Sun Shield, due to numerous complaints that the formula for the latter had changed for the worse. La Roche-Posay is a highly respected company that's been in the skincare business for over a century and adheres to strict safety guidelines and quality standards. And while Neutrogena Sport Face is a solid budget choice, we felt this list could use another high-end option for the face, in addition to Coola Mineral Face, which is where the popular EltaMD UV Clear Facial comes into play.
Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Drops Sun Drops is different from your typical lotion-style or spray sunblock. It's a light-textured serum that can be applied directly to the skin or mixed in with your moisturizer and provides broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection against UVA and UVB rays. An active complex of vitamin E and beta-glucan protects the skin from oxidative damage, while purslane, an anti-aging powerhouse, helps calm the skin and reduce visible signs of irritation. molecularcosmetics.com
La Mer The Broad Spectrum UV Protecting Fluid Designed to be worn over your moisturizer or under makeup, this lightweight lotion from La Mer infuses skin with an exclusive medley of sea-sourced ingredients called Miracle Broth. It's a quick-absorbing option with an SPF of 50 to defend against everyday exposure to UV rays. cremedelamer.com
Choosing The Right Sunscreen
A sunscreen with an SPF rating of 50 or higher is a wise choice for ensuring your skin stays healthy in the long term.
The primary purpose of sunscreen is simple enough: it is supposed to protect your skin from the damage that over-exposure to sunlight can cause. Sunscreen does this by both reflecting and absorbing the sun's rays. Various inorganic compounds such as zinc oxide reject ultraviolet light, sending it back away from skin treated with sunscreen. Ingredients like oxybenzone absorb and dissipate the heat of solar rays in the visible or infrared spectrum.
When most people think of sunscreen, their primary concern is the level of the SPF, which essentially equates to the strength of the sunscreen. SPF is an acronym for Sun Protection Factor, and the higher the SPF rating, the more protection a sunscreen offers its wearer. But choosing the right sunscreen involves more than merely choosing a strong sunscreen.
For everyday use when you will not spend protracted amounts of time in direct sun, the general rule of thumb is that a sunscreen (or a product with sunscreen in it) rated at between 15 and 20 SPF is sufficient to offer protection. For daily use with limited sun exposure, it's acceptable to choose a product with this coverage level based on other attributes you like, such as a certain moisturizer profile or ingredients like Vitamin E or aloe vera.
If you will be in the sun for a long amount of time, or if your live in or are visiting an area with hours of direct daily sunshine, then you need to select a good, powerful sunscreen first, and consider its secondary properties later. A sunscreen with an SPF rating of 50 or higher is a wise choice for ensuring your skin stays healthy in the long term. If you don't like the process of rubbing lotions into your skin, consider spray-on options; these formulas rarely offer much in the way of moisturizing, but they offer great sun protection and are easy to reapply, making them perfect for days at the beach.
Choosing a sunscreen with a lower SPF rating and excellent moisturizer qualities is a good idea for regular use during the cooler, less sunny months of the year (or for use on cloudy days). UV sunlight can still reach the ground on overcast days, so some sun protection is a good idea even when it's not particularly sunny out, and your skin will always appreciate the extra nutrients, vitamins, and hydration you get with the formula of a great sunblock.
The Immense Importance Of Sunscreen
A lifetime of unprotected exposure to the sun dramatically increases your chances of developing life-threatening skin cancer. Getting too much sun will also increase the pace at which wrinkles develop and will make wrinkles more pronounced as sunlight can cause elastosis, or a loss of the elasticity of the flesh. These are long term and potentially serious issues, and mitigating them takes a lifelong commitment to vigilant sun caution.
On the other hand, ironically, our bodies need some regular sun exposure in order to function healthily.
In the shorter term, getting too much sun can cause painful burns, aptly called sunburns, that make skin peel, itch, and ache. It can also cause freckles, discoloration, and the visible dilation of small blood vessels near the surface of the skin.
To put it simply, you have to protect your skin from sun damage if you want to live a healthy life.
On the other hand, ironically, our bodies need some regular sun exposure in order to function healthily. When the sun's UV-B rays hit your skin, they facilitate a reaction that synthesizes Vitamin D, which your body needs to facilitate the proper absorption of nutrients and minerals like calcium and iron. About ten to fifteen minutes of direct sun exposure a day is sufficient for producing Vitamin D, though, and supplements can always augment your body's supply of it.
Other Ways To Beat The Sun
Wearing sunscreen is not always the best way to protect your skin from sun damage; limiting the amount the sun's rays directly hit your skin is another, and often more effective, way to limit the short and long term damage too much sun exposure can cause.
If you are going to be spending time at the beach, lake, or river, then consider wearing a sun shirt designed for use in the water.
If you are going to be spending time at the beach, lake, or river, then consider wearing a sun shirt designed for use in the water. These garments are usually rated at SPF 50 or higher, quickly wick away moisture from sweat, and dry out after you leave the water, so they can keep you protected from the sun while you remain comfortable. (They are also often called rash guards and prevent chafing and irritation that comes from lying on a surfboard or paddleboard.) There are also casual wear shirts that feature built-in SPF protection.
Another great product for use at the beach, the park, or when camping is a pop up sun shelter. These handy structures are usually lightweight enough to be carried by one person and can be set up (or taken down) in a matter of minutes, producing a haven from the sunshine anywhere you go.
And, of course, don't forget the tried and true method of simply wearing a hat. As your face, neck, and ears are the area of the body usually most directly exposed to the sun, the addition of a hat to your outfit means protection where you need it, and possibly an injection of individual style, too.