What’s the Best Sunscreen for You?
Wearing sunscreen daily, rain or shine, is a must for fighting signs of aging and reducing your risk of skin cancer. But what’s the best sunscreen? Sunscreens aren’t one-size-fits-all. Picking one is like choosing a hat: You need to find one that works for you. Do you run from products that feel greasy? Prefer all-natural ingredients? Want to avoid skin irritation at all costs? Hate to reapply?
To find the best sunscreen for your face and body, read on to learn the standards it should meet and which formulations are likely to keep you coming back for more. You may decide you want different sunscreens for different parts of your body or different circumstances. Do a little experimentation to find what works.
The three essential requirements
For adequate protection from the sun’s damaging rays, your sunscreen should meet certain basic requirements. Choose a sunscreen that:
- Is labeled “broad spectrum,” which means it shields you from UVA and UVB rays, both of which damage the DNA in skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer
- Has an SPF of at least 30
- Is labeled “water resistant”
Cream, gel, stick, spray or powder? Take your pick
Convenience and comfort matters. If you choose a sunscreen you like and find easy to apply, you’ll be more inclined to use it regularly and apply a sufficient amount.
Sunscreen formulation is mostly a matter of personal preference. The best sunscreen for men may be a gel formulation, since these go on light and are ideal for hairy areas such as the face, chest and scalp.
Cream sunscreens are ideal for dry skin and are often considered the best sunscreen for the face, although if your face is oily or acne prone, you’ll want a lighter, oil-free version.
Sunscreen sticks are handy to throw into a bag and are particularly useful for covering the area around your eyes, since they don’t run. If you’ve sworn off sunscreen because it stings your eyes, try a sunscreen stick.
Powder sunscreens are increasingly popular. They’re not ideal as your primary sunscreen, but they’re perfect for reapplications in the car and on the go, especially when you’re wearing makeup.
Some people like spray-on sunscreen the best. Many parents find it the easiest formulation to apply to kids — but you need to hold it close to their body and spray generously. It’s hard to tell if you’ve missed any spots, so you should rub it in to be safe. On windy days, skip the spray and opt for a different formulation.
Deciding between chemical and mineral
Sunscreen is sold in two varieties: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays before your skin can soak them up. Mineral sunscreens, also called physical sunscreens, sit on your skin and create a barrier that UV rays can’t penetrate. Both have pros and cons.
Are you the type who never remembers to apply sunscreen until you’re already on the beach or golf course? Mineral sunscreens may not go on as smoothly, but they start working right away. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, don’t work until they have been absorbed into the skin, which can take 10 minutes or more.
Hate that white sunscreen cast on your skin? Choose a chemical sunscreen, or look for a mineral sunscreen that’s tinted.
Sensitive skin? If you have a skin issue such as rosacea, mineral sunscreens may the better bet, since ingredients in some chemical sunscreens can irritate the skin. If sun exposure makes your melasma worse despite wearing sunscreen, try a tinted mineral sunscreen that contains iron oxide as an additional ingredient (look for it in the inactive ingredient list).
Concerned about potential harm caused by sunscreen chemicals that enter the bloodstream? Choose a mineral sunscreen, since these stay on top of skin.
Want to make the more environmentally friendly choice? Again, for go for mineral sunscreen. Some chemical sunscreens contain ingredients, including oxybenzone, moctinoxate, and octocrylene, that can be harmful to marine life and coral reefs.
Water resistance: How much is enough?
There’s no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen, except maybe a wetsuit. But some sunscreens are more water resistant than others. If you tend to wash or sweat your sunscreen off, know that chemical sunscreens are typically more water resistant than mineral sunscreens.
The FDA requires manufacturers of water resistant sunscreens to test how long the water resistance lasts and indicate on the label how often the product should be reapplied — after either 40 or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating. If water resistance is a big concern for you, look for one that’s rated water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Top sunscreen picks for all of your needs
Among the countless sunscreens on the market, here are 13 that make the list of dermatologist favorites.
Best sunscreen for the body
EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum 50+
SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen SPF 50
Best sunscreen for the face
EltaMD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+
COOLA Classic Face Organic Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Best sunscreen for men
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion SPF 50
Best sunscreen for sensitive skin
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Face Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 Body Lotion
TiZO3 Primer/Sunscreen Tinted SPF 40
Best sunscreen for oily or acne-prone skin
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil Free Sunscreen SPF 60
Neutrogena Clear Face Breakout Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen SPF 50
Best sweat-resistant sport sunscreen
Neutrogena Ultimate Sport Face Oil-Free Lotion Sunscreen SPF 70+
Coppertone Sport Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Best tinted mineral sunscreen
Alastin HyrdaTint Pro
Medically reviewed by Lucy L. Chen, MD
Written by Jessica Brown, a health and science writer/editor based in Nanuet, New York. She has written for Water’s Edge Dermatology, Prevention magazine, jnj.com, BCRF.org, and many other outlets.