Best Sunscreen – Reviews & Buying Guide
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Best Sunscreen – Reviews & Buying Guide (June 2019)

Updated: March 10, 2019

Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen

After 40 hours spent researching the best sunscreens, we think Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen is the best for most people.

This choice is based on several criteria: SPF, type, quantity, UVA protection, UVB protection, fragrance, application area, water resistant, skin type, active ingredients, oil free, paraben free, antioxidants, protects against, and ideal use.

 ProductPriceOverall RatingQualityEfficiencyDurabilityScentValue for MoneySPFtypequantityUVA protectionUVB protectionfragranceapplication areawater resistantskin typeactive ingredientsoil freeparaben freeantioxidantsprotects againstideal use
Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 SunscreenObagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 SunscreenCheck Price4.95.05.05.04.55.050Lotion3 ozYesYesFragrance freeFace, body40 minsOily, dry skinZinc oxide, octinoxateNot specifiedYesYesSkin cancer, sunburn, skin agingBeach, pool, camping, outdoor activities
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk SPF 60 SunscreenLa Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk SPF 60 SunscreenCheck Price4.85.04.54.55.05.060Lotion5 ozYesYesFragrance freeFace, body80 minsOily, dry skinAvobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocryleneYesYesYesSkin cancer, sunburn, skin agingBeach, pool, camping, outdoor activities
EltaMD UV Clear Facial Broad Spectrum SPF 46 SunscreenEltaMD UV Clear Facial Broad Spectrum SPF 46 SunscreenCheck Price4.65.04.04.54.55.046Lotion1.7 ozYesYesFragrance freeFaceNoAcne-prone skinZinc oxideYesYesYesSkin cancer, sunburn, skin agingBeach, pool, camping, outdoor activities
SPF Rx Ultra Clear UV Moisturizer Lotion SPF 50 SunscreenSPF Rx Ultra Clear UV Moisturizer Lotion SPF 50 SunscreenCheck Price4.44.54.04.54.54.550Lotion1.7 ozYesYesFragrance freeFace80 minsMature, sensitive, oilyZinc oxide, hyaluronic acidNot specifiedYesYesSkin cancer, sunburn, skin agingBeach, pool, camping, outdoor activities
Coppertone SPORT Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 SunscreenCoppertone SPORT Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 SunscreenCheck Price4.24.04.04.04.54.550Lotion7 ozYesYesWith fragranceFace, body80 minsMature, sensitive, oilyNot specifiedNot specifiedYesYesSkin cancer, sunburn, skin agingBeach, pool, camping, outdoor activities
Best Sunscreen

The best sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s harmful UV radiation.

It should be so easy to use that you reach for it as if it’s second nature – whether you’re hanging out at the beach or heading to the office.

Available in a wide variety of creams, sprays and lotions, sunscreen gives you peace of mind as you build sandcastles, lie on your beach towel enjoying the ocean breeze or get frustrated pitching the beach tent.

If you’re wondering what is the best sunscreen to use, you’ll want to look for one with an effective sun protection factor, or SPF. Though most people believe SPF is related to how long you can stay in the sun before burning, it actually tells you how much protection you get from the sun’s UVB rays.

It’s also important to look at the sunscreen’s formula. Two types of sunscreen exist; mineral and chemical. Considered safer, mineral formulas sit on your skin and reflect rays. The best mineral sunscreen contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Chemical formulas absorb radiation and rub in easier but may contain harmful ingredients.

A beach table and chairs along with a big beach cooler for snacks and drinks are nice-to-have options, but sunscreen is not optional. Sunscreen is the only protection that can keep your skin safe from the sun’s dangerous UV rays; a sun hat or large beach umbrella secured with a beach umbrella anchor are just not enough.

Just remember to apply 20-30 minutes before grabbing your beach ball and heading outside and be sure to reapply every 90 minutes and immediately after any exposure to water.

Selection Of The Best Sunscreens

Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen

Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen
(rated 4.9 / 5)
Quality
Efficiency
Durability
Scent
Value for Money
Check Price

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk SPF 60 Sunscreen

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk SPF 60 Sunscreen
(rated 4.8 / 5)
Quality
Efficiency
Durability
Scent
Value for Money
Check Price

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Broad Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Broad Spectrum SPF 46 Sunscreen
(rated 4.6 / 5)
Quality
Efficiency
Durability
Scent
Value for Money
Check Price

SPF Rx Ultra Clear UV Moisturizer Lotion SPF 50 Sunscreen

SPF Rx Ultra Clear UV Moisturizer Lotion SPF 50 Sunscreen
(rated 4.4 / 5)
Quality
Efficiency
Durability
Scent
Value for Money
Check Price

Coppertone SPORT Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen

Coppertone SPORT Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen
(rated 4.2 / 5)
Quality
Efficiency
Durability
Scent
Value for Money
Check Price

Best Sunscreen Buying Guide

SPF Rating

SPF ratings tell you how much protection you’ll get from UVB rays. SPF 15 blocks 93%, SPF 30 blocks 97% SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 100 blocks 99%. Nothing blocks 100% of UVB rays. Anything below SPF 15 protects against sunburn only, not skin cancer or skin aging.

Remember these sunscreen rating guidelines: SPF 15 is the minimum recommended amount for any sun exposure and ratings above 50 are basically meaningless. For foolproof protection, get a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

UVB/UVA Protection

Penetrating skin at deeper levels, UVA rays cause premature skin aging and are present all year during the daytime. UVB rays are the main cause of sunburns. These rays are shorter and their intensity varies by location, season and even time of day.

All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, but both UVB and UVA rays have been associated with cancer and both types of the sun’s rays should be avoided. To make sure you have maximum protection against both, the best sunscreen for body coverage is a broad-spectrum formula.

What Are You Using it For?

Applying sun protection lotion daily is a good idea, whether at the beach or just going to work. Find lightweight formulas that absorb quickly, are comfortable and don’t make your complexion appear ghostly.

If you’re super active and will be outside working up a sweat, the best sport sunscreen will have a high SPF, be water resistant and also won’t drip. Whether you’re relaxing under the sun in beach sandals or inside the house in flip flops, UV rays can find you.

Does it Have Added Fragrance

Because sunscreen may be a lotion or spray, it’s natural for a lot of people to look for formulas that have nice scents, like every other lotion you probably have. This is not the product that you want to have a fragrance though.

Besides being completely unnecessary, the real issue here is that it can trigger allergies or sting your eyes. The best sunscreen lotion will be fragrance-free, especially if you plan on sweating or swimming a lot that day.

Water Resistant

No day at the beach is complete without splashing around in the waves, so making sure your sunscreen is working in the water is important. The best sunscreen for beach days full of swimming is going to be water resistant.

There is no such thing as waterproof or sweat-proof sunscreen though, and companies aren’t allowed to claim otherwise. Any water resistant sunscreen lasts either 40 or 80 minutes, and you’ll need to reapply after you dry off or after the time specified.

Oil Free

Often natural oils are added to sunscreen in order to make the texture smoother and the formula more hydrating. Though this may be ideal for those with dry skin, the best sunscreen for oily acne prone skin will be free of any oils.

Besides being ideal for just about every skin type, oil free products balance your skin, absorb much faster and moisturize your skin without clogging any pores. Options without oil often contain alcohol but it’s possible to find alcohol free as well.

Paraben Free

Parabens can be hard to spot because there are so many different names, but usually contain “ethyl”, “methyl” and “butyl” to name a few.

Found in many skin products, parabens extend the shelf life of sunscreen but they have been linked with disrupting hormones, as they can mimic estrogen and end up being stored in your kidneys and liver. One in particular, butyl paraben, has been connected to coral reef bleaching and a growing number of companies are leaving them out of their formulas.

Skin Type

Comfort is important when it comes to sunscreen, especially if you are wearing it daily and your skin type goes a long way in determining the consistency and texture that works for you.

Those with dry skin will appreciate something smooth and creamy that moisturizes the skin and should avoid products with alcohol. Oily skin does best with a lightweight formula that has a matte finish. Darker complexions should look for chemical formulas as they absorb without leaving a residue.

Smooth and Easy Application

It doesn’t matter if it’s a thick, hydrating cream or a light, matte gel, the way you apply sunscreen matters just as much as the kind you choose. It’s important that any type you choose can easily be applied to the skin and rubbed in.

There’s nothing worse than sunscreen that takes forever to absorb into the skin or dribbles its way out the tube. Look for formulas that smoothly apply, are fast absorbing or fast drying and a finish that is non-greasy.

Area of Application

Facial skin is more delicate and often requires a formula that is more sensitive. The best sunscreen for face protection is non greasy, lightweight and specifically designed for your face. You’ll lower your chances of breakouts and skin irritation.

Try a light SPF mist to protect your hair without weighing it down and if you want to get to those hard to reach areas, like under bathing suit straps, a sunscreen stick easily glides on without making a mess or requiring two hands.

Sensitive Skin

For babies and kids, it is important to find a gentle formula that protects the skin so they can play with their beach toys all day long with no worries. Mineral formulas are recommended as they are less likely to cause breakouts, rashes or other types of allergic reactions.

A hypoallergenic option that contains zinc oxide will be the best baby sunscreen. It is also a good idea to make sure you find a formula that doesn’t contain alcohol or scents.

Type of Sunscreen

There are many kinds of sunscreens to choose from and each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Though it seems the best sunscreen for kids may be sprays due to the ease of application, they are flammable and the ingredients can be inhaled.

Lotions and milks are cheap and non-drying, but tend to be greasy. Gels are alcohol based and may dry your skin. Avoid sprays and powders because they contain harmful particles that can enter your bloodstream, causing health issues.

Non-Active Ingredients

It is not uncommon for formulas to contain ingredients that enhance the texture, smell or application. Formulas with shea butter and olive oil nourish and moisturize the skin. Some sunscreens contain insect repellant, but this combination is usually about one-third less effective and it needs to be reapplied more often.

An ingredient to avoid is retinol (also listed as Vitamin A), an inactive ingredient that has been linked to skin tumors and lesions when it is exposed to the sun.

Active Ingredients

Actually responsible for providing protection from the sun, some ingredients are better than others. Additives like oxybenzone, octisalate and PABA are suspected to disrupt hormones and add to ecological problems, coral reefs specifically. Labels like “reef friendly” or “reef-safe” are terms not regulated by the FDA.

The best sunscreen for adults and children will contain zinc and titanium. These are the key ingredients to look for because they provide a wide spectrum of protection and don’t breakdown when exposed to the sun.

Antioxidants

The sidekick to the superhero that is your sunscreen, antioxidants defend your skin by neutralizing the effects of UV rays that make it past your sun protection lotion. Free radicals are triggered by environmental influences like dust and pollution, but anti-aging antioxidants help protect skin. This is especially important for those living in cities.

There is no best antioxidant, but common ones include Vitamin C, Vitamin E, green tea and ferulic acid. The best sunscreen will have antioxidants included for greater defense against sun damage.

Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen
Our pick for the best sunscreen is: Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen. This choice was made after spending 39 hours researching sunscreens.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much sunscreen do I need to apply?

There are many people who look at sunscreen as a necessary evil, but if you plan on lounging in a beach chair in the sun, it’s going to be an integral part of your day.

One ounce of product is the amount needed for an adult. A good rule to keep in mind is you’ll need one teaspoon for each body part exposed to the elements. Apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before heading outside and then reapply every 90-120 minutes.

Can I use my old sunscreen?

Though many people don’t realize it, sunscreen has an expiration date just like most products. You should always check the label, looking for the date which should be listed on the bottle.

If you’ve found a bottle in the dark corner of your beach bag, most bottles tend to last 12 – 18 months. If it’s been stored in direct sunlight, the expiration date will be reduced. Expired products may contain bacteria, but it may also be ineffective at protecting you from the sun.

Should I use mineral or chemical sunscreen for my baby?

Chemical sunscreens aren’t so clear. It is unknown if they are safe enough to use on young children and it’s barely known how safe they are for adults, with some research suggesting some ingredients are potentially harmful.

Mineral sunscreens, sometimes referred to as physical sunscreens, have active ingredients that are, you guessed it, minerals. They sit on top of the skin and reflect rays. These are safe to use on babies but may leave residue behind on the skin.

What factors increase the need for sunscreen?

Sunscreen should be a part of your daily skin routine, but some factors do make it more of a necessity for some people. Kids have skin that is thinner and more sensitive than adults and any damage sustained increases the risk of long-term problems later in life.

For those with sensitive skin, particularly infants and toddlers, a sun protection product should always be applied before stepping out on the beach – regardless of the time of day. Even early morning light reflecting off the water can burn.

Is spray sunscreen actually dangerous?

While you’re lying on your beach mat, you don’t want your children digging into the beach cart looking for the sunscreen spray because they are more likely to inhale the ingredients which can cause respiratory problems.

Mostly, sprays are known for encouraging too little sunscreen being applied to the skin, as it is easy to believe enough has been used as your kids hurriedly throw their water shoes on and race toward the ocean. Sprays aren’t bad, but should only be used by adults.

Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen
Our pick for the best sunscreen is: Obagi Sun Shield Matte Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen. This choice was made after spending 39 hours researching sunscreens.

Sources

  1. Sun Safety - Skin Cancer, CDC, Jun 25, 2018
  2. Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun, U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Oct 24, 2018
  3. How does sunscreen work?, Library of Congress,
  4. Sun Safety, United States Environmental Protection Agency,
  5. Sunscreens., National Institutes of Health, 2014
  6. Sun protection, MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, Jul 25, 2017
  7. Sunscreen Chemical Threatens Coral Reefs, National Ocean Service, Feb 12, 2014
  8. The science of sunscreen, Harvard Health, Jul 1, 2018
  9. Best sunscreen: Understand sunscreen options, Mayo Clinic, Jul 07, 2018
  10. How Much SPF Do You Need In Your Sunscreen?, UT News, Jun 06, 2018

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