Ask a pro—any pro—the one product that will make skin look better today, tomorrow, and to infinity and beyond and they’ll say: sunscreen. In addition to protecting skin against dangerous forms of cancer, sunscreen helps to guard complexions from many of the things we wish to erase with other products (hyperpigmentation, fine lines, perma-redness, and the list goes on). In fact over ninety percent (seriously: ninety!) of the signs of aging come from the sun’s rays. So, uh, can someone walk me through the best sunscreens by type, already?!
“Sunscreen is one of the simplest and most effective ways that you can protect yourself from cancer-causing ultraviolet radiation,” says Rachel Nazarian, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Sunscreens will also protect you against premature aging from UVA light, so it’s protection against wrinkles, enlarged pores, and sagging and uneven skin tone.” Given that SPF is such a powerful tool to keep the quality of your skin intact, you should really be wearing it 365, but in the summer, when the UV index (a metric of how strong the sun’s rays are) is highest, it’s a non-negotiable.
Here are some ground rules for how we picked these products: Editors chose SPFs of 30-plus (because derms say SPF 30 is the minimum level of protection you should wear on the reg). Where there were enough options, we separated out chemical filters from physical ones, so that you could see the best of each. Chemical filters such as avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene sink into the skin and work like a sponge to absorb the UV rays and release them as heat so that you don’t get burned. Physical filters, conversely, sit on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays back so that most rays don’t enter the skin at all.
As a beauty editors, we know what’s coming next: “But I don’t like the way sunscreen looks or feels on my skin.” Hogwash! These days, whether you like sprays, creams, mousses, sticks; whether you want a matte sunscreen or a glow-inducing one; whether you’re hunting for a zinc formula that blends imperceptibly or a chemical one that doesn’t feel sticky; whether you’re looking for something for your face or your body; or whether you’re acne-prone, dry, sensitive, or just plain picky, there is a sunscreen for you. It’s the golden age of SPF, and given that the best thing you could do is grab a tube and slather it on, look no further than this: The ultimate sunscreen for every preference type there is.
Best chemical body spray sunscreen
As refreshing as a paloma cocktail on the beach, this spray sunscreen (from the makers of the brand that made flavor water cool) is an editor pick year after year. The light grapefruit-scented spray goes onto skin, leaving behind a light sheen and sticks around for long runs around the park or long walks on the beach, if that’s more your thing.
2. MD solar sciences spray, $20
Spray sunscreens are easy to apply on the go, making them a top choice for those people who exercise outside. They feel light on skin and this one goes on without feeling sticky or like you have any sort of residue left on your skin. Spray, rub it in, wait for 15 minutes before you head outside and then you’re protected for up to two hours (don’t forget to reapply!).
A spritz of this cool-to-the-touch broad-spectrum SPF gives you invisible coverage without any of that greasy or sticky feeling. Your skin also reaps the benefits of skin-soothing chamomile, vitamins C and E, aloe vera, and cucumber extract for a truly refreshing sunscreen that’s easy to apply and light as air.
Best mineral body spray sunscreen
It’s traditionally been hard to formulate a mineral spray sunscreen (they have a rap for being super chalky), but the brand behind some of the best formulas in the business has mastered the feat. This one goes on almost sheer, and once it’s on skin and you smooth it in, it stays put and leaves behind an ever-so-soft scent of coconut.
The brand that makes beaches everywhere light up with its creamy tropical scent, this year, introduces a mineral spray that locks onto skin and stays put (even the sweatiest environments) for 80 minures. Derms like it because it protects and is gentle on skin. We like it because it mists onto your complexion and is a refreshing like a nice sea breeze. (If only!)
This reef-safe spray is a perfect companion for days spent at the beach. We like it because the SPF 50 mineral protection doesn’t feel like it’s caked onto skin. Bonus points for Australian botanicals like kakadu plum, eucalyptus, and red algae that offer up extra antioxidant protection to help keep skin guarded from free radical damage, as well.
Best chemical body lotion sunscreen
1. NEUTROGENA HYDRO BOOST SPF 30, $11
The Hydro Boost line of skin-care products is renowned for its lightweight textures, packed with hyaluronic acid, that all feel like a giant splash of water on your skin, and the SPF lotion is no different. It’s a gel texture that feels more like a beefed-up body serum. We’re in love.
During the summer months, a good body sunscreen not only has to protect against sun damage, but it’s also gotta stand up to sweat. This stuff does it all, and actually becomes stronger when exposed to heat and water. Proprietary technology activates when your skin becomes hot or wet—two things you’re guaranteed to be all the time from June through September, and adds an extra shield of defense from UV rays.
Reap the benefit of super-high SPF coverage with the creamiest body milk, which you can snag at the drugstore. It absorbs lightning fast, without a trace except for the moisturized feeling you’ll have on your skin. Write a thank you note to the formula’s nourishing ingredients including antioxidants and glycerin which make skin feel super soft.
Best mineral body lotion sunscreen
Of all of the cool sunscreen technology out there (and believe us there is plenty), we’re big fans of this bottle because it turns blue, when harmful UV light is present, reminding you to reapply. It’s water resistant for up to 40 minutes (less than other sport SPFs that tout 80) so don’t forget to slather it on frequently if you’re splashing around. It’s easy to apply and sinks in quickly so you’ll be back to water in no time.
This creamy mineral-based sunscreen has garnered hundreds of five-star reviews for being gentle and effective for all skin types (even those who are acne-prone). It’s got zinc oxide as a physical blocker, plus fruit extracts for added antioxidants, all of which work together as a trusty sun shield.
For invisible defense against the sun’s harmful rays, this fully mineral-based sunscreen sinks seamlessly into all skin tones for coverage that you don’t even feel. Though the Clinique lotion is marketed for the body, it’s totally safe for the face as well, and people with the most sensitive skin types love it for being uber gentle.
Best body mousse sunscreen
There’s something novel about slathering your skin with a product that looks and feels like whipped cream—especially when that whipped cream offers UV and antioxidant protection. This chemical SPF 50 is ultra-lightweight and fast absorbing, which means that it won’t leave skin greasy, goopy, or with a white caste. It offers eight hour hydration and nourishes skin with vitamin E, and feels so good it will make re-applying something you actually look forward to doing every two hours.
If ever you’ve questioned the fact that putting on sunscreen is a part of your self-care routine, this body butter ought to convince you once and for all. Its whipped texture and nutty fragrance make putting it on feel nothing short of a luxury. The mineral formula is made with both zinc and titanium dioxide, and SPF 45 provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
Though this sunscreen is technically for kids, it’s got everything to keep adult skin protected, too. In addition to chemical broad-spectrum UV protection, it’s made with a proprietary ingredient that’s purported to boost your skin’s own defenses against radiation that prevents oxidative stress to reduce premature photo-aging. It’s the type of product that the entire family will want to share.
Best sunscreen sticks
The sports stick that runners everywhere keep in their back pocket to apply on the go, we’re big fans of this mineral formula because it’s easy to swipe on the face and with 80 minutes of water resistance, it’ll stand up to the sweatiest workouts.
The avocado of sunscreens, there’s no one in the family who won’t like this SPF 30. It goes on easily, without leaving behind a sticky finish, and it blends seamlessly into skin so that you can swipe it quickly onto hard to reach spots (like the corners of the eyes and tops of the ears) when wiggly kids or non-compliant family members protest.
This brand’s famous bum-bum cream made showers everywhere smell like a day at a Brazilian beach, and this stick brings that same delicious scent while making sure that you won’t get burned. The chemical SPF 50 is easy to apply, just make sure to apply two coats to your skin so you have adequate protection, say derms (that goes for all sticks, BTW).
Best mineral face lotion sunscreens
Mineral sunscreen has traditionally been associated with a matte finish, but this stuff will give you anything but. Thanks to hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and ceramides, it offers the same dewy glow that you’d expect from a moisturizer, and hydrates your skin as you wear it. It’s lightly tinted to blend into any skin tone, and offers the recommended daily dose of SPF 30.
This chemical-mineral hybrid gets name-checked by derms every single day of the week. It goes on without leaving behind a white cast on skin, and genuinely leaves skin better than before. Spiked with sodium hyaluronate, this SPF smooths and hydrates skin at once, and at least half of our editors use it daily to protect against the sun’s rays.
As the last step in your skin-care routine, this mineral ‘screen provides multi-layer protection while also evening your skin tone with its subtle tint. In addition to mineral SPF 30 to keep UV rays at bay, it’s got an alphabet’s worth of vitamins (A, B, C, and D, to be exact), plus turmeric extract and French rice germ to fend off damage from pollution and blue light.
Best chemical face lotion sunscreens
Within a month of its launch, this product has found itself at the top of many beauty lovers’ lists of desert island products (read: they can’t live without it). Positioned perfectly between skin care and makeup, it gives your complexion an opalescent finish that makes it look fresh from a facial. You can wear it underneath makeup as a primer or on its own—either way, you’ll be left with glassy skin that’s protected all day with SPF 40. And thanks to hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5, you’ll be naturally hydrated and glowing long after you wipe it off.
The fact that this face SPF (one of our favorite of the tested ‘screens) only costs nine bucks is the kind of good news we need right now. It’s got an oil-free formula that quickly sinks into skin, and with antioxidants packed alongside chemical filters, it’s helpful to wear whether you’re staring at a computer or out onto the deep blue. It’s SPF is 50, but wear this one 365.
There are a lot of sunscreens out there that call themselves “invisible,” but this one is the real deal. Its water-gel formula goes on sheer (it’s a chemical SPF, so that should always be the case) and it doesn’t leave behind grease (harder with a chemical formula, and isn’t always the case). It was designed specifically for wearing under makeup, and acts as a perfect primer for whatever color cosmetics you decide to layer on on top.
Best mineral face fluid sunscreens
While sunscreen tends to be a beach bag staple, many of us are still skipping out on the stuff for every day use. This product was designed for all of those non-beach days, when you’re walking (or driving) around the city with the sunshine on your face. In addition to offering broad-spectrum SPF 50 from zinc and titanium oxides, it’s packed with antioxidants, iron oxides, and polymers to act as a “second skin” that keeps environmental pollutants (looking at you, NYC subway grates) from doing any damage.
Traditionally, “lightweight” and “mineral SPF” have been mutually exclusive terms, but this stuff proves you can get both in a single product. It combines zinc oxide and titanium dioxide with thermal spring water, which soothes skin and gives the serum its fluid texture. Designed with sensitive skin in mind, it’s the perfect pick for anyone prone to irritation.
Like a glossy skin-bettering serum, the microfine zinc oxide and titanium dioxide go on and help to ever-so-slightly even skin tone while also delivering antioxidant protection. Our editors like it because it feels weightless under makeup, but if you’re more laissez faire, wear it alone with brushed up brows and and ever-so-slight tint on lips that screams summer has arrived.
Best chemical face fluid sunscreens
The cult-favorite makeup brand has a brand-new SPF-skin-care hybrid: the Sheer Flesh Hydrating SPF Serum, which truly functions as a light but fully moisturizing serum and an SPF 35. It’s spiked with fruit-derived antioxidants for added nourishment and brightness to the skin, and can even replace your primer. Through-and-through, it’s a multitasking must-have.
There’s nothing better than playing cosmetic chemist in your bathroom: A dab of serum here, a dollop of moisturizer there. With these booster drops, you can level up that skill. Meant to be layered on anytime in your routine, we like to cocktail them with a tinted moisturizer or foundation to amp up protection, while applying makeup.
The milky fluid Dr. Jart+ SPF goes on like a lightweight serum, making it easy to spread and to blend. It plays nicely with the rest of your routine, whether you’re reapplying over makeup or prepping your skin for foundation.
Best tinted sunscreens
Celebrity dermatologist Dennis Gross, MD, has formulated a winner with his tinted SPF: It’s mineral-based, full-spectrum, and can replace your go-to BB or CC cream, your foundation, and even your concealer because of its ability to hide redness and dark spots. It gives you really solid sun protection and provides a dewy finish that color corrects and evens out your complexion.
What doesn’t Tiffany Masterson do right? The Drunk Elephant tinted face lotion blends well into all different skin tones and works for multiple skin types at once. It blurs spots and breakouts much like a BB cream, but it’s giving you zinc oxide-based sun protection, antioxidant-rich algae extract, and sunflower sprout extract to fend off free radical damage.
Allergan, the brand behind many of the go-to in-office procedures at your derm’s office, is the parent brand to this seriously good SPF, concocted for post-procedure vulnerable skin. While it was once only available at your local MD, so many people clamored for it that you can now find it online. We like it because it has dries with an almost powdery finish that makes applying anything after it a breeze.
Best powder sunscreens
This mineral-based powder lightly dusts sun protection all over as it feeds your skin antioxidants and combats pollution damage (thanks to calcified red algae). The formula’s safe for all skin types, and you can choose the type of coverage you want—from your shade to whether you want a matte or a shimmery finish.
2. Brush on Block SPF 30, $32
You’ll easily apply (and reapply) with this brush that provides protection against UVA, UVB, and blue light ray damage. The brush goes on silky-smooth for a soft finish on the skin, and works well to take down mid-day shine, in a pinch.
An even dusting of this broad-spectrum, mineral-based sunscreen powder infuses your complexion with nourishing antioxidants (that also further protect from outdoor and indoor pollution), jojoba butter for added hydration, and a radiant glow via light-reflecting mica. It’s also got a tint to it for added coverage.
Best sunscreen scalp sprays
This stuff is basically beach hair in a bottle. Not only does it smell like the ocean, but it’s made with monoi oil to nourish your scalp and strands without leaving them greasy or sticky thanks to the fact that it comes out in a fine, lightweight mist. Chemical filters will protect your scalp from sun damage, and keep color from fading no matter how many hours you’re spending outside.
There’s something to be said about a scalp spray that evokes murmurs of, “that is *so* chic” every time you pull it out of your beach bag. What’s really special about this product, though, is that it’s skin care, scalp care, and sun protection together in a single bottle. It’s got antioxidant-packed green tea leaf extract to protect against free radical damage, plus a blend of red algae and vitamins C and E that firms and smooths skin on both the face and scalp. And of course, there’s the fact that it’s sunscreen and water resistant for 80 minutes. When you spray it on, there’s a fine, delicate mist that will refresh your face and hair instead of gunking it up.
A single spritz of this sunscreen on the top of your head will mentally transport you to a tropical island vacation. The SPF 30 comes from chemical filters and is equally protective to your strands as it is to your scalp. It will help keep your hair from changing color or drying out in the sun, an important plus for anyone who’s seen their fair share of chemical treatments. You can use it all day long without ever having to worry about your scalp getting greasy, and sunflower seed oil will help nourish strands after a long day at the beach or pool.
Best makeup sunscreens
In recent years, the lines between makeup and skin care have become increasingly blurred, and this recently released SPF-foundation hybrid is among the best of the best—it’s as if you’ve taken three steps of your routine and put them together in a single bottle. The weightless serum offers SPF 40 coverage by way of non-nano zinc oxide, which will protect from UVA, UVB, and UVC rays, plus blue and infrared light. It’s made with hyaluronic acids, squalane, and niacinamide, which will hydrate and soothe skin, and comes in 18 different shades.
There’s a reason that this product is a cult-fave in the beach bag of those in the know. The lips are an often unprotected point on the face (and if you’ve ever accidentally tasted some SPF, you’ll know why), which is why lip products are so important year round. While many of us are protecting the bottoms of our faces with masks this year, we can’t miss an opportunity to tell you about this guy. In addition to keeping collagen from degrading around the lip area, this one actually nourishes and fills in those pesky crinkles that come when you’ve been in the sun too long. There’s a tint for everyone out there, but we’re big fans of Simply Rose, which leaves a perfect summer flush behind.
Your eyelids are one of the areas of your face that are most prone to sunburn, yet they’re also the spot that most of us tend to overlook when applying SPF. To make things worse, wearing eyeshadow can up the potential burn factor even further with reflective pigments. Supergoop! came up with a genius fix for this issue with the launch of their Shimmershades, which look like your regular old eyeshadow (albeit very pretty and shimmery) but also offer SPF 30. The zinc oxide and octisalate mix comes in three shades—fawn, gold, and bronze—each of which will make you genuinely excited to slather sunscreen on your eyelids for the first time ever.
Oh, you’re looking for *more* intel about SPF? We’ve got that, straight from a derm in the video below:
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