In the past few years, I’ve become very, very into sun care and protection (like, aside from baseline SPF coverage). Ya girl is predisposed to get melanoma, and already got a couple biopsies and a pre-cancer growth removed. As such, I’ve spent quite a bit of time accumulating and testing out a variety of options around the world that’ll keep my skin healthy, safe, and cancer-free. AND—realizing some of my favorite sunscreens aren’t available in the US (thanks for nothing, FDA)—I decided to go on a domestic quest to find the best protective creams, sprays, and serums in every category, all available stateside.
The Best Sunscreens at a Glance
Overall Best: Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector Lotion SPF 50+ Sunscreen
Best Budget for Face: Australian Gold Botanical SPF 50, Tinted (Options Fair to Deep)
Best Budget for Body: Coppertone Complete Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50
Best Spray: Sun Bum SPF 70 Spray
Best Luxury: Eve Lom Daily Protection Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF Plus 50
Best for Dry Skin: Shiseido Urban Environment Fresh-Moisture Sunscreen SPF 42
Best for Oily Skin: Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46
Best for Sensitive Skin: Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+
Best Invisible: Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Best Chemical for Face: Neutrogena Hydro Boost City Shield Water Gel SPF 25
Best Primer: Dr. Jart + Cicapair Color Correcting Treatment SPF 30
Best Serum: Ilia C Beyond Triple Serum SPF 40
However! Because I’m not a dermatologist, I wanted to get an expert overview first. Also, I just want to note that I have fair skin. While these picks worked really well for me, just note that different skin tones and types (I have combination skin that's prone to hormonal acne) may have different needs. Be sure to also read reviews from other shoppers and make sure that, if you purchase an SPF product from this list, the retailer has a good return policy (most do) in the case the formula doesn't work out for your skin.
What To Look For in a Good Sunscreen
What makes a good sunscreen? There are several factors you’ll want to consider. SPF, or sun protection factor, is the number you’ll see on the label (how many minutes of protection). Then, there’s the key ingredient factor: Is it chemical or physical protection? What about application… is it a cream, gel, spray, or stick? Add that in with other skin-care benefits and ingredients, and there’s a whole lot to interpret when choosing the right sunblock for your face and body.
A lot of it comes down to personal preference, honestly. “The best sunscreen is a sunscreen that you use regularly and will re-apply in various situations,” says Christina Lee Chung, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Philadelphia, PA. This skin-care and sun protection expert has a variety on hand for different circumstances—and you might want to try that, too!
“I always apply a hydrating moisturizing cream with SPF in the morning (my go to is Shiseido Benefiance SPF 20), but if I’m going for a run or gardening, I’ll apply an extra layer of straight-up sunscreen out of a tube or bottle,” she says. “If I’ve broken a sweat and need to reapply, my go-tos are either a stick or spray. And if I’m getting pretty for a lunch or night out in the summer, I’ll dust myself with a powder with SPF. So no specific marker or metric, [as] there are so many variations out there. Just make sure to try out a bunch and pick the right one for you in any given situation!”
The Pros and Cons of Mineral vs. Chemical Sunscreens
There’s debate around this, but according to the expert, both are good options. The tl;dr version: mineral (sometimes called ‘physical’) sunscreens deflect UV rays by acting as an outer layer; chemical sunscreens absorb into your skin, then absorb UV rays so the damage can’t get to your cells.
“Mineral sunscreens are not absorbed by the skin,” says Dr. Chung, “but rather sit on top, so they speak to consumers who value organic, natural products, while the ingredients in chemical sunscreens are controversial, particularly oxybenzone—but there are no studies that show negative health effects when applied to the skin for sun protection.” The are definitely benefits to mineral sunscreens—as well as some drawbacks.“Because mineral sunscreens are inert and lay on top of the skin, they tend to produce fewer allergic and irritant reactions. But even the sheerest of mineral sunscreen can leave a slight cast on darker skin.”
If you prefer chemical sunscreens, that's okay, too. If you’re looking for something to melt in, “Chemical sunscreens are more easily formulated into products that are invisible on the skin which is great for skin of color,” she says, however, “They can cause skin irritation and even combine with the sun’s ray to create an allergic reaction.”
“I used to be firm believer in using only mineral sunscreens but, after talking skin health and beauty with persons of all colors almost every day for the past 20 years and following the data, I think it is imperative to debunk the myth that chemical sunscreens are somehow ‘bad’ or inferior to mineral sunscreens,” says Dr. Chung.
“It’s personal to me because I believe it is so important for persons of color to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen daily. There are so many skin conditions that we persons of color suffer from that can be prevented, treated, or ameliorated with daily sunscreen use. Importantly, we may not be as high-risk for skin cancer, but we absolutely can get it, and sunscreen is the first line of defense. And, frankly, there aren’t many mineral-only sunscreens that are skin of color friendly and perpetuating the myth that chemical sunscreens, which are easily formulated to blend into darker skin, are intrinsically harmful or inferior is a disservice to enormous swaths of the population who are susceptible to the deleterious effects of chronic sun exposure.”
About Those SPF Numbers
Aim for SPF 30—at least. More is more (but you can’t add the numbers together… SPF 15 layered on SPF 30 is still just SPF 30, not 45). “The absolute minimum is SPF 15 for daily use, [but] SPF 30 is ideal,” says Dr. Chung. “And I can’t stress enough the importance of re-application.”
What about SPF 100? She says “There is very little difference in protection at SPF numbers higher than 30, because no sunscreen affords full protection longer than a couple of hours.” The moral of this story: reapply.
Spray or Cream?
Doesn’t really matter. “No huge difference here,” says Dr. Chung. While most people prefer cream for the face, sunscreen sprays for the face can also be super useful for reapplication, particularly while playing sports, she says.
Best of the Best
“Ultimate” is no joke, this stuff is the GOAT. I put this to the test in double digit hours of direct sunlight in Hawaii (with sweat, saltwater, sand, wind, and agitated skin acting as an assault on my poor epidermis). And it protected me from all of it while acting like a gentle caress. Get you a girl who can do both! The consistency is like melted butter, but somehow not at all greasy on your skin. The scent is magical, the finish is velvety, the efficacy is *100 emoji*. Sprint to get this stuff ASAP. And if you’re wanting to check out even more from this sun-care-all-star, Dr. Chung says her personal favorite daily moisturizer is Shiseido’s Benefiance Wrinkle Smoothing Day Cream.
Best Budget Face SPF
Not only is this an incredible tinted (physical) SPF that acts as a high-protection BB cream, but for roughly $16 (for three ounces) this is also an unbelievable value. The feel on skin is delightful, it’s cruelty-free, and it comes in shades from fair to deep, comprising a spectrum of skin tones. Formulated with “Australian botanicals,” for antioxidants, it nourishes while it protects.
Best Budget Body SPF
This melt-in, subtly perfumed lotion felt like a budget option to the Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protector. The consistency was similar, the fragrance was lovely, there was no white cast (for me, personally), and pilling was minimal if not nonexistent.
Vying for best overall, this spray is affordable, effective, and has a high SPF. I have one of these in my car, in my beach bag, and in my front yard (in the shade), because IMHO, this is the BEST sunscreen spray. It’s loaded with vitamin E, so it feels great on your skin, but because it’s oil-free, it’s not greasy at all. It’s also water-resistant and reef-friendly, if you’re swimming in the ocean!
This one was one of my favorites (in fact, I have it on now!). No white cast, no strong fragrance, no reaction or burning on the skin (so gentle and soothing), and excellent protection with a dewy glow. But at just under $100 for 1.69oz, this is definitely a luxury buy, so this is certainly something to keep in mind in the current economy! Because you need about 0.4oz on your face per application, daily, this yields about 42 applications. Runner up for best luxury SPF was the Pot of Shade from Kypris ($75): While the formulation is beautiful, you’ll get about 23 applications of SPF 30 (the pot is a little less than one ounce), which is less economical.
Best for Dry Skin
Making the list twice because they’re that good—you also MUST check out Shiseido’s new facial SPFs, formulated with plenty of hyaluronic acid to keep your complexion hydrated (crucial for hot summer days!). Similar to Eve Lom, this one provides a dewy glow with no cast (for me, at least), and feels lovely as it melts into your visage (and it rings in at $38). There’s even an oil-free option, too!
Best for Oily Skin
This derm favorite is an ideal formulation for acne-prone and oily skin, and is formulated with niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and lactic acid to provide added benefits to blemish-prone skin. This is another option that has zero white cast, melts in easily to the skin, and is super lightweight.
Best for Sensitive Skin
A TikTok favorite, Blue Lizard’s sensitive skin formulation is powerful, yet gentle. It’s a water-resistant, sweat-resistant physical sunscreen that’s reef-safe and excellent for any kind of outdoor activity. And because it’s a sunscreen for sensitive skin, it’s fragrance free and paraben-free, and a pregnancy-safe sunscreen option, too.
Unless you’ve been blocked from internet access for the past five years, you’ve heard of Supergoop’s customer-fave chemical sunblock, Unseen Sunscreen. The clear formula becomes a velvety matte finish on your face, and because it’s unscented and lightweight, you won’t even know it’s there. Dr. Chung also loves Supergoop, and also recommends the Supergoop Glow Screen SPF 40 and Play Mist SPF 50.
Best Chemical for Face
This chemical sunblock feels like a fresh drink of water for your skin—the ultra hydrating hyaluronic acid feels like water seeping into your pores. It’s lightweight, has a light fragrance (which is enjoyable if your skin tolerates fragrance!), and makes a lovely ‘first application of the day’ option. Neutrogena has a ton of other great options as well, including Dr. Chung’s pick, Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Stick SPF 50.
For neutralizing redness, priming makeup, and more, this magical green cream is where it’s at. I’ve been using this on its own and under makeup for years; not only does it provide your baseline SPF 30, but minimizes the appearance of blemishes and any other unwanted redness. The green turns to a neutral beige, while centella asiatica (Tiger Grass) calms and soothes sensitized, irritated skin.
Best SPF Serum
Ilia’s latest serum performed well when I tested it out in Hawaii, and works on a variety of skin tones, thanks to its virtually imperceptible tint that serves to cancel out any white cast. It brightens the skin and blocks oxidants thanks to vitamin C, and with SPF 40, it provides generous protection.
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