Summer Skin Care

Trader Joe’s $6 Sunscreen Is the Skin Care Star of the Summer

Graphics: Well+Good Creative
It's a dreary, miserable day in New York City the first time I spray on Trader Joe's sunscreen. In early May, Consumer Reports awarded  TJ's $6 bargain buy a perfect score in the sunscreen category for its UVA and UVB protection. So we put it to the test. The Well+Good Test, if you will.

Why it's important to wear sunscreen every day

Applying SPF 24/7/365 (regardless of the weather) is what dermatologists recommend to protect against skin damage—even when the sun's hiding behind a foreboding cluster of stratus clouds. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, UV rays can cause harm year-round; on cloudy days, up to 80 percent can penetrate your skin. And even when you're staying inside all day, your skin isn't totally safe: Major damage can still be done through the windows. So, no, I'm not being overzealous when I spray Trader Joe's sunscreen on my arms and legs before getting dressed as usual and putting on my rain coat.

How to choose a sunscreen

Dermatologists agree: The "best" sunscreen is the one you'll wear every day. "Don't pick the one that smells good or looks good or that you like the way it's packaged, because those relationships aren't going to last. Instead, take the time to get to know the products," says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. "Make sure it fits into your lifestyle, because those are the products you'll use every day, and it will become a beautiful, long-lasting relationship."

There are two different options available when making the choice. First, there are mineral sunscreens, which use ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to create a physical protective barrier from the sun. These are best applied after your makeup, and tend to come with a white or skin-tinted cast depending on which formula you choose. There are also chemical sunscreens, which work by absorbing UV rays in order to prevent them from damaging your skin. "Chemical sunscreens are made up of chemicals that are absorbed into the skin, where they can absorb the UV rays and create a chemical reaction that changes the UV rays into heat and the heat is then released from the skin," says New York City board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD. You'll know you have a chemical blocker if the active ingredient is avobenzone, octinoxate, octocrylene, or homosalate. The Trader Joe's sunscreen falls into the latter category.

Trader Joe's Sunscreen review

Feel-wise, the sunscreen goes on a bit lighter than usual spray varieties. It's not too greasy, but it still has that second-skin, slightly sticky finish that stirs up summer camp nostalgia. The smell has nothing in common with that of your zip-lining, organized activity days. The spray bottle releases a citrusy, sun-soaked scent that leaves you smelling more like a margarita than a sandy eight-year-old.

It's not exactly up to par with sunscreens that feel like skincare, but it does take about half a second to apply. I know you'll be shocked—but I ended up making it home on my first, rainy trial day with the sunscreen sans burn. By the time I get home, I'm a tad bit sick of how the stuff has melted onto my skin, so I shower and shelf the bottle for a less rainy day.

A few weeks later, I got my chance on one of New York City's first 75 degree days. I packed up the Trader Joe's sunscreen and a good book and headed off to Central Park for an afternoon of lounging in the grass. Of course, all of us should always do our best not to chill in direct sunlight for any lengthy period of time. (The American Cancer Society recommends basking in the shade—not sun—especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.) So with my skin's health in mind, I find a spot in the park that lets me easily migrate between the sun's rays and the tree's cover.

The back of the bottle suggests I reapply at least every two hours, so just to be safe, I put a 90-minute timer on my phone to hold me accountable. As time ticks by and my skin maintains its normal hue of paler than Edward Cullen. Now, I can shop my usual Trader Joe's haul without making a separate drugstore stop for sunscreen. No sun damage for me.

For more intel on why it's critically important to wear sunscreen every day, check out the video below. 

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