12 Best Sunscreens to Protect Your Skin

Image of woman applying sunscreen
With winter nearly behind us and recent FDA announcements about sunscreen safety, there’s more talk (and confusion!) around SPF than ever before. But one thing is for sure: It’s extremely important to wear it regularly. At the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, we test the best sunscreens and SPFs and consult top dermatologists to find the best sunblock to keep your skin protected, healthy, and youthful all year long. In the GH Beauty Lab’s most recent test, our chemists evaluated 61 body sunscreens. And since we know sunscreen isn’t one-size-fits-all, first, we surveyed over 5,500 people in our consumer panel to get insights into the qualities they actually care about when it comes to sun protection. Based on our findings, we chose products with different active ingredients (chemical, mineral, and pure zinc oxide formulas), along with different forms, from creamy and lightweight lotions to easy-to-use sunscreen sprays. After narrowing the field to the top 24 sunscreens, we enlisted the help of 580 consumer testers across the country. Each person was asked to use a label-masked product at least two times over the course of a week and give us their honest feedback. After reviewing over 12,000 responses, our experts narrowed in on the top-performing picks. Here are the best sunscreens according to the GH Beauty Lab experts and dermatologists: Best Overall Sunscreen: Hawaiian Tropic AntiOxidant+ Sunscreen Lotion Best Value Sunscreen: Banana Boat Ultra Sport Lotion Best Sunscreen Spray: Ocean Potion Suncare Sport Continuous Spray Best Sunscreen for Face: Julep No Excuses Invisible Facial Sunscreen Gel Best Value Sunscreen for Face: YourGoodSkin SPF 30 Anti-Oxidant Day Cream Best Mineral Sunscreen: MDSolarSciences Mineral Moisture Defense Best Value Mineral Sunscreen: Australian Gold Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion Best Zinc Oxide Sunscreen: Colorescience Sunforgettable Total Protection Body Shield Best Value Zinc Oxide Sunscreen: Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion Best Non-Greasy Sunscreen: Kiehl’s Activated Sun Protector Water-Light Lotion Most Effective Sunscreen: Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Lotion Best Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin: Coola Classic Body Sunscreen Guava Mango Before we explain just why these are the best sunscreens on the market, let’s answer some of your most burning questions about SPF: What is the best sunscreen? Simply put, the best sunscreen is the one you and your family actually use! We recommend finding one you love and sticking with it. Aside from the brand or SPF level, there are two types of sunscreens to pick from: ones with chemical or mineral active ingredients. Chemical sunscreens are likely the type you’re most familiar with already. They absorb harmful UV rays before they reach your skin. While these lotions and sprays are easier to apply with no white residue, you will need to reapply more often than you would with a physical option. Mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) form a barrier on your skin that reflects or filters UVA and UVB rays. The dispersed zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide formulas can be more difficult to spread on your skin and leave behind white cast, but usually last longer than chemical formulas. What SPF do dermatologists recommend? “We recommend SPF 30 and up to all of our patients,” says Dr. David Lortscher, board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. “Our tests have shown that people apply about one-third the amount of sunscreen necessary to achieve the SPF listed on the label,” says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D., who recommends using at least broad-spectrum SPF 50 to compensate. Make sure to look for a water-resistant, broad spectrum formula to protect against both harmful UVA/UVB rays and reapply at least every two hours. One thing is for sure: You really should not rely on an SPF lower than 30. “Remember, sunscreen isn’t a complete block — no matter what the SPF is,” says Dr. Lortscher. “SPF 30 filters 96.7% of UV rays, meaning it allows 3.3% to reach skin,” explains Steven Q. Wang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. To cut down on sun damage, dermatologists recommend layering on clothing, hats, sunglasses, and seeking refuge in shady spots between peak UV exposure hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. How long does SPF last? SPF can stand up to water and sweat, but only for a certain amount of time. While the FDA previously allowed sunscreens to be labeled water- and sweat-proof, regulations now mandate they can be labeled only water- and sweat-resistant for up to 40 or 80 minutes. That’s because no sunscreen is completely impervious to water and sweat, just as no sunscreen can totally “block” the sun’s rays. And yes, you should wear sunscreen every single day of the year. That’s because harmful UV rays can easily penetrate windows and clouds year-round, which means your skin can be damaged in the middle of the winter through your car’s windshield, through the windows at the gym, at work, and on an airplane. An important note on sunscreen safety: The FDA is currently proposing big changes to sunscreen regulations, and only physical sunscreens with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are recognized as generally safe right now. As of now, the FDA is advising that “Americans should continue to use sunscreen with other sun protective measures as this important rule-making effort moves forward.” Our experts agree: “Until they reach a more robust conclusion in 2020, we’re including a range of formulas (both mineral and chemical) that we’ve found to be effective against sunburn during our testing,” explains Aral. “These picks also earned positive feedback with consumer testers, so you won’t mind reapplying every 2 hours.” Now that you’ve got the lowdown, check out some top-tested sunscreen formulas from our Beauty Lab: 1 BEST OVERALL SUNSCREEN AntiOxidant+ Sunscreen Lotion HAWAIIAN TROPIC The winner of our Beauty Lab’s most recent sunscreen test, this pick from Hawaiian Tropic excelled across the board in our evaluations, earning perfect scores for not drying or irritating skin. One tester said it even stayed put during a run and didn’t burn her eyes. Plus, at just $1.50 per ounce, it’s less than half the average price of other products we looked at. Testers also liked that it didn’t feel tacky or greasy on their skin and absorbed well with no white residue. Its beachy scent was also total crowd-pleaser, even with testers who tend to be especially critical about scent. Overall, it earned the highest score for scent of all the products we looked at and was the only one that get an overwhelming Like! from nearly everyone who tried it. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 2 BEST VALUE SUNSCREEN Ultra Sport Lotion BANANA BOAT Not only were testers were most satisfied with this sunscreen, it’s the best value among top performers at less than $0.90 per ounce. Banana Boat’s lotion clinched the top spot for the best texture and came in as a close second in nearly every other category. It absorbed quickly, didn’t leave skin feeling dry, wasn’t irritating (even around eyes), and once it was rubbed in completely, left no white residue. Testers especially liked that the bottle’s slightly curved shape made it super-easy to dispense sunscreen even with slippery hands. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 3 BEST SUNSCREEN SPRAY Suncare Sport Continuous Spray OCEAN POTION If you prefer spray sunscreen, this one from Ocean Potion clinched the top spot in our evaluations and was one of the easiest to apply. It also checks all the other boxes you want in a great sunscreen, like not drying or irritating skin, leaving no white residue or stains on clothing, and rinsing off easily. Not to mention, it’s also the most affordable spray! Some testers did say it felt slightly greasy and sticky on their skin, so you may need to give it a little extra time to absorb. Good to know: The lemony scent was polarizing among our testers, some loved it and others found it too tropical-smelling. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Spray SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minute 4 BEST SUNSCREEN FOR FACE No Excuses Invisible Facial Sunscreen Gel This Julep sunscreen is lightweight and super-easy to apply with no white cast or greasy feeling left behind, which makes it perfect for everyday use on your face. This excelled in our Beauty Lab tests earning perfect scores for not running into or stinging eyes and not causing breakouts. A true universal product, we found it performed well on all skin types from dry to oily and all skin tones from fair to dark. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 40 broad spectrum Water Resistance: Not water resistant 5 BEST VALUE SUNSCREEN FOR FACE SPF 30 Anti-Oxidant Day Cream YOURGOODSKIN In our Beauty Lab’s recent test, YourGoodSkin tied for the highest score when it came to leaving testers’ skin hydrated. One even said the chemical formula felt more like a moisturizer than a sunscreen! It also earned the highest score for scent thanks to its fresh, light fragrance which wasn’t overpowering. This is a great everyday option since you can layer the sunscreen under makeup without worrying about it interfering with your usual products. We found it didn’t irritate skin, cause breakouts or leave behind a white cast. A few testers with oily skin said it did leave a slight residue that added some unwanted shine, but that was easily covered when they applied the rest of their makeup. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Ratings: 30 broad spectrum Water Resistance: Not water resistant 6 BEST MINERAL SUNSCREEN Mineral Moisture Defense SPF 50 MDSOLARSCIENCES This mineral pick from MDSolarSciences is a two-time Beauty Lab test winner. Overall, it provided ample protection for those who prefer a mineral/physical sunscreen and don’t mind paying the extra price for it. Testers loved that it didn’t leave a white tint “like all of the other physical (non-chemical) sunscreens [they] have used.” This silicone-based formula goes on silky, but has a tendency to separate in the tube when it’s hot, so remember to give it a shake before use. Active Type: Mineral sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 7 BEST VALUE MINERAL SUNSCREEN Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion AUSTRALIAN GOLD Mineral sunscreens don’t have to break the bank: This one earned top marks in our tests for less than half the price of other top-performing mineral options. “It applies smoothly, left little residue, and didn’t make me feel too tacky,” said a tester, who is allergic to chemical options. Caveat: This one may not feel greasy, but it does leave behind a bit of a white cast, which only gets glowier when skin is wet (i.e. after a dip in the pool or a sweaty outdoor run). One tester also said that it stained her bathing suit. Active Type: Mineral sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes   8 BEST ZINC OXIDE SUNSCREEN Sunforgettable Total Protection Body Shield COLORESCIENCE Our consumer testers say this zinc oxide formula goes on smooth and leaves a powdery, silky finish. One tester described it as “melting into” her skin. Yes, it is a splurge (more than triple the average price of others we tested), but if you want a luxury mineral option, it doesn’t get better than this. We also found it was gentle on skin, causing no irritation or stinging even when applied around testers’ eyes. Active Type: Mineral sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 9 BEST VALUE ZINC OXIDE SUNSCREEN Pure & Simple SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion COPPERTONE Everyone’s favorite childhood sunscreen brand also offers a mineral option that’s formulated only with zinc oxide. The updated classic is great for anyone looking for a non-chemical sunscreen that really works — without spending a ton. “I liked that it left my skin feeling ‘matte’-like; it wasn’t greasy, it wasn’t oily, and it wasn’t sticky or tacky. It was just like my regular skin, but with a protective coating,“ said one tester. While it was overall easy to apply, some testers thought the formula was too thick and warned that application could get messy. Active Type: Mineral sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes   10 BEST NON-GREASY SUNSCREEN Activated Sun Protector Sunscreen SPF 50 KIEHL’S Tied as the winner in our Lab test from 2017, Kiehl’s lotion, designed for face and body, earned high scores all around. Its best-rated attribute: Not making skin feel greasy, oily, or slippery, even in the hot sun. Consumers said that this water-light lotion was “moisturizing” and liked its “neutral smell.” However, a few testers did note that the sunscreen was runny when coming out of the tube. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 11 MOST EFFECTIVE SUNSCREEN CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 NEUTROGENA Neutrogena’s sunscreen was the best at protecting skin from sunburn in our Beauty Lab’s 2017 test, but it lost points for its “glue-like” texture. In the Lab, we noticed that this initial tackiness disappeared as the product was absorbed, but still left skin feeling coated. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes 12 BEST SUNSCREEN FOR SENSITIVE SKIN Classic Body Sunscreen Guava Mango COOLA Coola’s fruity sunscreen feels so light on skin that many testers said they forgot they were even wearing it! One compared its texture and feeling to a light skin lotion, rather than a traditional thick sunscreen. Great for people with sensitive skin, it earned perfect scores for being gentle on skin (face and body). Heads up: The tropical scent is pretty strong at first. Some testers loved it, while others thought it was way too much — even though it goes away after about 15 minutes. Active Type: Chemical sunscreen Packaging: Lotion SPF Rating: 50 broad spectrum Water Resistance: 80 minutes   Source: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/beauty/anti-aging/g1288/best-sunscreens/   

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