Whether it’s cold or hot, sunny or rainy, sunscreen is the one step you should never skip before heading outdoors for the day. Applying (and reapplying!) SPF protects your skin from the sun’s powerful UV rays, minimizing your risk of painful sunburns, skin cancer, and premature signs of aging, such as sun spots and wrinkles.
But with so many options on the market, shopping for the best sunscreen can be extremely overwhelming. Do you go for chemical or physical sunscreens? Lotions or sprays? That’s why Prevention consulted top dermatologists to name the best sunscreens of 2019. Whether you’re looking for the best natural sunscreen, the best sunscreen for babies and kids, tinted sunscreens, or something that’s compatible with sensitive, finicky skin, there’s an option for you.
Important reminder: Sunscreen can expire, which makes it less effective. Even if last year’s bottle hasn’t hit its expiration date, that date is only valid if the product is stored in a cool, dry place, says board-certified dermatologist Lauren Ploch, MD, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. So, be prepared to pick up a fresh bottle for the warmer seasons ahead.
Top 10 Sunblock
- Designed to stay on strong when you sweat, this high-performance SPF 50 continuous spray sunscreen protects...
- Continuous spray works at any angle for maximum coverage and delivers broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection that...
- Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes
- Sunscreen lotion goes on easily and absorbs quickly for an invisible, weightless feel
- 6.7-ounce bottle of Neutrogena Beach Defense Water Resistant Sunscreen Lotion for body with SPF 70 that helps...
- Stabilized with Helioplex sunscreen technology that provides superior broad spectrum protection against...
- 3-fluid ounce bottles of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Non-Greasy Sunscreen with SPF 45 that helps defend...
- This lightweight sunscreen is fast-absorbing with Dry-Touch technology for a non-greasy, matte finish and is...
- Ideal for everyday use, by adults and children with even the most sensitive skin
- Broad Spectrum UVA / UVB Protection, Water Resistant (80 Minutes)
- 2.5-fluid ounce of Neutrogena Sport Face Oil-Free Lotion Sunscreen with Broad Spectrum SPF 70+ provides...
- Ideal for sport activity, this face sunscreen resists wear off from water, rubbing, sweating or wiping, and is...
- Twin pack
- Beach and Pool
- Water resistant up to 80 minutes
- Easy grip spray can
- CLINICALLY PROVEN UVA/UVB PROTECTION - Broad-spectrum protection protects you from UVA/UVB rays.
- LIGHTWEIGHT BREATHABLE FORMULA - Non-greasy feel won't weigh you down.
- 1.5-ounce Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Non-Greasy Sunscreen Stick with SPF 70 for lightweight broad-spectrum...
- This lightweight sunscreen glides on easily and is specially formulated with Helioplex for superior sun...
How do I apply sunscreen, and how much sunscreen should I use?
For the best protection, apply sunscreen liberally on all exposed areas 30 minutes before going outdoors. “Liberally” here means a shot glass-full for the body, a nickel-size dollop for the face, says GH Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. Don’t stop there: Layer on a second coat “to help cover spots you missed the first time,” suggests Steven Q. Wang, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Another hack? Slather SPF all over before you dress to ensure full coverage and avoid those painful slivers of sunburns that always seem to crop up along the edges of your swimsuit.
What sunscreen SPF is the strongest?
While you may have heard that boosted SPF numbers are just marketing jargon and that the FDA is considering capping SPF at 60, you really should not rely only on a low SPF 15. “SPF 30 filters 96.7% of UV rays, meaning it allows 3.3% to reach the skin, while SPF 60 filters 98.3%, allowing 1.7% through,” explains Dr. Wang. “So SPF 30 actually lets twice as much UV reach the skin as SPF 60.”
How to choose (and use) the best sunscreen for your skin?
Look for broad spectrum on the label: This ensures your SPF protects against both harmful UVA and UVB rays. (UVA rays prematurely age skin and UVB rays burn; both can cause skin cancer.) Our experts recommend choosing SPF 30 or higher for daily use.
Go for water-resistant options: Even if you won’t be jumping in for a swim, a water-resistant sunscreen will stay on longer while you’re sweating. If you are doing extensive outdoor activity, choose an SPF of 50 or higher to ensure you stay protected, recommends Henry W. Lim, MD, immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology.
When in doubt, choose lotions: They’re easy to apply generously and evenly—which is key in order for them to work effectively. “Sprays are inconsistent; I find that no one puts sprays on heavy enough to reach the stated SPF level on the bottle,” Dr. Ploch says. Similarly, wipes don’t typically provide even, adequate coverage and stick sunscreens require at least four swipes on each area of the skin to get the job done.
Formula matters: Physical or mineral sunscreens (made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide) sit on top of the skin and deflect UV rays, while chemical sunscreens (made with ingredients like oxybenzone or avobenzone) work by absorbing them. Both effectively protect the skin, but zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the only two sunscreen ingredients currently “generally recognized as safe,” by the FDA, per a recent report.
That doesn’t mean chemical sunscreens are classified as dangerous, explains Meghan Feely, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New Jersey and New York City who serves as a clinical instructor at Mount Sinai. It just means that the FDA needs to collect more data to ensure the rest of the ingredients meet their safety standards.
Should I use a natural sunscreen?
“There’s no such thing as a truly ‘natural’ sunscreen,” says Dr. Wang, “because the ingredients need to be treated in chemical processes when added to formulas to prevent harmful reactions.” Since there’s really no clear definition of the word “natural” for personal care products, you’re likely thinking of the chemical versus physical sunscreens.
Sunscreens in both the chemical and physical families have been proven safe and effective. Chemical formulas absorb UV light so it can’t penetrate your skin, while physical sunblocks contain only the mineral actives titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which immediately act as a barrier for your skin, reflecting or “bouncing” sunlight away. But be aware that these physical sunscreens are also the types that can leave a white cast on your skin.