If you're dutifully following dermatologist-approved recommendations for sun protection, you're using a lot of sunscreen. And when you use a lot of sunscreen, some of the active ingredients in your SPF may be absorbed by your skin, ending up in your blood, according to a January 2020 study published in JAMA.
The small study tested four commercially available sunscreens on 48 adults, who applied either lotions, sprays or creams over their skin four times a day for two days. At the end of the study period, blood samples showed the participants' levels of chemicals like avobenzone and oxybenzone exceeded the limit that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sets for needing further safety testing.
However, sunscreen remains an obvious major player in protecting yourself against harmful UV rays. These results don't mean that individuals should avoid sunscreen completely, the JAMA study explains. For now, more research is needed on what these ingredients may imply for overall health.
But until those future studies are complete, you can at least use some helpful sunscreen rankings to find safe and healthy picks that work. Alarmingly, nearly two-thirds of the more than 1,300 products tested in the Environmental Working Group's 2020 Guide to Sunscreen were found potentially unsafe, ineffective or both. But as scary as those numbers seem, the good news is you're still left with dozens of safe sunscreen options.
We've sifted through top picks from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to help make it easier to find the one that's right for your needs, whether you're looking for the best oxybenzone-free sunscreen, the best anti-aging moisturizer with SPF or simply the biggest sunblock bang for your buck.
Plus, we've also listed the three types of sunscreen you'll definitely want to avoid.
1. Best All-Purpose Sunscreen
Top sunscreens have a high percentage of zinc oxide and a simple ingredient list that make the product very safe, according to Wendy Roberts, MD, a dermatologist in Rancho Mirage, California. The Juice Beauty Oil Free Moisturizer SPF 30 is organically crafted with zinc oxide sunscreen actives. This vegan, certified-organic option is formulated without coral reef-harming ingredients, like oxybenzone.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Juicebeauty.com; Price: $30.00 for 2 oz. ($15/oz.)
2. Best Sport Sunscreen
This zinc oxide formulation of All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick leaves little residue, which is especially beneficial for darker skin tones, Dr. Roberts notes. Certified organic green tea and rose hip act as antioxidants, while jojoba and extra-virgin olive oils moisturize the skin. Plus it's eco-friendly and safe for kids.
EWG Rating 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.99 for 2.75 oz. ($5.81/oz.)
3. Best Water-Resistant Sunscreen
With sun protection from both zinc oxide and aloe vera leaf juice, UV Natural Sport Sunscreen SPF 30+ is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for extended time in the water.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $8.80 for 0.64 oz. ($13.75/oz.)
4. Best Baby Sunscreen
"With its high concentration of zinc oxide, this is a great physical sunscreen," dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD, says of Badger Baby Active Sunscreen Cream SPF 30. Water-resistant for up to 40 minutes, it contains calming chamomile and soothing calendula. And the sunflower oil base makes for easy application.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $22.99 ($7.92/oz.)
5. Best Kids' Sunscreen
"A long list of organic botanical ingredients and UVA coverage help protect [kids'] skin," Dr. Roberts says, explaining that this makes Raw Elements Baby + Kids Sunscreen Lotion Tin SPF 30 a top choice for little ones. This non-nano zinc sunscreen is even great for sensitive skin.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.99 for 3 oz ($6/oz.)
6. Best Kids’ Sport Sunscreen
Thinksport Kids Body & Face Sunscreen Stick SPF 30 is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, free of harmful chemicals and suitable for sensitive kid skin.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $8.99 for 0.64 oz. ($14.05/oz.)
7. Best Sensitive Skin Baby Sunscreen
As well as being vetted by EWG, Erbaviva's Baby Sun Stick also won the Healing Lifestyles Earth Day Beauty Awards in 2020. Its gentle, water-resistant formula contains can be used on babies if sun exposure is unavoidable. Parents can even use it as stand-alone skin protection or under makeup.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $16.00 for 0.6 oz ($26.60/oz.)
8. Best Sunscreen Deal
The Butterbean Organics Original Healthy Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 is a whipped, creamy sunscreen made with coconut oil, giving it a slightly tropical scent without any added fragrance. And thanks to the zinc oxide in this product, Dr. Roberts says you get "immediate sun protection with no need to wait to let the sunscreen soak in before getting in the water." Founded by a mom in Georgia, the company is committed to using fair-trade, organic ingredients. And at just over $3 an ounce, the price is unbeatable.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Butterbeanorganics.com; Price: $22.00 for 7 oz. ($3.14/oz.)
9. Best Scented Sunscreen
"Broad-spectrum coverage and water resistance combined with eco-friendly packaging and biodegradable ingredients safe for coral reefs" set Badger Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 Lavender apart, Dr. Roberts says. Badger has a number of different products rated 1 by the EWG. This one is their original sunscreen formula, lightly scented with lavender.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Badgerbalm.com; Price: $15.99 for 2.9 oz. ($5.51/oz.)
10. Best Moisturizing Sunscreen
A great biodegradable, coral reef-friendly option, Badger Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 Unscented contains only five ingredients, including zinc oxide for sun protection, vitamin E and other emollients, Dr. Roberts says. It's unscented, water- and sweat-resistant for up to 40 minutes and even comes in eco-friendly packaging.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $13.59 for 2.9 oz. ($4.67/oz.)
11. Best Long-Term Sun Exposure Sunscreen
If you need a sunscreen for very intense sun exposure, Eleven by Venus Williams On-the-Defense Sunscreen SPF 30 offers broad-spectrum UV coverage thanks to its 25 percent zinc oxide content. Bonus: It's vegan and cruelty-free.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Elevenbyvenuswilliams.com; Price: $42.00 for 1.7 oz. ($24.70/oz.)
12. Best Everyday Facial Sunscreen
The Cetaphil Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 is free of fragrances and irritating chemicals. This lightweight, non-greasy formula is non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic, which means it won't clog your pores.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $22.81 for 8 oz. ($2.85/oz.)
13. Best Tinted Sunscreen
The Suntegrity 5 in 1 Natural Moisturizing Tinted Face Sunscreen SPF 30 is a sunscreen and BB cream that blends with many skin tones and has a sheer-to-light coverage. You can use it as a makeup primer or a stand-alone face sunscreen. Plus, you can choose a tone that best matches your skin color.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $45 for 2 oz. ($22.50/oz.)
14. Best Sensitive-Skin Sunscreen
Celtic Complexion Organic Sunscreen Lotion Sensitive Skin SPF 32 is an excellent choice for those with sensitive skin. This water-resistant sunscreen is made with only nine simple ingredients, which help shield your skin from free radicals caused by UV rays.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Celticcomplexion.com; Price: $29.00 for 3 oz. ($9.66/oz.)
15. Best Organic Sunscreen
Kabana Organic Skincare Green Screen D Organic Sunscreen SPF 35 contains only USDA-certified organic ingredients, including sunflower oil, beeswax, extra virgin olive oil and vitamin D3. "Based on our modeling this product provides EXCELLENT UVA protection and a GOOD balance of UVA protection in relation to the SPF," according to EWG's report.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Kabanaskincare.com; Price: $19.79/4 oz. ($7.49/oz.)
16. Best Scented Lotion
Offering broad-spectrum protection from zinc oxide, yet almost invisible once applied, 3rd Rock Sunblock Aromatherapeutic Zinc Oxide SPF 35 Sunscreen Lotion is a light moisturizer that features a natural rosemary and frankincense scent.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24.95 for 3.3 oz. ($7.56/oz.)
17. Best Sensitive-Skin Moisturizer With SPF
A neutral-tinted moisturizer, the Algenist ALIVE Prebiotic Balancing Moisturizer SPF 15 minimizes the appearance of unbalanced skin and evens skin tone while providing hydration, leaving the skin soothed. It's formulated with algae prebiotic to target unbalanced surface skin bacteria.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Algenist.com; Price: $40.00 for 1.7 oz. ($23.53/oz.)
18. Best Moisturizer for Face and Body
When you need a moisturizer with SPF that pulls double duty for your face and body, try Block Island Organics Natural Face Moisturizer SPF 30. According to the EWG, all but one ingredient scored 1 or 2 on health concerns. It's a 100 percent natural mineral sunscreen that absorbs quickly and won't leave your skin feeling greasy. The formulation is vegan, paraben-free and reef-friendly.
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Blockislandorganics.com; Price: $27.99 for 3.4 oz. ($8.23/oz.)
19. Best Mineral Sunscreen
Kari Gran Essential SPF 28 is a cruelty-free, mineral sunscreen that's also non-greasy and non-toxic. Safe for the whole family, it's made with organic ingredients perfect for those with sensitive skin. This lotion is available in a small, TSA-friendly size. It contains organic ingredients like avocado oil and jojoba seed oil for added protection (along with zinc oxide).
EWG Rating: 1, lowest hazard; Buy it: Karigran.com; Price: $48.00 for 1 oz.
Sunscreens to Avoid
1. Sprays and Aerosols
Avoid all sunscreen sprays and powder, since it's too easy to accidentally inhale them and/or miss a spot, per the EWG report. Some of the brands to make it into their "Hall of Shame" in previous years include Banana Boat, Coppertone and CVS.
2. Super High SPF
You'll also want to steer clear of products with SPFs above 50+. The reason is that a sunscreen's SPF only refers to its ability to filter the UVB rays that cause sunburn, and it does not guarantee anything about its ability to block UVA rays, which can cause skin damage and/or cancer — especially if you stay outside all day because you think you can, per the EWG.
This is a reason high-SPF products are extremely misleading. The higher number gives the impression of increased safety but the products will actually leave you more exposed to potentially dangerous UVA rays, the report claims.
Plus, high-SPF sunscreens may even have higher level of harmful chemicals. Considering the higher SPF level doesn't actually give you more coverage and it contains more chemicals, it's not worth using, the EWG advises.
3. Chemical Sun Protection
Instead, put on a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeved shirt and pants, or opt for EWG's top-rated products: sunscreens containing zinc and/or titanium. "These minerals are physical blocks that sit on the surface of the skin, preventing UV light from penetrating it," Matthew Miller, MD, a dermatologist in Greenville, South Carolina, says.