If you're diligent about sunscreen, you apply to your face every day, all year long. But in the summer, SPF gets slathered all over your body — from your scalp to the soles of your feet — multiple times each day. That is, you're using a lot of sunscreen, so you'll want to grab an option that's effective and safe.
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In some ways, sunscreen selection is simple: The best product is one you'll put on, says Heather Summe, MD, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. "Because if you're not putting it on, it doesn't matter," she says.
But for both health and environmental reasons, consider digging deeper before making a purchase.
Here's why: A March 2022 review by Valisure, an independent laboratory, revealed some sunscreens contained benzene, a carcinogenic compound. This, along with benzophenone, another carcinogen sometimes found in sunscreens, forms as other ingredients degrade or during the manufacturing process, according to ConsumerLab, an independent organization that tests health products.
Plus, the FDA.), which regulates sunscreen safety, is looking into safety information for 12 ingredients found in sunscreen. Worth noting: Some of these ingredients (for example, octocrylene and octinoxate) are harmful to coral and other marine life, according to the National Ocean Service.
"The bottom line is that there's a sunscreen for everyone," Dr. Summe says — no matter what your concerns or priorities, you can find an option that works for you. Just make sure you use it, rather than letting it expire on your shelf, she says.
How We Chose
But where do you begin given that there are countless sunscreens to choose from? We've sifted through the options to come up with this list of the safest sunscreens, thanks to input from multiple dermatologists as well as the annual Guide to Sunscreen from the Environmental Working Group and the ConsumerLab review of sunscreen options.
Sunscreen Is Only One Way to Stay Safe
The AAD also recommends taking the two key precautions to avoid sunburns and skin cancer:
- Avoid peak sun: When the sun’s strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., do your best to stay in the shade.
- Wear protective garb: When you are outside, clothing and hats can protect you from the sun’s rays. For the most possible protection, opt for clothes with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
“Reducing time in the sun, as well as sun-protective clothing are very important,” says board-certified dermatologist Cybele Fishman, MD with Advanced Dermatology PC. Look for clothing with UPF 50, which blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays, she recommends.
Protect your head, too. “Baseball caps do not offer good sun protection — a broad-brimmed hat is the way to go,” Dr. Fishman says.
1. Best Facial Sunscreen for Sunscreen Haters: EltaMD UV Restore Facial Sunscreen, SPF 40
EltaMD products are ideal for "people who really do not like the feel of sunscreen," Dr. Summe says. They feel super lightweight, she says. "It honestly feels like whatever moisturizer you'd put on in the morning."
This option receives a two in the EWG guide (scores of zero to two are considered "low hazard"). It's free from dyes and fragrances (a boon for sensitive skin) and contains antioxidants.
Buy it: EltaMD.com; Price: $39.00
2. Best for Face and Body: EltaMD Skin Care UV Pure Face and Body Physical Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 47
You may be diligent about applying sunscreen to your face on a daily basis all 365 days of the year (and if you're not, you should be!), but falter when it comes to applying sunscreen to other exposed parts of your body. But if you're wearing shorts and a tank top for a walk around the neighborhood, a whole lot of skin is exposed to the sun and needs protection.
This sunscreen can be used on your whole body, including the more delicate skin on your face. Note that this is a broad-spectrum option — that's what you want in a sunscreen because it means you're protected from both UVA and UVB rays.
"I like EltaMD in general," Dr. Fishman says.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $23.60
3. Best Sport Sunscreen: All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick
If you're being active, ease of application is key. After all, if you're on the tennis court all day, you'll need to reapply several times. Dr. Fishman — and the EWG — recommend against spray options, but a stick, which you can just roll along your body and face, is nearly as convenient.
The zinc oxide in All Good's SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick leaves little residue — that means it's a good fit for any skin tone. The EWG gives this sunscreen a one.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.99
4. Best Water-Resistant: TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 30
An important thing to remember about sunscreen: "There's no waterproof sunscreen," Dr. Summe says. Water-resistant is the best option out there if you anticipate sweating — and, once you do get wet, you'll need to reapply, she says.
TruKid Sunny Days Sport Sunscreen Lotion has an EWG ranking of two and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for extended time in the water.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14.39
5. Best for Babies: Badger Baby Mineral Sunscreen Cream, Chamomile & Calendula, SPF 40
This cream sun protection gets the highest rating in the EWG report and has no benzene detected, per ConsumerLab. It's water- and sweat-resistant for up to 40 minutes. Plus, it contains calming chamomile and soothing calendula, and the sunflower oil base makes for easy application.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $16.99
6. Best for Kids: Thinksport Kids Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50+
This is an example of a mineral or physical sunscreen — aka a sunscreen with ingredients that stay on the skin reflecting away the sun, according to Piedmont Healthcare. That's in contrast to a chemical sunscreen, where the ingredients are absorbed into the skin and transform the sun's rays.
"When I'm taking my kids to the beach and I'm slathering them in sunscreen all week, I use a mineral one," Dr. Summe says. "I'm little more thoughtful about what I put on them than I am with what I put on myself," she says.
The analysis from ConsumerLab detects no benzene in this product, and it's in the "green" zone from EWG, with a ranking of two.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $15.98
7. Best for a Long Day in the Sun: CopperTone Pure and Simple Mineral Lotion
If you're planning on a long day outside, you'll need to reapply sunscreen frequently. A whole family can nearly empty out a bottle. In that kind of situation, a budget-friendly, drugstore brand is your best bet. You'll want one with broad spectrum protection, and an SPF over 30 to ensure it's effective.
This sunscreen is included on ConsumerLab's list of safe and effective sunscreens — ones that do not contain carcinogens or ingredients that are not generally recognized as safe and effective.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $9.99
8. Best Moisturizing: Sun Bum Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Sun Bum is Dr. Fishman's favorite drugstore brand due to the price point, smell and options. The brand "has both mineral and chemical (oxybenzone-free) options," she says. It's also vegan.
This particular option does not include benzone, per ConsumerLab, and gets a ranking of three from EWG (slightly into the yellow caution zone).
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14.99
9. Best for Scalp: Sun Bum Scalp and Hair Mist Sunscreen Spray, SPF 30
You may not think about your scalp in the sun, but it's easy for your hairline to get burnt. While in general Dr. Fishman recommends against spray options, "non-aerosol sprays are good for [the] hair part," she says.
This vegan options is fast-drying, sulfate-free and works with any hair type.
Buy it: Target.com; Price: $16.49
10. Best Everyday Facial Moisturizer With Sunscreen: Olay Regenerist Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen
This fragrance-free option is readily available at any drugstore at an accessible price point. It earns a two from EWG, and is deemed a "safer product" in the facial moisturizer with sunscreen category by ConsumerLab. By making sure your daily moisturizer includes an SPF, you can ensure your face is always getting sun protection, year-round.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $28.99
11. Best Tinted Facial Sunscreen: Suntegrity Impeccable Skin Tinted Sunscreen
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 standalone face sunscreen. Plus, you can choose a tone that best matches your skin color.
The product earns a two from the EWG analysis. And ConsumerLab lists it as an example of a sunscreen that's less problematic — free from carcinogens and other best-avoided ingredients.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $55.00
12. Best for Ocean Swimming: Badger Active Mineral Sunscreen Cream, SPF 30
If you're getting in the water, avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone. "I avoid oxybenzone because it is bad for coral reefs and the most likely to cause allergy," Dr. Fishman says. In fact, this is one of several ingredients — along with avobenzone, octocrylene and octinoxate — that are banned from sunscreens sold in Hawai'i due to their harm to coral reefs and marine life, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.
This sunscreen from Badger earns a one from EWG and is free from all the above-mentioned ingredients.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $17.99
13. Best for On-the-Go Application: MDSolarSciences Mineral Sunscreen Stick, SPF 40
This is a brand Dr. Fishman likes. Shaped like deodorant, it's easy to glide this sunscreen up and down your body, so if you're walking down the street and realize you're due for a reapplication on your arms and legs, it'll be easy. This stick from MDSolarSciences gets a two from the EWG.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $20.90
14. Best for Sensitive Skin: La Roche-Posay Anthelios SPF 50 Gentle Lotion Mineral Sunscreen
Tailored for sensitive skin, this sunscreen has a ranking of two from the EWG. It doesn't include fragrances, and it absorbs easily into the skin. It's included on ConsumerLab's list of sunscreens sans problematic ingredients.
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $24.99
15. Best Cast-Free: Eleven By Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum, SPF 35
If you need a sunscreen for very intense sun exposure, Eleven By Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum offers broad-spectrum UV coverage thanks to its 25 percent zinc oxide content, with a silky, lightweight feel.
This mineral sunscreen does a good job at not leaving a white cast behind. Bonus: It's vegan and cruelty-free. (Here are more great sunscreens for dark skin that don't leave a white cast.)
Buy it: ElevenbyVenusWilliams.com; Price: $50
What to Look for in a Safe Sunscreen
Keep these factors in mind as you select your next sunscreen.
A mineral — as opposed to a chemical — sunscreen may have the edge when it comes to the safety of ingredients. The FDA proposed in 2021 that the two active ingredients in mineral sunscreens, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, be considered GRASE (aka Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective).
"Mineral sunscreens have come a long way in being more cosmetically elegant and not leaving a white film behind," Dr. Fishman says. "That being said, I am a realist, and I would rather someone use a broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen than not use anything because they do not like the mineral kind," she adds.
Along with checking the active ingredient, review the rest of the ingredient list, too. If you're allergic to something, avoid it — and, if your skin is sensitive, you'll want to avoid fragrances and dyes.
Finally, Dr. Summe notes that some sunscreens get marketed as being a mineral option, but include chemical blockers in the ingredient list.
Sunscreens are available as powders, gels, lotions and sprays. "A cream or a lotion is going to give you the best coverage," Dr. Summe says.
Sprays are likely best avoided. People don't tend to put on enough or may miss a spot with non-aerosol sprays, Dr. Fishman notes. And aerosol sprays are bad for both the environment and your lungs, she says.
Look for an SPF that's 30 or higher. But don't get tricked by the SPF. No matter how high it is, you still need to reapply every two hours, Dr. Summe says.
4. Water- and Sweat-Resistance
If you're going to be swimming or exercising outdoors, choose a water-resistant option, Dr. Fishman says.
5. Broad Spectrum
Always make sure the sunscreen is labeled broad spectrum. If it's just an SPF, it won't provide UVA protection — just UVB, Dr. Fishman says.
When you apply sunscreen, do so liberally. For your face, that means an amount the size of a nickel, and it takes roughly a shot glass worth of sunscreen to cover your body, Dr. Summe says. “Most people aren’t putting enough on, and aren’t reapplying frequently enough,” she says.
- JAMA: "Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients"
- Valisure: "VALISURE DETECTS HIGH LEVELS OF KNOWN HUMAN CARCINOGEN BENZENE IN SEVERAL SUNSCREEN PRODUCTS AND REQUESTS FDA ACTIONS"
- ConsumerLab: "What is the best sunscreen based on safety and efficacy?"
- FDA: "FDA Proposes Sunscreen Regulation Changes"
- National Ocean Service: "Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs"
- FDA: "Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "SUNSCREEN FAQS"
- Environmental Working Group: "EWG's Guide to Sunscreens"
- Piedmont Health: "The difference between physical and chemical sunscreen"
- Center for Biological Diversity: "Hawai‘i Senate Bill Bans Harmful Sunscreen Chemicals"
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