Editor's Note
  • February 21, 2018 - To keep our review fresh, we re-examined our two top picks to make sure they were still the best. Not only do we still fully recommended them, but we found that runners-up MDSolarSciences and Badger Sport were worth promoting as top picks of their own. In addition to our further testing, we spoke to dermatologists to find out more about sunscreen for babies (spoiler alert: there is no “best” sunscreen for infants).
  • January 19, 2018 - For this update, we've clarified our methodology and contextualized our top picks with specific use cases. We will be re-examining our top picks in a few months, so keep an eye out for further updates.
  • June 23, 2017 - In May 2017, Consumer Reports published research suggesting many popular sunscreen brands don’t offer the level of protection advertised on their packaging. Consumer Reports didn’t test most of the specific products we recommend as top picks, but we stand by our own testing process and recommendations.

The Best Sunscreen

The best sunscreen has an SPF of at least 30 and is labeled both broad spectrum and water-resistant. It should also be in lotion form, because there's no way to know how much spray or powder products actually make it onto your skin. We cut harmful ingredients and tested our finalists with a UV meter to measure coverage. Our favorites work well, smell great, and absorb quickly.

Our top pick, Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30, dominated our hands-on efficacy test. Its lineup of moisturizing ingredients made it silky to apply and quick to absorb, and its scent was subtle. It was also one of the best sunscreens at protecting against UV radiation. ($7)

For those with sensitive skin, Badger Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 ($16) performed almost as well as the Alba Botanica in our coverage test and contains far fewer ingredients — thus fewer potential allergens. One of those ingredients, lavender oil, gives the sunscreen a stronger aroma than our other picks, though it’s hardly unpleasant. The lotion was harder to get out of the tube than the Alba Botanica and took longer to fade on the skin, but it’s still a solid choice as a milder sunscreen.

MDSolarSciences Mineral Creme Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 is best for use on the face — it's lightweight on the skin and creates a matte finish without leaving a trace of white behind. The catch? At $30 for a 1.7-ounce tube, it’s the most expensive of the lot, so this is best saved for small areas of coverage or on-the-go application.

Badger Sport Sunscreen SPF 35 shares the high quality coverage of its lavender-scented counterpart, though it doesn’t absorb nearly as well. It also doesn’t smell as nice, leaving behind a distinct papery scent. However, it is designed for 80 minutes of sweating and swimming, making it an ideal sunscreen for sports. ($16)

Our Picks for the Best Sunscreen

Best
Coverage
Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
Alba Botanica
This formula took first place in our coverage test — and it went on smooth, absorbed quickly, and had a barely noticeable scent.

The $7 broad spectrum Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30 received top marks in our sun-sensitive paper test, leaving an even patch of blue paper that was almost the same shade as its starting color. Its two active ingredients — zinc oxide (14.5 percent) and titanium dioxide (two percent) — are both “classic ingredients that block UVA radiation,” according to Dr. Ibrahimi. Because of this, we’re confident that Alba Botanica provides full coverage and essential sun blocking.

Alba-Botanica-for-Sunscreen

Of all the Alba Botanica lotions we tested (four total), this one had the silkiest texture; it went on smooth and absorbed quickly. After two hours of wear, even the driest skin we tested still felt comfortably moisturized — not surprising, considering its lineup of moisturizing ingredients including shea butter, jojoba seed oil, and aloe. There was a slight white cast to the skin immediately after application, but it disappeared with a little gentle rubbing, leaving behind a sun-ready glisten.

The product is labelled fragrance free, and it certainly lacked the sunscreen-typical tropical scent. There is, however, a distinct natural-product smell, reminiscent of walking through the soap section of a health foods store. It’s subtle, and was hard to detect unless brought directly to your nose — in fact, it was undetectable after just 15 minutes. It was far better than Alba Botanica’s Very Emollient Sport Sunscreen SPF 45, which had a more prominent rubbery new-pencil-eraser scent, and we wouldn’t mind wearing it for a day at the beach.

Best For
Sensitive Skin
Badger Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30
Badger
Another top performer in the coverage test. With only a handful of ingredients, it's an excellent option for those with sensitive skin.

Badger’s Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 is a great choice for those with sensitive skin because of its limited ingredients. We could count them all on one hand: sunflower seed oil, beeswax, lavender oil, tocopherol (vitamin E), and seabuckthorn fruit extract. If you have sensitive skin, rosacea, or other skin conditions, less is more. “The more extras that are in it,” advises Dr. Worry, “the more likely it is that someone’s going to be allergic to it.” Many Amazon reviewers with sensitive skin praise the product, claiming it’s one of the few that does not cause a rash.

Badger-Lavendar-for-Sunscreen

While the Badger Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30 was one of the thicker lotions we tried, it’s 18.75 percent zinc oxide formula was one of the best performers on the sun-sensitive paper test, providing an ample amount of coverage. It isn’t sticky or hard to apply, either, though getting it out of the tube was like squeezing a stress ball. We could see it being difficult to one-hand squeeze while applying, especially as you try to squeeze out the last bits of product.

Due to the lotion’s thickness, the whitish tint left by the zinc oxide didn’t completely fade after persistent rubbing. After about 10 minutes, it was mostly gone but still visible on medium-toned skin in direct sunlight. The Badger also took longer to fully absorb and is slightly more expensive than the Alba Botanica, ringing in at $16.

Beyond that, this sunscreen was one of the most pleasant-smelling sunscreens we tested — the lavender oil not only provides a pleasant aroma, but is also known for its relaxing qualities, so it might just make a lazy day at the beach even better.

Best For
Face
MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50
MDSolarSciences
A little goes a long way with this lasting face sunscreen.

MDSolarSciences sunscreen is the most expensive of the lot, with a 1.7-ounce tube priced at $30, but the small tube is perfect for exclusive use on the face and coverage on-the-go. The 17 percent zinc oxide, two percent titanium dioxide formula was thin without being runny, and it absorbed well, leaving zero white residue in its wake. And while it didn’t perform as highly in our sun-sensitive paper test as some other finalists, it scored points for its gentle and light feel.

MDSolarScience-for-Sunscreen

MDSolarSciences applies with more ease than any other product we tested, instantly blending into our skin; even when you’re applying solo, you won’t have to worry about a random streak of white residue you missed near your eyebrow.

The product is well-loved by consumers, too, with 4.3/5 stars from 195 reviewers on Amazon. Specifically, they note that it’s long-lasting, scentless, and breathable. Though the biggest criticism was a resulting oily complexion, we found it left a matte finish in our own testing. This may be a result of differing skin types, but we’re confident that a little sheen is worth the sun protection.

And though $30 for a bottle is expensive in comparison to our other picks, a little will go a long way — our testers found they could fully cover their face with pea-sized amount. And with its small size, you can take it with you anywhere you go.

Best For
Physical Activity
Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35
Badger
A water-resistant sport sunscreen that’ll protect your skin for 80 minutes of activity.

For more active endeavors, the $16 Badger Sport Sunscreen SPF 35 is designed to last up to 80 minutes of sweating and swimming. The 22.5 percent zinc oxide formula finished in the top three of our paper test, proving its high quality coverage. Since it’s formulated more for heavy-duty wear than casual coverage, it doesn’t absorb as well as its lavender counterpart, and it has a distinct papery smell. But for active summer days, it accomplishes its most important goal — keeping your skin safe.

Badget-Sport-for-Sunscreen

The Badger Sport Sunscreen is unscented and has just five ingredients: zinc oxide, sunflower oil, beeswax, jojoba, and vitamin E. That’s fewer ingredients than our other Badger favorite, just lacking the skin soothing and moisturizing base (aloe and shea butter). Those five ingredients mean that this product will still be gentle on your skin, even if you need that extra water resistance.

It’s also gentle on the environment — an especially important feature for sport sunscreens, which are typically used for ocean activities like scuba diving, swimming, or surfing. A lot of sunscreens have toxic and bleaching effects on coral reefs, as the sunscreen seeps off of the skin into the water. Although many claim to be “Reef Safe” or “Reef Friendly,” these labels are unregulated. Badger takes transparency to the next level by detailing the research behind harmful ingredients like oxybenzone and noting the those that are actually safe for the environment. Badger Sport is free of damaging ingredients and worthy of its Reef Friendly label.

Expert Tips for Protecting Your Skin

There’s no “best” baby sunscreen.

The FDA doesn’t recommend sunscreen at all for infants, and all of our experts agreed. Dr. Lela Lankerani, board-certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology, says, “For any infant under six months of age, it is best to avoid UV exposure and to opt for sun protective clothing, sunglasses and wide brimmed hats. If that is not possible, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests applying sunscreen to small areas of exposed skin when appropriate clothing and shade are not available.”

Beyond six months, there’s no real difference between high-quality sunscreen for adults and kids. To minimize the risk of skin irritation, the Mayo Clinic does suggest using a titanium dioxide or zinc oxide-based formula, rather than a chemical-based product — but all of our “adult” top picks fit this bill. We’d suggest an option like Alba Botanica or Badger Lavender. If you have specific concerns, you can also consult your pediatrician for recommendations.

There’s no need to worry about nanoparticles.

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are two of the most protective broad-spectrum ingredients used in sunscreen. In traditional formulas, the large ingredient particles made sunscreens form a thick, white paste — not really the look most of us go for. Newer sunscreens break down those particles into smaller, “nano-sized” ones, decreasing the opacity and giving your skin a much more natural appearance. But can those nanoparticles be absorbed by the skin and harm living skin tissue? Current research says no. Multiple studies have shown that nanoparticles don’t penetrate the living skin layer. Nanoparticles also tend to clump together on their own, resulting in not-as-nano-sized particles anyway. So, feel free to slather on the sunscreen — even the ones that aren’t marked non-nano.

Safe tanning is a myth.

One of the sun-exposure misconceptions out there is that a base tan will make your skin hardier for the rest of the summer and less likely to burn. “The base tan idea is just ridiculous,” says Dr. Worry. “Getting a base tan indoors is the equivalent of about SPF 4, so you’re not giving yourself much protection for the amount of damage you’re doing to your skin long-term.”

Sunscreen isn’t just a beach necessity.

In his own practice, Dr. Worry told us that he often sees incidences of skin cancer in the left arm, which faces the driver’s side window in American cars. The window glass acts as a magnifier for sunlight, so sunscreen should be applied to any exposed skin during daylight hours. Additionally, Dr. Green reminded us to “apply sunscreen to ears and feet. Those are commonly missed places.” The lips are also often neglected when it comes to sun protection — for our recommendation for an SPF-friendly lip balm, check out our review of the Best Lip Balm.

Our Sunscreen Review: Summed Up