The Best Sunscreens

The best sunscreen has an SPF of at least 30 and is labeled both broad spectrum and water-resistant. It should be a lotion, 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 20 finalists with a UV meter to measure coverage. Our favorites work well, smell great, and absorb quickly.

The 4 Best Sunscreens

Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen

Best
Coverage

Alba Botanica Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30
Alba Botanica
Smooth application with better coverage than most
Pros
Even coverage
Silky texture
No harmful ingredients
Cons
Slight scent

Why we chose it

Even coverage

The 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 indicated its efficiency at blocking rays. Its two active ingredients — zinc oxide (14.5 percent) and titanium dioxide (2 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.

Silky texture

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.

No harmful ingredients

Ingredients like aloe vera, green tea, and chamomile extract are soothing on sensitive skin, and it contains no parabens, phthalates or synthetic fragrances. We also like that Alba Botanica doesn’t do testing on animals, so you can wear it with a clear conscience.

Points to consider

Slight scent

The product is labelled fragrance free, and it certainly lacked the 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. But we wouldn’t mind wearing this one for a day at the beach.

Badger Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30

Best For
Sensitive Skin

Badger Lavender Sunscreen Cream SPF 30
Badger
A scant handful of ingredients make it best for sensitive skin
Pros
Limited ingredients
Ample coverage
Pleasant scent
Cons
Takes work to apply
Longer to absorb

Why we chose it

Limited ingredients

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 sea buckthorn fruit extract. If you have sensitive skin, rosacea, or other skin conditions, less is more. Dr. James Worry, a Pittsburgh-based dermatology physician assistant, advised us, “The more extras that are in it, 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.

Ample coverage

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.

Pleasant scent

Beyond that, this sunscreen was one of the most pleasant-smelling sunscreens we tested — the lavender oil provides a pleasant aroma that we found relaxing, so it might just make a lazy day at the beach even better.

Points to consider

Takes work to apply

Although it isn’t sticky or hard to apply, 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.

Longer to absorb

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.

MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50

Best For
Face

MDSolarSciences Mineral Crème Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50
MDSolarSciences
A little goes a long way with this long-lasting product
Pros
Easy application
Great reviews
Matte finish
Cons
Pricey

Why we chose it

Easy application

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 17 percent zinc oxide, two percent titanium dioxide formula was thin without being runny. 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.

Great reviews

The product is well-loved by consumers, too, with 4.3/5 stars from 195 reviewers on Amazon. Specifically, they note that the lotion is long-lasting, scentless, and breathable. The biggest criticism was a resulting oily complexion, but we didn’t find that to be true 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.

Matte finish

Unlike many sunscreens and lotions, our testers found that this one doesn’t leave your face shiny. In fact, some Amazon reviewers comment on the matte finish it gives to their face, without leaving a trace of white behind.

Points to consider

Pricey

MDSolarSciences sunscreen is the most expensive of our choices, with a 1.7-ounce tube priced at around $30. But a little goes a long way. Our testers discovered that they could fully cover their face with a pea-sized amount. And with its small size, you can take it with you anywhere you go.

Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35

Best For
Physical Activity

Badger Sport Sunscreen Cream SPF 35
Badger
This water-resistant sunscreen protects your skin for 80 minutes of activity
Pros
High quality coverage
Gentle on your skin
Gentle for the environment
Cons
Thick

Why we chose it

High quality coverage

For more active endeavors, 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. Because it’s formulated more for heavy-duty wear than casual coverage, it doesn’t absorb as well as its lavender counterpart. But for active summer days, it accomplishes its most important goal: keeping your skin safe.

Gentle on your skin

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.

Gentle for the environment

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. The result? Badger Sport is free of damaging ingredients and worthy of its Reef Friendly label.

Points to consider

Thick

Although the Badger Sport offers high quality coverage, it goes on thick and doesn’t absorb nearly as well. It also doesn’t smell as nice, leaving behind a distinct papery scent. But we think those are small prices to pay for such effective coverage when you’re out being active.

Guide to Sunscreens

How to find the right sunscreen for you

Check the SPF

A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 will protect you from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays for 30 times longer than going without any protection at all. So, if you typically burn after baking in the sun for 10 minutes, a properly applied SPF 30 sunscreen will prevent you from burning for 300 minutes.

“Once you get to SPF 30,” explains Dr. Worry, “there’s no difference beyond [that].” Additionally, if your complexion is extremely fair, a sunscreen with SPF 15 might not work as well as it would for someone with more melanin in their skin, so 30 is a safer bet.

Look for water resistance

While a 2011 FDA ruling determined that no product sold in the U.S. can claim to be completely waterproof, certain products can boast water resistance during activities like swimming or jogging. To claim water resistance, sunscreens must pass an independent test designed by the FDA to prove they retain their stated SPF.

To minimize the number of applications in any given day, we only looked at sunscreens that provide some water resistance — anywhere from 40 to 80 minutes. But no matter how much water resistance a sunscreen advertises, reapplying is a must. Dr. Green recommends, “If you are outside for a long period of time, I would reapply prior to the time it says on the bottle. And after you come out of the water, reapply no matter what.”

Consider your complexion

No matter what your complexion, we recommend sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. But if you are very fair or burn easily, you’ll want to pay more attention to your sunscreen than, say, someone who bronzes like a Greek god after half an hour in the sun. Our experts told us that there isn’t any benefit in going much higher than SPF 30, but the takeaway here for the fair skinned is to be extra diligent in applying sunscreen every two hours — you may want to buy the largest size possible of your chosen sunscreen when you shop.

Avoid sprays and powders

There's a reason all of our top picks are lotions. Sprays and powders are too easy to accidentally put in your body instead of on it. Spray sunscreens have stirred contention for the same reason that powders are largely inadvisable: the risk of inhalation. Just because an ingredient is safe to put on your skin doesn’t mean it’s safe to breathe. Even two of the safest ingredients commonly found in sunscreen — titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — were noted by the Center for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health as inhalation risks. If you do opt for a spray, according to Dr. Ibrahimi, “It would be better to spray the sunscreen onto your hands and then rub onto your face, rather than trying to spray it onto your face directly.”

Sunscreens FAQ

What sunscreen is best for my infant?

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.

Should I worry about nanoparticles in sunscreen?

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. They 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.

Should I get a base tan before I start using sunscreen?

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. James 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.”

The Best Sunscreens: Summed Up

Alba Botanica
Badger
MDSolar-Sciences
Badger Sport
Best Coverage
Best for Sensitive Skin
Best for Face
Best for Physical Activity
$6.39
$12.97
$28.50
$13.35
Center>SPF
30
30
50
35
Cruelty-free
Reapply every*
Two hours
Two hours
Two hours
Two hours
Contains titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide

*all four also recommend reapplying right after swimming, sweating, or towel-drying.

More Skin Care Reviews

The skin is the largest organ on your body, and it pays to take good care of it. We help you find other products to protect and nourish your skin in these reviews:

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