The Best Sunscreens for Athletes and Outdoor Adventurers

The safest, most protective and highest rated sport sunscreens of 2015


It’s a little bit scary to think about, but according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and many top dermatologists, we shouldn’t be relying on sunscreen as our first source of protection from the sun.

“The consensus among scientists is that sunscreens alone cannot reverse this trend,” the organization recently pointed out in their 2015 Guide to Sunscreens.

Instead, the EWG reports, it should be just one tool in your arsenal when it comes to keeping your skin safe from the sun. In fact, they even go so far as to say that “sunscreen should be your last resort.”

Your first lines of defense:

  • Clothing: shirts, hats, shorts and pants can protect against UV rays and reduce your risk by 27 percent.
  • Planning around the sun: Spend time outside when the sun is low in the sky, like in the early morning or late afternoon
  • Finding or making shade: Look for natural shade, like from trees and bring umbrellas or canopies with you to the beach.

And these rules don’t just apply during the warm-weather, summer months.

According to Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a board-certified dermatologist and the president and CEO of Advanced Skin Care and Dermatology Physicians, our skin is susceptible to damage from the sun 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

So, in addition to taking the above precautions, she suggests using protection from sunscreen in the morning, the late afternoon and even when you’re in the shade. Basically, there’s no time of day or type of weather when you shouldn’t be taking extra measures to protect your skin from the sun.

Especially for athletes and outdoor adventurers who spend extended periods of time outside sweating or participating in water sports, it’s also important to know that there’s no such thing as “waterproof sunscreen.”

“There is ‘water-resistant’ sunscreen, but this will also come off your skin after heavy sweating or a dip in the ocean or pool,” says Dr. Susan Huang, a board-certified dermatologist at the Harvard teaching hospital Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Water-resistant sunscreens are effective for either 40 or 80 minutes (as noted on the label), after that amount of time, you’ll need to reapply in order to keep your skin protected.

Two more important factors to consider when choosing a sunscreen: what it’s made of and how it's applied. The EWG advises that you entirely avoid spray sunscreens because they can’t cover skin completely and their “Hall of Shame” guide points out the worst sun care products (many of which come from highly popular brands), which they say are essentially ineffective when it comes to protecting your skin.

Bailey recommends using mineral-based products that are made with zinc oxide. She says that it’s one of only two broad spectrum ingredients approved by the FDA (the other being titanium dioxide) that effectively protects against UVB and UVA rays, including UV-A1 rays, which are the most harmful type.

According to Bailey and the EWG you should avoid sun care products that include avobenzone, oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and anything that promises an SPF value above 50 (SPF protection tops out at 30 to 50).

“Avobenzone products are not stable. They break down once formulated and they break down when they neutralize UV rays on your skin,” Bailey said. “And oxybenzone products are absorbed through your skin and the chemical has been demonstrated to be a hormone disruptor.”

If all of this information has you feeling overwhelmed, and like you’ll have to spend days hunting for a sunscreen that meets all of these requirements—don’t stress.

The EWG recently released their updated list of the best sport and beach sunscreens for 2015. Their guide scores sunscreens on a scale from zero to 10 (zero being the lowest hazard and 10 being the highest) and also provides in-depth information about each product's health concerns, UVA protection, main ingredients and even the cost.

We sorted through the list and here we’re highlighting the most affordable, best rated,  least hazardous sunscreens that are made with the most protective ingredients.

Butterbean Sunscreen, SPF 30

EWG Rating: 1
Health Concern: Low
UVA Protection: Excellent
Main ingredient: Zinc Oxide (22 percent)

Aubrey Organics Natural Sun Sunscreen Unscented, SPF 45

EWG Rating: 1
Health Concern: Low
UVA Protection: Excellent
Main ingredient: Zinc Oxide (25 percent)

Click here to see more of the best sport sunscreens.

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