Three best sunscreens
Whether you're lounging at the beach or just taking a quick walk around the block with your dog, sunscreen is a must. Not only can a quality sunscreen protect you from skin cancer, it can also help ward off the signs of aging -- fine lines, wrinkles, and dark spots.
But which sunscreen is best for your skin type? Which sun protection factor, or SPF, should you choose? Continue reading to learn more about the different sunscreen products available and which we think are the very best.
Chemical sunscreen vs. physical sunscreen
The first decision to make when choosing a sunscreen is whether you want a product that protects you chemically or physically. Chemical sunscreens use organic compounds like avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octisalate. These compound trigger a chemical reaction that helps bounce UV rays off the skin. Physical sunscreens contain mineral ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that cover the skin's the surface and physically deflect the sun's rays.
Chemical sunscreens are usually thinner, so they spread and blend into the skin quite easily. Physical sunscreens don't spread and blend as well, but they aren't as likely to irritate sensitive skin, and the ingredients are less likely to clog pores. If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you may find more success with a physical sunscreen. Take note, however, that physical sunscreens may leave a whitish residue which, if you have tan or deep skin, might be quite noticeable.
The most important feature to consider when purchasing sunscreen is its SPF rating. An SPF rating number indicates approximately how long a product can protect your skin. For example, if you'd normally burn in the sun within 15 minutes, a sunscreen with SPF 15 can increase that by 15 times, so you could theoretically spend up to 225 minutes in the sun without burning.
The American Cancer Society recommends using a product with an SPF of at least 30. It doesn't necessarily pay to go much higher than that, though; while an SPF 30 sunscreen effectively blocks 97% of UVB rays, an SPF 50 formula increases that protection to just 98%.
Any sunscreen you choose should offer broad-spectrum protection. This means the formula protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
UVB rays are the rays most likely to cause skin cancer and sunburn. Every sunscreen offers UVB protection.
UVA rays may also play a role in the development of skin cancer, as well as the signs of premature aging. The most comprehensive sunscreen will protect against UVA rays, too -- but not all products do.
If you're going to spend the day at the beach or pool, you need a water-resistant sunscreen that protects you when you're immersed in water and when you sweat. Most formulas offer either 40 or 80 minutes of water resistance. We advise potential buyers to choose a product that provides the most protection possible.
Lotions, sprays, and sticks
Sunscreens are available in lotion, spray, and stick form.
Lotions are most common. The consistency is creamy and somewhat liquid-like. Sunscreen lotions usually offer the most effective protection, though they can be messy and take a fair amount of time to apply.
Sprays are also fairly common. These products come in an aerosol can that dispenses the product as a fine mist. Sunscreen spray is extremely easy to apply, and you can get the job done fast. However, it can be easy to miss a spot with an aerosol can.
Sticks are very easy to use, but application takes time. In addition, you may find it hard to spread sunscreen stick over all of your skin.
Shake your sunscreen before applying it to make sure the active ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the formula.
Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you plan to go outdoors. That gives your skin time to fully absorb the active ingredients.
Be diligent about reapplying sunscreen every two hours or right after you finish swimming or working out.
Q. How much sunscreen do I need to apply?
A. If you're wearing a bathing suit, a good rule of thumb is to apply one ounce of sunscreen to your body, which amounts to roughly one shot glass full. If you're more covered up, apply a teaspoon of sunscreen to each exposed body part: face, neck, each arm, each leg, and so on.
Q. Is sunscreen necessary on a cloudy day?
A. Yes. Even when the sky is cloudy or overcast, enough UV rays are present to damage to your skin. Apply sunscreen any time you're going to be outside in the daylight for more than a few minutes.
Best of the best: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60
Our take: This is a long-lasting, creamy sunscreen that offers superior broad-spectrum protection and absorbs easily into the skin.
What we like: It provides an SPF of 60 and 80 minutes of water resistance, and the formula is free of parabens and fragrances. It's recommended by dermatologists, too.
What we dislike: If you sweat, the lotion could sting your eyes. If you have sensitive skin, you may find the formula irritating.
Our take: This generously sized bottle of sunscreen is available in multiple SPF ratings and has a fresh tropical scent.
What we like: It offers up to 80 minutes of water resistance. The formula is free of oil and parabens and contains vitamin E and antioxidants. On the skin, it feels non-greasy, but it's still moisturizing.
What we dislike: Like other lotions, it tends to run when you're sweaty and can sting your eyes. For some users, it can cause clogged pores and acne.
Our take: This long-lasting sunscreen comes in a large 18-ounce container.
What we like: It has an SPF of 50 and a convenient pump dispenser. It contains antioxidants that help promote healthy skin and features gentle ingredients that won't irritate the skin.
What we dislike: This formula can feel greasy on the skin, and some users experience breakouts. The strong fragrance may not be appealing to some.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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