The best sunscreen you can buy

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The Insider Pick:

  • Daily use of a good sunscreen like Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 will fend off sunburns today, and help prevent the skin damage that leads to aged, wrinkled, blotchy skin later on in life.

Growing up in Southern California, summertime meant heading to the beach or swimming pool, a bottle of what was then labeled “tanning oil” in hand. SPF wasn’t a “thing” back then. In fact, I often slathered mineral oil on my skin to increase the tanning effects. Of course, I paid a price for that youthful foolishness with roasting sunburns back then, and today, in freckled patches of sun damage along with a greatly increased risk of skin cancer.

Knowledge of the powerful and dangerous effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays has come a long way in the decades since my fruitless attempts at tanning my pale skin. Today, it’s well understood that excessive sun exposure damages skin both on the surface and deep beneath the epidermis, and that damage is cumulative through your lifetime. That’s why you need to use sunscreen if not daily, then at least when you’ll be out in the sun for hours.

We want your skin to stay healthy and look good through your lifetime. That’s why we did the research to find the best sunscreens to protect you from the sun’s burning rays. After all, no one wants their summer vacation spoiled by a painful sunburn — and certainly, no one wants to hear their dermatologist say that the funky spot on their back is a skin cancer. So slather on one of the following skin-saving products and enjoy your fun in the sun, but remember — once your skin starts to turn pink, the damage has already been done. 

Here are our top picks for the best sunscreen you can buy:

Updated on 05/15/2018 by Malarie Gokey: Updated prices and formatting. Added Simple Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 as a budget facial sunscreen pick.

Read on in the slides below to check out our top picks for the best sunscreen and to learn all about UV rays and SPF ratings.

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The best sunscreen overall

The best sunscreen overall

Coppertone/Business Insider

Why you’ll love it: Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 lets you enjoy the great outdoors longer without skin damage.

Non-greasy, hypoallergenic, water-resistant, and without added fragrance, Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 is a great way to protect your skin whether you’re spending the day at the beach, playing a game of softball at the park, or just taking your dog for an afternoon walk.

It doesn’t have a strong scent and best of all, it dries quickly and cleanly without that ghostly white cast some sunscreens leave. Although it is water-resistant, you should still reapply after swimming, of course.

Expert reviewers and buyers alike approve of the sunscreen. Copperton’s Ultraguard SPF 70 is the number one recommended sunscreen at The Sweethome. The reviewers praise the sunscreen for its strong protection and easy application. They also like the plastic bottle, because it’s easy to hold and close, even with wet or slippery hands.

Consumer Reports also gives this sunscreen high marks with an overall score of 94 out of 100. They found it to be excellent at blocking both UVA and UVB rays, and also very good at performing at the stated SPF of 70.

Amazon buyers like Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 as well. The sunscreen has more than 200 reviews and an average rating of 4.4 stars. Buyers like the way the non-greasy lotion rubs easily into their skin without leaving a white film or feeling sticky. Most also appreciate the lack of strong fragrance.

Pros: Effective performance, non-greasy feel, hypoallergenic, reasonable price

Cons: None to speak of

Buy Coppertone Ultraguard SPF 70 on Amazon for $8.97

The best spray-on sunscreen

The best spray-on sunscreen

Banana Boat/Business Insider

Why you’ll love it: If you prefer the convenience of spray sunscreen, you’ll love Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist SPF 50.

While dermatologists generally prefer lotion sunscreen over spray products — it’s not as easy to get an even, thick coating of spray sunscreen as it is lotion — it’s undeniably better to use a spray than go without any sunscreen at all. And Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist SPF 50 is an excellent product, even compared to many lotions.

As the name suggests, this sunscreen sprays on clear, so it doesn’t leave white marks or streaks. It dries super-fast and keeps sand from sticking to your skin, as well, which is a definite plus when you’re enjoying the shoreline. The sunscreen won’t leave you feeling sticky or like you’re encased in a thin plastic film, as many other spray sunscreens do. It’s also broad-spectrum, water-resistant up to 80 minutes, and moisturizing to your skin.

Consumer Reports gives Banana Boat SunComfort Clear Ultramist SPF 50 a very high score of 97 out of a 100, rating it as excellent for UVA and UVB protection and reliability of claimed SPF.

Good Housekeeping chose it as a top pick as well, stating, “This spray tied for first place, receiving the highest scores in absorbency, texture, and overall satisfaction.” They also found that their testers loved the lightweight formula and mildly fruity fragrance.  

Pros: Easy to use, dries fast, excellent performance, low price

Cons: You need to be very conscientious about full coverage when using any spray sunscreen

Buy Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist SPF 50 at Walmart for $7.92

The best chemical-free sunscreen

The best chemical-free sunscreen

Neutrogena/Business Insider

Why you’ll love it:  If you have ultra-sensitive skin, or simply prefer to avoid chemical sunscreens, you’ll find the Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50 to be an excellent alternative to conventional products.

Most sunscreens rely on various chemicals to block UV rays, such as avobenzone, homosalate, and ozybenzone. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with the ingredients, and they are all highly effective at keeping damaging sun radiation from penetrating your skin, some people are highly sensitive to these chemicals, or just prefer a more “green” lifestyle. For those people, sunscreens that use minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are a viable alternative. And if you’re in that group, you’ll love the effectiveness of Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50.

Formulated with “Purescreen,” a 100% naturally sourced blend of mineral sunscreen ingredients, Neutrogena Pure & Free soaks into the skin almost immediately, leaving no greasy feel, shine, stickiness, or irritation. While it goes on white — allowing you to ensure even coverage — it dries clear. It’s also hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic, waterproof, and sweatproof.

Health.com likes this sunscreen, praising it for soaking in quickly and not feeling greasy or gloppy.

Amazon customers feel the same, giving it an average of 4.2 stars out of 250+ reviews. Many praise the formula for working well under makeup and for absorbing quickly. Some do complain that it doesn’t dry entirely clear on their skin, however, leaving a faint white cast.

Pros: Mineral sunscreen ingredients, easy to use, reasonably priced

Cons: Might leave a white cast on skin, small bottle

Buy Neutrogena Pure & Free Liquid Sunscreen SPF 50 on Amazon for $14.08

The best sunscreen for your face

The best sunscreen for your face

La Roche-Posay/Business Insider

Why you’ll love it: La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk not only protects your delicate facial skin from both UVA and UVB radiation, it also provides a healthy dose of antioxidants to prevent cell damage from harmful free radicals.

While the product name might be a mouthful, La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk is velvety smooth on your face, safe for even those with sensitive skin, nearly odor-free, and non-greasy, non-sticky, and non-comedogenic. Of course, you can use it on any area of your body, not just your face, but as this is a pricey product, you might want to limit it to sensitive facial skin, and use one of the other recommended products elsewhere.

Consumer Reports gave this sunscreen a perfect score of 100, calling it an excellent product with no discernible flaws. In fact, it’s the site’s highest rated sunscreen. It has an SPF of 60 and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

It’s popular on Amazon as well, with 225+ reviews and an average of 4.6 stars. Buyers rave about its effective performance, non-greasy feel, lack of a white cast, and overall ease of use. Many also comment that it doesn’t make their face break out or irritate their skin, even if sweat drips into their eyes.

Says one pleased buyer, “I really love this stuff. This sunscreen is definitely worth the high price tag because not only is it moisturizing, but it also melts into the skin quite easily without leaving an annoying white cast. It’s good on both body and the face.”

Pros: Highly effective, contains antioxidants for extra skin benefits, applies easily, no strong odor, safe for sensitive skin

Cons: Expensive

Buy La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk on Amazon for $35.99

The best cheap sunscreen for your face

The best cheap sunscreen for your face

Simple

Why you’ll love it: Simple’s Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 doesn’t contain any perfumes, harsh chemicals, or other skin irritants, plus, it absorbs quickly and feels lightweight.

If you don’t want to spend nearly $40 on a sunscreen for your face, Simple’s Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 may be the answer. It costs less than $10 on Amazon and it’s very effective — especially for anyone who has sensitive skin.

Just like every other Simple product, it doesn’t have any dyes, fragrance, or weird chemicals that can irritate skin. The facial lotion uses allantoin, glycerin, and bisabolol to moisturize your skin, while SPF 15 gives your face the protection it needs from the sun.

It doesn’t have as high of an SPF rating as La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios 60 Melt-In Sunscreen Milk does, but it’s more than enough for basic protection. I use Simple’s Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 every day to protect my skin from the sun’s rays. It absorbs into my skin quickly and never feels greasy, either.

More than 1,000 buyers have reviewed the Simple Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15 on Amazon, and the majority of the reviews are 4 or 5 stars. One reviewer named Jane Z. perfectly sums up what many reviewers are saying about this moisturizer: “I have incredibly sensitive skin and have been searching for a product that will both protect my fair skin, but also not clog my pores and make me break out. This product met those needs and THEN some. I use it every day.” 

If you have sensitive skin and you’re on the hunt for a budget facial sunscreen, look no further than Simple. — Malarie Gokey

Pros: Affordable, lightweight, SPF 15, no harsh chemicals, no added scents or perfumes, great for sensitive skin

Cons: Not as much SPF as others

Buy Simple Kind to Skin Facial Moisturizer SPF 15 on Amazon for $8.32

The best sunscreen for kids

The best sunscreen for kids

ThinkBaby

Why you’ll love it: If you want to use safe, natural products on your children’s delicate skin, you’ll love Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50.

Given a number one rating by the Environmental Working Group, Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50 uses mineral zinc oxide to block UVA and UVB radiation, along with a host of other natural, skin-soothing ingredients such as aloe, jojoba oil, Vitamin C, and raspberry seed oil.

This sunscreen is free of all potentially harmful chemicals, including Nano particles that might enter the bloodstream through the skin. It’s safe for delicate skin, even on babies as young as six months old. It’s important to note that no sunscreen is allowed to advertise as safe for children younger than six months of age. Pediatricians recommend babies that young be kept out of the sun altogether.

Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen goes on thick and does leave a white cast on the skin, as is typical with most zinc oxide sunscreens. It doesn’t dry the skin, however, or feel especially greasy, although it does leave skin shiny.

One of the best-selling sunscreens on Amazon, Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen has over 2,100 reviews and an average of 4.4 stars. Not surprisingly, most buyers comment on the lack of chemicals. Many also praise the thickness of the sunscreen, its suitability for sensitive skin, and its pleasant smell. A typical comment: “Great formula. Goes on non-greasy. Has a pleasant smell, but not too overpowering. Best of all, prevents burns!”

Pros: No potentially harmful chemicals, pleasant smell, effectiveness

Cons: Expensive, leaves skin shiny, white cast

Buy Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50 on Amazon for $16.78 (originally $23.99)

What are UV rays?

What are UV rays?

While the sun emits a wide variety of electromagnetic rays, 99% of them fall into three categories: Visible light, which is otherwise known as daylight; infrared rays, which we feel in the form of heat; and ultraviolet rays, which cause skin problems and also provoke several eye ailments, most notably cataracts.

There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. Because the atmosphere’s ozone layer absorbs the majority of the UVC rays, they aren’t much of a problem. UVA and UVB, on the other hand, are.

UVA rays are the most prevalent type, comprising 95% of the sun’s UV rays that reach the earth. These long rays penetrate deeply into your skin, reaching the dermis and wreaking havoc on your cells. It’s UVA that promotes your tan, but also UVA that eventually, with enough exposure, leaves your skin wrinkled, leathery, and old looking. UVA also causes changes in cells that can lead to cancer. UVA rays are present all year round, and throughout the entire day. They penetrate clouds, glass, and shallow water, so don’t think you’re safe without sunscreen as long as it’s cloudy.

UVB rays don’t penetrate deeply into the skin, but these are the rays that cause sunburn and also contribute to tanning. They are strongly linked to the formation of skin cancers, as well. UVB are strongest during the late morning through afternoon hours of the spring and summer months, but they are present to some extent throughout the year.

What does SPF stand for?

What does SPF stand for?

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What does SPF really mean?

You may know that SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, but do you really know what that means?

SPF is the measure of a sunscreen’s ability to filter out UVB rays. The length of time a sunscreen is effective depends on how long it normally takes your skin to burn without any protection. For example, if your skin normally starts turning red within 20 minutes, applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will theoretically allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before burning, or for five hours.

In reality, however, most people don’t apply a thick enough layer of sunscreen for full protection, and neglect to reapply the product throughout the day. Dermatologists recommend a full one ounce of sunscreen per application and reapplying sunscreen every two hours you’re in the sun. It’s also important to choose a full-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays. But most important of all, keep in mind that no sunscreen, regardless of SPF, blocks 100% of UV rays. Even an SPF of 100 blocks 99% of the damaging sun radiation, not a full 100%.

Check out our other great skincare guides

Check out our other great skincare guides

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The best exfoliators you can buy for any skin type or budget

Whether you’re new to the exfoliation game or a seasoned skincare pro, Glossier’s Solution is the exfoliator you should be reaching for. Its powerful mix of acids dissolves dead skin cells and improves your complexion, giving your face a gorgeous glow.

You might also like the Simple Kind to Skin Smoothing Facial Scrub, the Dermalogical Daily Microfoliant, the Juara Radiance Enzyme Scrub, and the Ole Henriksen Transforming Walnut Scrub.

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The best moisturizers you can buy

Everyone wants healthy, smooth, and soft skin. Dry skin not only looks dull and flaky, it also feels tight and itchy. The solution? A good moisturizer. Our favorite moisturizer for both face and body is the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream.

You might also like the Neutrogena Hydro Boost, the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat, the Pacifica Coconut Probiotic Water Rehab Cream, the Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Unscented Lotion, the Vanicream Moisturizing Skin Cream, the Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream, and the Aveeno Active Naturals Skin Relief Hand Cream.

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The best anti-aging serums you can buy

Let’s face it, there’s nothing you can do about getting older, but you can delay the signs of aging with a good serum. Here are our top picks for the best anti-aging serums you can buy:

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The best eye creams you can buy

Eye creams and serums are likely the product you know you should be using but have no idea how to actually shop for. If you’re unsure of where to start, reach for the Dr. Dennis Gross Ferulic + Retinol Eye Serum. Buyers and experts agree that this is the cream of the crop when it comes to treating under eye circles.

You’ll also love the Sunday Riley Auto Correct Brightening and Depuffing Eye Cream, the Aveeno Absolutely Ageless Eye Cream, the Uma Absolute Aging Eye Oil, and the Lancôme Vissionaire Yeux.

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The best clay masks you can buy

Clay masks are an easy and cost-effective way to give your skin a boost without hitting the spa. Our top pick is the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Mask because it is a super affordable all-natural mask that deep cleans your pores.

You might also like the Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack Mask, the Pure Biology Clay Face Mask, the L’Oréal Paris Pure Clay Exfoliate & Refine Mask, or the Charlotte Tilbury Goddess Skin Clay Mask.

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The best body oil you can buy

If smooth, supple skin is what you’re looking for, then the Fresh Sugar Ultra-Nourishing Body Oil is the bottle you want to reach for.

You might also like the Jao Goe Oil, the Herbivore Jasmine Glowing Hydrating Oil, the Kypris Body Elixir Inflorescence, and the Burt’s Bees Body Oil.

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The best face cream for dry skin

If you’re one of those people whose face feels flaky whether it’s December or August, finding the right face cream can be difficult. But if full-on hydration and protection are what you’re after, Dr. Jart+ Ceramindin Cream is your best bet.

You should also consider the Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel, the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, the Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream, and the Youth To The People Age Prevention Superfood Cream.

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