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How to choose the best sunscreens, according to dermatologists

Not all sunscreens are created equal; experts recommend looking for SPFs with broad-spectrum protection to keep your skin safe from both UVA and UVB rays.
Dermatologists recommend applying one ounce of SPF 30 or higher across your entire body 15 minutes before heading out into the sun.
Dermatologists recommend applying one ounce of SPF 30 or higher across your entire body 15 minutes before heading out into the sun. Kara Birnbaum / NBC

If sunscreen isn’t part of your daily skin care routine by now, it should be. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Plus, wearing sunscreen regularly not only keeps your skin healthy, but also keeps it looking radiant and smooth. It protects against damage from ultraviolet radiation that leads to premature aging like wrinkles, sun spots and sagging, according to Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City.

“Sunscreen is the number-one thing you can do for anti-aging and prevention of skin cancer,” says Dr. Tracy Evans, a board-certified dermatologist at Pacific Skin in San Francisco, California, who emphasizes that it’s the daily application that can offer both benefits, since they’re caused by chronic sun exposure.

SKIP AHEAD The best sunscreens of 2023 | How to shop for the best sunscreen | How to correctly put on SPF | Is chemical sunscreen bad for you?

Shopping for SPF however, can be overwhelming. There are SPF lip balms, options for acne-prone skin and sensitive skin, spray sunscreens and a variety of formulas to choose from. To help narrow down your options and learn more about what to look for in a formulation, we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists. We included some of their recommendations and added in some Select staff favorites too.

Our top picks

How we picked the best sunscreens

To compile guidance on how to shop for the best sunscreens, we spoke with three experts about different sunscreen formulations, filter ingredients, and minimum SPF requirements needed for proper protection. They recommend keeping the following attributes in mind when shopping:

  • Sun protection factor. SPF, or sun protection factor measures your level of protection against a sunburn. SPF 15 blocks 93% of the sun's UVB rays, and increases incrementally from there as the SPF goes up (for example, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UV rays), according to the American Academy of Dermatology. No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun's UVB rays, however.
  • Broad-spectrum protection. This means that a sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays, according to Dr. Nkem Ugonabo, a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City. (UVA rays are the ones that cause signs of aging, while UVB rays contribute to sunburns and skin cancer — so it’s essential to have both.)
  • Formula type. Sunscreens can come in a variety of formats including lotions, creams, sticks, sprays, powders and mists. While the best type of sunscreen is one you’ll actually commit to wearing daily, lotions and creams tend to be more effective than the competition, according to our experts. We’ll go into more detail on this below.
  • Chemical vs mineral. Sunscreen filters protect skin from the sun in two ways: mineral or chemical. “Mineral sunscreens create a protective barrier, which blocks UV light from reaching our skin, while chemical sunscreens typically absorb the UV light and convert them into a less harmful state,” says Nazarian. Since mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) sit on the surface of the skin, they tend to be less irritating — and therefore better for those who have sensitive or reactive skin, including babies and children. Meanwhile, chemical sunscreens are often easier to blend and feel more lightweight, making them ideal if you’re prone to acne or just don’t want to spend a lot of time blending them in. “Neither is ‘better’ than the other: they're just different,” says Nazarian.
  • Additional ingredients. While special add-ons won’t make or break a sunscreen formula (or impact its efficacy), ingredients like hyaluronic acid and antioxidants such as vitamin C, can have added benefits, according to Evans.

The best sunscreens of 2023

Below, we compiled expert-recommended face and body sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of 30 or more, which is the minimum level recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. We also included a range of chemical and mineral sunscreens, since it can be a matter of personal preference.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

Evans turns to this formula for everyday use, which also comes in a tinted formula for light coverage. “It goes on nice and smoothly, and is especially good for acne-prone skin or rosacea,” she says. That’s because it’s a mineral formula, so it doesn't absorb into the skin. Select updates editor Mili Godio has experienced this benefit firsthand. “I have severe rosacea, so most skin care products I try leave my skin looking red and create a burning feeling,” she says. “This one is the only sunscreen I've ever tried that doesn't irritate my skin at all. I thought I was allergic to all sunscreen before trying this one out.” The noncomedogenic formula is both oil- and fragrance-free and contains niacinamide to help soothe inflammation as well as sodium hyaluronate for a hydration boost, according to the brand.

Type: Mineral and chemical | SPF: 46 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, octinoxate | Water-resistant: Yes

Dr. Loretta Universal Glow Daily Defense Mineral Sunscreen Fluid SPF 40

I'm a longtime fan of Dr. Loretta's Urban Antioxidant Sunscreen, which was one of the few mineral face sunscreens that didn't leave a white cast on my medium-olive skin tone. Her newest SPF is just as good: It provides a blend of antioxidants alongside zinc oxide, a mineral filter that can defend against UVA and UVB rays, and even blue light, according to the brand. It feels like a lightweight moisturizer on application, and leaves a radiant finish that doesn't make my combination skin look too shiny.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 40 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: No

Cotz Flawless Complexion SPF 50 Lightly Tinted

Mineral sunscreens can be tricky to blend in, which makes them a hard sell for deeper skin tones. That's not the case with this tinted, noncomedogenic cream, which blends well on various skin types, according to Ugonabo. It offers broad-spectrum protection and relies solely on mineral filters (in fact, the brand name is an acronym for "contains only titanium and zinc".) Plus, it's gentle enough for even sensitive skin types — including those prone to rosacea, according to the brand.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: No

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Cooling Water Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60

This face and body sunscreen lotion offers a weightless feel without compromising protection. “I love that this product is so lightweight, but has a high SPF of 60,” says Nazarian.

It uses a blend of chemical filters to provide broad-spectrum protection, a mix of antioxidants and the brand's spring water to help soothe skin, according to La Roche-Posay. Plus, “it's fantastic for an easy application over a large surface area, and doesn't cling to body hair,” says Nazarian, noting that the latter is especially helpful for men.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 60 | Active ingredients: Homosalate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Eryfotona Ageless Tinted Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

Although this formula is powered by mineral sunscreen filters (namely, zinc oxide), it feels surprisingly lightweight, according to Ugonabo. Plus, “despite being a mineral sunscreen, it blends well on a wide range of skin types,” she says. The noncomedogenic formula is water-resistant infused with peptides and antioxidants like vitamin E to address existing signs of sun damage, according to the brand.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 40 minutes)

Alastin HydraTint Pro Mineral Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 36

For those in the market for a multitasker, consider this sunscreen, which doubles as a tinted moisturizer. This “blends beautifully into the skin and has a great overall color that most people can wear,” says Evans, who calls it the best tinted sunscreen on the market. “It also has a luminosity that creates a subtle glow,” she says. It pairs zinc oxide with antioxidants; they work together to protect skin from both sun and environmental damage, according to the brand. It's also fragrance-free and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 36 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+

Nazarian also recommends this mineral sunscreen from Australian brand, Blue Lizard. “Their products have a high SPF, apply nicely, and offer great protection for active, outdoorsy types,” she says. She also appreciates that the caps of the bottles and tubes offer a unique advantage: “They have color-change technology to alert you when they’re exposed to harmful UV, allowing you to keep them protected and stable,” she says. (Excess heat and sunlight can inadvertently break down sunscreen formulas, according to the brand.) This particular formula contains zinc oxide and is free of parabens and fragrances, making it a winner for sensitive skin types, according to Blue Lizard.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

EltaMD UV Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen

For runners, cyclists, and others who spend their days outdoors, consider this noncomedogenic formula, which uses a blend of chemical and mineral filters. “This is a great sunscreen for people who are active,” says Evans of the formula, which you can use on both your face and body. The oil-free, unscented lotion is water-resistant and won't drip into your eyes when you sweat, according to EltaMD.

Type: Mineral and chemical | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, octinoxate, octisalate | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen Broad Spectrum Body Lotion SPF 60

For sun protection with a side of soothing ingredients, look no further than this lotion, which has SPF 60 and prebiotic oat for additional moisture. Because it uses chemical filters, it blends in smoothly and doesn't leave a white cast, according to the brand. Sensitive types can rest easy knowing that it's also hypoallergenic and free of both parabens and phthalates. It also has a 4.6-average star rating from over 2,400 reviews on Amazon.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 60 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60+

This is a nonirritating chemical sunscreen that blends in nicely, according to Ugonabo, who’s also a fan of the lower price point. The advantage of this formula, as its name implies, is that it's sheer, according to the brand. The oil-free formula also helps strengthen your skin's moisture barrier thanks to ingredients like vitamin E, according to Neutrogena.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 60 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Supergoop Glowscreen SPF 40 Sunscreen

Evans turns to this versatile formula for “for something fun with a little sparkle,” she says. Since it functions as both a makeup primer and a sunscreen, “this product allows for you to have a glow as well as protect your skin,” she says, adding that sensitive skin types should use caution, since it uses chemical filters and is more of a makeup product. Because it comes in four tints, you can wear it alone as a tinted moisturizer, too; it includes hyaluronic acid and niacinamide to hydrate skin as well, according to the brand.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 40 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene | Water-resistant: No

Banana Boat Sport Ultra SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion

If you're seeking function over form, consider this oversized bottle of sunscreen, which comes in a user-friendly pump format and offers SPF 50 protection. It blends in quickly and doesn't leave behind a greasy feel, according to the brand. It's also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, and has a 4.7-average star rating from over 13,000 reviews on Amazon.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 50 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 80 minutes)

Revision Skincare Intellishade TruPhysical SPF 45

Nazarian swears by this facial sunscreen. “It checks all my wish-list boxes: It’s tinted, has high SPF, and includes anti-aging ingredients, and the color blends beautifully into many skin tones,” she says. (Those ingredients, for reference, include vitamin C and squalane.) The mineral formula also moisturizes skin, improves the look of fine lines, and helps even out skin tone, according to the brand — making it a one-and-done product for your morning routine.

Type: Mineral | SPF: 45 | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, titanium dioxide | Water-resistant: No

Dune Bod Guard

Dune’s Bod Guard — a Select Wellness Award winner — quickly absorbs and blends into skin, according to Select social media editor Sadhana Daruvuri. She says it leaves her skin free from a white cast and provides a natural-looking glow. The sunscreen offers broad-spectrum protection and is made with ingredients like vitamin E and hibiscus fruit extract that moisturize skin, according to the brand.

Type: Chemical | SPF: 30 | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene | Water-resistant: Yes (up to 40 minutes)

Why is wearing sunscreen important?

“Sunscreen should be a staple in your daily regimen, year-round, because it decreases the risk of skin cancer,” says Nazarian.

Plus, there are other, more aesthetic-minded perks. For instance, applying sunscreen regularly can “also help prevent worsening of skin-related issues such as melasma and other forms of hyperpigmentation,” says Ugonabo.

How to shop for sunscreen

When you’re shopping for sunscreen, it helps to consider your skin type, the sunscreen’s formula type and whether it’s water resistant. It’s also worth noting that there are certain ingredients to avoid. Here’s what the experts recommend keeping in mind when you’re shopping for sunscreen:

  • Avoid ingredients that can harm marine life. Certain chemical filters, particularly oxybenzone, and some types of mineral filters have been found to impact marine life, potentially harming various species from mussels to coral, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nano (meaning super-small) versions of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, the two mineral filters, may also pose a risk.
  • Choose a lotion formula over sprays and sticks. All of the dermatologists we interviewed prefer lotions and creams to sprays, sticks, and powders. Not only do they offer more control over the coverage, but “a lotion that is rubbed into the skin has the best absorption,” says Evans. “While sticks can be a good way to reapply sunscreen, sprays, gels and sticks need to really be rubbed into the skin to be efficacious.” Powders can also be helpful for reapplying sunscreen over makeup, plus, sticks can also be helpful for applying SPF to the lips — so there’s still a place for them in your routine, according to Nazarian.
  • Factor in your skin type. If you’re prone to acne, you may want to seek out a noncomedogenic formula, which means it doesn’t clog pores. And if your skin tends to be on the sensitive side, dermatologists recommend looking for mineral options, since they don’t absorb into skin and therefore are less likely to trigger a reaction.
  • Account for water-resistance. While no sunscreen is waterproof — meaning you’ll need to reapply it if you sweat or swim — some formulas are water-resistant, meaning they’ll provide protection while wet up to a given amount of time. The exact amount of time varies by formula, ranging from 40 minutes to 80.

How to correctly put on SPF

First, make sure you’re applying enough. The right amount is 1 ounce across your entire body, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, which is roughly the amount in a shot glass. You should also reapply every two hours, or right after you swim or sweat, which can impact the level of protection.

Mineral sunscreens start working immediately. However, “you do need to apply chemical blockers 30 minutes before exposure to sun to give it time to be absorbed into the skin,” says Nazarian. “This is another area where chemical blockers differ from physical ones.” Whatever type of formula you use, she also recommends layering your SPF beneath makeup to ensure you create an even layer and don’t miss any spots. (However, throughout the day, you can reapply sunscreen over your makeup.)

Finally, consider pairing your sunscreen with UPF clothing. While the amount of sun protection offered by a given item of clothing can vary, something with a UPF label is guaranteed some level of protection against the sun.

Is chemical sunscreen bad for you?

Unlike mineral sunscreens, which create a shield over skin, “chemical sunscreens work by neutralizing the damaging UV as they hit the skin, and are usually ingredients such as avobenzone and oxybenzone,” says Nazarian. While few people have an issue with chemical filters, those with very sensitive skin may experience irritation, such as tingling, itching and redness, she says.

That said, “it’s not bad for you,” she says. “In fact, it tends to be more cosmetically elegant, smooth more evenly on skin than physical blockers, and does a phenomenal job of blocking UV.”

Meet our Experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Nkem Ugonabo is a board-certified dermatologist at UnionDerm in New York City.
  • Dr. Tracy Evans is a board-certified dermatologist at Pacific Skin in San Francisco, California.
  • Dr. Rachel Nazarian is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology in New York City.

Why trust Select?

Deanna Pai is a freelance beauty writer and editor who has been covering beauty and health for more than a decade, including topics like sun protection and safety. For this article, Pai spoke to three dermatologists to narrow down the best sunscreens to shop this year, and highlighted their recommendations for the best products to consider.