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In this day and age you need to wear sunscreen. Harmful UV rays are a danger to us all, with sensitive skin or otherwise. You need a solid sun protection factor to help block harmful UVA rays and UVB rays. Otherwise you risk sunburn and skin cancer.
There are many types of sunscreen available to suit any needs. If you have dry skin, darker skin tones, acne prone skin and more. There are lotion sunscreens, spray sunscreen and whatever else you could want. That means no excuses. Let’s check out the best sunscreens you’ll want to toss in your beach cooler or bag next time you head out.
At SPF 50, ThinkSport’s mineral sunscreen is a great choice. It’s made with 20% zinc oxide. That means it’s a physical sunscreen that can keep you protected from UV rays right at the surface of your skin.
You can safely go swimming while wearing ThinkSport. Not only is it water resistant, you’re good for about 80 minutes in the water. We recommend refreshing it a little earlier than that, however. Try every 60 minutes just to be safe. You’ll also have to work it in pretty good. We found that it leaves a white coating on your skin if you don’t rub it in well. The tradeoff is that it really works well.
ThinkSport is both vegan and reef friendly. If you’re concerned about the environment it’s a great choice. There’s no PABA, parabens or harmful chemicals. Because it can handle water and sports, it’s a great choice for athletes and kids alike. Take it out on the bass boat for a day of fishing. It doesn’t have an odor so you don’t need to worry about smelling weird all day.
ThinkSport is a broad spectrum, water resistant formula. It’s mineral based but doesn’t feel oily. Combine this with a hat and sun-protective clothing and you should be burn free all day.
For the price, you won’t find a better sunscreen than Neutrogena’s ultra-sheer dry touch. This is a broad spectrum sunscreen with an incredible sun protection factor. It offers an incredible SPF 100 with a non-greasy formula. It offers water resistance for up to 80 minutes. It’s also quick drying too, which is a nice feature.
With an extra high SPF rating, you have some added security. Most sunscreens require reapplications on a regular basis and we may forget. Or we simply don’t use enough. This will keep you covered better than nearly any other brand on the market.
The formulation won’t clog your pores and dries to a matte finish. If you’re someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, it’s a great choice. We recommend it especially for those who work outdoors. The extra SPF is crucial for those who are in the sun for extended periods. It resists sweat and won’t drip in the heat.
If you have problem skin, you’d do well to try EltaMD. This broad spectrum sunscreen is designed to handle some serious skin issues. If you have any issues with acne give this a try. It’s paraben and fragrance free. It’s ideal for acne-prone skin or any skin with sensitivities. If you have rosacea or other skin discoloration issues, this is ideal. It’s also a great choice for people with darker skin tones. It goes on smooth and clean and leaves no trace.
The active ingredients contain hyaluronic acid which helps keep skin hydrated. Even though it’s mineral based with zinc oxide, it goes on very smoothly. With an SPF of 46, it offers strong protection. You’ll want to reapply at least every two hours, however. Some sun protective clothing will complete the combination. That will give you maximum protection from damaging uv rays. It’s a lightweight formula that is designed for facial protection. Face sunscreens are not as common as you might think. Some formulas may harm your eyes but EltaMD is not.
This may be one of the best sunscreens you ever use. It just feels refreshing to have it on. It’s powerful and lightweight. It really combines all the best features of the best sunscreens on the market.
Blue Lizard offers a mineral-based combination sunscreen. That means it’s also a chemical sunscreen. In part, it uses the power of zinc oxide to put a protective layer on your skin. Titanium oxide is also used for maximum protection. This layer prevents uva and uvb rays from even reaching your skin.
Their formulation is free from the harmful chemicals that can harm our oceans. As a reef safe brand, you can feel comfortable using it while swimming. It will last you about 40 minutes before you’ll need to reapply it.
The sun protection factor for this one is 30 so it’s powerful enough to kep your skin safe if used as directed. There are others that are stronger. Make sure you reapply this as directed if you’ve been out in the sun for a while.
Blue Lizard is ideal for those with sensitive skin. It’s free of harmful chemicals like parabens and fake fragrances. It feels very mild on your skin compared to some mineral sunscreens. In fact, dermatologists recommend it to patients with skin issues. It doesn’t feel oily but it will leave a white coating if you don’t work it in well. It can take a few minutes of massaging it into your skin to make the white residue disappear.
If you’re looking to spend an active day in the sun, this is a good choice. Ethical Zinc’s physical sunscreen is broad spectrum. It offers SPF 50 protection. It will also provide a solid 80 minutes of protection in water. We recommend reapplying a little sooner than that if you’re still out. Its reef friendly formula makes it a great choice for snorkeling.
One of the best features of Ethical Zinc is how it dries. Most zinc sunscreens will leave a noticeable white or violet layer on your skin. This one actually dries very clear. It’s even hard to notice on darker skin tones. People with darker skin often have trouble finding sunscreen that doesn’t leave streaks. If you’ve had bad experiences in the past, give this one a try. But keep in mind, you’ll have to rub it in for a couple of minutes to make it work. Still, it’s better than having a pasty layer.
Because the lotion is so thick, it can be difficult to spread on larger patches of skin like your chest or back. It will take a bit of effort to work it in all the way, so keep that in mind.
You won’t have to put up with a greasy feeling when you use this. Even better, it’s scented with natural vanilla. The ingredient list is all natural. Along with zinc you’ll find beeswax, coconut oil, vitamin E and others. It’s reef safe and even produced in a facility that uses 100% solar power.
Banana Boat is one of the most trusted names in sunscreen. They have been around for ages and pretty much everyone has heard of the brand. There’s a reason they’re so well known – they make a quality product.
The Light as Air formula is broad spectrum to protect from both kinds of UV rays. The SPF is 50 which is a solid rating. It can also handle 80 minutes of water use. That means you can safely swim for a whole without needing to reapply.
As the name implies, the big selling point of this blend is the weight. It’s called light as air for a reason. It feels light on your skin and will absorb quickly. This is a chemical sunscreen which means the UV rays are absorbed into it. This is opposed to the mineral kind which reflect the rays of your skin. That allows it to be light and airy.
One thing worth mentioning here is that while this is water resistant it is not reef safe. The sunscreen contains a chemical called avobenzone. This is one of the ingredients that absorbs UV radiation. It’s not good for the environment, however. You’ll notice that Banana Boat advertises it as being reef safe but this is actually not true. So if you are using it on the beach, best to stay out of the ocean.
Banana Boat shows up on the list again with its ultra sport sunscreen. This is a good choice at a good price for those who are active on the beach.It can stand up well to water and sweat. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends this sunscreen for its powerful SPF 50 rating. You can’t get many better recommendations than that.
The formulation is non-greasy and lightweight. It goes on very smoothly and quickly. It’s perfect for those who plan a day of hiking in the heat or beach volleyball.
One thing to be aware of with Banana Boat. We mentioned this with their Light as Air brand as well. This stuff is advertised as reef safe, but it’s actually not. Some of the chemicals have been shown to be harmful to the ocean reefs and ocean life in general. You should be safe wearing it but if this is a concern for you, then be aware. They prominently display reef safe wording in their ads. If you need sunscreen for swimming in the ocean, there may be better brands for you. That said, we still recommend Banana Boat for most other uses. Especially if you’re working outdoors. This can handle heat and sweat, and for the price, it’s a great choice.
Stream2Sea offers a great, environmentally friendly sunscreen. This is a broad spectrum SPF 30 formulation. It’s water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Again, we would recommend applying it a little sooner if you were swimming that whole time.
The ingredients here include tea, olive leaf, and other natural things. The active ingredient is the mineral titanium dioxide. All of this will be safe for the environment. If you’re swimming in the ocean, there’s no need to worry about harming the wildlife. Their formula has been tested and show to be harmless to humans as well as fish. Coral and algae are good with this blend.
Even the packaging is eco-friendly. The company uses recycled milk jugs and sugarcane resin. Eco-friendly products are more popular than ever now. It’s good to see a company show they care at all levels of how the product is made.
Like other titanium dioxide formulas, this will go on white. You’ll need to blend it in to make it disappear in your skin. It doesn’t feel greasy when you have it blended in. It also won’t sting your eyes the way some can on your face. There’s a good chance you’ll still have a bit of a white coating when you have it on. But at least that way you’ll know if you missed a spot. Combined with the peace of mind of knowing this is eco-safe, and it’s a great product.
For some reason, few manufacturers take dark skin into consideration. Finding a good sunscreen for darker skin tones is not easy. Many times they leave you looking very noticeably coated in something. It can be embarrassing and awkward to have to hang out on a beach like that. Luckily, products like Supergoop have stepped up to handle this problem.
This broad spectrum blend is not only non-greasy, it is pretty much invisible. This was designed specifically to solve the problem of that “ghost face” you’ll get from some blends. It’s SPF 40 and scent-free. The formula is reef safe as well so you’ll be safe to use it in the water. It also helps hydrate skin and apparently works as a great primer for makeup. We didn’t have anyone handy who used makeup to test that out but we’ll trust the company on that one.
If other sunscreens feel heavy to you, give this a try. Once you have it applied, it feels like nothing. Other sunscreens claim to be light, but this may be the one that lives up to the promise the best. It won’t irritate your skin either, which is great. If you have naturally oily skin, this is a good choice. And it’s also good for beards since it doesn’t leave a noticeable residue or oily shine.
Supergoop is a little pricier than some brands. You won’t want to be slathering this on the kids before they go for a swim. But if your skin care regimen is something important to you, give it a try.
Many sunscreens on the market these days hit all the marks you want. They’re broad spectrum. They’re for sensitive skin. They’re reef friendly. Safe Sea falls right in line with all of those but then goes one step further. This is one of the only sunscreens you’re going to find that also promises to scare off jellyfish. Weird, right?
The science behind how this works is actually simple. First, the lotion makes your skin slick when you get in the water. This makes it hard for jellyfish tentacles to latch onto you. They can’t sting so well if they slide right off. But even before they get to you the lotion helps keep them away. The formula helps block secretions from your skin. When a jellyfish normally touches you, it senses you’re a living thing because of sweat and oils on your flesh. This blocks those so the jellyfish is less likely to think you are prey or a predator. And it really does seem to work. But you still need to be careful! It will not prevent a jellyfish sting. It can’t stop them from stinging you, it just makes them less likely to. Also, it won’t treat a sting, so please don’t put this on one. Finally, if the water seems to be infested with jellyfish, don’t swim in it. This is just an extra layer of protection, but it’s best not to press your luck.
As a sunscreen alone, Sea Safe will let you swim for 80 minutes without reapplying. It’s SPF 50 so expect some strong coverage.
If you swim in places where jellyfish or fire coral are common, the added safety is definitely a good choice.
With a pleasant coconut scent, Tropical Sands offers a good product at a good value. It’s gentle enough for children and babies. It’s also reef safe and biodegradable. Right away you’re hitting all those marks you want to see in a sunscreen.
Many nature parks have recommendations for sunscreen you can and can’t use. Some products are just forbidden in places like Hawaii. Tropical Sands is one of their preferred brands because of how safe it is for the environment. It’s also a broad spectrum sunscreen so you can rest easy knowing it’s good for you as well.
This is a heavier blend and that’s on purpose. As a mineral sunscreen it offers maximum protection against harmful rays. So this will go on thick and white when you apply it. The formula is free of chemicals and is hypoallergenic. It’s good for dry or oily skin so it has a lot of versatility.
We do need to stress that this stuff is thick. It meets all the standards for places that demand safe sunscreen but it’s a slog to put it on. It goes on thick and streaky. If you don’t care about that, then this should be a top choice. If that kind of thing bothers you, be prepared to spend a while trying to apply this evenly.
There’s a place where high quality skin cream and sunscreen meet. MDSolarScience is right in the middle of it. This blend is chock full of moisturizers, antioxidants, and ceramides. All of these help your skin look and feel its best. But at the same time it’s a broad spectrum sunscreen. You can wear it in the water and you won’t need to reapply for about 80 minutes. It also doesn’t clog pores.
The active ingredients are minerals like zinc oxide and titanium oxide. That means the formula doesn’t use those potentially harmful chemicals. In turn, that means this is reef safe for swimmers. It was also developed by dermatologists. This was done in part to overcome issues with other mineral sunscreens. That means it rubs in quickly and cleanly compared to many others. You won’t need to worry about thick, white streaks of lotion here. There’s a faint white effect but we found it actually fades out pretty quickly. After that it’s just like any moisturizer on your skin.
Because of all the moisturizers, this is a great choice for dry skin. It also blends really well with darker skin tones. The only real downside is that it will feel like a moisturizer on your skin the whole time. It doesn’t ever really fully dry when you apply it, so there’s always that slight slippery feel.
This is another great formula for those who are environmentally conscious. Full vegan and chemical free. It’s reef safe and great for sensitive skin types. The packaging is eco-friendly. The formula is fully biodegradable. It’s also organic certified and cruelty-free.
Because the formula is made with coconut oil and shea butter, this may feel greasy to you. The trade off is that it’s all natural and does feel very gentle on your skin. It may stain your clothes though, so watch out for that. If you lay out on a blanket or towel covered in this, you could have a human-sized grease stain.
Like other mineral sunscreens, this will go on white. You need to keep working it in if you want to make the white color disappear. That said, compared to many other formulas this one is not so tough to work with. The blending is pretty quick overall and the SPF 50 formula is effective.
Many sunscreens opt for fragrance free these days. If they do have a fragrance it’s usually coconut. Coola’s classic body sunscreen stays tropical but goes with guava and mango for the scent. If you like the smell of the tropics this is a great choice.
The blend here is fully organic and full of antioxidants. That will help protect your skin and keep it moisturized. The sunscreen itself is broad spectrum and SPF 50. That means it’s powerful and reliable, so no worries there.
One thing to be wary of is the reef safety here. The company claims it’s Hawaiian reef safe and it is definitely not. If you take this to Hawaiian and try to go scuba diving, your guide is going to shoot you down. This is great for general beach use out of the water, and for sports. But in terms of reef safety it actually uses a few chemicals that are not safe for the oceans. If you plan to hit up the beach, maybe switch to another brand. But if you need a good, everyday sunscreen then this is a solid choice. From hiking to working outdoors, this will keep you covered.
If aromatherapy is something you enjoy, then Alba Botanica is worth a look. Their soothing sunscreen is lavender scented, something we couldn’t find anywhere else. But don’t worry, the scent is not overpowering either. You won’t be making your own eyes water because of it. It’s broad spectrum and SPF 45. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends this brand as well.
The formula is plant based and cruelty-free which is a clear plus. It’s a high quality moisturizer as well. We don’t recommend this brand for swimming in the ocean however. Many of the ingredients are not actually reef safe. It’s a shame the company touts its environmentally-friendly image. Their copy claims it’s reef safe while using some chemicals that are not considered safe any longer. That said, if you’re not planning to go for a swim, it’s a unique blend that offers powerful sun protection.
Things to Remember
As you can see, different sunscreens can serve different purposes. In general, though, you want one that offers broad spectrum protection. That means a solid sun protection factor (SPF). It’s also a good idea to get one that is reef friendly. Reef friendly sunscreens don’t harm the environment. A water resistant sunscreen is also a good idea for boaters and bathers. Also, for maximum protection consider wearing a hat whenever you’re out in full sun, Some sun protective clothing that covers exposed skin is also a good option. A good beach tent is a great choice, too.
Is Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin Effective?
Some sunscreens advertise that they are designed for sensitive skin. These should be hypoallergenic and not cause itchy, dry skin. Usually these just had some added ingredients to moisturize skin. As well, they should be free or perfumes and dyes. In terms of sun protection factor, they should be as good as any other sunscreen. If anything, they would be less harmful overall so they are worth a try.
Intensity of UV Rays
The best thing you can do is look for a broad spectrum sunscreen. That means it blocks both UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays are the ones that age your skin. UVB are the ones that actually cause sunburns. Your sunscreen SPF should be at least 30. An SPF 50 is by no means overkill, either.
Types of Sunscreen Ingredients
There are three types of sunscreen you’re apt to find when you go looking.
Chemical and sunscreen combined
Is Zinc Oxide Necessary?
Zinc oxide is one of the best additives to have in sunscreen. Zinc oxide is a physical sunscreen. Unlike chemical sunscreens it scatters the UV rays of the sun. It sits on top of your skin and prevents the harmful rays from actually reaching it.
What is Mineral Sunscreen?
Zinc oxide is what’s known as a mineral sunscreen. You can also find others like titanium oxide sunscreens. Both use minerals to help block the rays of the sun. A titanium oxide sunscreen is a physical sunscreen just like zinc oxide.
What is a Chemical Sunscreen?
Unlike mineral sunscreens that block the sun’s rays, a chemical sunscreen absorb them. These contain a variety of chemical compounds which will draw in the UV radiation. The chemical is able to convert the radiation into heat and then it is released from your body.
What Kind of Sunscreen is Best?
Both chemical and physical sunscreens have pros and cons. A physical sunscreen is usually better for sensitive skin. They also are usually better at moisturizing.
On the downside, physical sunscreen may also feel heavy. It also sits heavy on the skin. It may not blend well and leave you looking like you’re painted white.
Chemical sunscreens are much more water resistant. These are best if you plan to go swimming. They’re also ideal if you’re out in the heat and will be sweating a lot. They absorb more quickly but don’t moisturize as well. Depending on the formula they can make you feel greasy as well.
Some chemicals used in sunscreen can be harmful to the environment. Many modern sunscreens no longer use these. That said, some still do, even from well known companies. As we pointed out in our reviews, Banana Boat still uses some chemicals that are known to be problematic. For that reason it’s always best to watch those active ingredients. If you plan to swim, we recommend avoid sunscreen with these chemicals:
The Bottom Line
The best sunscreen is going to depend on how you use it. If you want to swim, make sure you’re getting reef friendly and water resistant. If you have sensitive skin, avoid those harsh chemicals and fragrances. There’s something for everyone. They should all offer broad spectrum protection to keep you safe and burn free in the sun.
My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.