The Best Sunscreens Tested and Approved By Shape Editors
By now, you're probably well aware of the virtues of sunscreen, when it comes to preventing skin cancer and the effects of aging on skin. If you follow any skin-care experts on social media, you may have noticed a common refrain along the lines of "if you're not using sunscreen, you may as well toss out the rest of your skin-care products."
However, knowing the importance of SPF and always making the effort to apply sunscreen are two different things. Adhering to any skin-care step requires money and effort, but applying sunscreen can feel extra unappealing since, LBH, some formulas aren't it. A sunscreen can be advertised as "weightless" and "invisible," when "gives Mark Zuckerberg sunscreen vibes" would be a more accurate description.
There are so many types of sunscreen, too, which can make finding a winner even more challenging. You have your lotions, sticks, powders, and mists, and there are also two main categories of sunscreen formulas: mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreen employs zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to protect skin from UV rays, while chemical sunscreen contains oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and/or octinoxate. (Some formulas are a hybrid with both types of active ingredients.) Chemical formulas are less likely to leave behind a visible white cast, but some people are sensitive to chemical SPF formulas or worried about health implications of certain chemical ingredients and find mineral sunscreens to be the better option.
And then there's the matter of whether certain filters are more likely than others to cause harm to the environment when they end up in the ocean after you take a shower or a swim. Some parts of the U.S. have banned the sale of sunscreens containing chemical filters oxybenzone and octinoxate based on studies showing negative effects of sunscreen ingredients on coral reefs. On the other hand, a recent critical review found "limited evidence to suggest that [chemical sunscreen filters are] causing significant harm to coral reefs," and whether that's the case remains a hotly debated topic. If you want to play it safe and choose the least controversial option in terms of potential coral reef harm, go for a mineral sunscreen that incorporates non-nano-zinc oxide or non-nano-titanium dioxide. (More here: How to Buy Non-Toxic Sunscreen)
Choosing a sunscreen that's one or the other (or both) is up to personal preference — the important thing is to find a formula that's water-resistant and offers broad-spectrum protection (read: protection from UVA and UVB rays) of at least SPF 30, according to the American Academy of Dermatology recommendations. (Related: The 11 Best Sunscreens for Your Face, According to Customer Reviews)
To help you avoid buyers' remorse on a (greasy, chalky, heavy) sunscreen, Shape staffers have tested the good and the bad. Below, you'll find the standout formulas you'll actually look forward to applying.