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The best sunscreen is the one you’ll apply liberally and often, so it should be affordable but still feel and smell good on your skin.

The best sunscreen is the one you’ll apply liberally and often, so it should be affordable but still feel and smell good on your skin. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll apply liberally and often, so it should be affordable but still feel and smell good on your skin.


Everything we recommend


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Original price was: $50.00.Current price is: $25.00.
Original price was: $50.00.Current price is: $25.00.
Original price was: $50.00.Current price is: $25.00.
Original price was: $50.00.Current price is: $25.00.

What to look for


The American Academy of Dermatology suggests wearing sunscreens that advertise a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests wearing sunscreens that advertise a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests wearing sunscreens that advertise a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests wearing sunscreens that advertise a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.

We also recommend a budget pick in a big bottle: Equate Sport Broad Spectrum Sunscreen Value Size SPF 50, a chemical sunscreen that rubs in effortlessly but has an added fragrance our testers found divisive. (It’s four times less expensive per ounce than Banana Boat Light As Air.)

And for those seeking a “reef-safe” sunscreen, the lightweight Thrive Bodyshield SPF 50 is an excellent option.

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ formula spreads relatively quickly and absorbs easily for a sunscreen containing only physical UV blockers, which tend to be chalky and difficult to rub in. Formulated with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this sunscreen contains no added fragrance.

SPF: 50+
Type of protection: physical
Active ingredients: zinc oxide (10%) and titanium dioxide (8%)
Broad spectrum: yes
Reef safe: no
Price per ounce (at the time of publication): $2.85 per ounce in the largest bottle size (8.75 ounces)

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ formula spreads relatively quickly and absorbs easily for a sunscreen containing only physical UV blockers, which tend to be chalky and difficult to rub in. Formulated with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this sunscreen contains no added fragrance.

SPF: 50+
Type of protection: physical
Active ingredients: zinc oxide (10%) and titanium dioxide (8%)
Broad spectrum: yes
Reef safe: no
Price per ounce (at the time of publication): $2.85 per ounce in the largest bottle size (8.75 ounces)

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ formula spreads relatively quickly and absorbs easily for a sunscreen containing only physical UV blockers, which tend to be chalky and difficult to rub in. Formulated with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, this sunscreen contains no added fragrance.

SPF: 50
Type of protection: chemical
Active ingredients: avobenzone (3%), homosalate (15%), octisalate (5%), and octocrylene (7%)
Broad spectrum: yes
Reef safe: no
Price per ounce (at the time of publication): 39¢


More sunscreens to consider

The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Thrive Bodyshield SPF 50 is our favorite reef-safe sunscreen. It’s also a great option for anyone who prefers sunscreens without chemical UV filters.

The Best Reef-Safe Sunscreen

Thrive Bodyshield SPF 50 is our favorite reef-safe sunscreen. It’s also a great option for anyone who prefers sunscreens without chemical UV filters.


The research

Our favorite physical sunscreens
Our favorite chemical sunscreens
Other good sunscreens
What does SPF mean?
What’s in sunscreen?


Our favorite physical sunscreens

Physical sunscreens available for sale in the US contain varying concentrations of the FDA-approved active ingredients zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both. The FDA recognizes these ingredients as safe and effective.


Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+

Formulated with both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, the water-resistant Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ offers broad-spectrum protection and was a staff favorite in our tests for a few key reasons.

It rubs in easily: Testers found it easy to apply. Compared with most mineral sunscreens, this sensitive formula is especially runny, which makes application and absorption much easier. It rubs in almost as smoothly as a chemical sunscreen (like our pick from Banana Boat), and many people find this sunscreen to be near colorless on the skin (though people with darker skin are more likely to see a white cast).

It’s inexpensive: Our pick from Blue Lizard is less expensive than many mineral sunscreens we’ve considered. And it’s even less expensive per ounce if you buy it in a larger bottle (8.75 ounces) than the 5-ounce bottle pictured above. A feature unique to all Blue Lizard sunscreens is that part of the packaging turns from clear or white to blue (or for baby formulas, pink) in the presence of UV light, which the company says provides a helpful visual reminder of sun exposure.

It’s free of added fragrance: Our testers appreciated that this formula is fragrance-free (many didn’t like formulas with added scents).

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ is also available in a ½-ounce semi-solid stick. Like the lotion, it is fragrance-free. Unlike the lotion, which contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (20%) is the lone active ingredient in the stick version.

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ is also available in a ½-ounce semi-solid stick. Like the lotion, it is fragrance-free. Unlike the lotion, which contains both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, zinc oxide (20%) is the lone active ingredient in the stick version. Like all sticks, we think this is best for spot application (especially because of this stick’s small size).


Our favorite chemical sunscreens

Most chemical sunscreens available for sale in the US contain varying concentrations of the FDA-approved active ingredients avobenzone, ecamsule, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, or some combination of these. The FDA is evaluating additional data to further determine the safety and efficacy of these ingredients. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents consider avoiding using sunscreens containing oxybenzone on kids. (Neither of our chemical picks contain oxybenzone.)


Banana Boat Light As Air Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+


If you prefer a chemical sunscreen, the broad spectrum, water-resistant Banana Boat Light As Air Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ stood out as the overall favorite in our brand-concealed testing. In addition to being less expensive than our physical sunscreen picks, we like the Light As Air formula because:

You can forget you’re wearing it: This formula is easy to apply, blends well, and has a nongreasy, dry finish that is translucent and truly feels light as air. The formula doesn’t contain oxybenzone, which some people want to avoid.

It’s scented, but nicely so: Although the formula does contain added fragrance, our testers did not find its scent overpowering. One described it as a “light, fruit-like smell.”

Chemical formulas like this one appear similar to physical (aka mineral) formulas out of the tube. But they are much easier to rub in quickly and don’t leave as much of a white cast. Video: Marki Williams

Currently, this formula only comes in a 6-ounce tube with a seal-tight cap.

The active ingredients are homosalate (9%), octocrylene (5%), octisalate (4%), and avobenzone (3%).

Other good sunscreens


Physical sunscreens

If you want a relatively affordable reef-friendly sunscreen but can’t find or don’t like Thrive’s formula: Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50 (active ingredient: 23.4% non-nano zinc oxide) is a reliable, affordable choice (and the runner-up pick in our guide to reef-safe sunscreens). But it is more difficult to rub in and appears chalkier on skin than our other sunscreen picks. Thinksport also has a 0.64-ounce SPF 30 stick, containing 20% zinc oxide.The applicator is sized such that it’s only practical to use on small patches of skin. Our testers liked applying the Thinksport SPF 30 stick sunscreen to their faces and ears, but we don’t see much practical value to this format beyond that.

If you want a reef-friendly sunscreen without added fragrance: Badger Adventure Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 50 (active ingredient: zinc oxide 25%) is a four-ingredient formula that is more expensive, more difficult to spread, and has more of a greasy, heavier feel on the skin than Thrive Bodyshield. However, it contains no fragrance and, like our pick, is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. A semi-solid “sport” version comes in a packable tin. Some testers found the semi-solid formula difficult to spread for adequate coverage anywhere other than on the face.


Chemical sunscreens

If you want a relatively affordable reef-friendly sunscreen but can’t find or don’t like Thrive’s formula: Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50 (active ingredient: 23.4% non-nano zinc oxide) is a reliable, affordable choice (and the runner-up pick in our guide to reef-safe sunscreens). But it is more difficult to rub in and appears chalkier on skin than our other sunscreen picks. Thinksport also has a 0.64-ounce SPF 30 stick, containing 20% zinc oxide.The applicator is sized such that it’s only practical to use on small patches of skin. Our testers liked applying the Thinksport SPF 30 stick sunscreen to their faces and ears, but we don’t see much practical value to this format beyond that.

If you want a reef-friendly sunscreen without added fragrance: Badger Adventure Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 50 (active ingredient: zinc oxide 25%) is a four-ingredient formula that is more expensive, more difficult to spread, and has more of a greasy, heavier feel on the skin than Thrive Bodyshield. However, it contains no fragrance and, like our pick, is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. A semi-solid “sport” version comes in a packable tin. Some testers found the semi-solid formula difficult to spread for adequate coverage anywhere other than on the face.


What does SPF mean?

All sunscreens have a sun protection factor, or SPF. It’s a measure of how well sunscreen protects against UVB rays, the type that causes sunburn.

Your chances of getting an effective SPF above 30, regardless of what the label claims, are better if you buy a sunscreen labeled SPF 50 or even 70.

Many sunscreens also protect against UVA rays, the type of rays that cause wrinkles. Both types of radiation can lead to cancer, and sunscreens that protect against both are labeled “broad spectrum.” The SPF rating, though, only applies to UVB protection.

The relationship between SPF and protection is not linear: SPF 15 filters 93% of UVB rays, whereas SPF 30 filters 97% and SPF 50 filters 98%. No sunscreen blocks 100% of UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing sunscreens that list a minimum SPF of 30. However, your chances of getting an effective SPF above 30, regardless of what the label claims, are better if you buy a sunscreen labeled SPF 50 or even 70. (All of our picks are labeled SPF 50.)

A sunscreen with a higher SPF can’t make up for poor application. An SPF 15 lotion that you apply liberally and often can protect you better than an SPF 50+ lotion that you put on only once in eight hours.


What’s in sunscreen?

The two main kinds of sunscreen formulas are physical (reflects rays away from your skin) and chemical (soaks up rays so your skin doesn’t). Some companies also make combination sunscreens, which have both physical and chemical UV filters.

Physical sunscreens, which are also commonly called mineral sunscreens, tend to be thicker and go on whiter. Chemical sunscreens (which are sometimes called “organics” because of the structures of the molecules they’re made of, not because of how the ingredients are sourced) tend to be greasier but go on translucent. Most combination sunscreens strike a balance between those textures and appearances.

Ingredient/filterTypeUVBUVA2UVA1
AvobenzoneChemicalNoNoYes
Ecamsule (Mexoryl SX)ChemicalNoNoYes
OctocryleneChemicalNoNoYes
OctocryleneChemicalNoNoYes
OctocrylenePhysicalYesYesYes
OctocrylenePhysicalYesYesYes

These are some of the FDA-approved active ingredients and UV filters commonly found in sunscreens available for purchase in the US. Many formulas use multiple active ingredients in order to effectively protect against all three types of harmful rays.

Physical (aka mineral) sunscreens deflect UV rays using the active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, often in tandem.

  • Zinc oxide protects against both UVA and UVB. It tends to make sunscreen whiter. Dermatologists often recommend this active ingredient because it does a great job of protecting against the whole spectrum. Look for formulas with 5% or more zinc oxide.
  • Titanium dioxide protects against UVB and some UVA rays.

These FDA-approved active ingredients often come in micronized—finely ground—nanoparticles, which, according to cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson, are easier to apply and more sheer on the skin. Sunscreens that rely on non-nano particles of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to be thicker and more chalky. But the trade-off is that those larger particles cannot penetrate the skin (there is no published evidence that nanoparticles of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are harmful, except, possibly, when inhaled).

Chemical sunscreens absorb the photons of the sun’s rays before they reach your skin; the photons’ energy goes into breaking down those chemicals rather than into penetrating your skin. Avobenzone, oxybenzone, ecamsule, and octocrylene are the four main FDA-approved filters (PDF), though several other active ingredients work similarly.

  • Avobenzone, like zinc oxide, protects against UVA1—most other UV filters in chemical sunscreens do not. Avobenzone is also what typically causes some sunscreens to stain white and light-colored clothing yellow. According to scientists at Merck, avobenzone protects about as well as zinc oxide. Avobenzone also goes by the name Parsol 1789. Look for formulas containing 3% or more avobenzone.
  • Oxybenzone protects against a portion of the UVA spectrum that avobenzone does not, plus it protects against UVB rays. Many chemical sunscreen formulas contain oxybenzone. (People who experience photoallergic contact dermatitis may have an allergic reaction to oxybenzone or another sunscreen ingredient.)
  • Ecamsule protects against some UVA rays and also goes by the name Mexoryl SX.
  • Octocrylene protects against UVB and some UVA rays.
  • Homosalate protects against some UVB rays.
  • Octisalate, or octyl salicylate, protects against UVB radiation.

Currently, the FDA only acknowledges the mineral active ingredients zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE). The agency has said it needs additional data to determine the GRASE status of 12 additional active ingredients.

Globally, there are many other effective UV filters approved for use as active ingredients in sunscreens. “The complexities—time, cost, toxicological tests—of getting new sunscreen actively approved in the US have left some effective molecules in limbo for nearly two decades has deterred many companies from attempting to put other new ingredients through the process,” Kelly Dobos, an independent cosmetic chemist who has advised personal care companies that manufacture lotions, hand sanitizers, and SPF-containing lip balms, wrote in an email.

To improve the efficacy and appearance of their sunscreen formulas, some companies include inactive ingredients that are sometimes called SPF boosters (video). These, Dobos explained, are likely how sunscreens that contain differing concentrations of the same active ingredients can provide the same level of stated SPF. One commonly found SPF booster, butyloctyl salicylate, is similar to the FDA-approved UV filter octisalate. Because it is not considered an active ingredient, some “mineral” sunscreens are functionally combination formulas.

Many sunscreens also contain added fragrance. You may want to avoid fragrances because they can be irritating, and fragrance preferences are largely personal. That said, the sunscreen active ingredients themselves still have a scent, so it’s hard to find a sunscreen that has absolutely no scent (even if it’s labeled fragrance free).