The Great Sunscreen Buying Guide

The best sunscreen is the one you love so much that you’ll apply it every day. Here, the best SPFs for all your needs.

by Krista Bennett DeMaio Health Writer

This summer is going to look different from last year, mostly in a good way. We’re ready to spend a little extra time outside, see friends and family, and indulge in honest-to-goodness fun (remember that?). Your guide to a healthy, happy summer starts here.

You wear sunscreen all year round (at least in your daily moisturizer, right?), but when summer rolls around, you may need to up your protection game. After all, you’re going to be wearing a lot of it as you’ll likely be spending more time outdoors (and in the water) and showing more exposed skin. So, what’s the best sunscreen for you? Beyond some basic must-haves such as a minimum of SPF 30 and broad-spectrum protection (that means it filters both UVA and UVB rays), the rest comes down to personal preference (for example, a sunscreen that won’t make your oily skin look greasy, or a formula that layers well under makeup). So, consider this your buying guide for the sunscreen you’ll actually want to wear this summer—one that fits your skin and lifestyle needs. We’ve got you covered!

Sunscreens That Won’t Sting

If you have sensitive skin or an inflammatory, dry skin condition such as eczema or psoriasis, you’ve probably encountered a sunscreen (or many) that have left you irritated and red in the face. To avoid it, stick to sunscreens with mineral filters such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide over those made with chemical filters. The former sits on the surface of skin while the latter gets absorbed into the skin, increasing the risk of irritation. “You also want to look for one with limited ingredients over all, and ideally free of common irritants such as propylene glycol (a preservative) and fragrance,” says Orit Markowitz, M.D., adjunct associate professor in the department of dermatology at Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY.

Safe bets: Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive SPF 30+ ($12, amazon.com) and Alba Botanica Sensitive Fragrance-Free Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 ($9, amazon.com).

Sunscreens for Dark Skin Tones

Fact: Dark skin tones need sun protection, too. Black and brown skin can still burn and develop skin cancer. But if the one you’re slathering on leaves a chalky cast on your complexion, you’re more likely to skip it. “Chemical sunscreens don’t leave behind any residue on any skin tone, making them a good option,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist and assistant clinical professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. (She suggests skipping those with oxybenzone, which can be irritating.) Try SuperGoop Unseen SPF 40 ($34, supergoop.com) and Black Girl Sunscreen SPF 30 ($19, blackgirlsunscreen.com).

You can wear a mineral formula without the white residue if you pick one that’s micronized, which means the zinc is processed into teeny-tiny particles so they blend sheer such as Neutrogena Sheer Zinc Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 ($11, target.com). Or, go for a sunscreen that has a built-in tint that matches your skin tone. Try Unsun Mineral Tinted Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen ($29, amazon.com).

Sunscreens That Play Nice With Makeup

Your foundation may contain SPF, but you’re probably not wearing enough of it to get adequate protection from the summer sun. Dermatologists say you need about a nickel-sized amount. Layering a traditional sunscreen underneath your makeup will ensure you’re covered. The key is to go lightweight. A too-thick formula may feel heavy or greasy, or cause anything you apply on top to slide around or pill. For super-lightweight coverage that adequately protects, try Elta MD UV Sheer Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 ($30, dermstore.com), or Versed Guards Up Daily Mineral Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 35 ($21, target.com).

How do you reapply sunscreen over makeup? Consider SPF touch-ups with a clear or tinted powder formula such as Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush-On Shield SPF 50 ($69, colorscience.com) or ISDIN Mineral Brush SPF 50 ($55, isdin.com).

Sunscreens the Whole Family Can Use

When adults and children are sharing the same SPF, you need one that works for a variety of skin types and issues. “Seek out hypoallergenic, fragrance-free, clean mineral formulas that will sit on top of skin and deflect harmful rays from the sun,” says Dr. Engelman. Size matters, too. If you’re applying the right amount (that’s a shot glass worth for the entire body) for your whole family, you’re going to go through a standard-sized tube pretty quickly. If you’re applying that shot glass amount for the entire family, even you’re oversized bottle shouldn’t make it past the summer. Try gentle, family-sized Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Sunscreen Lotion SPF 60 ($25 for a 12 oz pump, target.com).

Sunscreens for Dry Skin

If time in the summer heat leaves your skin feeling a bit parched, consider a sunscreen that adds moisture to your skin. These formulas leave skin feeling smooth and comfortable, while protecting from skin-damaging UV rays. We like La Roche Posay Anthelios Mineral Moisturizer SPF With Hyaluronic Acid ($35, ulta.com), a humectant that keeps skin hydrated for 12 hours after application (you’ll still need to reapply while in the sun), and CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 ($14, amazon.com), which contains essential lipids to help seal moisture into your skin.

Sunscreens That Are Waterproof

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the ocean or pool, or if you sweat a lot (say, during a morning walk), look for a “water-resistant” formula, which won’t wash off in the water thanks to polymer technology that forms an invisible film on your skin. But don’t forget to re-apply after a swim or a heavy sweat session. Even the longest-wearing water resistant sunscreens only last for 80 minutes. Try Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Sunscreen Spray ($9, amazon.com), a lightweight spray that’s easy to reapply after a swim.

Sunscreens for Oily/Acne-Prone Skin

If you’re skimping on the SPF because it makes your skin breakout, you’re probably using the wrong type. “Many assume they need something sheer and absorbable, so it doesn’t make their skin oilier, but sunscreens that absorb block pores,” says Dr. Markowitz. “So even though it seems kind of counterintuitive, the physical blockers [a.k.a. mineral sunscreens] are best for people with acne-prone skin,” she says.

Dr. Engelman likes Elta MD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 ($37, eltamd.com) for acne-prone skin. “Not only is this oil-free and fragrance free, but it also contains lactic acid, which gently exfoliates the skin and helps regulate sebum (oil) build-up,” she says. Another lightweight-feeling mineral option: SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense Sunscreen ($35, skinceuticals.com).

Sunscreens for Thinning Hair

If you have sparse strands (perhaps, a side-effect of your treatment or medication), your exposed scalp is at risk for sunburn. Hats are your best form of protection (ideally in a woven, but breathable fabric with a wide brim), but for extra coverage, scalp sunscreens now exist that won’t leave your hair a greasy, white mess. “I love them,” says Dr. Markowitz. “We definitely see a lot of skin cancers in the part and hairline.” She likes Coola Scalp & Hair Mist Organic Sunscreen SPF 30 ($26, ulta.com). Another one to try: Sun Bum Scalp & Hair Mist SPF 30 ($50, sunbum.com).

Krista Bennett DeMaio
Meet Our Writer
Krista Bennett DeMaio

Krista Bennett DeMaio has well over a decade of editorial experience. The former magazine-editor-turned-freelance writer regularly covers skincare, health, beauty, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in national publications and websites including Oprah, Women’s Health, Redbook, Shape, Dr. Oz The Good Life, bhg.com, and prevention.com. She lives in Huntington, New York with her husband and three daughters.