A comprehensive sunscreen guide, according to expert

Dermatologists advise that sunscreen should be worn every day.

May 17, 2024, 11:53 AM
Shop the best sunscreens for your face and body.
Shop the best sunscreens for your face and body.
ABC News Photo, La Roche-Posay, Aveeno, Supergoop!, CeraVe, BANANA BOAT

Protecting your skin from the sun's harmful effects is essential for maintaining your health and well-being.

Sunscreen use isn't limited to sunny beach days; dermatologists urge daily application to shield your skin from damage and prevent skin cancer. "You need to wear sunscreen even when it is not sunny because up to 80% of the sun's UV rays can penetrate through clouds and cause damage to your skin," Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., told ABC News.

She added that it's also wise to wear sunscreen indoors if you’re near windows, as UVA light can pass through glass and affect your skin.

Shop the best sunscreens for your face and body.
Shop the best sunscreens for your face and body.
ABC News Photo, La Roche-Posay, Aveeno, Supergoop!, CeraVe, BANANA BOAT

Meet our expert

Dr. Robyn Gmyrek, M.D. is a board-certified dermatologist who has received national recognition for her contributions to cosmetic dermatology, including Castle and Connolly America’s Top Doctors, New York Magazine’s 2013-2020 Best Doctors, and inclusion in the 2013-2020 lists of Super Doctors.

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) also has guidelines to help you make the right choice when selecting a sunscreen.

Here’s a comprehensive guide on what to consider when choosing sunscreen:

Key features of effective sunscreen

According to the AAD, it is recommended that you choose a sunscreen that has the following:

  • Broad-Spectrum Protection: This ensures your sunscreen blocks both UVA (aging rays) and UVB (burning rays) to give you comprehensive protection.
  • SPF 30 or Higher: SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which measures the level of UVB protection. SPF 30 or above is recommended for effective guarding against sunburn, early skin aging, and skin cancer.
  • Water Resistance: A water-resistant formula is essential for activities involving swimming or sweating, providing sustained protection.

Types of sunscreens: Mineral vs. chemical

  • Mineral (Physical) Sunscreens act like shields, sitting on top of the skin and reflecting UV rays away. They usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They're ideal for sensitive skin, as they’re less likely to cause irritation.
  • Chemical Sunscreens absorb UV rays like a sponge. They typically contain ingredients like avobenzone or octocrylene. They’re often easier to rub in and offer a lightweight feel.

Sunscreen and skin conditions

  • Acne-Prone Skin: Opt for non-comedogenic formulations that won’t clog pores. Gel-based sunscreens work well for oily complexions.
  • Eczema-Prone Skin: Fragrance-free and hypoallergenic mineral sunscreens are generally better to prevent flare-ups.
  • Powder Sunscreens: There is no official consensus on the efficacy of powder sunscreens. While they can offer convenience, especially for reapplication, it is best to use them as a supplement rather than a primary form of sun protection.

Sunscreen application guidance

"All sunscreens (chemical or mineral) must be applied about 15 -20 minutes before sun exposure so that the sunscreen can spread evenly on your skin, dry down, and form an intact layer. You need to re-apply sunscreen after 2 hours and more often if you are sweating or in the water," said Dr. Gmyrek.

  • Timing: Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure.
  • Expiration Date: Sunscreens lose effectiveness past their expiration date, so always check before use.
  • Reapplication: Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Cloudy Days: Apply even on cloudy days, as up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate clouds.
  • Quantity: Use about an ounce to cover exposed skin adequately.

Formulations and preferences

"It is essential to try different formulations of sunscreens that meet these requirements to find one you prefer," said Dr. Gmyrek. "The formulation – sport, gel, lotion, cream is a personal preference, and sometimes you need to try a few to see which one you like best. If you have a great sunscreen but you hate the way it looks or feels on your skin – you won’t use it!"

Different formulations are suitable based on personal preferences or specific areas of the body:

  • Creams: Suitable for dry skin or facial application.
  • Gels: Great for oily complexions and hairy areas like the scalp.
  • Sticks: Effective for targeted application around the eyes.

Remember, the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use consistently, so find a product that suits your lifestyle and skin type to stay protected.

Take a look at some of the best sunscreens on the market that meet the guidelines outlined above.

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Best sunscreen for everyday use


La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Milk Sunscreen SPF 100

This lightweight lotion offers broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection with antioxidants and Cell-Ox Shield technology. It melts into the skin without leaving a greasy residue. It’s also water-resistant and fragrance-free​​.

Best for: Those with sensitive skin or seeking maximum protection

  • $26.99
  • Amazon

Supergoop! Glowscreen SPF 40

This popular sunscreen provides a light, non-greasy formula with antioxidants like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, offering hydration and a luminous finish​​.

Best for: Those who love a glowy finish to their sunscreen.

  • $38
  • Amazon

Blue Lizard Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+

Fragrance and paraben-free, this mineral sunscreen includes zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to shield your skin without leaving a greasy feeling​​. It's also reef-safe.

Best for: Those with sensitive skin and children.

  • $12.99
  • Ulta
5% off

Tocobo Cotton Soft Sun Stick SPF 50+

This lightweight vegan sun stick uses AC Herb Complex to control sebum production while maintaining hydration​​.

Best for: Acne-prone skin and packing on the go.

  • $17.95
  • $18.99
  • Amazon
37% off

COSRX Aloe Soothing Sun Cream, 1.69 oz

This hybrid sunscreen offers a lightweight texture with aloe to moisturize and soothe skin, preventing burning and minimizing damage​​.

Best for: Soothing relief for sensitive skin mixed with strong sun protection.

  • $6.94
  • $11.06
  • Walmart
10% off

CeraVe Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50

This sunscreen features niacinamide and ceramides to reduce inflammation and redness, while its mineral formula protects from UV rays​​.

Best for: Redness-prone or dry skin.

  • $13.43
  • $14.99
  • Amazon

Best sunscreen for body

30% off

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Moisturizing Sunscreen

Made with Aveeno's signature prebiotic oat, this sunscreen has a UPF 60 formulation and hydrates skin to keep nourished day to day.

Best for: Families who need a convenient way to apply sunscreen.

  • $27.27
  • $39.04
  • Amazon

Banana Boat Light As Air Sunscreen Spray SPF 50, 2 pack

This spray is non-greasy absorbs quickly into the skin, and is formulated without oxybenzone or octinoxate.

Best for: Those looking for an easy-to-use spray that offers weightless protection.

  • $27.98
  • Amazon

Best sunscreen for oily skin

17% off

Missha All Around Safe Block Soft Finish

The milky texture of this sunscreen helps to blur dark spots while protecting against burns. A little goes a long way​​.

Best for: Dark spot correction and everyday use in your skincare routine.

  • $18.23
  • $22
  • Amazon

Best sunscreen for face


Kate Somerville Hydrakate Illuminating SPF 50+ Drops with Ectoin

If you want skincare and sun protection in one product, this one does the trick thanks to the ingredient Ectoin, which protects skin and hydrates.

Best for: Those who want a high-performing sheer sunscreen.

  • $46
  • Sephora