When warm weather finally rolls around, most of us want to spend as much time outside as possible. But before you step outside, don't forget the sunscreen!
Thing is, sunscreen shopping can feel like a huge challenge—how can you tell the winners from the losers when you have hundreds to choose from? That's why Prevention consulted four top dermatologists to name the best sunscreens of 2018. Whether you're looking for the best natural sunscreen, the best sunscreen for kids, or something that's compatible with sensitive skin, there's an option for you.
But first, how to choose the right sunscreen
Last year's bottle or what you've been using all winter (right?) may need to be tossed, as sunscreen can expire. “When sunscreen expires, it degrades and becomes less effective. This is dangerous because an older sunscreen may not work at all,” says Lauren Ploch, MD, MEd, a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.
And even if your bottle hasn't hit its expiration date, that date is only valid if the product is stored in a cool, dry place, she adds. “Sunscreen is often outside and in hot conditions, and in those conditions, it may expire more quickly,” she says.
When you buy new sunscreen, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays. (UVA rays prematurely age skin and UVB rays burn; both can cause skin cancer.) Choose one with an SPF of at least 30 that's also water resistant, dermatologists say. Even if you won't be in water, that tells you how long it will stay on while you're sweating. If you are doing extensive outdoor activity, choose an SPF of 50 or higher, recommends Henry W. Lim, MD, immediate past president of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Lotions tend to be better than sprays, as they are easy to apply generously and evenly—which is key in order for them to work effectively. “Sprays are inconsistent; I find that no one puts sprays on heavy enough to reach the stated SPF level on the bottle,” Dr. Ploch says. There is also the risk of inhalation with sprays. Similarly, wipes don't typically provide even, adequate coverage.
The choice of physical or chemical sunscreen is personal, or you may want to choose a product with both. “I tell my patients to look for products that have multiple filters, both mineral and chemical, as there is a synergistic effect between them,” says Adam Friedman, MD, professor of dermatology and residency program director at the George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences. “Also, the more used means less of each, which can decrease associated irritation.” He also advises choosing “big name brands.” “They have the resources to perform clinical studies which evaluate efficacy and tolerability,” he explains.
Too much to keep in mind? Make sunscreen shopping easy by selecting one of these dermatologist-recommended products.
Recommended by numerous dermatologists we spoke to, this sheer lotion is Dr. Ploch's go-to. "I’m surprised that more brands have not been able to formulate a hypoallergenic lotion sunscreen that doesn’t rub off on clothing,” she says. Board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon Joel Schlessinger, MD, FAAD, FAACS, says this noncomedogenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free sunscreen is his top choice for anyone with blemish-prone skin
In a recent study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers found that, in real-world conditions (rather than a lab), SPF 100+ sunscreen was significantly more effective in protecting against sunburn than SPF 50+ sunscreen. “I tell patients to choose a product with the highest SPF possible,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “In the real world, we do not apply as much sunscreen as we should and we definitely do not reapply as much as we should. Starting out with a higher SPF acts as an insurance policy to give the highest level of protection for the longest period of time.”
“My patients with the most sensitive skin are able to tolerate this,” Dr. Ploch says. “Plus the bottle turns blue when there is UV exposure, so it’s a great reminder to reapply.” It contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and is chemical-, paraben-, and fragrance-free.
“This sunscreen moisturizer for the face is the first of its kind to be formulated with all mineral sunscreen ingredients while providing anti-aging and hydration benefits to the skin,” says Dr. Schlessinger, president of LovelySkin.com. It's also a mineral sunscreen, containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
This hypoallergenic option with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is great for people with eczema, says Julia Tzu, MD, founder and medical director of Wall Street Dermatology. It's dermatologist-tested, noncomedogenic, odorless, and free of PABA, oxybenzone, dyes, and parabens. Water resistant for 80 minutes, it can be used on both body and face.
Recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, this chemical sunscreen is oil-free and noncomedogenic, so you can use it on your face and body. It absorbs quickly and is water resistant for 80 minutes. “This sunscreen is enriched with colloidal oatmeal to help hydrate and protect the skin barrier. It can be used in anyone, including people who have dry skin or eczema,” adds Dr. Zeichner.
This broad-spectrum lotion protects with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide while antioxidants provide protection against free radicals and ceramides and humectants keep skin hydrated. It's also cruelty-, fragrance-, paraben-, and oil-free; noncomedogenic; water resistant for 80 minutes; and safe enough to use on babies and kids.
Using a combination of mineral and chemical ingredients, this sheer sunscreen formulated for oily and combination skin won't clog pores. In addition to being hypoallergenic, it is free of oil, fragrance, and parabens.