If you're diligent about sunscreen, you apply it to your face every day, all year long. But in the summer, SPF likely gets slathered all over your body — from your scalp to the soles of your feet — multiple times each day. So that's when you might wonder: Which sunscreens are safe?
In some ways, sunscreen selection is simple: The best product is one you'll put on, says Heather Summe, MD, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital. "Because if you're not putting it on, it doesn't matter," she says.
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But for both health and environmental reasons, consider digging deeper before making a purchase.
Here's why: A March 2022 review by Valisure, an independent laboratory, revealed some sunscreens contained benzene, a carcinogenic compound. This, along with benzophenone, another carcinogen sometimes found in sunscreens, forms as other ingredients degrade or during the manufacturing process, according to ConsumerLab, an independent organization that tests health products.
Plus, the FDA, which regulates sunscreen safety, is looking into safety information for 12 ingredients found in chemical sunscreen. Worth noting: Some of these ingredients (for example, octocrylene and octinoxate) are harmful to coral and other marine life, according to the National Ocean Service.
"The bottom line is that there's a sunscreen for everyone," Dr. Summe says — no matter what your concerns or priorities, you can find an option that works for you. Just make sure you use it, rather than letting it expire on your shelf, she says.
How We Chose
We've sifted through the options to come up with this list of the safest sunscreens, thanks to input from multiple dermatologists as well as ConsumerLab's review of sunscreen options. All of the products below fit this criteria:
- Made with mineral (rather than chemical) active ingredients
- Broad-spectrum coverage
- SPF 30+
- Water-resistant (unless otherwise noted)
For more information on how we choose and cover products, click here.
1. EltaMD UV Restore Facial Sunscreen, SPF 40
EltaMD products are ideal for "people who really do not like the feel of sunscreen," Dr. Summe says. They feel super lightweight, she says. "It honestly feels like whatever moisturizer you'd put on in the morning."
This option is free from dyes and fragrances (a boon for sensitive skin) and contains protective antioxidants as well as other ingredients that may help improve the appearance of sun-damaged skin.
2. Suntegrity Impeccable Skin Tinted Sunscreen
Suntegrity's tinted sunscreen is also a CC cream that blends with many skin tones and has a sheer-to-light coverage. You can use it as a makeup primer or a standalone face sunscreen. Plus, you can choose a tone that best matches your skin color.
ConsumerLab lists it as an example of a sunscreen that's less problematic — free from carcinogens and other best-avoided ingredients.
3. EltaMD UV Pure, SPF 47
You may be diligent about applying sunscreen to your face on a daily basis all 365 days of the year (and if you're not, you should be!), but falter when it comes to applying sunscreen to other exposed parts of your body. But if you're wearing shorts and a tank top for a walk around the neighborhood, a whole lot of skin is exposed to the sun and needs protection.
This sunscreen can be used on your whole body, including the more delicate skin on your face. Note that this is a broad-spectrum option — that's what you want in a sunscreen, because it means you're protected from both UVA and UVB rays.
"I like EltaMD in general," Dr. Fishman says.
4. All Good SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick
If you're being active, ease of application is key. After all, if you're on the tennis or volleyball court all day, you'll need to reapply several times.
Dr. Fishman recommends against spray options, but a stick, which you can just roll along your body and face, is nearly as convenient.
All Good's SPF 50+ Sport Sunscreen Butter Stick is made with zinc oxide as well as moisturizing coconut and jojoba oils.
5. TruKid Sport Sunscreen, SPF 30
An important thing to remember about sunscreen: "There's no waterproof sunscreen," Dr. Summe says. Water-resistant is the best option out there if you anticipate sweating — and, once you do get wet, you'll need to reapply, she says.
TruKid Sport Sunscreen is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it a great choice for extended time in the water. And it's made with gentle ingredients that are safe for kids' skin.
6. Badger Baby Mineral Sunscreen Cream, SPF 40
This cream sun protection has no benzene detected, per ConsumerLab. It's water- and sweat-resistant for up to 40 minutes. Plus, it contains calming chamomile and soothing calendula, and the sunflower oil base makes for easy application.
Just keep in mind that both the FDA and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend waiting until babies are at least 6 months old to use sunscreen. Instead, dress them in protective clothing and keep them in the shade whenever possible.
7. Thinksport Kids SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen
This is a tried-and-true mineral sunscreen for kids.
"When I'm taking my kids to the beach and I'm slathering them in sunscreen all week, I use a mineral one," Dr. Summe says. "I'm little more thoughtful about what I put on them than I am with what I put on myself," she says.
The analysis from ConsumerLab detects no benzene in this product.
8. CopperTone Pure and Simple Mineral Lotion, SPF 50
If you're planning on a long day outside, you'll need to reapply sunscreen frequently. A whole family can nearly empty out a bottle. In that kind of situation, a budget-friendly, drugstore brand is your best bet. You'll want one with broad-spectrum protection, and an SPF over 30 to ensure it's effective.
This sunscreen is included on ConsumerLab's list of safe and effective sunscreens — ones that do not contain carcinogens or ingredients that are not generally recognized as safe and effective.
9. Sun Bum Mineral Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion, SPF 50
Sun Bum is Dr. Fishman's favorite drugstore brand due to the price point. It's also vegan.
This particular option does not include benzene, per ConsumerLab.
10. Supergoop! Poof 100% Mineral Part Powder SPF 35
You may not think about your scalp in the sun, but it's easy for your hairline to get burnt. While in general Dr. Fishman recommends against spray options, "non-aerosol sprays are good for [the] hair part," she says.
This vegan options is non-greasy and dries translucent, so it works with any hair type.
11. MDSolarSciences Mineral Sunscreen Stick, SPF 40
This is a brand Dr. Fishman likes. Shaped like deodorant, it's easy to glide this sunscreen up and down your body, so if you're walking down the street and realize you're due for a reapplication on your arms and legs, it'll be easy.
Reviewers also note that it works well as a facial sunscreen, even under makeup, and it doesn't cause eye irritation.
12. La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Sunscreen, SPF 50
Tailored for sensitive skin, this sunscreen doesn't include fragrances, and it absorbs easily into the skin.
It's included on ConsumerLab's list of sunscreens without problematic ingredients.
13. Eleven By Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum, SPF 35
If you need a sunscreen for very intense sun exposure, Eleven By Venus Williams Unrivaled Sun Serum offers broad-spectrum UV coverage thanks to its 25 percent zinc oxide content, with a silky, lightweight feel.
This mineral sunscreen does a good job at not leaving a white cast behind. Bonus: It's vegan and cruelty-free. (Here are more great sunscreens for dark skin that don't leave a white cast.)
What to Look for in a Safe Sunscreen
Keep these factors in mind as you select your next sunscreen.
A mineral — as opposed to a chemical — sunscreen may have the edge when it comes to the safety of ingredients.
The FDA is currently reviewing a dozen chemical sunscreen ingredients after two studies (one in May 2019 and another in January 2020) found these ingredients were absorbed from the skin into the bloodstream. The ingredients studied included avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate and octinoxate.
It's important to note that the studies didn't find a specific health risk from the chemicals — they were only designed to determine whether the chemicals were absorbed into the blood. The FDA is still investigating the effects of this absorption.
For those who want to err on the side of caution, though, there are mineral sunscreens made with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. These sunscreens aren't absorbed — they sit on top of the skin to provide a physical barrier against the sun's UV rays. And the FDA says these ingredients are GRASE (aka Generally Recognized as Safe and Effective).
Check the "active ingredients" on the back. of the bottle to determine if a sunscreen is made with mineral or chemical ingredients. And beware "mineral-based" sunscreens, which may include both mineral and chemical blockers, Dr. Summe says.
Along with checking the active ingredient, review the rest of the ingredient list, too. If you're allergic to something, avoid it — and, if your skin is sensitive, you'll want to avoid fragrances and dyes.
Sunscreens are available as powders, gels, lotions and sprays. "A cream or a lotion is going to give you the best coverage," Dr. Summe says.
Sprays are likely best avoided. People don't tend to put on enough or may miss a spot with non-aerosol sprays, Dr. Fishman notes. And aerosol sprays are bad for both the environment and your lungs, she says. And avoid powders, too — they often don't provide sufficient sun protection.
Look for an SPF that's 30 or higher.
But don't get tricked by the SPF. No matter how high it is, you still need to reapply every two hours, Dr. Summe says. That's especially true if you're sweating or in the water.
4. Water- and Sweat-Resistant
If you're going to be swimming or exercising outdoors, choose a water-resistant option, Dr. Fishman says.
5. Broad Spectrum
Always make sure the sunscreen is labeled broad spectrum. If it's just an SPF, it won't provide UVA protection — just UVB, Dr. Fishman says.
When you apply sunscreen, do so liberally. For your face, neck and ears, that means about a teaspoon, or an amount the size of a nickel. And it takes roughly a shot glass-worth of sunscreen to cover your body, Dr. Summe says. “Most people aren’t putting enough on, and aren’t reapplying frequently enough,” she says.
Alternatives to Sunscreen
The AAD also recommends taking these two key precautions to avoid sunburns and skin cancer:
- Avoid peak sun: When the sun's strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., do your best to stay in the shade.
- Wear protective garb: When you're outside, sun-protective clothing and hats can protect you from UV rays. For the most possible protection, opt for clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor of 50 (UPF 50), which blocks 98 percent of the sun's rays, says board-certified dermatologist Cybele Fishman, MD with Advanced Dermatology PC. And pick a broad-brimmed hat that covers your ears rather than a baseball cap.
- JAMA: "Effect of Sunscreen Application on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients"
- Valisure: "VALISURE DETECTS HIGH LEVELS OF KNOWN HUMAN CARCINOGEN BENZENE IN SEVERAL SUNSCREEN PRODUCTS AND REQUESTS FDA ACTIONS"
- ConsumerLab: "What is the best sunscreen based on safety and efficacy?"
- FDA: "FDA Proposes Sunscreen Regulation Changes"
- National Ocean Service: "Skincare Chemicals and Coral Reefs"
- FDA: "Sunscreen: How to Help Protect Your Skin from the Sun"
- American Academy of Dermatology Association: "SUNSCREEN FAQS"
- Piedmont Health: "The difference between physical and chemical sunscreen"
- Center for Biological Diversity: "Hawai‘i Senate Bill Bans Harmful Sunscreen Chemicals"
- FDA: "Should You Put Sunscreen on Infants? Not Usually"
- HealthyChildren.org: "Sun Safety: Information for Parents About Sunburn & Sunscreen"
- FDA: "Shedding More Light on Sunscreen Absorption"
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