The Best Sunscreen Of 2021, According To Skincare Pros

By | January 27, 2022

One thing is for sure when it comes to SPF: It’s extremely important to wear it regularly. But not all sunscreen is created equal. That’s why at the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab, we are constantly testing the best sunscreens and SPFs and regularly consulting top dermatologists to find the best sunblock to keep your skin protected, healthy and youthful all year long.

In our most recent tests, our chemists evaluated over 75 body and face sunscreens and surveyed over 8,000 consumer testers to get insight into the qualities people actually care about when it comes to sun protection. After narrowing the field to the top 39 sunscreens, Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. and chemists Sabina Wizemann and Danusia Wnek enlisted the help of consumer testers across demographics and races including (but not limited to) White, Black, Latinx and Asian. Each tester used a label-masked product at least twice over the course of a week.

After reviewing tens of thousands of responses from over 600 testers, our experts narrowed in on the top-performing picks. Whether you’re looking for formulas suited for sensitive skin, sunscreens for kids and babies, zinc oxide formulas, sunscreen for oily skin or even natural sunscreen, our pros have the perfect SPF pick for you.

Note: In July 2021, Johnson & Johnson recalled a number of sunscreens after tests identified low levels of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical compound. None of GH’s recommended sunscreens are part of the sunscreen recall.How do I choose the best sunscreen for my skin?

Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right sunscreen and SPF for you:

✔️ Broad-spectrum protection “to protect against both harmful UVA/UVB rays,” says Lucy Chen, M.D, F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology. Exposure to these wavelengths can lead to dangerous sunburns (a.k.a. skin damage and potentially skin cancers), dark spots and disrupted collaged production — UV exposure is responsible for 80% of visible skin aging. And SPF 30 or greater is best, says David Lortscher, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and CEO of Curology. “Most people don’t apply their sunscreen perfectly, so it’s best to have at least a number 30 to ensure proper coverage,” adds Dr. Chen. ✔️ Active ingredients: Most often, you’ll have to choose between chemical and mineral sunscreens as your main SPF agents: Chemical formulas absorb UV rays and converting them into heat, according to Michael Somenek, M.D. “This process allows the body to release the UV rays, which ultimately prevents the skin from burning,” he says. Chemical sunscreens tend to be better for swimming due to their water-resistant nature but while these lotions and sprays are easier to apply with no white residue, you will need to reapply sunscreen more often than you would with a physical or mineral option. Mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreens) form a barrier on your skin that reflects or filters UVA and UVB rays. The dispersed zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide formulas can be more difficult to spread on your skin and leave behind white cast, but they usually last longer than chemical formulas.

✔️ Water-resistance to stand up against sweaty days or time spent swimming. Heads up: There’s no such thing as waterproof or sweatproof sunscreen. Under current FDA guidelines, there are only “water-resistant for 40 minutes” or “water-resistant for 80 minutes” options. Forget about reapplying every two hours: Instead, heed the water-resistance time on the bottle and layer the product on more frequently when swimming, sweating or toweling off.✔️ Formula type: Our Beauty Lab pros tend to prefer lotions and creams over sprays since “they last on skin longer than sprays [and] are more likely to form a uniform protective coating over skin than sprays,” says Wizemann. “If your skin is prone to dryness, a cream may be better for you,” adds Dr. Chen. As for kids, “Sprays are easy, but they might require a second coating, so spray generously,” she says.✔️ Your skin type: If you have dry skin, “Look for ingredients like dimethicone, glycerin, aloe and oils and avoid spray or gel sunscreens with alcohol,” advises Dr. Chen. She adds that those with oily skin should opt for a lightweight sunscreen that contains ingredients like silica or isododecane.

Now that you’ve got the lowdown, check out the best sunscreen formulas from our Beauty Lab, plus dermatologist recommendations. And remember, no matter what you use, make sure to apply your sunscreen daily, at least 15 minutes before heading out to properly allow the protective film to form!

AntiOxidant+ Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50

The Hawaiian Tropic excelled across the board in our Lab evaluations, earning perfect scores for not drying or irritating skin. One tester said it even stayed put during a run and didn’t burn her eyes. Plus, at less than $1.60 per ounce, it’s less than half the average price of other products we looked at.

Testers also liked that it didn’t feel tacky or greasy on their skin and absorbed well with no white residue. Its beachy scent was also total crowd-pleaser, even with testers who tend to be especially critical about scent. SPF 50Chemical sunscreen lotionWater Resistance: 80 minutes

LiftActiv Peptide-C Sunscreen SPF 30

The winner of our Beauty Lab’s most recent sunscreen test, this pick impressed testers in terms of hydration and not causing breakouts or irritation. It was also the easiest to use, didn’t interfere with makeup, and earned the second highest score for not leaving a white cast.

Testers disagreed on its scent: some adored it while others were put off by it. In terms of texture, many loved that the thinness made it easy to sink into the skin. Testers vouched that it protected them from sunburn and awarded it the highest score in this category.SPF 30Chemical sunscreen lotion

For a lightweight, more affordable option, this sunscreen is gentle on the skin and provides just enough hydration (though you might need an extra layer of moisturizer if your skin is on the dry side). This sunscreen also ranked well among testers with darker skin tones, who reported seeing little to no white cast. It also has a pleasant, mild scent. Just keep in mind that the texture can be a bit tacky and runny. SPF 50Chemical and mineral sunscreen lotionWater resistance: 80 minutes

Original Sunscreen Spray SPF 50

For those who prefer to spritz on their sun protection, this tropical-scented Sun Bum mist was the clear winner in GH Beauty Lab testing, applying easily and leaving no chalky cast on skin. The formula came out on top for not creating a white residue and provided effective sunburn protection. 

The “continuous and even” spray “covered my skin quickly,” two tester said. “I would definitely buy this,” added one. Good to know: Some users found that it left an oily finish on skin that took time to disappear.SPF 50Chemical sunscreen sprayWater resistance: 80 minutes

Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Face Lotion

The “silky texture” of this sunscreen was a hit among testers. It had a “velvet feel” and didn’t add shine or oil to the skin. The sunscreen earned almost a perfect score for not causing irritation or redness, and many testers found that it worked under makeup. However, some noted a white cast or slight grayish tone after application.SPF 30Mineral zinc-oxide sunscreen lotionWater resistance: 40 minutes

Botanical Sunscreen Mineral Lotion SPF 50

Mineral sunscreens don’t have to break the bank: This one earned top marks in our tests for less than half the price of other top-performing mineral options. “It applies smoothly, left little residue, and didn’t make me feel too tacky,” said a tester, who is allergic to chemical options.

Caveat: This one may not feel greasy, but it does leave behind a bit of a white cast, which only gets glowier when skin is wet (i.e. after a dip in the pool or a sweaty outdoor run). One tester also said that it stained her bathing suit.  SPF 50Mineral sunscreen lotionWater resistance: 80 minutes

Best Dermatologist-Recommended Sunscreen

Anthelios Mineral Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50

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