The Best Sunscreen for Beach Days or Everyday Use

A woman applying sunscreen to a man's back before they hit the beach.
Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Sun damage is real. Whether you’re hitting the beach, at a baseball game, or just spending some time outside, you should be using sunscreen. But first, you need to find a sunscreen that’s right for your skin.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, only 30% of Americans regularly use sunscreen, but why? The effects of sun damage are already deep in the public consciousness. Americans already know that sunburns damage your skin, that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, and that even mild UV exposure can compound into wrinkles and sunspots. The issue isn’t education—it’s that we hate wearing sunscreen.

We’ve gone too long with sunscreen that doesn’t work for our skin. It’s always too sticky, too fragrant, too oily, or too pasty for dark or tan skin tones. These days, though, we have more options. You just need to track down a sunscreen that suits your skin.

Finding the Right Sunscreen for Your Skin

When shopping for sunscreen, your options are practically limitless. In a moment, we’ll cover the four distinct categories of sunscreen. First, though, you should consider the four key aspects of sunscreen so you can find the right one for you.

  • SPF: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 30 SPF sunscreen blocks 97% of UV rays. Higher SPF ratings don’t push that percentage any closer to 100%, so don’t stress about numbers; just get 30 SPF or higher. (All of the sunscreens in this article are 50 SPF or higher.)
  • Moisturizing, Drying, and Oils: Depending on your skin type, you might want to avoid certain sunscreen ingredients. Moisturizing sunscreen is great for dry skin but can add grease to oily skin. Ingredients like alcohol can dry out the skin (not a big deal if your skin is oily), and oils can make your sunscreen runny or encourage burning on already oily skin.
  • White Cast: If you have a dark or tan skin tone, then you should avoid heavy, lotion-based sunscreens. They can leave a chalky white cast on your skin. Instead, try a lightweight lotion- or gel-based sunscreen.
  • Convenience: If you hate applying lotions or want to avoid spilling, then consider buying a spray. They’re cheap, convenient, and clean.

Now that you know what your skin needs from sunscreen, it’s time to go shopping!

Sunscreen Lotion

Three women at the beach applying sunscreen to each other's backs.
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

When you hear the word “sunscreen,” a lotion is the first thing that comes to mind. It’s cheap, it’s easy to apply, and it’s synonymous with the beach. Of course, there are a few varieties of sunscreen lotion out there, so we’ve covered all the bases.

Of course, sunscreen lotion isn’t right for everyone. If you want to avoid the pasty, foggy look that lotion leaves on your skin, you might want to get a gel instead.

Sunscreen Gel

A woman at the beach applying gel sunscreen.
LightField Studios/Shutterstock

There’s a common misconception that people with dark or tanned skin don’t need to use sunscreen. This is entirely false. But if you do have a dark skin tone, sunscreen lotion can leave behind a white cast—like you’ve just rubbed Elmer’s glue all over your body. It’s a classic catch-22: damage your skin or look like a piece of sweaty chalk.

A gel might be the solution to this dilemma. Sunscreen gels (sometimes called, “watery” sunscreens) are precisely what they sound like—thin gel solutions that contain anti-UV elements. Gels absorb into your skin much quicker than lotions; they’re water-resistant, won’t leave a white cast, and (according to the American Cancer Society) are as effective as sunscreen lotions.

  • Biore UV Watery Sunscreen 50 SPF ($13): An alcohol-free sunscreen with moisturizing elements, like royal jelly extract. This great sunscreen gel won’t leave your skin dry at the end of the day.
  • Nivea Sun Protect Water Gel 50 SPF ($12): This straightforward sunscreen gel is fragrance-free and affordable.
  • BullFrog Land Sport Sunscreen 50 SPF ($12): With a target market of athletes, this Bullfrog sunscreen absorbs quickly and is sweat-resistant. Naturally, this makes it useful for any situation that might be making you sweat. It’s an ideal, all-purpose sunscreen gel.

Of course, some people hate to rub in a wad of sunscreen before going to the beach. That’s why sunscreen spray exists.

Sunscreen Spray

A woman's legs being sprayed with sunscreen.
Photoroyalty/Shutterstock

Sunscreen spray is more convenient than the lotions or gels. It’s cheap, easy to apply, and won’t leak all over the place. Not to mention it comes in lotion and gel varieties for all skin tones.

  • Neutrogena Beach Defense 70 SPF ($9): This lotion-based spray is water-resistant and oil-free. It doesn’t smell weird and is reasonably priced.
  • Australian Gold X-Treme Gel Spray 50 SPF ($8): If you want the convenience of a spray with the transparency of a gel, then this might be the sunscreen for you. It’s also cheap and paraben-free.
  • Sun Bum Moisturizing Sunscreen Spray 50 SPF ($12): While it’s a bit more expensive than other sprays, this lotion-based sunscreen is worth the extra money. It also smells great and moisturizes your skin with antioxidants.

Now that you’ve found the best sunscreen for your body, it’s time to find the right one for your face. You can use regular sunscreen on your face, but facial sunscreen is specially made to be extra gentle, and it’s ideal for everyday use.

Facial and Everyday Sunscreens

A woman applies facial sunscreen while hiking.
Maridav/Shutterstock

Whether you wear sunscreen every day or every few months, you should think about what you’re putting on your face. Heavy lotion or alcohol-based sunscreens might work fine for the rest of your body, but they can dry out your face, leaving you with acne or irritated skin. Some sunscreens can also leave a noticeable white cast on your face, even if you have light skin.

The solution? Use a dedicated facial sunscreen. We’ve picked out three that are ideal for everyday or occasional use, even if you’re wearing makeup.

  • Biore UV Watery Sunscreen 50 SPF ($13): Again, Biore sunscreen gel is great because of its moisturizing properties. It contains royal jelly extract and hyaluronic acid, which (despite the name) keeps your skin moisturized throughout the day. Since this is a gel, it’s also great for people who want to avoid a white cast.
  • Neutrogena Sensitive Face Sunscreen 50 SPF ($11): This affordable facial sunscreen is perfect for people with sensitive skin. It’s all-natural, fragrance-free, and has a consistency similar to liquid foundation, so it won’t leave a white cast (unless you use too much).
  • Etude House Mild Watery Sunscreen 50 SPF ($10): If you have oily skin, try this sunscreen gel by Etude House. It’s cheap, oil-free, and won’t leave a white cast.

Now that you’re appropriately sunscreened, it’s time to enjoy your summer. Hit the beach, spend time with your family, and spread the word about your new favorite sunscreen. You might save someone from a few wrinkles and sunspots.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is a writer for Review Geek and its sister site, How-To Geek. Like a jack-of-all-trades, he handles the writing and image editing for a mess of tech news articles, daily deals, product reviews, and complicated explainers. Read Full Bio »

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