The weather is heating up, and the layers are coming off, which means that it’s time to start slathering on sunscreen during your outdoor pursuits. To help you pick out the very best sunscreen that can handle all the outdoor activities you do, we tapped a handful of experts to hear what hype to believe in the sunscreen world, and what to look for in each small bottle of protection. After all, sunscreen is your first defense against aging, and who really wants wrinkles right now?
To get a better idea of what ingredients to look for and what products to avoid, we talked with Tammy Lisi, Beyond Coastal’s formulation chemist and Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, the Senior Vice President of the Skin Cancer Foundation.
“For a sport sunscreen, one should look for ingredients like Avobenzone and Octocrylene,” Dr. Hale says. When you think of waterproof ingredients, zinc oxide likely comes to mind thanks to all of those lifeguards in the 80s with their white sunblock-covered noses — but you need more than just that. “You should look for at least one mineral active, [like] zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. To achieve water resistance and higher SPF, these actives cannot be used alone. [When] used with actives like octocrylene and homosalate we begin to achieve coverage desired for an active lifestyle,” Lisi says.
As for ingredients to avoid, Lisi recommends that people “steer clear of PABA and oxybenzone for various reasons. Avobenzone can react with iron and turn your whites orange, and is forbidden to use with zinc oxide.” It’s also worth noting that new research has shown that oxybenzone has adverse effects on coral reefs, so it’s best to avoid sunscreens that contain it if possible.
Stick, Lotion or Spray?
“Stick products often achieve lower SPF levels with more water resistance easily,” Lisi says. And you have to be careful with the ingredients in sticks if you have sensitive skin. “The big downside of sticks is that people prone to acne can struggle with the high levels of occlusive ingredients in these products,” Lisi says. Whereas lotions contain more water and oil-soluble ingredients, “by taking advantage of the oil and water portions of the formulation, we can get closer and closer to completely blocking potential damage from the sun’s rays. Overall, it is fairly easy to achieve good coverage on face and body when using a lotion-type sunscreen,” Lisi says. As for sprays? “In a no-wind environment, spray shows the best skin coverage and ease of use,” Lisi says. But Lisi cautions that in a windy environment, “sprays are too lightweight for proper application.” Depending on where you’re applying and re-applying, the success of the lotion depends on you.
Coola Sport Body SPF 50 Organic Sunscreen Lotion
This contains both avobenzone and octocrylene, both of which are recommended by Dr. Elizabeth K. Hale. The water-resistant base filled with Agaze leaf extract and avocado butter are both great for your skin, but still needs to be applied every 80 minutes.
Beyond Coastal Active Sunscreen
The combo of avobenzone and octocrylene comes together again, this time with açaí fruit extract, aloe vera leaf extract and rosehip oil. You’ll have to reapply this lotion every 80 minutes, but the non-greasy, fast-absorbing characteristics of this lotion will have you stashing it in your gym bag for all outdoor frisbee games.
Bare Republic Clear Sunscreen Gel Sport
All of Bare Republic’s products are free of chemical additives like oxybenzone and pumped full of good-for-you natural extracts. In this SPF 30 sunscreen, the ingredient list almost reads like a fruit salad: pomegranate seed oil, raspberry fruit extract, natural coconut and mango essential oils. Again, be sure to re-apply after 80 minutes of activity. It works just as well during a run as it does during a beach volleyball game.
MDSolar Sciences Mineral Sunscreen Stick Broad Spectrum SPF 40
If you’re looking to avoid oxybenzone, this all-natural mineral sunscreen stick has you covered. The lightweight solid lotion is easy to apply in public areas, unlike some mineral sunscreens that goop up all over your skin. This SPF 40 stick works on all skin types and is also oil free and filled with vitamin C. Be sure to re-apply every 80 minutes.
Neutrogena Cooldry Sport Sunscreen Lotion
Thanks to Micromesh technology, this SPF 70 lotion is chemically engineered to allow sweat to pass through your skin, meaning your body can cool down without feeling extremely greasy. Again, you’ll have to re-apply every 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, but this one is also PABA-free.
Supergoop! Everyday Sunscreen
If you love the smell of sunscreen, this spray is for you. The SPF 50 protection is boosted with vitamin C to help protect your face and body from those pesky free radicals. This non-aerosol mist is easy to apply all over. Remember to re-apply every 50 minutes.
Coppertone Sport Water Resistant Sunscreen Lotion
This is one of Dr. Hale’s favorites. “I use a base coat of lotion and then the spray to reapply,” she says. It’s PABA- and oil-free and rated at SPF 50. You’ll also need to re-apply this one after an intense hour and twenty minute game of bocce.
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