Best sunscreen on your mind? It turns out that searching for the best sunscreen isn’t so much like looking like the Holy Grail as it may seem. Instead, it is knowing and identifying the best ingredients, concentrations, and delivery systems, as well as understanding the best formulations for your own skin concerns and skin type. Here is my handy guide to the best picks:
1.) Best for Anti-Aging: AminoGenesis Wrinkle Arrest SPF 30
I love this for anti-aging because it contains amino acids, camellia oil, and several kinds of sunscreen.
As you age, your skin’s natural stores of amino acids become depleted. This is both because the stores become depleted due to internal and external stressors, and because your body produces and maintains less amino acids as you age.
Together, L-leucine, glycine and proline have been shown to fight wrinkles when used in fair concentration on skin (European Journal of Dermatology, 2013). Amongst the amino acids, L-may also be involved in collagen production (Journal of Peptide Science, 2012).
Immunity boost for your skin is another benefit. L-histidine and L-isoleucine may help to prevent skin infections when used regularly. Both have been shown to boost immunological activity against certain types of skin infections, whether by increasing activity (L-histidine) or increasing skin’s natural production of anti-microbial peptides (PLoS Pathogens, 2008, Pharmaceuticals, 2014).
Several of the amino acids may help skin cell damage and wound repair. L-arginine, L-glutamine, L-glycine, and L-isoleucine may speed the healing of skin cell damage and wounds (Wilderness and Environmental Damage, 2014; JPEN, 2014; Eksp Klin Pharmacol, 2014; Minerva Pediatrica, 2014).
Finally, L-tyrosine helps the other ingredients and the skin-beneficial hydrators in AminoGenesis Cocoon penetrate the skin (International Journal of Pharmaceutics, 2008).
Researchers in a 2007 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology tested the effects of a type of camellia oil on human type 1 collagen production and skin barrier function. In the study, camellia oil both stimulated collagen production and prevented its breakdown.
For the ultra-scientific, Camellia oil may stimulate collagen production by activating the COL1A2 promoter, starting production of type 1 collagen. On the other hand, Camellia oil may prevent collagen breakdown by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down collagen, metalloproteinase (MMP)-1.
The study also indicated that the skin may become more hydrated with Camellia use as well. Skin treated with the oil had less transepidermal water loss (TEWL) than skin that was not treated.
Homosalate is actually part of the salicylate family, like salicylic acid. Studies show that it can help limit inflammation, resulting in reduced redness in the skin. (European Journal of Pharmacology). It’s also so effective that it is one of the active ingredients in the standard sunscreen formulation the FDA uses to test the SPF of other sunscreens (FDA).
Octisalate is a photostabilizer used to reduce the degradation of avobenzone. Both are UVB filters; when paired with avobenzone, they create a broad-spectrum protectant against harmful radiation (JAAD).
Avobenzone is a very common sunscreen ingredient. It works by taking UV light and converting it into energy that isn’t harmful. Avobenzone protects moderately well against both UVA and UVB rays.
Avobenzone sometimes gets a bad rap, because it is unstable when it is used alone and exposed to light (International Journal of Pharmacology). However, when avobenzone is paired with oxybenzone, it is stabilized and will not break down significantly in the present of light (FDA). And, as I mentioned before, octisalate will also stabilize avobenzone.
Octocrylene is an avobenzone stabilizer that provides further UVB protection (Free Radical Research, 2010).
2.) Best for Sunspots and Other Signs of Hyperpigmentation: Ole Henriksen Protect the Truth Sunscreen
I generally apply a separate vitamin C and E serum. This is because the studies show high concentrations of vitamins C and E work well: 15% vitamin C as L-ascorbic acid and at least 1% vitamin E as tocopherol acetate have amazing results. Vitamin E works to protect against UVB radiation, while vitamin C is better for UVA (Acta Dermato-Venereologica).
But sometimes you might just want an all-in-one solution. Maybe you’re pressed for time, or maybe you don’t want to spend $80-100 on a vitamin C serum plus another $20-30 for a high-quality sunscreen. That’s all good! No judgment here!
For when you’re in a pinch, Ole Henriksen Protect the Truth Sunscreen works, and provides enough antioxidant protection I feel good recommending it!
Active ingredients: Avobenzone 3%, Homosalate 10%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 2.7%, Oxybenzone 5% Inactive ingredients: Water (Aqua/Eau), Butyloctyl Salicylate, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Thermus Thermophillus Ferment, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Fruit Cell Extract, Algae Extract, Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract, Pullulan, Isomalt, Lecithin, Glycerin, Dimethicone, Silica, Ceteareth-20, Sodium Phytate, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Fragrance (Parfum).
3.) Best for an Antioxidant Boost: Revalé Skin Natural Defense SPF 25
Let’s say your skin already looks great. And you’re already fueled up with vitamins C and E. What to do?
I suggest that you add in another antioxidant that works in a separate pathway. And if you’re going to add in an antioxidant, you might want to make it Coffeeberry.
CoffeeBerry Extract contains an extremely high concentration of antioxidant compounds called polyphenols. This concentration is so high, in fact, that CoffeeBerry Extract has been found to have the highest antioxidant potential of any ingredient, as published in the journal Dermatologic Therapy. This means CoffeeBerry is a better antioxidant than green tea, white tea, vitamin C, vitamin E, grape seed extract or idebenone.
I personally have used the RevaléSkin line in the past, and cannot say enough wonderful things about it. It’s gentle, effective, and soothing to the skin. The RevaléSkin Natural Defense SPF 25 Sunscreen is no exception, with a hydrating, lightweight formulation and skin-friendly ingredients.
Ingredients: Micronized Titanium Dioxide 9.5%, Water (Aqua), Squalane (Olive Derived), Cera Alba, Heptyl Undecylenate, Cetyl Ricinoleate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Silicon Dioxide, Glycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, Caprylyl Glycol, Stearic Acid, Sodium Lauroyl Glutamate, Lecithin (From Soy), Stearyl Alcohol, Coffea Arabica Fruit Extract, Lactic Acid, Xanthan Gum, Iron Oxides, Sodium Hydroxide.
4.) Best for Dry Skin, Eczema, or Rosacea: Olay Regenerist Superstructure SPF 30
Olay Regenerist Superstructure SPF 30 contains niacinamide. From the ingredients list, I estimate its concentration to be around 4%.
In concentrations of at least 2%, niacinamide does it all: Reduces fine lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmented spots, red blotchiness, and skin sallowness (yellowing), and increases elasticity (Dermatologic Surgery, 2006).
According to a 2005 study by Draelos et. al., niacinamide may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of rosacea by increasing hydration and barrier function of the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of the skin).
For those with dry skin, eczema, or rosacea, I highly recommend Olay Regenerist Superstructure.
5.) Best for Oily or Acne-Prone Skin: Coola SPF 30 Cucumber Matte Finish
Oily skin in the summer can be hard to treat: If you avoid sunscreen, the sun will temporarily dry out the skin, killing some bacteria, and making breakouts appear better. But then, after a few weeks, some bacteria will catch wind. The breakouts will return with a vengeance, worse than before.
On the other hand, if you use super-drying sunscreen formulas, your skin will feel parched. It will, in turn, reflexively produce more oil. This will be a breeding ground for yet more bacteria and breakouts.
What to do is simple: Find a sunscreen that provides a matte finish and mild hydration. That’s exactly what Coola SPF 30 Cucumber Matte has done, with a high concentration of aluminum hydroxide balanced out with shea butter.
Aluminum is one of the most absorbent materials on earth (GlobalSpec). Alumina is so absorbent that it is used as a desiccant (drying agent) for water plants. If it can dry out 10000 gallon jugs of water, imagine how well it can keep oil down on your skin!
Yet, Coola SPF 30 Cucumber Matte balances out the aluminum hydroxide with soothing cucumber and hydrating shea butter. The result? A sunscreen formulation that is effective at keeping down shine and reflexive oil production.
Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (Sunscreen) 3.2%, Zinc Oxide (Sunscreen) 1.8%, Aluminum Hydroxide, Butyrospermum Parkii (ORGANIC Shea Butter), Cucumis Sativus (ORGANIC Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Glycerin (ORGANIC), Hydrogen Dimethicone, Isopropyl Myristate, Linum Usitatissimum (ORGANIC Linseed) Seed Oil, Oenothera Biennis (ORGANIC Evening Primrose) Oil, Plankton Extract, Polyamide-5, Polysilicone-11, Propylene Carbonate, Rosa Canina (ORGANIC Rose Hip) Fruit Oil, Silica Silylate, Stearalkonium Hectorite.
6.) Best for Sensitive Skin:Rodan and Fields Soothe Moisture Sunscreen SPF 30Rodan and Fields Soothe Moisture Sunscreen is a “thumbs up” for sensitive skin because of what it doesn’t include just as much as what it does.
Sensitive skin tends to be aggravated by ingredients like apricot oil, benzaldehydes, BHA, citrus extracts, isopropyl alcohol, niacin, and sodium lauryl sulfate. But Rodan and Fields Soothe Moisture Sunscreen contains none of these.
Instead, Rodan and Fields Soothe Moisture Sunscreen contains oil-absorbing aluminum starch, hydrating sodium hyaluronate, and soothing wheat protein and green tea. The result? Skin that is protected, but also not aggravated by irritating ingredients.
Ingredients: ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Titanium Dioxide 2%, Zinc Oxide 12% INACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Cyclopentasiloxane, Water, Butylene Glycol, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Dimethicone, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Sodium Hyaluronate, Caprylyl Methicone, Dimethicone/Vinyl Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Caprylyl Glycol, Glycerin, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein/PVP Crosspolymer, Sodium PCA, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Camellia Sinesis Extract, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Chloride, Alumina, Methicone, Silica, Phenoxyethanol
7.) Best Natural/Organic Sunscreen: Josie Maran Argan Oil SPF 47
I don’t believe that you need to have all natural or organic skin care to be healthy. Nonetheless, some people believe wholeheartedly in this movement. And if you are one of them, it’s hard to disagree with the performance of argan oil.
An omega-6 unsaturated (i.e., contains double bonds) essential fatty acid, linoleic acid has been shown in several research studies (cited here) to be capable of reducing inflammation and acne and increasing skin’s moisturization levels.
Linoleic and oleic fatty acids may both help protect and maintain skin elasticity, smoothness, and radiance. According to a competitor’s in-house clinical tests, subjects showed a 38 percent improvement in lines after eight weeks of using their upcoming argan oil-rich firming face cream.
So it’s hard to disagree with natural or organic when the science is as good as it is for Josie Maran Argan Oil SPF 47!
Ingredients: Water**, Ethylhexyl Palmitate, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride**, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Polyglyceryl-6 Polyricinoleate**, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polysilicone-11, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil**, Glycerin**, Cera Alba (Beeswax)*, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Phenoxyethanol, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Methicone, Alumina, Tocopheryl Acetate, Sodium Chloride**, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Polyglyceryl-10 Laurate, Parfum (Fragrance)**, Bisabolol, Dimethicone, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil*, Laureth-12, Ethylhexylglycerin, Camellia Sinensis (Green Tea) Leaf Extract*, Citric Acid**, Potassium Sorbate**, Sodium Benzoate**. *Organic. **Natural.
8.) Best Lightweight Sunscreen: Kate Somerville Waterlight Broad Spectrum SPF 50 PA+++ Anti-Aging Sunscreen
I’m normally about high SPF. The higher the UVA protection (measured by PA), and the higher the UVB protection (measured by SPF rating), the better.
But there are times when I need to look my best: Photo shoots, big meetings, or interviews come to mind. And when I do, I reach for this cosmetically-sound sunscreen.
This is a super lightweight formula that feels almost like water. It absorbs into the skin very well, and stays put. No telltale white streaks, no cosmetic issues, nothing. Just beautiful skin, well protected with 12% zinc oxide!
Water, Isododecane, Dimethicone, Butyloctyl Salicylate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Coco-Caprylate/Caprate, Glycerin, Caprylyl Methicone, Dicaprylyl Ether, Nylon-6/12, Dicaprylyl Carbonate, Butylene Glycol, Cetyl PEG/PPG-10/1 Dimethicone, Coconut Alkanes, Methylcellulose, Stearic Acid , Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Sodium Hyaluronate, Tocopheryl Acetate, Adenosine, Lentinus Edodes Extract, Trehalose, Triacetin, Tocopherol, Palmitoyl Oligopeptide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7, Urea, Sodium PCA, Parfum (Fragrance), Ethylhexylglycerin, Polysorbate 20, Polyquaternium-51, Carbomer, Pentylene Glycol, Sodium Lactate, Disodium EDTA, Benzoic Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Phenoxyethanol, Alumina
9.) Best UVA (UV-Aging) Protection: LaRoche Posay Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Cream UVA Protection with Mexoryl SX
This designation, by the way, is purely an opinion. UVA ratings are designated “PA+” for light protection to “PA++++” for maximal protection. Since there are many sunscreens on the market designated “PA+++”, it’s hard to know which is truly the best.
In my opinion, this is the best UVA sunscreen I’ve ever used.
The active ingredient in LaRoche Posay Anthelios 40 Sunscreen Mexorylis very effective for two reasons: One, it is very stable. Two, because Mexoryl absorbs light at a broader range of UVA wavelengths than many other sunscreens.
I’m a huge fan. I used to import it from Europe before it was available in the U.S., but I’m regularly using this now for days on the beach now that L’Oréal has made it available in here.
Ingredients: Avobenzone 2%, Ecamsule 3%, Octocrylene 10%, Titanium dioxide 5%., Carbomer 940, Carbomercopolymer Type B, Cyclomethicone, Dimethicone, Edetate Disodium, Glycerin, Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose, Isopropyl Palmitate, Methylparaben, Phenoxyethanol, Polyvinyl Pyrrolidone, Eicosene Copolymer, Propyleneglycol, Propylparaben, Purified Water, Stearic Acid,Stearoyl Macrogolglycerides, Stearyl Alcohol, Trolamine.
10.) Best for UVB (UV-Burning) Protection: Neutrogena Age Shield Sunscreen SPF 110
A physics professor of mine used to always say, “The numbers don’t lie, and neither do I.”
Well, I don’t know about him for certain, but numbers surely don’t lie. And the sky-high rating on Neutrogena Age Shield Sunscreen SPF 110 indicate this has more UVB protection than a pair of blue jeans (which is SPF 99).
Higher numbers don’t always matter. For instance, an SPF of 30 allows 3.3% of rays through, an SPF of 50 allows 2% of rays through, and an SPF of 100 allows 1% of rays through. Clearly, you’re getting more benefit moving from an SPF of 30 to an SPF of 50 than you are from an SPF of 50 to an SPF of 100.
But still. If you’re the perfectionist type, or just don’t want to take any chances of your skin burning, reach for Neutrogena Age Shield Sunscreen SPF 110. Applied liberally, it’s the best sunscreen out there for burning that I could find.
Active Ingredients: Avobenzone (3%), Homosalate (15%), Octisalate (5%), Octocrylene (4%), Oxybenzone (5%). Other ingredients: Water, Styrene Acrylamide Copolymer, Silica, Beeswax, Cyclopentasiloxane, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG 100, PEG 100 Stearate, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, Acrylates/C10 30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Chlorphenesin, Triethanolamine, Disodium EDTA, Dipotassium, Dipotassium Glycyrrhizate, BHT, Methylisoptiazolinone, Diethylexyl 2, 6 Naphthalate, Fragrance.
11.) Best for Children: Del Mar Beach Supply Shade SPF 32
For children, I never recommend chemical sunscreens (i.e., avobenzone, oxybenzone, homosalate, Parsol 1789, ecamsule). This is because chemical sunscreens like avobenzone and oxybenzone have been shown to be absorbed into the body and later secreted in the urine (Lancet, 1997).
Though this absorption has not been shown to be significant enough to affect the health of adults, it hasn’t been studied much on children or infants. It is not recommended by some dermatologists that sunscreens with avobenzone or oxybenzone be used on babies, infants, small children or by pregnant or nursing women for this reason (Cosmetic Dermatology, 2010).
When it comes to sunscreen and children, I only recommend non-micronized zinc or titanium oxide.
Ingredients: 25% non-nano Zinc Oxide, Eldorado Springs Artesian Water, Certified Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Certified Organic Jojoba Oil, Vegetable Glycerine, Organic Shea Butter, Vegetable Emulsifying Wax NF (cetearyl alcohol & polysorbate 60 from soybeans), Vegetable Vitamin E (non-gmo from sunflower seeds)
12.) Best for Workouts: Skinceuticals Sport UV Defense SPF 50
I’ve started running a lot recently. (More on that later).
Most of the time, I run indoors. But sometimes, my training requires me to go outside. For those times, I need a sunscreen with staying power. For that, I choose Skinceuticals Sport UV Defense SPF 50, with synthetic wax and other ingredients that help this formula stay put.
The label reads that it stays put for up to 80 minutes of activity. I have run with it on for up to 60 minutes with no problem at all, though I haven’t tested the 80 yet!
Avobenzone 3%, Homosolate 15%, Octisalate 5%, Octocrylene 7%. Water, Styrene/Acrylates Copolymer, Dimethicone, Isododecane, Butyloctyl Salicylate, Propanediol, Glycerin, Silica, Isononyl Isononanoate, Inulin Lauryl Carbamate, Nylon-12, Caprylyl Methicone, Synthetic Wax, Poly C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate, Phenoxyethanol, PEG-8 Laurate, Sucrose Tristearate, Caprylyl Glycol, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/Steareth-25 Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Stearyl Alcohol, Polymethyl Methacrylate, P-Anisic Acid, Chlorphensin, Dimethiconol, Xanthan Gum, Disodium EDTA, Tocopherol, Artemia Extract, Triethanolamine.
If you’re looking for the best sunscreens, look no further than this guide!