10 Best Sunscreens of 2020

Reviewing Sunscreens in 2020

Even with the best sun protective apparel, you should always use one of these top-rated broad spectrum sunscreens to protect the parts of your body not covered by UPF apparel. From your ears to your toes, every part of your skin—no matter the color—is vulnerable to sunburn and damage if overexposed to UV radiation. Make sunburn a thing of the past by using the best sunscreens of 2020!

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Top 10 Sunscreens for 2020

10) La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen, SPF 60

The SPF 60 might be overkill, but we like that La Roche-Posay Anthelios Sunscreen achieves its protection factor with reef-safe ingredients. Its water resistant and fragrance-free formula provides safe broad spectrum protection for most skin types, whether for everyday use or extended activities. Additionally, La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios sunscreens feature antioxidants and Vitamin E to defend against free radicals and repair damaged skin.

9) Thinksport Sunscreen, SPF 50

The first physical (non-chemical) sunscreen in our top 10, Thinksport’s SPF 50 sunscreen is reef-friendly and water-resistant for 80 minutes. We especially like that Thinksport prioritized your skin’s health without resorting to questionable ingredients. It’s usually available at a reasonable price, but you may run out quicker than usual because it’s a little greasy and thick. Still, this is a great sunscreen if you’ll be in natural waters where the potential to impact marine life is a factor.

8) Banana Boat Sun Comfort, SPF 50

Reef-safe ingredients, 80-minute water resistance and SPF 50 protection are highlights of this quality sunscreen from Banana Boat. Additionally, the “Sun Comfort” sunscreen lotion offers a pleasant moisturizing, non-greasy application. This benefit is especially important when reapplying at the beach, as it’s meant to allow sand to brush off easily. And remember, reapply at least every two hours!

7) Coppertone Sport, SPF 50

The first spray lotion to crack our top 10, Coppertone Sport’s SPF 50 chemical sunscreen offers broad spectrum protection and water resistance, but still at a great value. Aside from the mediocre spray mechanic and it not technically qualifying as reef-safe, this is a great alternate sunscreen if you need a spray option, especially when exercising outside.

6) BullFrog Water Sport Armor Tech, SPF 50

Although it isn’t reef-safe, BullFrog’s Water Sport Armor Tech sunscreen is a great chemical sunscreen lotion featuring 80-minute water resistance. Since it contains oxybenzone, it’s great for the pool, but not as suitable for natural bodies of water. Still, for pools or land-based activities, Bull Frog’s non-greasy, long lasting formula is a great option.

5) Banana Boat Ultra Sport Performance, SPF 50

Our top-rated spray sunscreen, Banana Boat’s Sport Performance offers broad spectrum SPF 50 protection with the convenience of a spray application. It’s hard to beat the cost (often available for under $1 per ounce), and this is a great sunscreen backed by the reputable Banana Boat brand. Plus, this was recently updated to remove oxybenzone, therefore making this reef-friendly! Still, as convenient as Banana Boat’s Sport Performance is to apply, we prefer lotions over spray applications because it’s easier to tell how much you applied with a lotion.

4) Blue Lizard Active Mineral-based, SPF 30

A unique mineral-based combination lotion featuring zinc oxide and octocrylene, Blue Lizard’s Active SPF 30 sunscreen qualifies as reef-safe. We really like this sunscreen because it has both the physical and chemical elements of a sunscreen, providing the best of both worlds while minimizing its impact on our actual world. A quick peek at Amazon.com and you’ll see that most users also agree that it’s hard to beat the competitive price and effective performance. Therefore, it’s one of our new favorites!

3) Banana Boat Dry Balance, SPF 50

Broad-spectrum and reef-safe, Banana Boat’s Dry Balance SPF 50 sunscreen lotion offers maximum protection, but also leaves a soft, matte finish as opposed to the sometimes sticky or greasy films left by inferior sunscreens. Equally suited for daily use or a long day at the beach, we believe the unique “Dry Balance” only further justifies what’s already a very reasonable price per ounce.

2) Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport, SPF 50

Although this chemical sunscreen from Hawaiian Tropic isn’t reef-friendly (it contains oxybenzone), it is easy to apply, doesn’t leave you ghostly and doesn’t smell like chemicals. It’s also usually one of the most affordable sunscreens, which helps encourage frequent use with generous applications. Of course, this is important because its thinner “ultra light” consistency might incline you to reapply more frequently. Overall, it does the job and often at less than $1 per ounce, but we recommend Hawaiian Tropic’s Island Sport lotion for when you know you’re staying on land.

1) Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen, SPF 50

Despite the name, this isn’t just for babies! In fact, this broad spectrum mineral sunscreen is good for all ages because it uses zinc oxide for reef-friendly UV protection, making Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen one of the only sunscreens we reviewed to achieve an SPF 50 rating without resorting to reef-harming ingredients. Since it’s free of any questionable ingredients, Thinkbaby’s zinc oxide sun lotion is safe for all ages (6+ months), water resistant for 80 minutes and it was the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods’ Premium Care requirements.

Sunscreen + UPF Apparel

Broad spectrum sunscreen plays a critical role in sun safety. However, for the safest, surest and most cost-effective UV protection, a good sunscreen is best paired with UPF 50+ apparel. Shop Rayward Apparel’s UPF sun protection clothing today, including our new Sun Bound collection of sun shirts!

Bonus: Need a reminder about why you should be wearing sunscreen and protecting your skin? Check out this TED Ed video lesson by Kevin P. Boyd:

About Rayward’s Sunscreen Reviews

Many sunscreens are available in multiple sizes and/or SPF ratings. Several factors, including performance, ingredients and cost, can vary based on the SPF rating. Therefore, each review applies most accurately to these exact products, and is based on ingredients available at time of publication.

Sunscreen is never waterproof. In fact, FDA regulations only allow a “water-resistant” rating of either 40 or 80 minutes. Regardless of the rating, you should always reapply sunscreen after sweating, towel drying or water submersion of any duration.

Reef-safe (or “reef-friendly”) labels are determined by each sunscreen’s ingredients and their recognized impact on coral reefs and marine life. At the time of publication, both oxybenzone and octinoxate are generally recognized as damaging to coral reefs. Therefore, we believe that including oxybenzone or octinoxate disqualifies a sunscreen from earning a “reef-safe” label. Some places even prohibit the use of sunscreens containing these and/or other ingredients. Please check with local regulations to ensure your sunscreen is approved.

Before purchasing ANY sunscreen, you should ALWAYS check the product label.

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What Is Natural Sunscreen?

Natural Sunscreen on Face

While there isn’t a standard definition of “natural sunscreen,” the term generally refers to mineral sunscreens that create a physical barrier to block the sun’s UV rays. But is natural sunscreen safe and effective? What are the ingredients in natural sunscreens? And are there any downsides to natural sunscreens? Continue below for our answers to these questions and more as we examine natural sunscreens!

What Makes a Sunscreen “Natural?”

As stated above, there isn’t any agreed upon technical standard to determine if a sunscreen is natural or not. Typically, the label “natural” refers to mineral (or physical) sunscreens. Mineral sunscreens, as opposed to chemical sunscreens, contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. These two minerals deflect UV rays, and therefore form a barrier when applied to the surface of your skin.

Critics might argue that although titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are naturally mined from the earth, they are still heavily refined before being used in natural sunscreens. Meanwhile, proponents of natural sunscreens would claim these minerals as far more “natural” than the chemical ingredients found in non-mineral sunscreens, such as commercially-produced oxybenzone, octinoxate, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene and so on. We should note, though, that even some of these chemical ingredients can be found in nature. Still, commercial sunscreen production seldom (if ever) sources these ingredients naturally.

Are Natural Sunscreens Safe to Use?

Natural sunscreens are also called physical sunscreens or “sunblock” because their primary active ingredients remain on the skin’s surface. In reality, it appears as though titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are less absorbable, but can still be absorbed into your skin. There is evidence that trace amounts of both minerals can be absorbed, but with a “lack of significant dermal penetration,” especially when compared to chemical ingredients found in non-physical sunscreens. Absorption matters because some chemical ingredients may disrupt hormone activity. Natural sunscreens, on the other hand, are not known to disrupt hormone levels.

If you are concerned about sunscreen absorption, then a natural sunscreen should at least be more reassuring than a chemical alternative. Likewise, if you are prone to breaking out or have an allergic reaction to any chemical ingredients, consider testing a natural sunscreen to see if your skin responds better.

Natural Sunscreen on Skin

Are Natural Sunscreens Safe for Coral Reefs?

If you are using sunscreen in the water, then you should also consider how it may impact your environment. Recently, more evidence suggests a link between popular chemical ingredients, especially oxybenzone and octinoxate, and coral bleaching, which damages and distresses coral reefs. For comparison, the most common active ingredients in natural sunscreens (titanium dioxide and zinc oxide) are less likely to damage coral reefs. We say “less likely” because, when reduced to nano-particles, even these natural ingredients can be ingested by marine life and coral, the impact of which isn’t fully known. Despite the preceding disclaimer, natural sunscreens are likely more “reef-friendly” than chemical sunscreens.

But Are Natural Sunscreens Effective?

The big question, of course, is does natural sunscreen actually work? Yes, but with one caveat. After thorough testing of several natural sunscreens, Consumer Reports found that some performed below their advertised SPF labels. This doesn’t mean they didn’t work, but they did not consistently meet their advertised SPF rating. To accommodate any discrepancy between advertised and actual SPF performance, we suggest choosing an SPF 50 sunblock, which would still offer well beyond SPF 30 protection (even if not exactly SPF 50). While that’s a potentially alarming caveat, there is one big performance advantage to natural sunscreens: they are instantly effective. Once applied, natural sunscreens are immediately providing mineral UV protection. Chemical sunscreens, meanwhile, need about 20-30 minutes to absorb into your skin before they are effective.

Should You Use Natural Sunscreen?

We are not qualified to give medical advice, and therefore can’t answer this for you. If you still have questions, you should speak with your doctor or a dermatologist, or consider alternatives to sunscreen. They can answer the questions we can’t, and hopefully you are now more prepared to ask them!

No matter which type of sunscreen you choose, take a tip from this video on how to properly apply it:

Keep in mind, sunscreen is only one part of an effective defense against the sun. For the best protection, pair sunscreen with UPF 50+ sun protective apparel, such as a sun shirt and hat. To shop Rayward Apparel’s collection of UV-protective clothing, click here.

Sources: ConsumerReports.org; Healthline.com; National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI)

Sadrieh N, Wokovich AM, Gopee NV, et al. Lack of significant dermal penetration of titanium dioxide from sunscreen formulations containing nano- and submicron-size TiO2 particles. Toxicol Sci. 2010;115(1):156‐166. doi:10.1093/toxsci/kfq041

What Is the Best Sunscreen?

Sunscreen Lotion with SPF

To safely protect your skin from the sun, you need the complementary defenses of SPF clothing and sunscreen. For body parts coverable with UV protective apparel, we recommend SPF clothing for men/women. For more on the advantages of SPF clothing for men/women, click here. However, UV clothing won’t cover all of your skin, and those areas need protection too! Without further ado, continue below to learn about the best sunscreens.

Broad-spectrum or Bust

Simply put, you should not use any sunscreen that isn’t offering broad-spectrum protection. Without a broad-spectrum protection, your sunscreen is only blocking half of the sun’s damaging UV rays. A broad spectrum designation indicates protection against both UVA and UVB rays. An important distinction because UVA rays are linked to skin cancer, and UVB rays cause sunburn. Too much of either has negative health consequences, so protect yourself from both. Interestingly, all UPF-rated clothing is broad-spectrum, so you have a little less to worry about with UPF apparel.

SPF 30 or Higher Sunscreen

Dermatologists recommend using a minimum of SPF 30, and who are we to disagree? The advantage of SPF 30 sunscreen versus lower SPFs is that you are blocking more of the sun’s UV rays. Keep in mind, however, that a higher SPF does not mean you can suddenly spend hours in the sun. No matter your SPF, you still need to reapply every 1-2 hours. Relating SPF to UV clothing, consider that what SPF is to sunscreen, UPF is to fabric. Although different methods determine the exact ratings, the principle is the same. We recommend pairing your sunscreen with UPF 50+ apparel so that your clothing blocks over 98% of UV rays, which can still be accomplished with lightweight SPF clothing for men/women.

Lotion or Spray Sunscreen?

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends lotion sunscreen for a couple reasons. Firstly, it’s easier to make sure you apply the right amount when using a lotion. Secondly, you don’t have to worry about accidentally breathing in the overspray. Speaking of overspray, there is usually less waste with lotions as everything you squeeze out gets applied. Fans of sprays will point out the ease of application, especially if you’re covered in sand (or already sunburned… hey, mistakes happen!). We like the reassurance of a lotion, so that’s our go-to. Of course, we’ll admit that this one has a little more to do with personal preference, but now you know where we stand!

Sunscreen Lotion Squeeze Bottle

Water Resistance

Any sunscreen you plan to use around the water should have some degree of water resistance. The FDA regulates sunscreen claims of water resistance, allowing a water-resistant rating of either 40 or 80 minutes. All else equal, we recommend the 80-minute water resistance. This way you can spend more time swimming or surfing! Just remember, sunscreen is never waterproof, so always reapply after soaking or sweating.

Reef-safe Ingredients

Increasingly in the news are sunscreen ingredients and their impact on coral reefs and marine life. While much remains unknown about the full extent of any reported harmful effects of sunscreen, the best sunscreen is one that leaves nothing to chance. With that in mind, and based on data available at the time of our publication, we recommend “reef-friendly” sunscreens that avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate, both of which are generally recognized as damaging to coral reefs. In fact, you’ll likely notice an increasing number of beaches and destinations banning sunscreens containing these ingredients, so best to play it safe with effective natural sunscreens or mineral sunscreens.

Coral Reefs Impacted by Sunscreen Ingredients

Chemical vs Physical (Mineral) Sunscreens

The last decision you have to make about your sunscreen is choosing between a chemical or physical sunscreen (sometimes referred to as mineral or natural sunscreens). Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that are absorbed into your skin, while physical sunscreen ingredients sit on the surface of your skin. With a physical sunscreen, you are effectively creating a barrier of minerals to prevent UV rays from reaching your skin. Due to more research being available about physical/mineral sunscreen ingredients, we prefer these to their chemical counterpart.

There are many sunscreens that meet all of our performance criteria, so your decision usually comes down to budget, application type and ingredients. Of course, some sunscreens are bad and others should be avoided, but once you find a sunscreen that’s easy to apply and meets our safety requirements, just remember to use it! For help choosing the best sunscreen, check out our summary of the 10 Best Sunscreens of 2020! Keep in mind, however, that your best sun protection comes with a combination of sunscreen and UPF apparel. To find the right sun clothes to complement your sunscreen, shop our lightweight SPF clothing for men/women today!

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