Finding the "Perfect" Sunscreen Is Practically an Art—We've Found 17 Options

I've been slightly fixated on learning about skincare and doing all I can to ensure my skin is the healthiest it can be since I turned 30. But it's not all about anti-aging and fending off wrinkles. In fact, turning the big 30 made me rethink my overall health. Now that I'm about five months into my 31st year, I feel like I've made some progress on this goal. I've been stepping outside of my fitness comfort zone (indoor cycling and barre) and trying new workouts. I've made it a priority to eat better while also allowing for some fun now and then. I've been taking more care of and paying better attention to my mental health. And I've been taking in all the skincare knowledge I can.

However, I realized I knew only the bare minimum about sunscreen, particularly body sunscreen. Sure, I knew it was a vital skincare product and one you could buy at the drugstore. I applied it diligently every day, but I knew nothing about the differences in sunscreen types, the ingredients, or what SPF levels really meant. Below, learn all there is to know about chemical and mineral sunscreens, but first, shop our favorite products. 

Mineral Sunscreens

Chemical Sunscreens

Chemical vs. Mineral Sunscreen


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Heather Rogers, MD, is the founder and CEO of Doctor Rogers Restore and co-founder of Modern Dermatology in Seattle. She says mineral and chemical sunscreens work differently to protect the skin from UV rays. Mineral sunscreens, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, sit on top of the skin and block rays like reflectors. On the other hand, chemical sunscreens—oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone—are absorbed into the skin. They absorb UV rays and convert them into heat, which is then released from the skin.

While Rogers says chemical sunscreens provide good UVA and UVB protection and are better than not using anything, they can be absorbed into the body. "We can measure them in our blood and urine," she says. "Even though they are well-studied, labeled by the FDA as nontoxic, do not cause cancer (despite some reports out there), and have not been shown to cause hormone disruption in humans, they do accumulate in us. I would like to minimize the accumulation of any unneeded chemicals in my body, my patients' bodies, and in our world whenever possible. Further, avobenzone is a common cause of sunscreen allergy, and oxybenzone is contributing to the death of coral reefs."


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When it comes to mineral sunscreens, Rogers prefers ones that contain zinc oxide because it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. (UVA causes brown spots and wrinkles, and UVB causes sunburns.) "Titanium dioxide is another good physical sunscreen, but it only protects from UVB rays, so products need to have both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to provide broad-spectrum protection," she explains.

How to Decipher SPF Ratings


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I've always reached for the higher SPF because I thought the bigger the number, the better it would protect. However, I didn't really understand the science behind it. "Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun's UVB rays," says Marmur. "The higher-number SPFs do block the sun's UVB rays slightly more. Of course, it's important to remember that even high-number SPFs need to be reapplied throughout the day."

Rogers adds, "SPF only describes protection from UVB rays, the sunburn rays that also damage your skin's DNA. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, causing wrinkles and brown spots. Instead of looking for a product with the highest SPF, look for a product with at least an SPF of 30 that is also labeled broad-spectrum protection."

Sunscreen and Skin Type


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Rogers says finding a sunscreen that is good for your particular skin type will take some hunting and experimenting. "If you have dry skin, look for formulations that have hydrating ingredients," she explains. "If you have oily skin, opt for something with a matte finish that's oil-free. If you have sensitive skin, mineral-based sunscreens are particularly important because the most common chemical sunscreens can be irritating, while zinc oxide is calming." 

She believes sunscreen should be sunscreen. In other words, she cautions against using all-in-one products. Instead, use an antioxidant serum (like a vitamin C serum) and a moisturizer each morning, apply a liberal layer of sunscreen, and you're good to go. "The all-in-one products never work as well as specialized products," she says. 

Finally, there's a common misconception that zinc sunscreens don't work well on sensitive or acne-prone skin. Rogers says that they're actually the better choice because they're naturally anti-inflammatory and are less likely to cause allergic reactions. 

Lotion vs. Spray Sunscreen


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I go back and forth between using lotion and spray on my body, so I wanted to know if there was a difference in efficacy. It turns out it's mostly based on personal preference. "What is most important is for sunscreen to be applied daily and reapplied throughout the day to ensure your skin is consistently protected," Marmur says. "When using an aerosol sunscreen, I recommend holding the can about four to six inches from the body and slowly applying liberally onto the skin until it becomes visible. I would then gently spread the formulas to your neck, ears, chest, back, etc., to ensure you did not miss any sections of your body. When using a lotion body sunscreen, I would use at least a shot glass amount and spread over the skin using circular motions."

Rogers suggests you keep a variety of sunscreen products for different activities and different areas of your body. "You need the one you wear every day, the water-resistant one you use when you go to the beach or pool, the powder version you use on your hair part and to reapply during the day when you are wearing makeup," she explains. "I like my skincare products to be specialists. Often, the more a single product claims to do, the less likely it is to do all those things well."

How to Apply Sunscreen


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First and foremost, both Rogers and Marmur recommended reapplying sunscreen every two to three hours when you're outside, even when it's cloudy. If you're using a mineral sunscreen, apply it after your moisturizer but before your makeup. If you're using a chemical sunscreen, Roger says you should apply it before moisturizer, as it needs to be able to absorb into the skin to work most effectively.

Even if you're spending most of your time indoors, you still have to apply sunscreen. Take it from Marmur. "I have several patients who have shared with me that their melasma is getting worse, yet they have not been outside," she explains. "What we need to remember is that we need to wear sunscreen even inside our house because of the sun's harmful UVA/UVB rays. Even the blue infrared light emanating from our computer screens can cause damage to our skin!"

Managing Editor

Sarah is lifestyle writer and editor with over 10 years of experience covering health and wellness, interior design, food, beauty, and tech. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended New York University and lived in New York for 12 years before returning to L.A. in 2019.

In addition to her work on THE/THIRTY and Who What Wear, she held editor roles at Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and The Bump (sister site of The Knot).

She has a passion for health and wellness, but she especially loves writing about mental health. Her self-care routine consists of five things: a good workout, “me” time on the regular, an intriguing book/podcast/playlist to unwind after a long day, naps, and decorating her home.