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The best dermatologist-recommended sunscreens for 2024 (and the ones they use themselves!)

Updated
The best dermatologist-recommended sunscreens for 2024 (and the ones they use themselves!)

After years of covering beauty and interviewing countless dermatologists, I've learned that sunscreen is the one step that the experts agree is non-negotiable in an anti-aging skin care routine. It is single-handedly the most important product in your beauty arsenal to protect against skin cancers, wrinkles, brown spots, textured skin and other types of skin damage that are caused by UV light. But even with all of this damning knowledge at our fingertips, many of us (myself included) only really begin to slather on the sunscreen in an effort to protect our skin when the temperatures start to heat up in the spring and summer.

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As for how often you should really be wearing sunscreen, well, the data is pretty clear. “I wear it every day, 365 days a year,” said Dr. Gary Goldenberg, assistant professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. "Even in winter, you still get some UV that can cause skin damage."

To be crystal clear: Sunscreen should be part of your skin care routine each and every morning, no matter the weather or time of year. What type of sunscreen you reach for, however, depends on loads of factors that will differ for everyone, since there's no one-size-fits-all for sun protection. Considerations like your age and skin type, the activities you'll be doing, active ingredients and even what type of applicator is easiest for you to remember to use daily — all of these factors will determine just exactly which type of sunscreen is best for you. The most important thing is that you're wearing it. "I'm happy if people just find a sunscreen that they enjoy to use and use it regularly," said Dr. Ashley Magovern of Manhattan Dermatology and Medical Advisor for Dermstore.

In all, we spoke with six dermatologists and skin care experts across the industry to get the scoop on all things sunscreen, going so far as to ask what products they themselves use each and every day. They dished on everything from the keywords to scan for on the bottle when you're shopping for a new sunscreen, to the difference between mineral and chemical formulas (and who would benefit from each type). It's a lot to unpack, so we'll dive right into the world of sunscreen and the best ones that our experts recommend.

Factors to consider when choosing sunscreen, according to dermatologists

  • SPF: Every dermatologist we spoke with recommended using SPF 30 or higher for optimal protection, but it doesn't hurt to opt for a sunscreen with higher SPF since most people aren't applying enough to begin with. "Starting with a higher SPF to begin with acts like an insurance policy to give you the best level of protection possible," according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner of Zeichner Dermatology in New York City.

  • Broad spectrum: Broad spectrum means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays, giving you a full spectrum of protection in the sun. Dermatologists recommend looking for sunscreens that include these keywords for the highest level of protection.

  • Type of applicator: Sunscreens come with all types of applications, from lotions and sprays, to sticks and gels. Most dermatologists agree that the best type of sunscreen applicator is the one you'll actually use. "I'm a big believer in using what you like," said Dr. Elle de Moll of Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut. "I feel like patients hate to tell me that they use spray sunscreen, but honestly — you're way more likely to use what you like — and that counts for a whole lot more."

  • Water resistance: Dermatologists recommend looking for sunscreens that are water resistance, as this ensures it remains effective when you're sweating or swimming. Just remember to reapply after toweling off.

  • Mineral or chemical: Mineral sunscreens are what's called a "physical blocker" of the sun's rays, and work by physically blocking UV light. They're almost always made up of at least one of two ingredients: zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens are preferable for babies, kids, and those with sensitive skin or acne as they're non-comedogenic (i.e. non pore-clogging) and are less likely to cause skin irritation. Chemical sunscreens are "chemical blockers," which work by absorbing UV rays by using ingredients such as avobenzone, octinoxate and octisalate. Dermatologist agree that both forms — physical and chemical blockers — are effective at preventing sunburn. For those who are concerned about using chemicals, experts recommend sticking to mineral sunscreens.

  • Active ingredients

    • Zinc oxide: physical blocker, works by blocking UV rays, preferable for kids, babies and those with sensitive skin

    • Titanium dioxide: physical blocker, works by blocking UV rays, preferable for kids, babies and those with sensitive skin

    • Avobenzone: chemical blocker, works by absorbing UV rays

    • Octinoxate: chemical blocker, works by absorbing UV rays

    • Octisalate: chemical blocker, works by absorbing UV rays

Sunscreen FAQs

What is a good SPF level for sunscreen?

Every dermatologist we spoke with recommended using an SPF of 30 or higher for optimal protection, but it doesn't hurt to opt for a sunscreen with higher SPF since most people aren't applying enough to begin with. "Starting with a higher SPF to begin with acts like an insurance policy to give you the best level of protection possible," Dr. Zeichner said.

How often should you apply sunscreen?

The general rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you're swimming or sweating. Always reapply after getting out of water.

Does sunscreen expire?

Yes, and the effectiveness of ingredients could degrade over time leading to less sun protection. "I usually say that if the next summer comes around and you still have some [sunscreen], you probably aren't using enough and it's probably time to restock on some fresh bottles," Dr. Magovern said.

What is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?

These days they're the same thing, but they used to refer to the difference in chemical vs. physical products. "In the old days, sunscreen used to refer to the chemical products and sunblocks referred to the physical/mineral products, however, now they seem to be used interchangeably," Dr. Magovern said.

Dermatologist-recommended sunscreens for 2024:

SPF: 70 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Lotion | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone

Experts agree that most people don't apply enough sunblock — 1.5 ounces for most adults — so a high SPF option can act "like an insurance policy to give you the best level of protection possible," Dr. Zeichner said. 

“This sunscreen has been clinically tested and shown to give better sunburn protection compared to sunscreens with lower SPFs,” Zeichner continued. Neutrogena’s Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen is lightweight, fast-absorbing and has a non-greasy, matte finish that can be used all over the body.

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Affordable
  • Water resistant
  • Broad spectrum
Cons
  • Not for sensitive skin
  • Not for kids and babies
$9 at Amazon
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$13 at Kohl's$15 at CVS Pharmacy

SPF: 50 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Fluid lotion | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, Zinc oxide

Whether you're looking for a sunscreen for that's kid and baby safe, or want something free of chemicals for your sensitive skin, mineral sunscreens are the way to go. Dr. Magovern recommends La Roche-Posay Anthelios Mineral Ultra-Light Sunscreen because of it includes both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients. 

As for whether chemical or mineral sunscreens are better, experts say it can be a matter of personal preference and your skin's unique needs. "Personally, I prefer mineral-based sunscreen because I like the idea of less absorption of chemicals," Dr. Magovern said. "I'm happy if people just find a sunscreen that they enjoy to use and use it regularly."

Pros
  • Safe for kids and babies
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
Cons
  • Not water resistant
  • Not for full body
$30 at Amazon
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$37 at Dermstore

SPF: 70 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Spray | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene

Sometimes spray sunscreen is the most convenient option, especially if you're in a hurry and need something that's easy to apply. Dr. de Moll herself uses Neutrogena Beach Defense Spray Sunscreen when she's in a hurry and needs something that's quick and easy.

"I'm a big believer in using what you like! I feel like patients hate to tell me that they use spray sunscreen, but honestly — you're way more likely to use what you like — and that counts for a whole lot more."

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Water resistant
  • Easy to apply
Cons
  • Not for sensitive skin
  • Not for kids and babies
$10 at Amazon
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$13 at Walmart

SPF: 30 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Spray | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide

For kids and babies, you'll want to reach for a mineral spray sunscreen like Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Sunscreen Spray, which is made with zinc oxide. 

All of the experts we spoke with recommended reaching for mineral sunscreens for children because they're made with physical sun blockers like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two ingredients that are less likely to cause skin irritation in little ones.

In general, sunscreen is recommended for all children ages six months and older; younger than six months should not be in direct sun exposure. 

Pros
  • Easy to apply
  • Safe for kids and babies
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Fragrance free
  • Water resistant
  • Broad spectrum
Cons
  • Leaves a white cast
  • Minimum recommended SPF
$21 at Amazon
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$25 at eCosmetics$21 at FSAstore

SPF: 50 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Stick | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide

For little ones, a sunscreen stick might be easier to apply than sunscreen lotion or spray. Dr. de Moll uses Babo Botanicals Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen Stick on her own kids. "My toddler loves to get involved using it." 

Experts recommend mineral sunscreens for use on kids as the ingredients are less likely to cause irritation to sensitive skin. "Not all sunscreens that are advertised for kids are mineral sunscreen, so this is something to pay particular attention to," Dr. de Moll said.

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Water resistant
  • Easy to apply
  • Safe for kids and babies
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Fragrance free
  • Broad spectrum
Cons
  • Leaves a white cast
$14 at Amazon

SPF: 40 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Tinted fluid lotion | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, Zinc oxide

Dr. Magovern uses Natura Bissé Diamond Luminous UV Defense Light Tinted Fluid in her daily skin care routine. 

What makes it unique is that it doubles as both SPF and everyday anti-aging skin care. Age-defying ingredients rejuvenate the skin to lessen dark spots, lines and wrinkles. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide protect your skin from the full spectrum of the sun's harmful rays. It also includes just a touch of color to blur imperfections and smooth the complexion.

Pros
  • Tinted formula
  • Doubles as SPF and skin care
  • Fights signs of aging
  • Broad spectrum
  • High SPF
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not water resistant
  • Not for full body
$130 at Dermstore
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$130 at Amazon

SPF: 50 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Tinted lotion | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, Titanium dioxide

This is another tinted sunscreen recommendation by Dr. Magovern, but this one will make a smaller dent in your wallet. EltaMD UV AOX Elements Broad-Spectrum can triple as sunscreen, skin care and a skin tint, which makes it a particularly smart choice for those who want an easy skin care routine that doesn't require much thought or effort. Plus, it's an easy way to ensure you wear sunscreen each and every day.

"I recommend wearing sunscreen to your face and neck daily as part of your daily routine to help prevent premature aging and skin cancers on the face," Dr. Magovern said. "If you are going to be in direct sun and have a chance of sunburn, I recommend applying it to all exposed areas as well."

Pros
  • Tinted formula
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Doubles as SPF and skin care
Cons
  • Not water resistant
  • Not for full body
$45 at Dermstore
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$45 at Amazon

SPF: 46 | Broad spectrum: Broad spectrum | Type of applicator: Lotion | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Both | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide, Octinoxate

Anyone who's lived with acne knows that thick sunscreens can often exacerbate already sensitive skin. To help, Dr. Yoram Harth, dermatologist and Medical Director of MDacne, offer a few key tips. "Look for chemical sunscreens with ingredients like Octinoxate, Octisalate, and Avobenzone in a light, clear, oil-free base. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone and phthalates, which can worsen acne."

Two experts we spoke with — Dr. de Moll and Dr. Magovern — recommend EltaMD UV Clear for those with oily, acne-prone skin because of its lightweight, oil-free formula that won't clog pores. It's formulated with niacinamide, a known ingredient for soothing irritated, red skin and restoring suppleness. 

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Non-comedogenic
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Fragrance free
  • Oil free
Cons
  • Not water resistant
  • Not for full body
$43 at Amazon
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$43 at Dermstore

SPF: 50 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Lotion | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene

If oily skin is your main concern, beauty expert and melanoma survivor Kerry Spindler offers a few pointers to follow. "Look for sunscreens that have a matte finish to help control excess shine throughout the day," she said. "Additionally, sunscreens with ingredients like silica or dimethicone can help to mattify the skin and control oil production."

Dr. de Moll recommends Eucerin Clear Skin Sunscreen to many of her acne patients for this very reason. It contains oil-absorbing minerals like silica and silica dimethyl silylate which work to smooth the skin while regulating oil and sebum on the surface.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Fragrance free
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Oil free
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Non-comedogenic
Cons
  • Not water resistant
  • Not for full body
$16 at Amazon
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$26 at Walmart$19 at CVS Pharmacy

SPF: 50 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Lotion | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Mineral | Active ingredients: Zinc oxide

This mineral sunscreen is amped up with 11% zinc oxide for superior protection and it's packed with sun damage-healing ingredients to help protect against further damage and repair skin from the inside out.

The name may be a mouthful, but Dr. Goldenberg swears by this one. He especially recommends it for patients who have known sun damage. Isdin’s Eryfotona Actinica is lightweight, won’t leave your skin feeling greasy and has UVA/UVB protection. It also has DNA repairsomes and vitamin E to help fight UVA-induced skin damage.

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Water resistant
  • Safe for sun-damaged skin
  • Safe for sensitive skin
  • Non-comedogenic
  • No white cast
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not for full body
$70 at Amazon
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$60 at ISDIN$119 at Dermstore

SPF: 60 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Lotion | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene

This high-SPF, oil-free sunscreen won't clog pores, and it contains oatmeal — a nourishing ingredient — that helps repair and moisturize the skin's outer layer.

Zeichner likes Aveeno’s Protect + Hydrate sunscreen for a few reasons. “Besides offering broad spectrum sun protection, it delivers a little oatmeal to repair and hydrate the outer skin layer,” he says. “We know that UV light can disrupt the outer skin layer, leading to dryness and irritation.” The sunscreen is fast-absorbing, oil-free and noncomedogenic, so it won't clog your pores. It’s also water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

Pros
  • High SPF
  • Broad spectrum
  • Water resistant
  • No white cast
  • Non-comedogenic
Cons
  • Not for full body
  • Not for kids and babies
  • Not for sensitive skin
  • Strong "sunscreen scent"
$11 at Amazon

SPF: 30 | Broad spectrum: No | Type of applicator: Cream | Water resistance: No | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Octocrylene

In our guide to building a skin care routine in your 60s, experts told us that aging skin becomes dry and dehydrated, which is why most anti-aging products contain moisture-boosting ingredients. Dr. Magovern said the same is true when it comes to buying sunscreens for mature skin.

"For aging, mature skin, I recommend SPFs that are formulated with ingredients that hydrate and plump the skin," she said. " ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Cream SPF 30 is a great option, as it not only has UV protection, but it also boosts the skin's hydration levels with antioxidant-rich botanical and marine extracts."

This particular SPF cream is made with marine collagen that reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles, and helps to improve the look of firmness and elasticity. 

That said, this is the only sunscreen on our list that does not provide broad spectrum sun protection.

Pros
  • Includes collagen
  • Doubles as SPF and skin care
  • Fights signs of aging
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not for full body
  • Minimum recommended SPF
  • Not broad spectrum
  • Not water resistant
$138 at Amazon
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$140 at Dermstore

SPF: 30 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Lip balm | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Octisalate, Octocrylene

Dermatologists agree that sunscreen for less obvious areas — like the lips and scalp — is a crucial part of overall suncare protection. Dr. de Moll reaches Coola's Liplux Lip Balm for her lips when she wants extra protection. 

Dr. Chacon advises thinking of lip and scalp protection as an addition to your sun protection routine. "These products should not replace sunscreen but rather be used in conjunction with it for comprehensive sun protection," she said.

Coola's Liplux Lip Balm is made with hydrating ingredients like carnauba wax and raspberry butter to give lips a natural gloss, increased suppleness and to tackle wrinkles.

Pros
  • Lip protection
  • Broad spectrum
  • Water resistant
  • Doubles as SPF and skin care
  • Easy to apply
Cons
  • Minimum recommended SPF
$10 at Amazon
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$12 at Ulta

SPF: 30 | Broad spectrum: Yes | Type of applicator: Scalp mist | Water resistance: Yes | Mineral or chemical: Chemical | Active ingredients: Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene

Dr. Magovern is also a fan of SPF products for the lips and scalp. "We also see a lot of skin cancer on the scalp, in particular in the hairline and part, where cumulative sun damage occurs," Magovern said. 

Using a minimum SPF 30 product for the scalp and hairline, such as Sun Bum's Scalp and Hair Mist Sunscreen can boost your overall sun care protection. It's a lightweight, fast-drying hair mist that won't leave your hair weighted down or greasy. It's even non-comedogenic and lightweight enough to spritz on your face for an added boost of protection, too. 

Pros
  • Broad spectrum
  • Water resistant
  • Scalp and hair protectant
  • Doubles as SPF and hair care
  • Easy to apply
Cons
  • Minimum recommended SPF
$17 at Amazon
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$17 at Macy's$17 at Ulta Beauty

Other dermatologist-recommended sunscreen we’ve covered:

  • Derma-E Sun Defense Mineral Oil-Free Sunscreen SPF 30 Face

  • Banana Boat Protection + Vitamins Sunscreen for Face SPF 50

Sources:

This story contains additional reporting by Korin Miller