We spend a lot of time outside, and the reality is that we’re often more fastidious about taking care of our bikes and boards than we are our skin. Whether or not you’ve felt the need to cover up in the past, here’s a news flash: even if you don’t burn, you should be doing something to block the UV rays from permeating your dermis. There are sunscreen options for whatever type of protection you need, and we’ve narrowed down some of the best-performing options for daily use, weekend adventures or reenacting seminal Baywatch scenes. Almost everything here is SPF 30, 50 or more — because, like hiking above treeline or swimming in open water, there is safety in numbers.
Beyond Coastal Natural Lip and Face Screen
Best Natural Sunscreen: This highly portable and leak-proof tin of sunscreen from Beyond Coastal is made from natural ingredients; it uses zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to block the sun at SPF 31, and coconut oil and shea butter act as natural moisturizers. This stuff is the texture of butter cream frosting, so a dab goes a long way.
Rocky Mountain Sunscreen
Best Sunscreen for Hiking: Truly odorless, this straightforward 30 SPF formula in a two-ounce travel size spreads just thickly enough when you need a once-over on a day trip. Its water resistance is moderate — 80 minutes — which should serve you just fine for a mostly dry inland adventure, whether you’re in and out of the shade or fully exposed above the tree line. Purists will appreciate that the sunscreen is made in the U.S.
Elemental Herbs SPF 30 Sunstick
Best Stick Sunscreen: For those seeking an increasingly streamlined kit, bottles of liquid can be unwieldy to both store and apply. Easy-to-swipe sticks work not only for active pursuits, but for any time you’re on the move. For micro reapplications, we like the Elemental Herbs SPF 30 Sunstick, which is as easy to store as lip balm. But its protection extends beyond your lips to the most crucial facial hot spots, like the nose, cheeks, and forehead.
Head Hunters Light Brown SPF 50 Premium
Best Sunscreen for Blazing Sun: Brothers Doug and Drew Littlemore came up with Headhunter in 1989 for the sole purpose of saving their skin from total sun annihilation during all-day, all-season surfing and lifeguarding exposure. Twenty-five years later, their total-block philosophy turned out to be prescient when it comes to UV protection. They offer a range of full-block, lotion, and stick-form solutions, but we like the light brown option, tinted to offer visible proof that your protection is present and working. The Light Brown SPF 50 Premium does the heaviest duty, so pack this when you need an ironclad barrier between your skin and the UV rays — not necessarily when you’re simply hanging out with no need for war paint.
MD Solar Sciences Quick Dry Body Spray SPF 40
Best Sprayable Sunscreen: There’s an ongoing debate about the environmental and health ramifications of using spray sunscreen, but any fair-skinned sun dweller who has dealt with the agony of missed spots will sing the praises of the spray. For any skin tone, MD Solar Sciences Quick Dry Body Spray works well for lazy days by the pool or on the beach, when reaching over and giving yourself a quick spritz is the most effort you can muster. Plus, as the name promises, this is a non-greasy mist that will set fast; you won’t walk around looking like a bodybuilder, and there’s no long wait between application and water time.
Dermatone SPF 50 No-Touch Stick
Best Sunscreen for Travel: The tried-and-true Dermatone brand has gotten us through a wide range of activities over the years, and we’ve embraced the no-touch stick as an outdoor essential. Weighing in at just under half an ounce, the SPF 50 bar is larger than a lip balm tube but small enough to carry everywhere, and it’s effective at covering all your exposed areas. It goes fairly fast, but it’s worth stocking up so you can always have one on hand.
Zinka Waterproof Sunblock
Best Total Block Sunscreen: Yes, Zinka. Despite the odd ’80s look in and out of the bottle (the block itself is available in striking neon), it lives up to its primary purpose: a total block, as opposed to an absorbed “screen”. Obviously, this is a method you’ll likely want to limit to full-exposure moments — the open water, an especially harsh day of sun — but you don’t necessarily have to go wild with neon noseblock. If a retro facial statement is not what you’re after, this 100 percent protection comes in neutral hues too.
Perricone MD Photo Plasma SPF 30 Moisturizer
Best Anti-Aging Sunscren: Sun exposure is the most intense and persistent source of visible lines and wrinkles. A daily-use, scientifically tested facial moisturizer with SPF is your best weapon for keeping your skin in tip-top shape. Dermatologist-brand Perricone MD’s Photo Plasma SPF 30 anti-aging moisturizer offers chemical-free mineral sunscreen protection blended with antioxidants like astaxanthin to fight aging elements, and vitamin C ester and alpha lipoic acid to smooth what you’ve already got going.
Kiehl’s SPF 50 Facial Fuel
Best Everyday Facial Sunscreen: Our other pick for a reliable, effective, everyday facial formula is Kiehl’s SPF 50 Facial Fuel. A great gateway into a skin regimen with protective SPF, this moisturizer is also packed with vitamin C and caffeine to perk up dull skin. It’s light and truly fragrance free, and it will sit comfortably on sensitive fresh shaves or blend easily into scruff.
Neutrogena SPF 20 Triple Protect Face Lotion
Best Value Facial Lotion and Sunscreen: This well-tested face formula always seems to do the trick. Versatile across skin types and easy on sensitive ones, Neutrogena’s Triple Protect Face Lotion (SPF 20) is a solid, affordable option. Science seems to still debate the minimum level of SPF needed for proper protection: some are satisfied with anything over 15 and claim that astronomical numbers don’t mean anything different, while others (including us) vie for at least 20, and preferably more. For a baseline level of sunscreen protection available at the nearest drugstore, though, this is the right pick.
Best Value All-Purpose Sunscreen: You can always grab the Coppertone in a bind, but we’re partial to fellow drugstore brand Blue Lizard. It’s slightly thicker and, yes, some say stickier, than some of the other basic brands, but that translates into a stronger barrier on the skin at SPF 30. Originally conceived in Australia (but now manufactured in the U.S.), the brand offers a better chemical-free mineral option, making it a favorite sustainable sunscreen with a relatively wide distribution and moderate price tag. Their “Smart Bottle” also changes color in the presence of more dangerous UV rays — a gimmick with some purpose.