The 17 Best Sunscreens, According to Glamour Editors


Ask any dermatologist: The fact that we need to wear sunscreen is not up for debate. But finding the best sunscreen isn’t easy—there’s a reason people hate the stuff. Sunscreen has a bad rap for being chalky, greasy, and generally all-around annoying. Add in the fact that the FDA is currently investigating the safety of common sunscreen ingredients (more on that below), and it makes the task of choosing an effective sunscreen that looks and feels good on even more complicated. 

The good news, though, is that the latest generation of formulas will change the way you feel about slathering up. We know because we asked dermatologists to recommend the SPFs they swear by, then our editors put those formulas to the test to see which ones fit our extremely picky criteria. But before we get on to our sunscreen reviews, here’s everything you need to consider to find the best sunscreen for you. 

What’s the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen?

There are two types of sunscreen formulas: mineral (also known as physical blockers) and chemical. Although both protect your skin from the sun, the way they do that on a scientific level is very different.

“Sunblocks, or physical sunscreens, work by sitting on top of your skin to reflect UV rays, whereas chemical sunscreens sink into your skin to absorb UV rays and convert them into heat,” says Shereene Idriss, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. Chemical sunscreens also often include antioxidants that disarm free radicals—which cause UV-ray-based harm—and cut down damage to your skin cells.

Aside from the “sunscreen” and “sunblock” label, you can tell what type of protection you’re getting by taking a peek at the ingredients label. If you see the ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, you’re dealing with a physical sunblock. Derms say mineral blocks tend to be less irritating for sensitive skin. They also work immediately, and don’t require any downtime before you can go in the sun (chemical sunscreens, meanwhile, take about 20 or 30 minutes to start working properly). Physical blockers also tend to be thicker and more difficult to rub in.

Chemical formulas have a history of being more user-friendly since they are the easiest formula to apply and leave less of a white cast. But in May 2019 the FDA proposed new regulations for chemical sunscreens because of increasing safety concerns. Out of the 16 currently approved sunscreen ingredients brands can use, the only two deemed officially safe were the physical blockers, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Meanwhile, PABA and trolamine salicylate were deemed unsafe. The FDA called for more research regarding the other 12, which are typically found in chemical sunscreens.

In January 2020, the FDA shared results of a clinical study that shows six of these ingredients—avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate—enter the bloodstream after one application, which could potentially be associated long-term health issues. Environmentalists have also taken issue with chemical sunscreens, and have found that the ingredients oxybenzone and octinoxate are damaging to coral reefs. Sunscreens with these ingredients will officially be banned in Hawaii starting in 2021.

What level of SPF do dermatologists recommend?

“I recommend a minimum of SPF 30 daily,” says Idriss, which is based on the recommendation from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). However, just as formula is not one-size-fits-all, you should also consider your concerns when selecting your SPF level. “SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB, whereas SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%,” she says. “Although this increase may seem like a negligible gain in protection, if you are prone to sunburns or skin cancers, that little gain can make a world of a difference.” 

It’s also important to consider how much you’re applying. According to the AAD, most people apply only 25% to 50% of the recommend amount of sunscreen. The general rule is to use at least one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, to cover your entire body.

How long does sunscreen last?

“The FDA guidelines mandate that SPF directions must say to reapply every two hours when you are outdoors,” says Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., FAAD, a dermatologist in Miami. “Remember that the AAD recommends a three-pronged approach to sun protection that includes wearing sun-protective clothing, as well as trying to avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.”

While waterproof options are great for swimming or sports, it’s worth noting that the FDA mandates these formulas can be labeled as water- and sweat-resistant for only up to 80 minutes. Because of this, Idriss recommends reapplying immediately after getting out of the water. 

What’s the best sunscreen?

“The most important factor is that you will use the SPF regularly,” says Ciraldo, which cements derms’ stance on sunscreen: The best sunscreen for you is the one you will actually use. Here are the sunscreens Glamour editors and beauty experts say haven’t let them down.


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