The 4 Types Of Sunscreens You MUST Use (Unless You Want Skin Cancer)

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Enjoy the sun — but safely.

Few product choices are more confusing than sunscreens. There are so many to choose from, with so many different ingredients and health claims, not to mention confusing SPF ratings. 

So how are we supposed to know what's safest and most effective? 

Turns out, there are some pretty simple rules, and I need them. I've had a lot of issues with my skin, probably because I used tanning beds when I was young and got some bad burns. Since I'm a huge fan of outdoor sports and can't entirely avoid the sun, I go through a ton of sunscreen.

I talked to dermatologist Dr. Sonia Batra, who has a private practice in Santa Monica, CA and is also a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at USC Keck School of Medicine.

She explained that bad burns can increase your risk of skin cancer, so protecting skin from the sun not only helps prevent premature aging, but also can prevent cancer. 

She recommends avoiding octinoxate and oxybenzone, "which are chemical blocks that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) considers to have higher toxicity concerns for hormone disruption."

She also recommends that her patients choose mineral sunscreens, explaining, "physical sunscreens are made with minerals, either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and act as a shield that sits on top of the skin to reflect UV light."

Because physical sunscreens aren't absorbed by the body, they're generally considered safer. They also work immediately, whereas chemical sunscreens take 20 minutes to become effective. 

All sunscreens need to be reapplied regularly to be effective, and I always wear a hat — even in the water! — to protect my face.

In my search for the best sunscreens, I've come up with a helpful list for every sunscreen need. I've tested hundreds, and these are my favorites. 

1. Everyday moisturizers with sunscreen.

These are the ones you're going to apply every single morning before leaving the house. Use these on your face, neck and chest where exposed.

  • Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47: I love this stuff. It has a sweet delicate scent, and is very light. You never feel greasy, and despite the fact that it has a pretty good amount of zinc and titanium for protection, your face doesn't turn white. 
  • Keys Solar RX Moisturizer: I use the Keys Solar when my skin is dry and I need a bit of a heavier product. It smells herbal, and is actually the one my husband uses daily. Great for dry skin.
  • Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF 45 Powder: This is my secret weapon against sun damage. I keep a tube of it in my purse to do a quick sunscreen touch-up whenever I find myself outdoors or when the sun streams through my car window. It's mineral-based and doesn't look like makeup, so it's great for men. No sparkles or shimmer or anything like that. My husband uses it, and I will sometimes even dab it on my kids' necks or shoulders as an additional layer of protection. 

2. Facial sunscreens for sports or swimming

These are the sunscreens that are gentle enough for your face and won't burn your eyes when you swim or sweat. They also stay put better than any sunscreens I've ever used.

  • TiZo3 by Solar Science: This is the gold standard for all sunscreens. It's sold by many dermatologists, and while it's expensive, it's more worth it than any product you'll buy. Plus, you only need a little bit to cover your entire face. It's tinted (though basically invisible), so it never looks white, despite being very waterproof, and it never burns my eyes no matter how hard I'm sweating or being tumbled in the surf. 
  • Shade SPF 30+ Tinted: This is my husband's favorite. It was developed with a pro surfer, and like TiZo3 it's a bit pricey, but you only need to use a little. It never budges in the water, and he's never had a problem with it stinging his eyes. 

3. Sunscreen sticks for the face

I love a sunscreen stick for the nose and cheeks when you're in the water or working out. They're waxier, so they're less likely to be rubbed off.

Whenever my kids or I get into the water to surf or boogie board, I apply a line of mineral sunscreen under our eyes and on our noses for extra protection. There are lots of good mineral sunblock sticks at surf shops, but these are my favorites.

  • BabyGanics Pure Mineral Sunscreen Stick: This one is so superior to any other sunscreen stick I've ever used, I hesitate to list a second one. It's available at stores like Target, as well as Babies R Us and Toys R Us, and is affordable.
  • Vertra Tinted Sunscreen Stick: This is a high-end surf product, marketed at surfers, tinted beige in case you don't like the white lines on your face. I find the BabyGanics works just as well, but Vertra is easy to find at most good surf shops. Also, they have a Mick Fanning tint that isn't as brown. Warning: The beige tint by Vertra will stain.

4. Waterproof sunscreens for the body

When you're using highly effective but pricey sunscreens on your face, you won't want to use the whole bottle covering your arms and legs. Also, skin on your body tends to be less sensitive, so you have more options.

Remember that the best protection for your body is to be covered by fabric as well as sunscreen. I love this sexy rashguard by Athleta and wear it every time I go to the beach.

  • Original Sprout Face & Body SPF 27: Smells good, works well, and is a safe product for kids and adults.
  • Sunny Kids Natural Spray Sunscreen: Goes on easily, great applicator for squirmy kids. This one feels a little thin to me, so I like to spray on a bit extra.
  • Alba Botanica Mineral Sport or Alba Botanica Kids Mineral Sunscreen: These are easy to find at health food stores and even some drug stores. They smell good, are very moisturizing, and spread on thick but easily. Just make sure you check Alba's labels, as some contain the chemical sunblocks Dr. Batra warns against. 
  • BARE Republic by Coola Sunscreen Spray: Some people have fears about aerosolized sunscreens because they're easily inhaled while applying. This seems like a valid concern, so if I use these products I make my kids hold their breath and then step away from where I sprayed them. Not super scientific, but probably helpful.

    This is a VERY WHITE sunscreen, but great for touching up shoulders and necks during busy beach days or during long workouts. Also, it's great that it's available at Target.

  • Kiss My Face Mineral Cool Sport Spray Sunscreen or Kids Mineral Defense Spray Sunscreen: Basically the same as the BARE Republic one. Very white, but effective. Read the ingredients, though, as Kiss My Face also has formulations that contain chemical sunblocks.
  • Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen: A friend of ours went on a Caribbean vacation and brought along Blue Lizard. He said it was literally the first time he's gone on vacation and NOT gotten a sunburn. That says something! It's also easy to find at drugstores like Walgreens and is affordable. 
  • Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby Sunscreen: This is the only Neutrogena sunscreen on this list for a reason, as it's the only one that's a mineral block. It's available in all sorts of stores, but it doesn't contain a lot of actual zinc or titanium, so it's at the bottom of my list. But a good choice in a pinch.

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