Ask a dermatologist what the best sunscreen is, and he’ll likely tell you it’s whichever one you’ll wear every. single. day.
“Sunscreen only works if you actually put it on, and properly, which is why it is so important to choose a formulation that you like,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
How it feels, how it smells, how easy it is to apply and how it looks on different skin tones can all influence your daily sunscreen habit. Fortunately, with so many sunscreen products on the market, there's a formula for every scenario under the sun.
The Scenario: “I need something easy to apply to exposed areas, like my hands and ears, when I’m running errands.”
The Product: If you’re only showing a little bit of skin, consider a sunscreen stick like Neutrogena® Ultra Sheer® Face + Body Stick Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 70, which can be great for targeting those oft-forgotten body parts that can still burn.
“A stick can be a great option for smaller areas because it’s easy to apply and you can take it with you on the go,” Dr. Zeichner says. To make sure your skin is adequately protected with a stick formula, he suggests doing four passes back and forth on each spot—and reapplying on your hands after you’ve washed them.
The Scenario: “I’d love to find something that's lighter than a lotion for the beach.”
The Product: Try a gel sunscreen, like the new Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion SPF 50.
“Technology-wise, it’s a lightweight, polymer-based formula that feels watery and refreshing when it comes into contact with your skin,” says, Neutrogena Sun Franchise R&D Manager, North America. The gel absorbs quickly, so it won’t feel slick or slippery, and, importantly for women, you can apply makeup over it right away.
The Scenario: “I exercise outside—and sweat a lot. I need a sunscreen that can go the distance.”
The Product: Consumer research also has shown that athletes prefer the ease of a spray formula, especially for reapplication, says Zanatta.
Be sure to look for the word “sport” on the label: In addition to being water-resistant for 80 minutes, sport sunscreens tend to contain ingredients that keep them adhered to the skin even when it's wet with sweat or H20, like the Neutrogena® Cool Dry Sport Water-Resistant Sunscreen Spray SPF 50.
“Heavy sweating is similar to swimming in terms of sunscreen dripping off the skin,” Dr. Zeichner points out, adding this is why he advises frequent swimmers to choose a sport sunscreen over a regular water-resistant product.
The latest generation of sport formulas are also designed to form a breathable barrier that allows sweat to evaporate through it, rather than trapping it on your skin, he says, which helps keep your body temperature cool.
The Scenario: “I have a toddler and need something effective for his delicate skin that I can apply fast.”
The Product: Experts agree: Children will get the best sun protection through a traditional lotion.
With lotions, like Aveeno® Baby Continuous Protection® Sensitive Skin Zinc Oxide Sunscreen SPF 50, “you have more of a visual cue about where you are applying it than you do with other formulas,” says Zanatta. “You can tell if you’ve missed any spots, and then it dries clear.” Plus, the formula is as mild as water on your little one's sensitive skin.
While a spray may seem like an easier way to apply product to a toddler who won’t sit still, says Zanatta, you don’t want to risk your young child inhaling the aerosol droplets. “From a safety and efficacy standpoint, lotion is better for children,” she says.
The Scenario: “I drive to work and sit inside all day, but I know I still need some kind of protection.”
The Product: Because you’ll be exposed to at least some sun while in your car, walking into the office or even through an office window, you’re right: You do still need to be protected.
Experts suggest applying a daily moisturizer with at least SPF 30, like Aveeno® Positively Radiant® Daily Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30, before you leave your house.
Wear makeup? “Powders or other types of makeup with SPF are like cherries on top of the sunscreen sundae,” Dr. Zeichner says. “They don't take the place of the ice cream, but they can make it better.”
Once you have a base layer of protection applied through a lotion or moisturizer, these beauty products are ideal for easy touch-ups during the day, he says. One to try: Neutrogena Healthy Skin® Compact Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 55.