Parent applying sunscreen to a child.

As the weather warms up (and weeks of sheltering in place make you feel like the walls are closing in), you’re probably looking forward to spending time outside. That could mean hanging out in your backyard, or heading out for a run or bike ride—practicing social distancing, of course.

But no matter what you’re doing outside, you’ll need to apply sunscreen to your exposed skin. And that goes for spring as well as summer: In many parts of the U.S., ultraviolet (UV) rays can be at summertime strength even in spring.

You may even need to wear sunscreen indoors if you spend a lot of time sitting near a sunny window. Glass blocks the UV rays that cause sunburn, but it can let through some of the UV rays that cause wrinkles and skin cancer.

Dermatologists always say that the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use—so how to choose one you’ll like that really protects you? Consumer Reports’ annual sunscreen ratings will help you find a product that provides superior protection against sunburn, skin cancer, and wrinkles—and that has a scent and feel that’s right for you. This year, we have five CR-recommended sunscreens and nine others that received Very Good scores, making them fine alternatives.

CR members who are familiar with our sunscreen ratings may notice a few changes to our list this year, with some of our previous top scorers no longer in our ratings. That’s either because those products were discontinued or because their formulas were changed after our testing began—so we weren’t able to gauge how well they now perform. 

Check out these reviews of the best sunscreens in our 2020 tests. Remember, though, that you shouldn’t rely only on sunscreen to keep you protected in the sun. These products are just one part of an overall approach to sun protection that should also include covering up with clothing, wearing a hat and sunglasses, and staying in the shade or indoors when the sun’s rays are the strongest—from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Sunscreens being tested for scent and feel
CR's panel of sensory testers evaluate sunscreens for scent and feel.

How We Test Sunscreens

CR uses a testing protocol that is modeled on the one the Food and Drug Administration requires sunscreen manufacturers to use. But as is the case with other products we test that have government or industry standards, we use those standards as benchmarks and develop our own methodology to identify differences in performance and give consumers a comparative evaluation.

More on Sunscreen

“We buy the sunscreens for our tests off the shelf, the way consumers would,” says Susan Booth, the project leader for our sunscreen testing. “We use three samples, preferably with different lot numbers, of each product.” All the products are sent to a lab and tested for SPF and ultraviolet A (UVA) protection.

SPF stands for sun protection factor and is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against sunburn, which is mostly the result of exposure to the sun’s UVB rays.

To check for SPF, a standard amount of each sunscreen is applied to 2x3-inch rectangle on panelists’ backs. Then they soak in a tub of water. Afterward, smaller sections of that area are exposed to five to six intensities of UV light from a sun simulator for a set time. About a day later, a trained technician examines the areas for redness. The resulting SPF ratings—Excellent to Poor—reflect each product’s effectiveness after water immersion and are based on an average of our results for each sunscreen. We also calculate a score for variation from SPF. This is a measure of how closely a sunscreen’s tested SPF matched the SPF on the label.

In order to be labeled “broad spectrum,” the FDA requires that a sunscreen protect against UVB and UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and cause damage that can lead to skin cancer and skin aging.

To test for UVA protection, we smear sunscreen on plastic plates, pass UV light through, and measure the amount of UVA and UVB rays that are absorbed. That information is used to calculate our UVA score.

This test is similar to the critical wavelength test the FDA requires sunscreen manufacturers to do in order to label their products broad-spectrum. This is a pass/fail test, and just as you can pass a test with either an A or a D grade, some sunscreens do a much better job of defending against UVA than others. That’s why, for our ratings, we also use a test that allows us to measure the degree of UVA protection a sunscreen provides. 

Finding a Sunscreen You’ll Want to Use

For many people, the way a sunscreen smells and feels on their skin is as important as the UV protection it provides. So in addition to our performance tests, our trained sensory panelists also evaluate sunscreens for scent and feel. The sensory testing isn’t factored into our Overall Score—what people prefer is subjective, so we can’t say, for instance, whether a sunscreen that has a tropical aroma is better than one with a classic beachy aroma. But our panelists objectively describe the scent and feel of every sunscreen we test so that you can pick the best product for you.

We also include the price per container and the price per ounce so that you can weigh all the factors when you’re choosing a sunscreen. The prices of the products in this year’s ratings range from 58 cents per ounce to $11.76 per ounce.

Best Lotion Sunscreens

It’s easier to make sure you’re getting adequate coverage with a lotion than with a spray because you can see how much you’re applying. Use about a teaspoon per body part or area that’s not covered up with clothing: 1 teaspoon for your face, head, and neck; 1 for each arm; 1 for each leg; 1 for your chest and abdomen; and 1 for your back and the back of your neck. If you are in a bathing suit, you’ll need about an ounce of lotion to cover your body. That’s about the amount that fills a shot glass.

Quick Take

Coppertone Ultra Guard Lotion SPF 70

Price: $8

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings
Quick Take

CVS Health Ultra Protection Sun Lotion SPF 70

Price: $9

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings

Best Spray Sunscreens

Our tests found that if you apply spray properly, you can cover your skin adequately in one pass, but proper application isn’t always easy, especially when it’s windy. Oftentimes you end up protecting the air more than your skin. The proper way to use a spray is to hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray until your skin glistens, then rub it in. Do this even if a spray is labeled “no rub”; smoothing it into skin increases its protection. Then repeat, just to be safe. Never spray your face because you could get it in your eyes or inhale it. Instead, spray the sunscreen into your hands and rub it onto your face.

Consumer Reports recommends using sprays on kids only as a last resort—they are more likely to inhale the ingredients, which could cause lung irritation. If you must use a spray, spray it into your hands and rub it onto your child’s skin. And sprays can be flammable when they are wet, so be sure to keep yourself and kids away from any heat source—such as a grill—until the product is thoroughly dry on the skin.

Quick Take

Trader Joe's Spray SPF 50+

Price: $6

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings
Quick Take

Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection Spray SPF 70

Price: $13

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings

Sunscreens Without Oxybenzone

Oxybenzone may be the most concerning active ingredient in sunscreen. Some research suggests that oxybenzone may be harmful to coral reefs. Hawaii, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have passed bills that currently ban the use of sunscreens with this ingredient (or will by 2021). That’s one reason some sunscreen manufacturers are removing oxybenzone from their products. 

There have also been studies in animals that suggest oxybenzone may interfere with the function of hormones in the body, such as estrogen. For this reason, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that parents may want to consider using an oxybenzone-free sunscreen on their children. 

While there are no studies yet that link oxybenzone use to health problems in people, the FDA asked sunscreen manufacturers in 2019 to provide more information to the agency about the safety and efficacy of oxybenzone—along with 11 other chemical ingredients in sunscreen, including avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, and octocrylene. Two FDA studies found that chemical ingredients, especially oxybenzone, may be absorbed through the skin more than was previously thought. However, the FDA says that just because something is absorbed does not mean it’s unsafe, nor is the agency recommending that you avoid sunscreens that contain them. 

All CR’s recommended sunscreens contain oxybenzone. “While we recognize there are concerns with oxybenzone, we know that sunscreen is a critical part of an overall sun protection plan,” says Don Huber, director of product safety at Consumer Reports. “It’s proven to prevent sunburn, and can lower your risk of skin cancer and reduce skin aging, and our testing is based on a product’s ability to filter UV rays.” But if you prefer to avoid oxybenzone, there are eight chemical sunscreens without it (including the two below) that received Very Good Overall Scores in our ratings.

Quick Take

Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Ultra Radiance Lotion SPF 50

Price: $8

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings
Quick Take

Hawaiian Tropic Island Sport Ultra Light Spray SPF 30

Price: $12

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings

Best Mineral Sunscreens

Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide—so-called mineral or natural sunscreens—are two active ingredients that the FDA says do not need additional safety data. However, year after year in our tests, the sunscreens that contain only one or both of these as active ingredients do not perform as well as the ones that contain chemical active ingredients. Some provide adequate SPF protection but not enough UVA protection, or vice versa. If you are concerned about chemical exposure and prefer to use a mineral sunscreen, our testing found that these two provide acceptable protection, although they aren’t among the top performers in our tests.

Quick Take

California Kids #supersensitive Tinted Lotion SPF 30+

Price: $20

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings
Quick Take

Badger Active Natural Mineral Cream SPF 30 Unscented

Price: $16

UVA Protection
SPF
Variation from SPF
Unlock Sunscreen Ratings