Cookie banner

This site uses cookies. Select "Block all non-essential cookies" to only allow cookies necessary to display content and enable core site features. Select "Accept all cookies" to also personalize your experience on the site with ads and partner content tailored to your interests, and to allow us to measure the effectiveness of our service.

To learn more, review our Cookie Policy, Privacy Notice and Terms of Use.

clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Photo via Victoria's Secret
Photo via Victoria's Secret

Filed under:

The Everything Guide to Sunscreen

Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.

Everything you need to know about sunscreen, the short version: Wear it! The effects of sun damage are harmful and permanent, but they can be easily avoided with just a bit of SPF.

Everything you need to know about sunscreen, the long version: Well, that's a bit trickier. Are you an athlete looking for something that won't drip in your eyes when you play volleyball? A spontaneous outdoor bruncher looking for protection while dining al fresco? Someone who just hates sunscreen, period? Below, we've rounded up the best sun care options for pretty much everyone. But first, let's talk about how to get the best use out of your products.

First of all, when should you be using sunscreen?

Always. People often think that they only need to use a sunscreen when they're outdoors, where they will be exposed to direct sunlight. Not so.

The truth is that we're exposed to harmful rays everyday—when we're commuting, when we're running errands, really any time that we're outside. And even sometimes when we're inside! Do you have a window in your office? You're probably being exposed. Seriously.

It's not just in the summer months, either. Harmful UVA and UVB rays are out to get us all year round, and they can still penetrate the clouds on gloomy or overcast days. Just because you can't see the sun doesn't mean you shouldn't be protecting yourself from it.

What exactly does 'SPF' mean?

Good question. SPF stands for 'Sun Protection Factor,' and the number following it stands for the amount of time it will allow you to stay in the sun without getting burned.

For example, I'd probably cop a sunburn in a swift 20 minutes if I was out in the sun with no sunscreen like an idiot. To figure out how long I'd last in the sun with a particular sunscreen, I'd take that 20 minutes and multiply it by the SPF number of the sunscreen in question. If the sunscreen is SPF 15, that would be 300 minutes, or five hours. And that is the first and last math equation I will be doing in 2015.

That said, if you're going to be spending an extended period of time in direct sunlight, you'll need to re-up occasionally to keep your skin protected. The general rule is to reapply every two hours, but if you're splashing around in the water or sweating a ton, you may want to do it more often.

How much sunscreen should I be using?

The rule that I keep seeing is a shot glass full of sunscreen would be an appropriate amount to cover your entire body. While I appreciate that unit of measurement, I'm skeptical. For one, we're all different sizes. For two, a shot is only around an ounce, and to really be protected, I'm not sure an ounce of sunscreen would do it for everyone. You be the judge; just make sure you're evenly covered with enough product. Maybe less of a shot of sunscreen and more of a Jaeger Bomb of sunscreen.

Duly noted. So what sunscreen is right for me?

If you're forgetful: Josie Maran Argan Daily Moisturizer SPF 47, $34

Just because I know what's best for me doesn't mean I always do it, in skincare as in life. I'll leave the bathroom in the morning having slathered my face in the best beauty products on the market, only to go out in the sun and realize that I forgot sunscreen.

This is why I forced myself to find an everyday moisturizer with a heavy duty SPF. The formula of Josie Maran's Argan Daily Moisturizer is thin enough to give you good coverage without too much product, but still has enough body to be a strong barrier between your skin and the sun. It's made with Josie's famous argan oil, jojoba oil, green tea, antioxidants, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide (those last two are both powerful UV deflectors.) That means it's extremely hydrating and nourishing, all while protecting you from harmful rays.

If you hate the feel of sunscreen: L'Oreal Paris Advanced Suncare Quick Finish Spray, $7.97

Wait, I have another confession. Sometimes I don't wear sunscreen because I hate the way it feels on my skin. If I'm running around in my swimsuit, I want feel sexy, and feeling trapped in your own skin by a heavy layer of chalky, sticky ointment is definitely not sexy.

L'Oreal Advanced Suncare Quick Finish Spray dries down almost instantly to a matte, dry, oil-free finish which feels like you're wearing nothing at all. As an added bonus, it includes antioxidants like Vitamin E and white grape seed to help nourish your skin. Plus, since it's a spray, it lets you reach every part of your body without asking a friend to do your back. With a can that can spray 360 degrees, who needs friends?

If you're prone to SPF emergencies: Colorescience Sunforgettable Mineral Powder Foundation, $64

Powder sunscreen isn't a substitute for regular anti-sun lotion, but Refinery29's Beauty Director Megan McIntyre swears by it for those moments when you need some backup, like when you go out to brunch and wind up in a seat with no shade.

"Rather than have to try and apply SPF lotion over top of my makeup and ruin it," she explains, "I dust my face, back of my hands (they are the first place that start to show signs of photo-aging kids, so don't forget them!), my ears, my part in my hair, my neck and chest, and any other exposed parts. It's not the most effective option for SPF, but it's better than nothing and so convenient when you are on the go. "

If J.Lo is your idol: Kate Somerville Body Glow Sunscreen, $45

I love a good illuminator. Give me an illuminating sunscreen, and I'll wind up so protected that I look like a damn Academy Award.

The glamorous glow aside, this sunscreen has a ton of skincare benefits. It's light and creamy, so it takes to skin beautifully. Mango and shea butters moisturize and replenish skin that's been exposed to sun, caffeine refines texture and improves skin tone, and rosemary extract helps fight free radicals. Meanwhile, "light-reflective pearls," aka mica, add golden, glowy, illuminating properties.

We're not talking bronzer here—more of a dewy, wet-look sheen that makes you look like you walked straight out of an episode of Laguna Beach. Depending on how much you want to glow, you may want to use a different SPF for your face, or mix it in to cut the gleam a bit. I use it everywhere because I'm obnoxious.

If you're a frequent traveler or neat freak: Neutrogena Beach Defense Stick, $8.51

Just because a product comes in a travel-size tube doesn't make it good for traveling, because a tube of any size can still bust open. But you can throw this stick from Neutrogena in your bag without having to worry about it. It's not just portable, it's made to be carried around during vacations, field trips, and long days at the beach.

Whether you're applying this all over your body or just using it for touchups, the Beach Defense Stick will give you broad spectrum protection from damaging UVA and UVB rays. It's oil-free, lightweight, and water resistant for up to 80 minutes.

If you're obsessed with Korean beauty: Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion, $47.59

xoVain writer Danielle Guercio recommends this high-SPF product, saying, "I did NOT think I would like this stuff, but hoo boy, its got to be one of the better complexion makeups I have tried. Medium coverage gets you a flawless base while the sponge applicator gives you a skin-identical finish like that of a beauty blender. It bounces onto the skin and is buildable, the SPF 50 is great for prime time sun, and I never get that mask-type feeling when I use this."

Plus, while it sounds expensive, it should last you the entire summer—not a bad deal for such a workhorse.

If you're a BB cream addict: Kiehl's BB Cream, $37.00

A ton of women are still reaching for BBs over foundations every morning, and Kiehl's version has one of the highest SPFs you're going to find in a BB—or any beauty product, for that matter. It also carries real skincare benefits as well, like Vitamin C to help even tone and correct dark spots. ( I feel like people don't talk enough about how vitamin C is SO good for the skin.)

Not only will it blur fine lines, minimize the appearance of pores, and increase luminosity, but it'll even your skin tone, brighten, smooth, and hydrate as you wear it. Add to that a broad spectrum SPF 50, and this BB really stands out.

If you have high-maintenance skin: Mineral Créme Broad Spectrum SPF 50 by MD Solar Science, $30

"I struggle with cystic acne, and have to be really careful about what I put on my face," says Gabrielle Korn, Senior Editor at NYLON Magazine. "So the only sunscreen I use is MD Solar Science. It's specifically designed for acne-prone skin, and actually makes my skin tone look more even when I have it on. It's never made me break out, and gives great protection from the sun."

If you're a surfer, a volleyballer, or an all-around baller: Coppertone PRO SPORT Series With DuraFlex Continuous Spray, $9.50

Coppertone PRO SPORT sprays on and locks down to your skin, resisting even the most extreme conditions. Though it's the most heavy-duty product on this list, it still sprays on lightly and moves with you throughout your day. It's water- and sweat- resistant, so it's not going to run into your eyes as you're trying to spike a volleyball, shotgun a Keystone, or whatever. It sprays on evenly and stays where you put it, until you scrub it off at the end of the day.


Why Gyms Should Be Worried


Rihanna’s Newly Skinny Eyebrows Spark Mass Panic


Stormy Daniels’s Fragrance Just Launched

View all stories in Beauty