What's Your Best Sunscreen?

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 02, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

When you're shopping for sunscreens, you have many choices. The shelves are loaded with gels, lotions, sticks, sprays, and oil-free versions.

What's the best kind to get? The one you're willing to use every day. Ask yourself these six questions to help make a perfect match.

  1. Are you sporty? If so, go for a gel. They'll stick with you while you move and sweat, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
  2. Do you break out? You'll want an oil-free sunscreen.
  3. Do you have dry skin? Use a creamy sunscreen.
  4. Do you have sensitive skin or rosacea? Choose sunscreens made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which sit on the skin's surface. Your skin absorbs the chemicals in other sunscreens, which can be irritating.
  5. Are you shopping for your kids? Look for a stick sunscreen. The waxy material won't drip into their eyes.
  6. Do you have a baby or toddler? Opt for a sunscreen made with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide that may be less irritating to the skin. If your baby is less than 6 months old, keep her out of the sun. Babies that young have "much more sensitive skin than adults," so don't put sunscreen on them, the American Academy of Dermatology's web site states.
  7. Are you bald? It doesn't matter what kind of sunscreen you use, as long as you slather it all over your head. Or better yet, wear a hat. Even better? Do both, says Whitney Bowe, MD, assistant medical director for cosmetic and laser services at Advanced Dermatology PC in Westchester, NY.
  8. Are you hairy? Then choose a spray or gel. They don't take forever to rub in, clinging to hairs like creams do, Zeichner says.

Apply It Right

Put your sunscreen on about 15 minutes before you go outside so that it has a chance to stick to your skin. If you wait until you're outside, you could sweat it off, Bowe says.

You probably need to use more than you think. Use at least 1 ounce, as much as what a full shot glass holds, for your whole body every two hours. Your face needs a nickel-sized amount.

Seems like too much? It's not. Research shows that most people only put on a quarter to half the amount they need. That can leave you, well, burned.

Reapply right after swimming and sweating. If you've been using a water-resistant sunscreen, check the label to see how long the water resistance lasts.

Don't forget your lips. They need a lip balm or lipstick that has sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Got an old bottle of sunscreen? If you’ve had it a year or more, check the expiration date on the bottle and replace it if it's out of date.

Show Sources


Joshua Zeichner, MD, director, cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York.

Whitney Bowe, MD, assistant medical director of laser and cosmetic services, Advanced Dermatology PC, Westchester, NY.

American Academy of Dermatology: "Sunscreen FAQs."

Neale, R. Archives of Dermatology, October 2002.

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