Along with seeking out the shade and donning a sun hat or protective clothing, it’s no secret that wearing sunscreen is your best defense against sunburn, wrinkles, fine lines, and, of course, skin cancer. Because it’s so important, we’ve done a lot of legwork searching for the best all-purpose sunscreens, as well as the best for different skin types and kids and babies, and even the best SPF moisturizers. What we’ve found, though, is that a lot of the dermatologist-beloved sunscreens (like the nearly universally recommended EltaMD) are a little pricey. If you don’t want to spend $35 every time you need a new bottle, are there any cheaper alternatives that are just as good? And what if you just want something you can pick up at CVS on the way to the beach?
As Michelle Wong, a chemist, science educator, and skin-care blogger at Lab Muffin, explains, “Sunscreens are regulated to provide the sun protection stated on the label,” so you’ll be getting the same level of protection from an SPF 30 sunscreen whether it costs $10 or $50. “Sometimes more expensive sunscreens may have some added beneficial ‘hero’ ingredients, and sometimes the texture will be more pleasant,” she says, “but a lot of the time a high cost will just be a result of marketing.” To find sunscreens that get the job done, don’t break the bank, and are widely available, we asked Wong and three dermatologists to share their drugstore go-tos.
Best overall drugstore sunscreen
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM SPF 30
Two of the dermatologists we spoke with, along with Wong, recommend Cerave’s line of sunscreens (the brand also made an appearance in our list of the best all-purpose sunscreens). This specific product, which doubles as a moisturizer, is “a great daily-use sunscreen option” for most skin types, according to Dr. Carlos Charles, founder of NYC-based dermatology practice Derma di Colore. It contains the ultra-hydrating ingredient hyaluronic acid, which he notes is often included in higher-end sunscreens. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, is also a fan. He agrees with Wong that “the cost of a product does not always correlate with its effectiveness.” Plus, it’s a Strategist-editor favorite.
Like some other sunscreens on our list, this one includes both chemical ingredients (like octinoxate) that help sunscreen sink into the skin more easily and mineral ones (like zinc oxide) that naturally offer a broader spectrum of protection. Studies have shown that some of these chemicals are detrimental to the environment, but they’re still approved for use in sunscreen, so we’ve chosen to include both types.
Best drugstore sunscreen for dry skin
CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50 Face Lotion with Zinc Oxide
If you’re looking for something even more moisturizing, Zeichner likes this CeraVe formula, which, he says, “contains skin-repairing ceramides to maintain a healthy skin barrier and enhance hydration,” along with hyaluronic acid and skin-brightening niacinamide. While it’s a little bit more than $15, it’s still a good deal for a moisturizing and effective sunscreen.
Best drugstore sunscreens for oily and acne-prone skin
Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer With SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
While lots of today’s sunscreens feel less thick and greasy than their predecessors, choosing one can still be stressful if you have oily or acne-prone skin and feel like anything will make you break out. In this case, Charles recommends this Cetaphil sunscreen, which he says “works well for those with oily skin” and does “a good job of protecting the face from the sun’s rays throughout the day” while minimizing oil.
Neutrogena Clear Face Break-Out Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 55
Several derms mentioned Neutrogena’s formulas (one of which topped our list of best all-purpose sunscreens), and this one is designed specifically for acne-prone skin. Zeichner says it “won’t clog your pores [and] helps absorb oil so you don’t feel greasy.” While SPF 30 is the minimum strength most dermatologists recommend, if you’re headed for the beach, this SPF 55 one may be an even better choice. Dr. Joyce Park, board-certified dermatologist and skin-care blogger at Tea With MD, says, “If you know you’ll be in the sun all day, opt for a higher SPF [because] studies show we don’t apply enough quantity of sunscreen or as often as needed to get the full SPF benefits.”
Best drugstore sunscreens for sensitive skin
Blue Lizard Australian Sensitive Sunscreen SPF 30+ Broad Spectrum UVA/UVB Protection
Both Charles and Wong like the Australian sunscreen brand Blue Lizard, and Charles is especially fond of this formula for sensitive skin that can be used on both the face and body. It’s water-resistant, which Wong says is always a good feature to look for “if you’re going to be very active or if you’re going to sweat a lot.” It also contains the physical blocker zinc oxide, which she says is “more likely to work without irritating your skin” than chemical sunscreens. In our story about the best facial sunscreens, dermatologists also recommended Blue Lizard for sensitive skin. The brand was also recommended as the best drugstore sunscreen in our roundup of all-purpose kinds.
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Facial Moisturizer - SPF 30
This Aveeno sunscreen, chosen by Zeichner, is another purely mineral formula that’s safe for those with sensitive skin. He likes that it contains “feverfew extract and colloidal oatmeal [that] protect and calm the skin.”
Neutrogena Sensitive Skin Sunscreen Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 60+
Featuring both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide (instead of chemicals) to block the sun’s rays, this lotion, says Charles, is safe and non-irritating to eczema-prone skin — and can be used on the whole body.
Best (slightly more expensive) drugstore sunscreen
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid SPF 60
It’s more expensive than the other sunscreens on our list, but Wong and Park were both so enthusiastic about La Roche-Posay’s sunscreen (which is available in lots of drugstores) that we felt it worth including. Wong explains that the French brand’s sunscreens are “the best, since they contain newer sunscreen filters, which provide long-lasting UVA protection.” The FDA has yet to approve a slew of filters that are popular in sunscreens from other countries, and La Roche-Posay is one of the few that are sold in the U.S. with this type of UVA protection. This formula is Park’s personal favorite because it “comes in a tinted formulation so I don’t need foundation, and it goes on light, non-greasy, and non-chalky.”
Best Japanese drugstore sunscreen
Biore UV Aqua Rich Watery Essence Sunscreen SPF 50 + / PA ++++
You won’t be able to find it at an American drugstore, but this very affordable (and easy to find on Amazon) Japanese sunscreen is one of Wong’s favorites. She says that, along with offering the broadest spectrum filters, Asian sunscreens like this one “have light textures, so it’s easy to apply them in larger quantities.”
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