Your Biggest SPF Question, Answered

Sunburns: the ultimate beach enemy — well, that and Jaws-level sharks, obviously. While it's easy to sip on a daquiri, kick off your flip-flops, and forget about the world, you should never forget about sun protection. After all, do you really want to come back with a nasty sunburn as a vacation souvenir? I know, I know — holidays are for R&R, but it's also important that you factor in SPF. Luckily, you actually don't need different SPF for different body parts — all you need is to remember the magic number.

So, what's exactly the deal with SPF? They seem to come in every variety — there's promising labels of SPF 100, followed by SPF 80, 50, 45 — the list is seemingly endless. For any sane individual, this might mean loitering in the sunscreen aisle at your local Duane Reade/CVS for eternity, lost on which kind to buy. What if I need a SPF 90 for my face, but a 35 for my legs? Do I even need two SPFs? When did sunscreen shopping become such a mental chore?

First things first, SPF stands for "sun protection factor," according to One Medical, and the number corresponds to the general amount of time you will receive the benefits of your sunscreen. That being said, also bare in mind that the higher SPF doesn't always guarantee more effective sun protection, according to The Skin Cancer Organization. Remember, it's quality over quantity.

Dr. Amy Perlmutter of the New York Dermatology Group tells me over email, "An SPF of 30 is the baseline SPF that is recommended for all parts of the body. It should be used daily on the face and on the body when it is exposed. People may prefer sunscreens that vary in texture and thickness depending on the targeted location, but should always have at least an SPF 30." So that one tube of sunscreen will most likely suffice for your next tropical getaway.

Furthermore, Dr. Perlmutter notes that there are certain parts of the body more likely to get sun exposure — the face, ears, chest, and posterior neck. As a result, she suggests applying enough sunscreen and applying often to these sensitive areas. Skipping out is not really an option here — that is, unless you want to face the grisly consequences that even aloe vera cannot remedy.

Now that you know SPF 30 is the magic number, it's time to get back to retail therapy — here are seven must-have products to add to your suncare collection ASAP.

1. The Holy Grail Face Sunscreen

Kiehl's Super Fluid UV Defense SPF 50+, $38,

If you're going to splurge on any facial sunscreen this summer — for beach outings and beyond — it would have to be this bestseller from Kiehl's. With over 150+ reviews on the site, customers praise its lightweight, non-greasy formula that withstands heat and humidity from Hawaii to Texas. Previous buyers also note that a little goes a long way — worth every penny if you ask me!

2. The Holy Grail Body Sunscreen

Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30, $9.99,

You need all your bases covered — body, especially. Not only are the customers raving about this sunscreen, but the Skin Cancer Foundation actually recommends this as an effective broad spectrum sunscreen (legit, I tell you). The sunscreen can be applied on both body and face, and not only boasts fast absorption, but nourishes and hydrates the skin too. Slather up!

3. The Best Natural (And Scented!) Sunscreen

COOLA SPF 50 Sport Fresh Mango Sunscreen, $32,

As consumer of everything mango and rookie into the natural beauty world, this sunscreen sounds like paradise. This hypoallergenic sunscreen is crafted with organic botanicals and comes packed with a lush mango scent — um, I'm already sold. PS: This sunscreen is also officially endorsed by the American Lifeguard Association!

4. The Best Spray-On Sunscreen

Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray SPF 70, $11.49,

Whether you hate getting sticky hands post-sunscreen application (totally me) or like to dabble in beach volleyball (totally not me) this spray-on sunscreen from Neutrogena does the trick. It's seamless to apply — just spritz for sun protection that is also water and sweat-resistant.

5. The Best Sunscreen Oil

Supergoop! Sun-Defying Sunscreen Oil SPF 50, $34,

For a sunscreen that not only shields, but nourishes, look no further. This isn't your average sunscreen either — it's an oil-based formula packed with meadowfoam seed and argan oil that will leave skin supple and feeling like a million bucks.

6. The Best Sunburn Remedy

Fruit Of The Earth Aloe Vera 100% Gel, $5.99,

Thanks to genetics (or pure luck) I've only gotten a few sunburns my lifetime. But when disaster strikes and I do end up with a burn, I always turn to this remedy — aloe vera. It's simple, refreshing, and gets the job done.

7. My Personal Favorite Sunscreen

La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Ultra Light Sunscreen Fluid, $29.99,

Hello world, meet my ultimate sunscreen. I originally discovered French brand La Roche-Posay while studying abroad in Paris — you could say one trip to the pharmacy there would forever change my beauty and skincare routine. Luckily, you can now nab this sunscreen in the US! I swear by this sunscreen because it is incredibly airy, fragrance-free, and absorbs like a dream.

Images: Maciej Serafinowicz/Unsplash, Courtesy Brands