The 6 Best Sunscreens For Runners, According To Dermatologists
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If you frequently run outside, you’re probably well aware that sunscreen is essential — but not just any sunscreen will do. According to dermatologists, the best sunscreens for runners provide broad-spectrum protection of at least 30 SPF and are water-resistant to effectively hold up through sweat and the elements. As you choose, you’ll encounter physical and chemical formulas, as well as in a variety of formats including lotions, sprays, or sticks.
Elizabeth Hale, M.D., is a New York-based Board-certified dermatologist and a clinical associate professor of dermatology at New York University Langone Medical Center. She is also the co-founder and co-director of CompleteSkinMD dermatology clinic, which is located in New York City. She received her medical degree from New York University and completed her residency at the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University. An avid runner, Dr. Hale reports that she has completed eight marathons and about 50 half-marathons.
Elyse Love, M.D., is a New York-based Board-certified dermatologist at the New York City dermatology clinic GlamDerm. She received her medical degree from Emory University School of Medicine and completed her residency at The Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University. Dr. Love has completed the NYC Marathon.
What To Look For In A Sunscreen For Running
SPF 30 Or (Probably) Higher
First things first: It’s important to select a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and a high enough SPF. “If applied adequately, and that’s a big if, SPF 30 is sufficient,” Dr. Elizabeth Hale adds in an interview with Bustle, “But because so many people tend to under-apply sunscreen, the higher numbers can compensate for under-application. That’s when SPF 50 or SPF 70 can be helpful.” Dr. Elyse Love echoes this sentiment in an email to Bustle. According to Dr. Love: “Although SPF 30 and above is recommended for normal sun exposure, I recommend SPF 50 and above for high sun activities like daytime running. This is because we often do not apply enough SPF to get the documented protection.”
Since running often means sweating, you should also look for a sunscreen that can hold up to perspiration. According to Dr. Love, runners should choose “sweat-resistant sunscreens to maximize [the] longevity of sunscreen application.” A sunscreen’s label will indicate if it is water resistant and for how long, and you should reapply it according to the specific product’s instructions.
Other Things To Consider
Physical Vs. Chemical Sunscreens
As you shop, you’ll also have the choice between physical (aka mineral) and chemical sunscreens. According to Dr. Hale, physical sunscreens “work immediately.” Dr. Love also mentions that physical sunscreens may be “less irritating for those with sensitive skin.” However, Dr. Hale warns that “because [physical sunscreen] just sits on the outside of the skin, it could be sweated or toweled off more easily.” They also tend to be more likely to leave a white cast than chemical options.
Dr. Hale writes, “In general, while I do prefer zinc oxide and the physical blockers, it’s important for runners to know that the chemical sunscreens are also safe and effective — and they increase sweat and water resistance.” However, Dr. Hale adds that chemical sunscreens should typically be applied 15 to 30 minutes before a run. “They have to get absorbed into your skin before preventing UV rays from doing damage,” she explains. “Once they’re in your skin, they’re less likely to sweat off.” According to Dr. Love, another perk is that “chemical sunscreens are more lightweight” than mineral formulas. In any case, “when applied correctly, they are equally effective,” says Dr. Love.
In addition, Dr. Love suggests considering an oil-free formula which could be a good option for runners to increase longevity. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, oil-free sunscreens can be ideal for folks with acne-prone skin — but Sheila Farhang, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, explained to The Zoe Report that oil-free formulas might not be the best fit for dry skin.
Sunscreens are commonly available in lotions, sprays, and sticks — and each format has their own benefits. According to Dr. Hale, “For runners, I think sprays are very helpful, plus they rub in well.” Dr. Hale adds: “I think stick formulations are good for the forehead and the nose and under the eyes, but you want to make sure you rub them in because it’s very hard to get full, even coverage. Lotions are much easier to rub, which is why they’re so popular.” While “lotions are best for a base layer of coverage,” Dr. Love explains, “sprays and sticks are good options for reapplication.”
Shop For The Best Sunscreens For Runners
In a hurry? Here are the best sunscreen for runners:
- The Best Physical Sunscreen Lotion For The Full Body: EltaMD UV Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Sport Lotion
- A Zinc-Infused Sunscreen Spray: BLUE LIZARD Mineral Sunscreen Sensitive SPF 50+ Spray
- A Physical Sunscreen In An Easy-To-Apply Stick Format: CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Stick
- A Dermatologist-Recommended Sunscreen Lotion: Supergoop! PLAY Everyday Lotion
- The Runner-Favorite Sunscreen Spray: KineSYS Sunscreen Spray
- A Sunscreen Stick That Goes On Clear: Neutrogena Beach Defense Water-Resistant Sunscreen Stick
With all that said, ultimately, your ideal sunscreen is “whichever formula you’ll use,” says Dr. Hale. Scroll on for six of the best running sunscreens on Amazon, plus some additional expert-approved products to help protect your skin from the sun’s rays at the end.
The Best Physical Sunscreens For Runners
1. The Best Physical Sunscreen Lotion For The Full Body
- Has more than 8,000 five-star ratings on Amazon
- Reviewers have reported that it rubs in easily and doesn’t leave a white cast
- Formulated for all skin types
- On the pricey side
EltaMD’s lotion has amassed over 10,000 reviews and an impressive 4.7-star overall rating on Amazon. It offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection and is water resistant for up to 80 minutes. Plus, according to reviewers, the mineral formula blends in well. One reviewer wrote, “I love that this rubs right in with minimal effort and no white cast.” All in all, it’s a solid oil-free mineral option you can use on your body (and many reviewers have used it on their faces, too).
One reviewer wrote: “I’ve tried so many sunscreens, they should call me the sunscreen king. Almost all have irritated and/or dried out my skin. This is the holy grail. Not drying or irritating whatsoever, unlike other physical sunscreens. Makes skin look healthy and hydrated. Amazing protection, even during a hot, sweaty run outdoors. Has a mild sunscreen smell at first that goes away once absorbed. I totally forget that I have this on.”
Format: Lotion | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 80 minutes | Oil free: Yes
2. The Best Mineral Sunscreen Spray
- Spray format is easy to apply
- Formulated for sensitive skin
- Leaves white cast, according to some reviewers
This sunscreen spray from Blue Lizard offers targeted protection where you need it. The formula provides broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection and holds up through sweat for up to 80 minutes. One reviewer reported, “I have found it works very nicely. Neither my daughter or I got sunburnt at all during her outdoor mommy and me swim classes.” While the formula contains oil, a shopper wrote that it “didn’t leave me feeling sticky or greasy” and other reviewers have attested that it’s gentle, even on sensitive skin. If you’re keen on an oil-free formula, consider this Banana Boat mineral sunscreen spray that’s designed to be kid-friendly, too.
One thing to note: Some reviewers have claimed that the Blue Lizard spray isn’t the most sweat-resistant sunscreen they’ve tried — so if mitigating perspiration is a priority for you, a mineral sunscreen lotion or a chemical spray could be better.
One reviewer wrote: “I will always purchase this sunscreen from now on!!! I always have gotten burnt every time out in water or outside events for long hours. This sunscreen prevented me from getting burnt for 7 full days of fun at the beach. Being sunburnt always sucks. I will forever use this sunscreen from now on. It’s kind of hard to spread out. But one good coat of the lotion first thing 15 minutes before you go out [...] then reapplication of using the spray worked great!"
Format: Spray | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 80 minutes | Oil free: No
3. The Best Physical Sunscreen In A Stick Format
- Ideal for applying sunscreen to your face
- Compact size makes it easy to take on a run for touchups
- Only water resistant for up to 40 minutes
If ease is a top priority or you just want a backup on hand, you might prefer using a sunscreen stick like CeraVe’s. It’s made with an oil-free formula and offers broad-spectrum SPF 50 protection. Reviewers have mentioned it glides onto the skin seamlessly, with one reviewer raving, “This stick rubs on so smoothly and is very easy to rub in with minimal to no white residue.” However, it only provides water-resistance for up to 40 minutes — a trade-off for those who run longer periods. Fortunately, the stick is small enough to fit in a fanny pack or a shorts pocket to make reapplication a cinch.
One reviewer wrote: “Oh my God, I can’t say enough about the stick! I went on a four-day river canoe trip on the Colorado river. I am blonde-haired [and] green-eyed and was so afraid of getting sunburnt with the water reflecting back up into my face. I kept the stick on me and used it constantly all over my face, neck, and hands, [and] did not get even a hint of sunburn [...] I came home and I bought five more [...] I have them in every purse jacket I own.”
Format: Stick | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 40 minutes | Oil free: Yes
The Best Chemical Sunscreens For Runners
4. A Dermatologist-Recommended Chemical Sunscreen Lotion
- Recommended by Dr. Elyse Love
- Feels lightweight
- Comes in multiple sizes
- Formula isn’t oil-free
The Supergoop! PLAY sunscreen comes with a 4.7-star overall rating after more than 5,000 reviewers chimed in — and the stamp of approval from Dr. Love. “Supergoop! PLAY is my personal favorite for the body because it is lightweight and non-greasy with SPF 50,” says Dr. Love. The formula provides broad-spectrum protection and adheres to the skin for up to 80 minutes through any amount of sweat. The sunscreen is available in three bottle sizes, too: 5.5 fluid ounces (pictured above), 2.4 fluid ounces, and a whopping 18 fluid ounces.
One reviewer wrote: “I have tried a variety of sunscreens but this is the best! I tried the small one to see what I thought and I really liked it. It’s not sticky and it stays on while running which is what I needed it for so it holds up during a sweaty run and walk. I also needed full sun protection.”
Format: Lotion | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 80 minutes | Oil free: No
5. The Runner-Favorite Chemical Sunscreen Spray
- Thin liquid formula spreads easily, absorbs well, and dries quickly
- Fragrance-free formula
- Formula can sting the eyes, according to reviewers
Runners and other outdoor enthusiasts on Amazon have raved about the KineSYS Sunscreen Spray. One reviewer described: “I have high demands for sunscreen. I am on retinol and I enjoy running outside, plus I have dry, sensitive skin. I have repurchased this sunscreen, which says A LOT.” One trade-off: Some have reported that it stings their eyes, so it might not be ideal for the face, even though KineSYS indicates that it works there.
One reviewer wrote: “I’ve tried so many sunscreens and this is the one I have stuck with now for about 5 years. I use it for everyday use up to running marathons. It stays on and works. It feels oily/wet for the first minute, but don’t be fooled it drys perfectly and you can’t even tell you put anything on.”
Format: Spray | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 80 minutes | Oil free: Yes
6. A Chemical Sunscreen Stick That Goes On Clear
- It doesn’t leave behind a white residue
- Reviewers have reported it is easy to apply to the face and doesn’t run into the eyes
- Has a strong scent, according to some reviewers
This sunscreen stick from Neutrogena is easy to apply (and reapply) on runs. Not only does it come in a compact format, but the oil-free, water-resistant formula also goes on clear, something many reviewers have attested to. While the sunscreen is oil-free, some reviewers have reported that it feels slick upon application — and other shoppers have praised that it stays put where it’s applied. “Even when I wear sunglasses or sweat, it still doesn’t get into my eyes,” a reviewer gushed.
One reviewer wrote: “Easy to apply [and] lasts a long time before having to apply again. Doesn’t run or melt like other face sticks we’ve tried.”
Format: Stick | SPF: 50 | Broad-spectrum protection: Yes | Water resistance: Up 80 minutes | Oil free: Yes
Also Nice: A Sun-Protective Long-Sleeve Shirt
In addition to wearing sunscreen, Dr. Hale recommends wearing a long-sleeve shirt while running, and she notes that she likes to “run in a hat and sunglasses and try to stay in the shade as much as possible.”
This long-sleeve shirt not only has UPF 50+ to protect your skin against harmful UV rays, but it’s also made from a polyester-microfiber fabric that wicks away moisture and resists odors. Plus, it’s machine washable. (Just make sure to hang it up to dry.)
One reviewer wrote: “I run/walk/hike on a daily basis outside in full sun and normal temps of over 80. This is the first shirt that has actually kept me feeling cool and not overheated from wearing long sleeves after an hour long workout. I went with other people's recommendation for getting a size large, I am 5'10" and the large fits my arms perfectly.”
Available sizes: X-Small — XX-Large | Available colors: 12
Also Consider: A Supplement Formulated To Protect Skin
“In addition to sunscreen, I often recommend the supplement Heliocare for long runs, especially in those prone to sunburn,” Dr. Love says. “It is not a replacement for SPF but it is a natural supplement that provides a small boost in sun protection. It can be the difference between burning or not burning towards the end of a run.”
Dr. Hale also recommends sun-protective vitamins: “Before a long run, I take a sun vitamin and apply sunscreen, so I feel like even if my sunscreen is wearing off, I still have a base layer.”
Heliocare is vegan-friendly and formulated to be used alongside your usual sunscreen. Each bottle comes with 60 capsules, which should last for two months if taken every day.
One reviewer wrote: “This product works great! I first started taking it when I was on medication that made me photosensitive. I went from having sunburns everyday to barely having any at all. This product is not a substitute for sunscreen. If I had to guess, I would put it as being an SPF 3. However, when you roughhouse with the kids in the pool then sunscreen will wear off, but the protection that these pills offer will still remain. I take it on its own when I know I will be in and out of the sun during the day. I use it in addition to sunscreen when I do things such as go to the beach.”