How much SPF do you need to swim? The answer depends on your skin color and how long you spend outdoors.
A person with dark skin who rarely burns may be safe from sunburn for two or three hours with SPF15. But someone with light skin needs at least SPF30 and should upgrade to SPF50 if they spend three or more hours in the sun. That’s why all of the best sunscreens for swimming we reviewed are SPF30 or higher (1).
Then, which is the best sunscreen for the beach? Dermatologists recommend sunscreens that are water-resistant for up to eighty minutes. And if you’re concerned about sealife like corals, choose a reef-safe sunscreen. These don’t contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate (2).
Lastly, is mineral sunscreen better for swimming? It doesn’t matter if you use a chemical sunscreen or mineral sunscreen as long as it’s water-resistant and you put it on at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. There are two categories: once for swimming up to 40 minutes and others for up to 80 minutes. Lifeguards prefer ones that last up to 80 minutes.
At any rate, none of this matters if you aren’t using enough sunscreen and applying it at the right times. Check the directions on the bottle. Chances are they will recommend application at least 15 minutes before sun exposure. That gives the product time to sink into the skin.
Also, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using 1 ounce for the entire body and reapplying the sunscreen every 2 hours. Picture a shot glass – that’s how much sunscreen you’ll need to spread over your body each time. This is true even if it’s a cloudy day.
What is broad-spectrum sunscreen?
Two types of UV rays damage the skin: UVA and UVB. The first type leads to premature aging and skin cancer and the second causes sunburn. But if you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you’re protected against all these negative outcomes.
Although no sunscreen provides 100% protection, the higher the SPF number, the better the defense. SPF30 offers 97% protection, SPF50 gives 98%, and so on. (No, SPF100 is not 100%, but it’s pretty close).
Which is the best sunscreen?
It’s trite but true. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. If you hate greasy lotions, try a dry oil spray. If you don’t want a white cast, choose a chemical sunscreen instead of a mineral product. Go for fragrance-free if you have sensitive skin or just don’t like the beachy scent.
We reviewed the top sport sunscreens and more below:
|The best sunscreens for swimming||Why we love them|
|Neutrogena Beach Defense Water-Resistant Sunscreen||
|Coppertone Limited Edition ULTRA GUARD SPF 70||
|La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60||
|Alba Botanica Sensitive Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50||
|EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion, Broad-Spectrum SPF 50||
|Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen||
Best Sunscreens for Swimming in 2023
Neutrogena Beach Defense Water-Resistant Sunscreen SPF 30
Is there a difference between sunscreen for a swimming pool and sunscreen for the beach? Yes, if you’re worried about wildlife in waterways. Certain chemical sunscreen ingredients like octinoxate and oxybenzone are linked to coral bleaching and harm fish, shrimp, and sea urchins (2).
Take Neutrogena’s Beach Defense sunscreen, for example. It claims to be reef-safe and oxybenzone-free, yet it contains 4% oxybenzone. How is that possible?
The unfortunate truth is that there is no hard and fast rule yet for what is considered “reef-safe”. Some sunscreens still contain harmful ingredients but in a lower concentration. If there’s any doubt, check the label and read the ingredients list.
So, although this popular sunscreen gets high marks for comfort and performance, it’s probably better for swimming in a pool if you don’t want to hurt wildlife.
On the bright side, reviewers say the thin formula rubs in easily and has a clean scent. It provides broad-spectrum protection against UV rays, plus it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
- Water-resistant for up to 80 minutes
- Broad-spectrum defense against sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer
- Lightweight and quick-absorbing, fresh fragrance
- Contains oxybenzone linked to coral bleaching
Coppertone Limited Edition ULTRA GUARD SPF 70
The best sunscreen for outdoor activities shouldn’t sting your eyes or cause acne breakouts. It’s also helpful if it’s not greasy and if it’s cheap. Coppertone’s Ultra Guard checks all these boxes, plus it’s good for swimming for up to 80 minutes before it needs to be reapplied.
It comes in an 8-ounce bottle, which is enough for 8 full-body applications. Moreover, it acts like an extra dose of moisturizer with skin conditioning ingredients like vitamin E. Users say it doesn’t leave a white cast and those with acne-prone complexions say that it doesn’t make them break out. It’s even fragrance-free.
What’s more, it dries to a matte finish that won’t make your face shinier. No wonder Consumer Reports gives it a high rating.
What’s the downside? It’s not reef-safe as it contains 6% oxybenzone.
- Non-greasy, dries to a matte finish
- Fragrance-free and non-comedogenic
- Conditions skin with vitamin E
- Lasts up to 80 minutes in the water
- Highly rated by Consumer Reports
- Not reef-safe
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk SPF 60
The Anthelios sunscreen has won over 90 beauty awards. It features a hypoallergenic formula designed for both the face and body, no matter the skin type. Furthermore, it’s water-resistant for 80 minutes.
They call it the “melt-in sunscreen” because although it’s creamy, it sinks into the skin and leaves the surface with a natural texture, not sticky or greasy. (It probably helps that it’s oil-free and non-comedogenic).
Reviewers say it has no fragrance but there is a slight odor that vanishes quickly. Once applied, they say it’s easy to forget that they’re wearing it. It’s not like the typical sunscreen that leaves a residue behind.
The high level of protection from the chemical filters protects against sunburn and skin cancer. Just as important, the Cell-Ox Shield Technology introduces antioxidants into the mix. The antioxidants neutralize free radicals which are charged molecules that wreak havoc on the skin, causing wrinkles and discoloration. In summary, sunscreen prevents problems on multiple levels.
Lastly, the sunscreen is also available in a tinted version to disguise blemishes and provide a little color to take the edge off that pale winter skin.
- Award-winning formula that melts and vanishes into the skin
- No greasy or sticky residue, leaves a natural appearance
- Water-resistant for 80 minutes
- Oil-free, fragrance-free, and tested for sensitive skin
- Cell-Ox Shield Technology includes antioxidants to prevent premature aging caused by sun damage
- Also available in a tinted version
- More expensive than some options, but available in different sizes
Alba Botanica Sensitive Sunscreen Spray, SPF 50
Protect yourself and the environment with this fragrance-free, reef-safe sunscreen. (The same brand also offers a mineral sunscreen without alcohol or chemical filters). It lasts up to 80 minutes in the water.
Fair-skinned users say that it’s a lifesaver, and those with dark skin are happy that it leaves no white residue. The spray is straightforward to apply and it’s safe for sensitive skin and children alike. However, instead of spraying it directly on the body, you’ll get more even coverage by spraying it into your hand and spreading it.
The formula relies on chemical filters like avobenzone, homosalate, octocrylene, and octyl salicylate. These ingredients soak up deadly UV and keep it from penetrating deeper into the body. That’s the reason why it must be applied a few minutes before going outdoors – it needs time to settle into the skin.
Happily, the formula offers soothing and moisturizing ingredients like green tea, aloe, avocado oil, and chamomile. This is a vegetarian sunscreen that’s also certified cruelty-free.
- Reef-safe and suitable for sensitive skin as well as children
- Fragrance-free formula with no white residue
- Soothes and conditions the skin with green tea, avocado, and chamomile
- Certified cruelty-free and vegetarian
- Mineral sunscreen in a traditional lotion also available
- Be sure to spray enough to coat the skin
EltaMD UV Sport Sunscreen Lotion, Broad-Spectrum SPF 50
It’s pricey, but we think this is the best sports sunscreen. When you sweat and swim, the formula won’t run into your eyes. It’s made for the face and body and comes in a tinted version as well.
The sunscreen has both chemical filters and transparent zinc oxide. Moreover, it has no artificial fragrance or parabens and it’s designed for sensitive skin. It’s even safe for rosacea-prone faces. We wouldn’t be surprised if your dermatologist recommended it or even sold it out of their office.
There’s always a downside, however. This time it’s because the formula isn’t reef-safe as it contains octinoxate. Therefore, enjoy it at the pool, but choose something else, like Alba Botanica’s product, for swimming in the ocean.
- Designed for sensitive faces and bodies including rosacea-prone skin
- Has both transparent zinc oxide and chemical filters
- No artificial fragrance or parabens
- Water-resistant up to 80 minutes and won’t run into the eyes
- Available in a tinted version
- Not reef-safe
Thinksport SPF 50+ Mineral Sunscreen
We were asked about the best waterproof sunscreen and unfortunately, there is no such thing. The most we could find was a product like this that lasts up to 80 minutes in the water. On the bright side, it’s one of the safest sunscreens on the market.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) rates it a 1. It’s green-level safe with no toxic ingredients at all. It uses pure, non-nano zinc oxide to reflect harmful rays. Plus, this product made in the USA has no artificial fragrance, either.
Even though it’s a moisturizing formula and very water-resistant, it doesn’t feel oily if you rub it in well enough. It may leave a white cast on dark skin, but that’s simply the zinc oxide doing its job. Users say it doesn’t run or drip when they sweat or get wet. It doesn’t hurt that the creamy texture is rich in vitamins and botanicals, either.
- Water-resistant up to 80 minutes
- Rated very safe by the EWG – no toxins or carcinogens
- Fragrance-free formula with non-nano zinc oxide
- Fortified with vitamins and botanicals to condition the skin
- Made in the USA
- None unless you’re trying to avoid a slight white cast
Protect yourself from sunburn and worse while swimming by using water-resistant sunscreen. You’re not limited to old-school lotion as there are sunscreen sprays, sticks, and dry oils to keep you safe. Choose between chemical and mineral sunscreens, or get the best of both worlds. On the bright side, there are reef-safe formulations in every category.
We hope our reviews helped you find your new favorite sunscreen today. Enjoy your time in the water!
1. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/ All About Sunscreen by the Skin Cancer Foundation, accessed December 17, 2021
2. https://www.consumerreports.org/sunscreens/the-truth-about-reef-safe-sunscreen-a3578637894/ The Truth About ‘Reef Safe’ Sunscreen by Julia Calderone, updated August 11, 2021, accessed December 20, 2021