Before mini-reviews of the sunscreens I used on vacation, I'd like to make a few notes about sunscreen in general. First of all, I have no trouble using chemical sunscreens (like avobenzone and oxybenzone), though many find them irritating to the skin (they can definitely be more irritating to the eyes though!). Those with sensitive skin might prefer mineral (or "physical") blockers like zinc oxide. These ingredients have a reputation for leaving a white cast on the skin, but newer formulations have decreased that effect. I typically prefer the feel of chemical sunscreens (which work, in simple terms, by absorbing and filtering the rays rather than reflecting them away from the skin, as physical sunscreens do). Most sunscreens these days are broad spectrum, meaning they protect against UVA and UVB rays. While both UVA and UVB cause burns and skin damage (aging and cancer) UVB are primarily responsible for burns while UVA rays can penetrate deeper, causing damage that will be apparent later. SPF is a measure of protection against UVB rays only, and it refers to the number of times longer it will take for your skin to burn than if it were unprotected. I think it's a pretty illogical measure, honestly. For example, on a day when I could get a sunburn in 25 minutes, SPF 50 would protect me against a burn for 1250 minutes, or almost 21 hours. The sunscreen doesn't actually last that long, and the SPF doesn't reflect protect against UVA rays (which are less likely to burn me but are still damaging), and the sunscreen doesn't block 100% of rays anyway. In other words, SPF 30 does not protect twice as well as SPF 15; it actually probably only provides an additional 4% or so of protection. SPF 50 only provides about 5% more protection than SPF 15. That said, I like a high SPF--50 is great. That extra bit of protection seems negligible, but I burn easily and would like to prevent as much damage as I can. Don't let a high SPF mislead you though--you still need to apply generously and apply often. Finally, I'd like to mention vitamin D. A common excuse for not wearing sunscreen is the need for vitamin D, which the body can only produce with the help of UVB rays. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, some bodies need only 5 minutes of exposure per day, and some skin can't even produce the daily recommended amount. Furthermore, over exposure to to UVB rays can even deplete vitamin D levels. Vitamin D can be obtained through diet though, which may be a more reliable way to get enough. It occurs naturally in many foods, and many foods are D-fortified; or you can take a vitamin D supplement. A doctor can tell you if your vitamin D is low, and the best way for you to get enough. They'll also tell you to wear sunscreen!
Now on to the sunscreens!
1. Neutrogena Beach Defense Lotion SPF 70
The fragrance put me off at first; it's a very artificial citrus scent, like a cleaner. However, I was generally pleased with its performance. I like the SPF 70, it feels great on the skin, and it did prevent sunburn. It stung quite a bit if it got in my eyes, though, and it's a little pricey per ounce.
2. L'Oréal Advanced Suncare Invisible Protect Dry Oil Spray SPF 50+
I love this sunscreen. The sunscreen comes out in a good, directed mist (nothing like the useless aerosol cloud of the Quick Dry Sheer Finish) and is slightly viscous. It rubs in easily and feels lightweight and wonderful on the skin. The longevity is great, as is the actual sun protection. The scent is kind of strange, but pleasant; it has a mild "sunscreen-y" smell (like the Coppertone Water Babies I used as a kid), but with a good dose of an artificial almond-lemon fragrance and a hint of carrot. (I'm not crazy, I promise.) I would not call this a "dry" oil though; after rubbing it into the skin it won't be slick, but it will feel like you've applied a rich moisturizer. So, wearing it on the beach meant a layer of sand was sure to stick to me. For everyday use, I love to use this on my legs and arms.
3. L'Oréal Advanced Suncare Silky Sheer Face Lotion SPF 50+
This stuff has been my favorite for about a year now. (I mentioned it here; it has since been renamed and repackaged.) My facial skin can be a little picky, and because this provides such good protection I didn't feel the need to switch to something with a higher SPF for a week at the beach. It's lightweight, not greasy, and absorbs completely. I use it daily on my face, neck and chest, arms, and the backs of my hands.
4. Coppertone Sport High Performance Lotion SPF 50
The Coppertone is very no-frills, but highly effective. It is truly water-resistant, and kept my skin protected whether I was in the water or just sweating on the sand. Lightweight, with a light classic "sunscreen" smell.
5. Aquaphor Lip Repair + Protect Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Finding a lip balm that offers more than and SPF of 15 is a challenge, so I was pleased to come across this one, especially at a great price. The squeeze tube is great for summer, too, since it won't melt like a stick or pot.
This was my boyfriend's pick. In his words, "it's simple and it works." It takes some effort to rub in, but it isn't too perfume-y, it's lightweight, and has a great SPF. Plus, it's a great value; a 16-ounce bottle is about the same price as sunscreens half its size. NO-AD is a little hard to find in stores around Louisville, but it's easy to find online and in stores near beaches.
7. L'Oréal Advanced Suncare Silky Sheer Lotion SPF 100
I found bottles of this sunscreen with its old name and old packaging on sale, but the formula is unchanged. I love the high SPF, and the fragrance is nice and this lotion feels lovely on the skin. It is pretty thick, and takes a little bit of effort to rub in. I had two big problems with this product. First, while it leaves no white cast on the skin immediately after application, after a while it starts to...seep back out of the skin. Then you're left with bright white sunscreen on your skin, especially around "bends," like the crook of your arm or at the wrist. Second, that effect was exacerbated by sweating, which isn't exactly helpful for heavy-duty summer needs. This stuff is also pretty pricey per ounce. However, I will continue to use it for something like my afternoon commute, when I need short-term sun protection and won't be sweating. I won't repurchase this at full price.
8. L'Oréal Advanced Suncare Quick Dry Sheer Finish Spray SPF 50+
I thought the spray might be convenient, but it's just the opposite. It requires a lot of shaking (with that metal mixing ball clacking around), it can't be applied directly to the face, and the product comes out in a large cloud rather than a directed spray, so a ton of the sunscreen is lost to whatever is nearby. I like the scent and the way it feels on the skin, but I will not repurchase this. This spray is also really expensive per ounce compared to other, better options.