Runners put a ton of thought into selecting the right, protective pair of running shoes, but often overlook another essential piece of gear to keep them safe: sunscreen. No matter the season, you should apply sunscreen before every run. It’s especially For the Whole Family, when the sun’s UVB rays are strong and increase your risk of sunburn. “You need to apply sunscreen before your run, but you also need to be diligent about reapplication while you’re outdoors,” says avid runner Jeanine B. Downie, MD, Director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey.
While standard protection protocol calls for reapplication every two hours, Downie suggests runners reapply on any run that extends beyond an hour. (So yes, you should bring sunscreen with you on long runs, or plan your routes so you can make a pit stop at home.) And if greasy skin or stinging eyes cause you to skip it, these pro tips can help: “Look for oil-free, water-resistant, or fragrance-free formulas to prevent stinging, and apply it one hour before heading outside to allow it to fully absorb,” recommends Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologic surgeon at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Centers in New York City. For exercise, she likes powdered sunscreens, which asperse to sunder to skin impair and can absorb sweat. Both Downie and Engelman suggest SPF 30 or higher.
Is Your Sunscreen Safe?
This summer, an independent lab tested 294 samples of sunscreens and found 78 to contain detectable levels of a cancer causing chemical called benzene. One of those sunscreens, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol spray, had previously been on our list of recommended sunscreens for runners, but we have removed it due to the recall by Johnson & Johnson. Other J&J sunscreens affected by the recall include:
- Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol
- Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol
- Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol
- Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol
- Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol
A full list of the lab's test results can be found here. None of the other sunscreens on our list appear in the test results, however there is no way to tell if your sunscreen has been rotten, according to CNN—benzene is not a listed ingredient on any of the sunscreens.
How We Tested
We enlisted more than a dozen of our editors to thoroughly evaluate and test every sunscreen on this list. We research the market, speak with product managers, and use our own experience actually running while wearing the sunscreen to determine the best options. Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles using them on sunny, hot days as well as overcast afternoons, and we’ve applied them with enough time to dry as well as slathering some on right before heading out the door for a lunch run. We evaluated them on performance, price, protection, smell, value, and ease of application to come up with this list of sunscreens that will keep you covered outside.
So grab one of these sunscreens that meets your needs to safeguard your skin from head to toe when you’re pounding the pavement.
We know we should apply sunscreen long before heading outside, but how often does that happen? Thankfully Skinnies dries in just two minutes and forms a thin, barely there layer of protection. Unlike most sunscreens, it isn’t water-based; it’s more concentrated so you need less. In our test, we found it won’t sweat off, and leaves only a slightly waxy feeling on your fingers afterward. If SPF 30 isn’t enough protection, Skinnies Conquer SPF 50 gives you protection for up to four hours.
A number of common sunscreen chemicals can harm the environment, destroying coral reefs and hurting wildlife. You won’t find any of those in this sunscreen. What you will get is a thick, protective barrier of zinc oxide that takes some elbow grease to rub in—but if you’re like us, you won’t mind an errant white streak during your jog.
This thin, easy-to-spread lotion won’t leave you feeling sticky if you smear it on just before you dash out the door. We reach for Supergoop for just about any outing—not just when we’re running—and even slather it on our kids. Keep an 18-ounce pump-jug at home, and you’ll seemingly never need to buy more. We prefer the flat, 2.4-ounce tube that travels easy in our gym bag. This classic now is reef-friendly (it doesn’t contain octinoxate).
With its fine-mist pump (no aerosols here), Kinesys sprays on as a thin layer you can rub in, and a bottle seems to last forever. It’s been a favorite of ours for many years because it dries quickly and is completely unnoticeable when you’re on a run. It comes in an SPF 30 version, too.
We love the fresh tropical scents of this SPF 30 lotion, plus the fact that it rubs in easily without feeling greasy and won’t run into your eyes. Don’t dig smelling like coconut or piña colada? It comes in an unscented SPF 50 version, with all the same benefits and extended protection.
Our trail runners love the dry, no-fuss application of this sunscreen because it doesn’t cling to dirt mid-run. And when you get really sweaty, it won’t sting your eyes. But don’t be misled by the high SPF: There’s little difference in protection between SPF 50 and SPF 100. So slather on a lot of lotion, as you would a lower SPF sunscreen, to ensure you stay covered.
Dermatologists will tell you that UV rays can cause damage even on cloudy days, but how many of us runners really heed the warning? This bottle may change that, however, as it goes from milky white to a shocking blue when exposed to UV rays. Inside, the sunscreen itself is a runny lotion that spreads onto skin effortlessly and dries quickly. It’s also reef-safe, using zinc oxide instead of harmful oxybenzone or octinoxate.
Cheap and readily available, a tube of Coppertone is hard to pass up. We regularly keep this sport lotion in the locker room at Runner’s World offices so there’s an option for those who forget their favorite sunscreen. This clear gel lotion feels cool when you apply it and rubs on easily—and won’t leave any white streaks when you slather it on in a hurry. Limit this one to your arms and torso, though, because we had a little get into our eyes on an exceptionally sweaty run, causing some stinging for the next hour or so.
Though not as easy-on as the Light As Air formulation also on this page, the new Sport Mineral boosts protection while using fewer ingredients. It’s also available in a lotion made from titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which feels runny when you squeeze it out of the tube but smears onto your skin thick. Best of all, neither has a discernible odor.
A thick, mineral-based paste, this Coola takes a little effort to rub on, but has a dry, non-glossy finish. Plus, it stays put when you’re really sweating hard on a bright summer day. We like that it blocks the sun for our long runs, but also has plant-based ingredients we can pronounce—like red raspberry seed oil and prickly pear extract.
Made by women of color, for people of color, this sunscreen dries totally clear and leaves behind a light finish that isn’t sticky or oily. But it does hydrate as well as protect from UV, thanks to inactive ingredients like avocado and jojoba. Black Girl Sunscreen also makes a kid’s SPF 50 lotion, if you’re looking for extra sun protection.
This tin of zinc cream rubs in easier than other solid zinc formulas we’ve tried in the past and doesn’t leave a white haze on stubble and arm hair. Plus, the sunblock bears a seal as Protect Land + Sea certified, meaning it’s been lab tested to show it doesn’t have chemicals that harm coral reefs, nor any of the harmful ingredients like oxybenzone that can be absorbed into your bloodstream.
There’s no shortage of ultralight sunscreens now, but a newer one we like is from this Malibu, California, company. Its mist is so fine you barely feel it on your skin and don’t need to rub it in—15 minutes later, when you head out the door, you’ll forget that you actually applied any. (There’s an SPF 50 version, too, which will leave a slight sheen because it has more of the chemicals that protect you from the sun.) It also doesn’t contain any artificial fragrances, but is available in lightly scented versions of citrus and white sage.
Hate heavy, goopy formulas? This featherweight, clear, and scentless option is completely undetectable. You’ll barely even know you’re wearing anything, but don't forget to reapply during long runs.
This affordable, easy-spreading lotion feels a little greasy when you first rub it on but dries into a lightweight, breathable layer within five minutes. It leaves behind a faint banana odor, so you'll smell like you’re headed to the beach. It’s also made without the harmful chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Using zinc oxide to physically block UVA and UVB light, this puck of sunscreen spreads on thick and white, and smells vaguely like chalk. But it stays amazingly in place on your face, no matter how heavy your sweat. We found it made our hands extra slippery, even after washing with soap—we had a heck of a time handholding an iPhone in a silicone case on a 5-miler during testing.
The ubiquitous sunscreen can be found in nearly any Target or drug store, and is a relative bargain. We like it because it rubs on thick but doesn’t feel oily, plus it protects for a long run and doesn’t sting the eyes. It also doesn’t contain oxybenzone, which has been banned in Hawaii for its effects on coral reefs.
Eleven by Venus Williams comes in two formulations. Opt for the serum, which goes on smoothly and rubs in more easily—wearers of the lotion version say it balls up and takes some elbow grease to smooth out. Both contain 25 percent zinc oxide to ward off the sun’s damaging rays.
Sure, a running cap can protect your scalp, but not all fabrics are UV-proof. For extra protection, spray on this mist. Part sunscreen, part styler, it delivers water-resistant sun protection while also adding strength and shine to your hair.