Running is a great way to stay in shape, boosting cardiovascular health and overall muscle tone. If you like running outside, you receive the added benefit of getting some fresh air during your workout.
You want to protect yourself from the elements when exercising outdoors, however — especially the sun. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight are the number one cause of skin cancer. Wearing sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful UV rays.
This guide highlights the best sunscreen for runners and gives you all the information you need to find the perfect product.
Best Sunscreens for Runners: Guide & FAQ
Before reading product reviews, you should have an idea of what to look for in a sunscreen.
What Are the Benefits of Sunscreen for Runners?
Sunscreen can be a life-saver — literally. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, and one in five Americans will be affected by the disease before age 70. Having five sunburns or more in your lifetime doubles your risk for cancerous melanomas.
Sun protection is critical to decreasing your risk of skin cancer. Sunscreen may contain organic chemicals, like zinc oxide, that physically block the sun and deflect it so it can’t reach your skin. It may also contain inorganic chemicals, like oxybenzone, which absorb UV radiation.
As an outdoor runner, you are regularly exposed to sunlight. Even on overcast days, harmful UV rays can penetrate the cloud cover. With sunscreen, you can enjoy your outdoor exercise without stressing about added health risks due to environmental exposure.
Another benefit of sunscreen for runners is that it can keep you looking younger. The sun’s UV rays don’t just cause cancer. They can also cause premature aging. Sun exposure decreases elasticity and collagen in the skin, resulting in fine lines and wrinkles.
UV light also impacts pigmentation, causing sunspots and freckles. Protect your skin to maintain an even skin tone and prevent these unsightly marks.
What Should Runners Look for in Sunscreen?
Runners have unique requirements when it comes to a suitable sunscreen. You aren’t just lying around and soaking up rays. You are physically active, moving, and sweating for an extended period. The right product will take this into account.
First, start with the basics by looking at the sun protection factor or SPF. This number tells you how long that product will protect your skin. For example, SPF 30 lets you stay in the sun without getting burned 30 times longer than would be possible without the product.
In general, SPF 15 products protect against 93% of the sun’s rays, SPF 30 products protect against 97% of the sun’s rays, and SPF 50 products protect against 98% of the sun’s rays.
Experts suggest using a broad spectrum product of SPF 15 or higher. The term “broad spectrum” means that you get both UVA and UVB protection. These are two different types of rays emitted by the sun.
As a runner, you also want a sweat-resistant sunscreen. Otherwise, the product will quickly come off your skin and leave you exposed. While there is no such thing as a 100% fully sweatproof sunscreen, there are products advertised as sweat- and water-resistant.
A “sport” or “active” branded product will usually stay on for about an hour. After that point, you will have to reapply to maintain protection.
If you are worried about the potential impact of sunscreen on your health, look for products rated by the Environmental Working Group. Products with a one (on a scale of one to three) are top-rated for safety.
How Do You Use Sunscreen Correctly?
Selecting the right product is only half the battle. Even the best sunscreens for runners won’t do you any good if you aren’t using them correctly. Here’s how to make sure you get the most out of your sun protection:
- Shake The Bottle: Before you apply the product, shake the bottle to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Shaking also removes clumps. Alternatively, you can use a spray-on or stick applicator.
- Apply In Advance: Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before your run to give it time to set on the skin. The advanced application makes the product less likely to wash off when you sweat.
- Apply The Right Amount: You need about one ounce of sunscreen for your entire body. This is roughly the equivalent of a handful. Use the product on all exposed areas, including legs, arms, ears, and shoulders. Apply thickly.
- Reapply Regularly: As mentioned, even a sweat- and water-resistant sunscreen won’t last indefinitely. You should reapply your sun protection every 60 minutes, especially if you are sweating. Keep a travel-sized container on hand for this purpose.
- Supplement Your Sunblock: If possible, avoid running between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. To further protect yourself, cover up exposed skin by wearing a long-sleeved shirt and a hat. Athletic sunglasses further protect your eyes from UV rays, which also increase the risk of cataracts.
Best Sunscreens for Runners: Our 7 Favorites
There are hundreds of sunscreens on the market. We help you wade through the rubbish and save you time by presenting the best products out there. Here are our favorite sunscreens for runners.
1. Best Sunscreen for Runners Overall: Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+
- Environmentally friendly
- Multiple award-winning formula
- Certified cruelty and gluten-free
Thinksport Safe Sunscreen SPF 50+ is the first sunblock to pass the Whole Foods Premium Care requirements. It’s top-rated by the EWG, with a rating of one. This product is also reef-friendly and free of biologically dangerous chemicals like paraben and oxybenzone.
This sunblock offers the highest level of water resistance certified by the Food & Drug Administration (80 minutes). You can expect an easy application and fast absorption without a strong scent.
In terms of technical specifications, you get a broad spectrum of UVA and UVB sunblock with SPF of 50+. The three-ounce bottle makes it easy to bring with you when you’re on the go, allowing for regular reapplication.
This sunscreen has won many other awards and has been recognized in many media, from The New York Times to Allure. Dermatologists also recommend this product.
The many accolades, plus the high protection factor and eco-friendly label, earn it the best sunscreen for runners designation.
2. Best Stick Sunscreen: Shiseido UV Clear Stick Protector SPF 50
- Goes on streak-free
- Leaves skin feeling smooth and non-oily
- Perfect for travel
- Non-Comedogenic (ideal for sensitive skin)
Shiseido is a big name in the skincare world, so it should come as no surprise that their sun protection products appear on this list.
A stick sunscreen is excellent if you’re traveling and don’t want to worry about exceeding your minimum amount of liquids allowed on board. You can also chuck it into your bag without stressing about spills.
Shiseido UV Clear Stick Protector SPF 50 is intended for outdoor use and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Users also love the invisible look of this stick-based sunblock. It goes on clear and blends with any skin tone, so you don’t have to worry about streaks or that mask-like look.
What about the technical specs? You get broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of 50+, so you can be sure your skin is safe.
The easy application, full protection, and streak-free formula make this the best stick sunscreen for runners.
3. Best Spray Sunscreen: COOLA Organic Sunscreen Body Spray, SPF 50
- Tropical scents and unscented versions available
- Contains antioxidants like raspberry seed oil, algae, and cucumber
- Certified organic
When you’re mid-run, stopping to reapply sunscreen can be a pain. This spray formula makes it fast and easy. You can even spray while holding the bottle upside down, making it easy to reach tough spots like your upper back without a second person’s assistance.
COOLA Organic Sunscreen Body Spray SPF 50 absorbs quickly and doesn’t leave a flaky residue. The product is water-resistant for as long as 80 minutes.
Now for the technicalities. This is a broad-spectrum sunblock, protecting you against both UVA and UVB rays. You also get an excellent SPF protection of 50.
While this formula is certified organic, it doesn’t have the best EWG rating (three — with three being worst on the one to three scales). If you want something more environmentally friendly, look elsewhere.
Additionally, spray sunscreens can be hazardous if inhaled. When applying to your face, spray it in your hands first and then rub it in.
Still, this spray formula wins big points for its diverse scent options, easy-to-use application, and antioxidant additives. The product thus earns its label of best spray sunscreen.
4. Best Mineral-Based Sunscreen: Badger SPF 35 Zinc Oxide Sport Sunscreen
- Hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic
- All-natural and certified organic
- Healthy botanical ingredients
The simple but effective formula has just five ingredients, so you know what you’re putting on your skin: organic beeswax, organic sunflower oil, organic jojoba oil, non-nano zinc oxide, and sunflower vitamin E.
Although it sounds simple, Badger SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen still offers excellent protection. It uses large particles of zinc oxide to scatter and absorb UV rays. The formula is moisture-rich and won’t dry out your skin.
In terms of technicalities, you get SPF 35 and broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re interested in eco-friendly products, this sunscreen is for you. The sunscreen is reef safe. The EWG guide has given it a top rating for safety and efficacy. You can even use it in the ocean without endangering coral reefs and other marine life.
With its all-natural, healthy ingredients and eco-friendly bent, this sunscreen is the mineral-based category winner.
5. Best Chemical Sunscreen: Alba Botanica Very Emollient, Sport Sunscreen SPF 45
- Emollient rich for soft skin
- Fast absorption formula
- Easy to rub in
One complaint people have with mineral-based formulas like the one above is that they don’t absorb. This non-mineral based (chemical) solution is the answer.
Alba Botanica Sport Sunscreen SPF 45 absorbs quickly and is very emollient, meaning it will help keep your skin soft. For runners who are subject to elements like sun and wind, which chap the skin, this is great.
Technically speaking, you benefit from excellent protection. The solution is a broad spectrum and offers an SPF of 45. The formula is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
This sunblock has an EWG rating of three. Nonetheless, its other assets make it an excellent pick for the best non-mineral based sunscreen for runners.
6. Best Grease-Free: Supergoop! Everyday Play SPF 50 Lotion
- Light formula
- Ideal for everyday use
One of the biggest complaints many runners have about using sunscreen is that it can feel greasy. If you’re prone to breakouts, a sticky formula is especially problematic as it can increase the risk of pimples and blackheads.
Supergoop! Everyday Play SPF 50 is great if you hate that greasy feeling. The formula is thin, making it easy to spread. The small 2.4-ounce tube is easy to throw in your gym bag or travel carry-on.
Despite the thin consistency, this sunscreen still offers excellent technical protection. You get a broad spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen that protects you against UVA and UVB rays.
If you’re eco-conscious, you’ll be happy to hear that the brand updated its original formula with the environment in mind. The original solution contained octinoxate. The updated solution no longer has this ingredient and is deemed reef-friendly.
This formula is also rich in antioxidants. All of these pros add up to a winner in the “non-greasy” category. Even if you aren’t going for a run, this light formula is ideal for everyday use.
7. Best Bang for Your Buck: Coppertone Sport Clear SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion
- Cooling gel formula
If you are a regular runner, you will end up using a lot of sunscreen to protect your skin. Spending big bucks on fancy brands might not be in your budget.
If that’s the case, then cost-efficient sunscreen Coppertone Sport Clear SPF 30 is for you.
Although it’s cheap, it’s still useful. Technically, you get SPF 30 protection. The sunscreen is sweat- and water-resistant and should stay on your skin for up to 80 minutes, even when you’re perspiring.
Coppertone is also free of dyes, synthetic preservatives, and PABA. Expect it to go on clear, with no white residue or stickiness. Opt for the newer exact gel formula, and you can enjoy a soothing, cooling sensation as you rub it in.
If you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, this is the brand for you.
The Final Word
Our list of recommendations above covers a lot of information. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and still unsure which one is right for you, here’s a quick overview.
If the price point is your priority, opt for the Coppertone Sport Clear SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion. It’s affordable but gives you the protection you need.
If you prefer a mineral-based sunscreen that doesn’t rely on chemical reactions to block UV rays, try Badger SPF 35 Zinc Oxide Sport Sunscreen. The product is both eco-friendly and health-conscious. If you want a non-mineral formula, opt for Alba Botanica Very Emollient, Sport Sunscreen SPF 45.
Hate greasy skin? Try Supergoop! Everyday Play SPF 50 Lotion.
Last but not least, don’t forget the all-around best sunscreen for runners: Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+. It’s practical, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, and has won loads of accolades.
The final choice is up to you. Every runner will have different needs and priorities. The above guide provides a product for every preference.