Best Cheap Sunscreen
This buying guide to the best cheap sunscreen, based on expert and consumer reviews, features water-resistant SPF 30+ lotions with broad-spectrum coverage.
What We Considered
After considering the guidelines set out by authorities such as the FDA and AAD, we began our reading of sunscreen reviews by evaluating what other experts had to say. This included studying the results of hands-on testing by leading consumer advocates and taking into account, with a grain of salt, some of the cautions raised by organizations such as the Environmental Working Group. Next, we scoured user reviews on retail sites such as Amazon, Target, and Drugstore.com, among others. In some cases, consumers and experts agreed. In other instances, we found differing opinions as to which products were the best and why. In the end, we narrowed down the list based on the areas that seem to matter most to both experts and consumers.
We Looked At
As with many personal care products, complete agreement about the effectiveness of any given formula is nonexistent among consumer reviewers. How well a sunscreen protects against the sun's nasty ultraviolet rays depends on the formulation but also proper application and SPF level, which must be suited to the user and the situation. Consumers may have to experiment with several products to find the one that works best for them.
That said, there is a general consensus in sunscreen reviews about the value of the budget sunscreens on our list. Pure Sun Defense SPF 50, for example, is declared surprisingly effective at protecting fair skin of all ages in Walmart customer reviews. Fans of No-Ad Sport SPF 50 applaud the lotion's effectiveness in sunscreen reviews on Amazon, saying it performs well in harsh climates or full days spent in the sun. Even cancer survivors, such as a fair-skinned user diagnosed with melanoma and a construction worker who beat leukemia, report that they trust No-Ad over other, better-known sunscreen brands.
Negative sunscreen reviews often cite harm to clothing or skin. On the Walmart website, customers credit Coppertone Sport SPF 50 with providing powerhouse protection but repeatedly ding the sunscreen for staining clothing orange. This product earns just 2.5 out of 5 stars, with more than half of all reviewers reporting stains. Although the product was recently reformulated, as of yet there are no reviews to indicate that this eliminates the risk of discoloration.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch scores with some experts for protection as well as a gentle touch on skin. However, too many consumers complain about skin irritation and rashes after applying this sunscreen. Many are satisfied with the no-sunburn results and like the lotion's effect on their skin, but about one out of every five reviews on Amazon is negative.
Pure Sun Defense co-founder Hugh Jackman got serious about sun protection following a skin cancer diagnosis in 2013. After having several basal cell carcinoma growths removed from his face and shoulder, the actor and his business partner, Chris Clarke, launched a sunscreen line designed to appeal to both kids and their parents. Although Pure Sun Defense has gotten the press you'd expect for a celebrity-backed venture, it has also impressed experts in performance testing since it was introduced in 2015.
Pure Sun Defense reviews from consumers are few and far between. Usually, this would be a sign to steer clear of a recommendation, but impressively high expert ratings for this dermatologist- and pediatrician-tested lotion got our attention.
Of the online reviews that do exist, nearly all award 5-star ratings to Pure Sun Defense SPF 50 (starting at $5.98 for an 8-ounce tube, or 75 cents an ounce, Amazon). One user asserts on Amazon that Pure Sun Defense performs just as well as a far pricier brand, minus the white residue. While most agree that Pure Sun Defense provides impressive protection, opinions are divided on the texture, which some consider a bit oily. Parents posting reviews on the Walmart website appreciate the mild scent and end up using this sunscreen with the kid-friendly packaging alongside their children.
Pure Sun Defense is designed to be gentle on sensitive skin and be used on both face and body. It's advertised as PABA-free, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free, and users with fair and finicky skin seem satisfied with its follow-through so far. It does contain the active ingredient oxybenzone, which is considered safe by the American Academy of Dermatologists, but at least one other group is wary of it and some companies have removed it from their sunscreen.
Overall, effective sun protection, an affordable price, and wide availability make Pure Sun Defense SPF 50 lotion one of the most appealing sunscreens on the market.
No-Ad Sport SPF 50
If you've never heard of No-Ad that might be because the company doesn't spend money on advertising and marketing. Instead, consumers learn about the product through word-of-mouth and online reviews.
Users posting No-Ad reviews on the Walmart site say No-Ad Sport SPF 50 sunscreen (starting at $13.04 for 16 ounces, or 82 cents an ounce, Amazon) goes on easily and absorbs well. It reliably protects people with fair complexions and holds up to water park excursions, long bike rides, and a multitude of other outdoor activities. Sun-seekers particularly appreciate the way No-Ad Sport stays on when exposed to water, be it a river, sweat, or even the rain.
Despite overwhelmingly positive feedback, some No-Ad users do register complaints. We saw grumbling on Viewpoints and other sites about the lotion's smell. One reviewer also warns that leaving it in a hot car or in direct heat for too long can change the texture and affect performance.
Perhaps the chief selling point of No-Ad Sport SPF 50 is the price. Numerous reviews comment appreciatively on the low cost and overall value. A medical student studying to be a dermatologist points out that, given the generous amount of sunscreen that should be applied, price is no small factor in choosing a product. Several reviews claim that No-Ad sunscreen works as well as higher-priced brands.
No-Ad Sport sunscreen lotion is sold only in SPF 50 (although an SPF 30 spray is also available). No-Ad Sport SPF 50 lotion contains aloe and vitamin E, as well as the UVA/UVB fighter avobenzone. As of 2016, retinyl palmitate and parabens have been eliminated from all No-Ad Sun Care products.
No-Ad sunscreen may be a bit harder to find than the big-name brands, but with deals available to purchase a 16-ounce bottle for just under $9, and with strong reviews from users, this is a bargain to snap up whenever you can. Keep a stock for any summertime activity.
As evinced by mostly 5-star ratings in Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish reviews on Drugstore.com, this sunscreen is well-liked by scores of users. Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish SPF 30 (starting at $7.99 for 8 ounces, or $1 an ounce; available on Amazon) scores points with consumers for light, non-greasy coverage and broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays. In other words, it keeps skin safe from excessive sun exposure and leaves behind an appealing glow.
Reviewers appreciate that this water-resistant sunscreen applies easily, like an everyday body lotion. Vitamins A, C, and E and sea-plant extracts have been added for moisturizing and anti-aging effect. Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish reviews commonly mention the product's suitability for sensitive skin. Fans of this sunscreen say it is gentle enough for faces, safeguarding their complexions as well as the rest of their skin, and doesn't sting eyes.
Although many consumers enjoy the sugary smell -- one poster likens it to a creamsicle -- others disagree. One reviewer appreciates the sunscreen's price and sun protection but decries what she describes as a bubble gum scent. In another Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish review on Amazon, a user complains that this lotion makes users smell like candy.
Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish sunscreen is readily available online at sites such as Drugstore.com and Amazon, although consumers will find it absent from many store shelves. It comes in SPF levels ranging from 15 to 70. This sunscreen boasts additional benefits that may not matter to many budget shoppers but could affect your buying decision. For consumers who worry they're creating a vitamin D deficiency by blocking out the sun, this formula is fortified with vitamin D3. It is also free of oxybenzone, a controversial chemical often used in sunscreens, and isn't tested on animals. These are primary selling points for some users.
Equate Ultra Protection reviews appear primarily on the Walmart website, as Equate is a house brand of the retail giant. Customers have given the SPF 50 lotion (starting at $7.48 for 16 ounces, or 47 cents an ounce; available on Amazon) only a few dozen ratings, but it boasts a near-perfect score. A consumer product testing organization has also rated this product, along with nearly a dozen other sunscreens, and highlighted Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 for its combination of low price and impressive performance. It effectively shielded testers from UVA radiation and stayed true to the SPF on the bottle, which indicates UVB protection.
Walmart markets a range of sunscreens under the Equate brand, but this particular lotion comes only in SPF 50. Equate Ultra Protection gets kudos from Walmart customers for doing what it's supposed to do without irritating skin, even if a few find it slightly tacky post-application. User comments on the Walmart site and a couple on the review site Total Beauty praise Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 for costing less than other popular lotions but providing equal or even greater protection from the sun. The price for the 16-ounce bottle is about the same as the price for a typical 8-ounce, brand-name bottle and buys twice as much sunscreen. Some reviewers mention the pleasant smell of the sunscreen -- a plus in a category plagued by stinky, or at least polarizing, bouquets. The only negative feedback we could find was one Equate Ultra Protection review on Amazon that complained of staining. No other users cite that as an issue.
Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 sunscreen contains oxybenzone, so consumers who are chemically sensitive or prefer "natural" products may want to keep looking. Otherwise, the hypoallergenic, water-resistant formula should please most budget buyers.
Coppertone Sport reviews say this line of sunscreens has a lot to offer. Consumer product experts give the spray version props for solid performance blocking both UVA and UVB rays and for holding up to rigorous activity. Users who have posted Coppertone Sport reviews at retail sites such as Amazon and Drugstore.com like the SPF 50 lotion (starting at $7.99 for 7 ounces, or $1.14 an ounce; available on Amazon) for the same reasons. A family of self-described redheads with children on the swim team relies on this lotion for outdoor lessons, because it stays on for about an hour in the water (or sweating on the golf course). In addition to the SPF 50 sunscreen in this review, Coppertone Sport lotion comes in SPF 15, 30, 75, and 100. A Coppertone Sport Faces version is formulated for acne-prone skin.
The biggest con to this product -- and the reason it doesn't make our cut -- is the orange or yellowish stains it seems to leave behind on clothing. Even positive Coppertone Sport reviews on the Walmart website include warnings about stains and consumers speculate that the manufacturer must have changed the formula. One customer who posted a review of the SPF 30 lotion on Amazon laments returning from vacation with $200 worth of ruined white clothes. The reviewer adds that soaking the items in bleach did no good.
Coppertone Sport reviews are also divided on the question of whether this water-resistant lotion runs or stays in place. Some reviewers allege that the sunscreen inhibits the cooling-off effect of sweat, suggesting that this isn't the best choice for a hot day at the beach. Consumers also disagree about the scent of Coppertone Sport SPF 50. Some find it mild and palatable while others call it unpleasant.
Coppertone recently released an updated version of the Sport SPF 50 lotion. In addition to shaving an ounce off the bottle size -- going from 8- to 7-ounce packaging -- the company altered the list of ingredients. Most notably, it removed oxybenzone as an active ingredient, as well as other, inactive components such as propylene glycol, triethanolamine, oleth-3, and chlorphenesin. Still unknown is whether or not these changes will eliminate the sunscreen’s tendency to discolor clothing, as this version is still too new to have generated any user reviews.
If you need reliable, broad-spectrum sun protection and don't care too much about your swimwear, this may be the sunscreen for you. If you don't want to worry about investing in a new warm-weather wardrobe every time you lotion up, we advise you to just walk by. There are cheaper products that can do the job and don't have a propensity to stain.
Other Products We Reviewed
Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 50 Review
Banana Boat Ultra Defense Sunscreen SPF 50 (starting at $7.94 for 8 ounces, or 99 cents per ounce, Amazon) is a good choice for consumers who want a general-purpose sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection at a budget-friendly price. This sunscreen claims enthusiastic fans, according to Banana Boat Ultra Defense reviews on MakeupAlley. Users with pale skin cite its protective qualities, even in all-day sun, and one mom reports that it kept her daughter's eyelids from burning. Banana Boat Ultra Defense reviews also note that it doesn't irritate skin, has no annoying fragrance, and absorbs quickly without leaving an oily sheen. Most users appreciate the thin consistency (like hand lotion) that makes for easy application. The stick version also wins praise in reviews for its ease of use on lips, ears, noses, and especially children's faces.
Still, not all consumers are enthralled. A few Banana Boat Ultra Defense reviews on Amazon say it failed to protect from sunburn and came off in the water despite being billed as water-resistant.
Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 50 is enriched with moisturizing aloe vera and vitamins A and E. This cheap sunscreen also contains avobenzone and oxybenzone, which protect against the UVB rays that cause sunburn and the UVA rays that penetrate deeper into the skin and can cause long-term damage. Reviewers appreciate that this sunscreen is devoid of the heavy tropical scent common to many sunscreens. The Ultra Defense product lineup includes an SPF 30 lotion and SPF 30 and 110 sprays.
Easy to find online and at almost any drugstore, Banana Boat Ultra Defense SPF 50 is a low-cost, high-performing, long-lasting sunscreen that will see you through lots of outdoor summertime activities.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 55 Review
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch (starting at $7.97 for 3 ounces, or $2.66 an ounce; available on Amazon) comes in relatively high SPF levels (30 to 100+) and is sometimes recommended by dermatologists. Although it's a lightweight, non-greasy, non-shiny formula that most reviewers say doesn't clog pores or aggravate pre-existing skin conditions, we suggest passing this one by. A respectable minority of users who have posted reviews on Amazon report that it causes acne breakouts and rashes, and it commands a far higher per-ounce cost than the sunscreens we recommend.
Numerous Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch reviews maintain that this is a good product for faces and works well under makeup. Several consumers with oily skin comment that the lotion doesn't clog pores and keeps their skin from feeling greasy. This sunscreen earns shout-outs for effective protection against UVA and UVB rays, as users report that the formula allows them to tan without burning. The lotion is easy to rub in and doesn't sting eyes or skin, reviewers note.
On the downside, several users gripe about breakouts, rashes, or even chemical burns that they attribute to their use of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch SPF 55. Despite a respectable overall rating derived from hundreds of reviews on Amazon, a full quarter give this product only 1 or 2 stars. Most of the negative postings detail bad skin reactions to the Neutrogena formula. On other sites such as Drugstore.com, buyers complain that the SPF 55 sunscreen leaves their skin white and chalky. Another con to Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch is the cost. A price tag of about $8 may not seem daunting, but when broken down to cost per ounce, the SPF 55 sunscreen comes in at least $1 to $2 higher than the cheap lotions we recommend.
Like many other sunscreens, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch is a broad-spectrum formula that contains avobenzone and oxybenzone. There are no oils and it's non-comedogenic. A few Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch reviews grumble about the fragrance and describe a sticky feel, along with small white dots that appear when the wearer sweats, despite the fact that this sunscreen is labeled water resistant.
Consumers like the idea of a product that protects the face without causing skin to break out, but for many, this one doesn't do the trick. Think twice about paying the higher price.
Just because you need to protect yourself from the sun's harmful rays doesn't mean you have to forgo that tanned summertime look. According to reviews, users like the combination of protective SPF, tanner, and moisturizer built into Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer SPF 20. They comment in reviews on Total Beauty about the gentle formula that subtly darkens their facial skin without clogging pores. Users report in sunscreen reviews on sites like Makeup Alley that the formula works for dry skin and oily skin. One consumer reports the lotion clears up the flakiness around her nose and another says it feels smooth without being greasy. (Note, though, that Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer SPF 20 reviews suggest this may not be a good fit for acneic skin.) Several users note in reviews that the natural coloring means they need less makeup and their skin feels nourished and healthy. The sun protection factor is an added bonus, say reviews.
The SPF 20 formula contains oxybenzone, which protects against UVA and UVB rays, and glycerin for the moisturizing effect. It's lightweight, oil-free, and non-comedogenic. Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily SPF 20 (starting at $5.62 for 2 ounces, or $3.89 an ounce; available on Amazon) comes in two skin-tone shades -- fair to medium and medium to tan. Although cautious consumers probably prefer to err on the lighter side when selecting a color, at least one Ulta customer had better luck going a shade darker. She says in a review that she found the results too subtle when using her skin match. Note that some users caution against excessive use, and it's important to follow the directions. On Amazon, a reviewer warns that the product can darken age spots.
Jergens Natural Glow Face Daily Moisturizer SPF 20 is more about tanning and moisturizing than sun protection, but if you want a three-in-one face product at an affordable price, this is it.
When it comes to the tender skin of babies and small children, no parent wants to take chances. Young kids have thinner skin that is more susceptible to burning, and research suggests that just a few bad sunburns early in life may nearly double the risk of developing skin cancer. Add to this questions about the safety of ingredients in some chemical sunscreens, and choosing sun protection for little ones can become a stressful event.
Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen SPF 50+ (starting at $12.99 for 8 ounces, or $1.62 an ounce, Amazon) missed our list of recommendations based on expert reviews that rate it only fair when it comes to SPF protection. But hundreds of user reviews are overwhelmingly positive. On Amazon, where the brand earns an average of more than 4 stars from more than 500 ratings, reviewers say the key is to slather it on and reapply often. Some comment on the ghost-like pallor it lends to skin, but say it's worth the cosmetic inconvenience.
This lotion contains zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients. Both of these mineral components are physical barriers to sunburn, which pediatricians recommend applying to sensitive areas such as the nose, ears, cheeks, and shoulders. Mineral sunscreen proponents should note that the product contains no oxybenzone but is not totally chemical-free. Octisalate, a chemical UV absorber, is included on the list of active ingredients.
Another word of caution: We found more than one complaint on Diapers.com and Amazon that Babyganics sunscreen lotion separates in the tube, especially when exposed to heat for long periods of time. Users should shake the sunscreen before applying and avoid leaving it in a hot car or direct sunlight. Consumer product experts also suggest that the brand's SPF protection level may drop to 25 after exposure to water.
Babyganics Mineral-Based Sunscreen is pricier than many chemical sunscreens but a relatively affordable and highly rated option for consumers who want a "natural" product.
Honest Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50 isn't cheap by any measure (starting at $13.95 for a 3-ounce tube, or $4.65 an ounce, Amazon), although subscribers to the Honest Company's bundling service can shave a percentage off that cost. For consumers looking for chemical-free sunscreen, however, the brand's promises and feel-good back story can seem enticing.
The co-founder of the Honest Company, actress Jessica Alba, had extreme skin sensitivities as a child. Wanting to provide safe, toxin-free options for families, she teamed with business partner Christopher Gavigan to create a line of natural health, beauty, and cleaning products. After complaints that the original formulation left chalky streaks, the Honest Company responded with a lotion designed to rub in better. The resulting Honest Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 left some angry users seeing red -- red skin, that is, whether from user error or product failure. Following a firestorm of negative press and countless pictures of sunburned children posted on social media, the company went back to the drawing board again.
Like its predecessors, the Honest Company's most recent sunscreen offering, Honest Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, is touted as chemical-free. It relies on zinc oxide -- a physical sun deflector -- as its only active ingredient and contains shea butter and coconut oil to moisturize skin. This formulation contains more zinc oxide than the previous ill-fated SPF 30 version and promises more effective coverage. However, the handful of recent reviews are far from encouraging. On Amazon, one user claims she suffered second-degree burns after use, while others complain of white residue and a nauseating scent.
Only time and more reviews will tell if the Honest Company's most recent sunscreen attempt pans out, but in the meantime there are several sunscreen options on the market that are safe, effective, and far cheaper.