The Best Cheap Sunscreen
Warnings about damage from sun exposure, constant reappraisals of what constitutes "too much sun," and frightening rates of skin cancer have transformed cheap sunscreen from a vacation-only sundry to an everyday must-have. Sunscreens range in price from $5 or $6 to well over $100 for boutique beauty creams. At the low end of that spectrum are popular brands such as Banana Boat, Coppertone, and Hawaiian Tropic. There are also several generics, such as Target's Up & Up brand and Walmart's Equate products, that do surprisingly well in lab testing, earning the respect of both experts and consumers.
Our Top Pick
Pure Sun Defense SPF 50
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.
Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish SPF 30 Review
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 SPF 50 Review
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 SPF 50 Review
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.
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