Whether it’s due to the seasonal switch or continued gym closures, more and more people are turning to the great outdoors for ways to stay in shape. Sidewalks are packed, bike sales are surging, and parks have become the home base for bootcamp classes. Outdoor activity has become so popular in recent months that some cities have even closed off streets to make more room for runners and cyclists, while popular studios are starting to take their group fitness classes outside, with stationary spin bikes and yoga mats spaced six feet apart.
Exercising outdoors is a great way to safely break a sweat, not to mention there are several science-backed mental health benefits—from reduced stress and improved mood to better sleep—associated with outdoor activity. That said, if you are taking your workout outside, protecting yourself from the sun is essential. According to the American Cancer Society, about 100,350 new melanomas (the most serious type of skin cancer) will be diagnosed in the United States in 2020, and it’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
The good news? Because the majority of skin cancer cases are attributable to UV exposure, we know how to reduce the risk. Your best defense is practicing sun safe habits, like avoiding times when the sun’s rays are strongest (typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.), wearing workout gear with UPF (aka the equivalent of SPF for clothing), and, of course, applying sunscreen. I know, I know. Heavy sunscreen slathered on hot, sweaty skin doesn’t exactly deliver the most comfortable exercise experience. But that’s why you’re here, right?
There are plenty of new sunscreens formulated specifically for active lifestyles. To find a good sport sunscreen, start by looking for oil-free formulas that are water- and sweat-resistant; this will prevent the product from dripping and potentially causing itchy skin or stinging eyes. If you tend to feel smothered by sunscreen when exercising, you’ll also want a lightweight formula that is fast-absorbing and creates a breathable barrier, allowing sweat to pass through. Of course, sunscreen ingredients are important, too, as some (such as zinc oxide) offer a high UVA and UVB protection factor and are less irritating than others.
It’s a lot to ask of a product, and with so many on the market, the search can be overwhelming. So we put dozens of sunscreens to the test, actually wearing them while working out on hot and humid days, to narrow down the best sunscreens for outdoor exercise. Whatever your activity of choice—running, biking, hiking, swimming—these products will withstand even the most intense sweat session and significantly reduce your risk of sun damage.
Below, you’ll find the best sunscreens for outdoor exercise. Because who wants sore muscles and sunburned skin?
Best Sunscreen Spray:
Neutrogena Cool Dry uses a special mesh-like technology that provides long-lasting protection while allowing sweat to pass through so skin never feels overheated, even during the most intense workouts. Our tester loved the fuss-free application and fast-absorbing formula, which leaves behind a comfortable finish you barely feel. As with all spray sunscreens, just be sure to hold the can close to skin and spray generously to ensure you're covered.
Best Lightweight Lotion:
This mineral block goes on thick, but it rubs in easily and is surprisingly lightweight. It doesn't feel thick or greasy after applying, our tester notes, adding that the fragrance-free formula is ideal on long-distance runs. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide provide superior protection against UVA and UVB rays while antioxidant-rich nutrients like buriti oil, prickly pear extract, and meadowfoam seed oil mitigate skin damage.
Best Face Shield:
Although this new sunscreen by EltaMD is designed for full-body use, our testers highly recommend using it on your face. Oil-free and non-comedogenic, meaning it won't clog your pores, it uses transparent zinc oxide to provide a sheer layer of broad-spectrum protection. Testers say the thin lotion absorbs quickly and stays put when you’re sweating, without dripping into eyes or puddling above your lips. Additionally, the advanced formula features joboba esters to boost the skin's moisture barrier, helping to protect against irritants like air pollution and reducing the appearance of redness.
Best for Blemish-Prone Skin:
If you're concerned about body acne, this bestselling sunscreen is for you. Not only is it non-comedogenic and oil-free, it also features a unique complex that helps absorb excess oil and moisture while you sweat. We love that the lotion sinks in immediately and leaves a non-greasy finish that is unnoticeable during an outdoor workout, even on super-humid days. You can rest assured that you're protected, too, thanks to a combination of broad-spectrum UV filters and free-radical-fighting antioxidants.
Best for Sensitive Skin:
This sunscreen received rave reviews from testers who are prone to irritation and chafing when exercising outdoors. While the lotion is lightweight in feel, it's heavy in hydration and formulated with three essential ceramides that help restore the skin's natural barrier. It's also free of irritating fragrances, parabens, and chemical filters. One tester reported significantly less blotchiness and no burning sensation after wearing it on a long run.
Best Cooling Gel:
Formulated with menthol, this sunscreen is said to provide a cooling sensation that is activated by sweat. While we do like that the clear gel feels cool when you apply it, we didn't notice the same sensation during our workouts. That said, this sunscreen does offer incentive to reapply it more often, as recommended by dermatologists, and it leaves skin feeling fresh never greasy. Toss it in your backpack before going on a hike or in your gym bag before heading to the park.
Best to Go the Distance:
This cult-fave zinc stick is completely clear and rubs in easier than other zinc formulas we tried. Our testers liked that it's portable and offers easy application on long bike rides or runs. You can quickly swipe it over hot spots like your face, ears, the back of your neck, and shoulders, one noted. Also nice: The no-drip formula prevents stinging eyes and slippery hands (think when gripping bike handles or holding a phone) during vigorous outdoor activity.
Best for Water Sports:
Whether you're swimming laps in the pool or surfing waves in the ocean, this water-resistant sunscreen will keep you covered for up to 80 minutes. Formulated specifically for water sports, it uses biodegradable, non-nano zinc oxide that is skin- and reef-safe. And while the lotion is thicker than others on this list, our testers appreciated the added assurance in the water; they also noted that a little goes a long way.
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