We tried it: The best sweat-resistant sunscreens
A beauty editor, runner, and avid sunscreen advocate tests 20 kinds and shares her faves
When it comes to beauty products, nothing trumps the skin-saving powers of a good broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. It's certainly not the flashiest segment of your skincare routine, but it's a high performer, delaying the appearance of wrinkles, dark spots and other signs of aging while also preventing you from developing skin cancer. With all the good it does, it should be a no brainer to wear the stuff. Except a lot of us don't.
According to a 2019 survey from market research company Leger, sponsored by Banana Boat, one in two Canadians aren't applying enough sunscreen to protect themselves from harmful rays, and nearly a quarter say they don't wear any sunscreen at all. As a former beauty editor and devoted sun safety advocate, these numbers make me break out in a cold sweat. If you're not going to wear sunscreen for vanity's sake, then at least slather it on for your health!
What's more, be sure you're doing it right. The biggest roadblock to effective sun protection is poor compliance (are you using the product as directed? Are you applying it as frequently as recommended?). And one segment of the population that tends to be extra resistant to following these guidelines are folks who enjoy clocking in their workouts outdoors. I get it; I'm a runner, and I've hit a few snags when I've slathered on the appropriate amount of sunscreen — a nickel-sized dollop for your face, neck and ears, and roughly a shot glass for your body — before working out in the heat. Combining exercise, sun and SPF can result in feeling like an oil slick, or the stuff can wear off, flaking, pilling and streaking down your face, even finding its way into your eyes.
But the risks of sun exposure are real. So this summer, I've done the leg work and tested over 20 different brands of sunscreen on my morning runs (real talk: some did leave me with stinging eyes and major streaks) and narrowed it down to the best performers in their categories. Here are my top picks of sweat-resistant sunscreens.
The best sunscreen to bring on a long run or bike ride
Standard guidelines say to reapply sunscreen every two hours, but if you're training for a triathlon or marathon, chances are some of your workouts are stretching longer than two hours — and you're doing some serious sweating. This small-sized mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide from Canadian beauty brand LaSpa is small enough to fit into most pockets — or, in my case, a running belt — and is perfect for on-the-go touch-ups. Although this wee stick isn't specifically formulated and marketed as a sunscreen for the sweaty set, it performed remarkably well with no streaking or white residue.
LASPA SPF50 Ultra Sun Protection Stick, $18, LASPA Naturals Co.
The best sunscreen for hard-to-reach spots
Neutrogena has been slaying the SPF game for a few decades. This year, the company updated its Ultra Sheer Body Mist Sunscreens with a new bottle design that's got your back — literally. The longer handle and one-touch continuous spray function allowed me to cover all the areas of my body that are harder to reach. I also found the formula worked well when applied around the hairline and scalp; this is an area that shouldn't be overlooked, because your scalp, like any other skin on the body, is susceptible to skin cancer, too.
Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Spray SPF 45, $13.37, Walmart
The best sunscreen deal
For years, this Coppertone sunscreen was my go-to for any and all fitness-related activities. I took a hiatus, but for this piece, I wanted to revisit it, and I'm happy to report that it still holds up. It's lightweight, breathable and both sweat- and water-resistant. Once it dries down, I find it doesn't wear off, and never runs into my eyes and stings.
Coppertone Sport SPF 30 Sunscreen Lotion, $8.97, Walmart
The best sunscreen for sensitive eyes
If you have eczema around or on your eyelids, or just have sensitive skin in general, it might be worth cocktailing a combo of different sunscreens for your body, face and eye area. Initially, I was hesitant to try SkinCeuticals' Physical Eye UV Defense because the thought of adding yet another product to my jammed routine seemed overwhelming. But I've since changed my tune. After one particularly sweaty run, I was won over by its performance. The ophthalmologist-tested sunscreen didn't migrate into or irritate my eyes and actually left them looking smoother, thanks to ceramides added into its formulation. Plus, it has a slight tint, so I didn't have to tug at my eye area to blend out the typical chalky colour associated with mineral sunscreen.
SkinCeuticals Physical Eye UV Defense SPF 50, $39, SkinCeuticals
The best mineral sunscreen mist
A mineral sunscreen in a continuous mist is a rare bird, so I was eager to try this product from clean beauty brand Beautycounter. I'm pleased to say that my expectations were more than met. The sunscreen's main filter is non-nano zinc oxide, meaning that it sprays on white, which I actually prefer because I can see the areas I've covered. It then blends in and dries quickly, leaving no white streaks behind. Some mineral sunscreens can flake off on my face post run, but this one stayed put on body and face — and felt breathable to boot.
Beautycounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist SPF 30 – 6 oz., $46, Beautycounter
The best sunscreen for face and body
This Vichy sunscreen was tested on few grueling trail runs and a recent four-day canoe trip in Ontario's Algonquin Park, and it performed like a champ. The texture was amazing, and I liked the way it felt on my face; it left my skin feeling dry (as dry as a liquid can be) and non-greasy. It also had a slight cooling effect when applied, and absorbed quickly and effectively, not moving around after the sweat started to trickle down. The only thing that could have made it better is if it also protected me from the brutal mosquitoes and deer flies that Algonquin is notorious for in the month of June.
Vichy Idéal Soleil Sport SPF 60 Ultra-Light Refreshing Lotion, $29.99, Well.ca
The best sunscreen to stamp out a shiny face
The struggle is real for those of us with oily and combination skin come summer, especially if our plans include working out outside. This formula is my favourite kind, gel-cream, which means it's lightweight and blends into skin quickly with no white marks. It didn't feel sticky at all and was completely undetectable in both feel and scent. A major highlight is the mattifying ingredients, which helped to soak up sebum and sweat, leaving my face shine-free both pre- and post-run.
La Roche Posay Anthelios Dry Touch Gel Cream SPF 60, $29.50, Well.ca
The best sporty sunscreen with a tint
You may be wondering, why the heck would anyone want to wear a tinted sunscreen when they sweat? I thought that. But then I tried Shiseido's Sports BB Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ WetForce, and I quickly bought into the hype. It's not for everyone — it's only available in a limited shade range — but if your skin tone is on the fair to medium side, you have some blemishes and you generally don't like to leave the house without a little bit of coverage, then this is the sunscreen for you. One thing I love about all of Shiseido's chemical-filter sunscreens is its WetForce technology, which takes sunscreen's mortal enemies — water and sweat — and uses them to boost UV protection.
Shiseido Sports BB Broad Spectrum SPF 50+ WetForce, $48, Sephora
Julia McEwen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @juliapjmcewen