Which sunscreens work best?

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Aug. 9 2005 7:20 AM

There Goes the Sun

Which sunscreens work best?

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Coppertone Sport Ultra Sweatproof Lotion (SPF 48)
Price: $8.99 for 8-ounce tube ($1.12 per ounce) Active ingredients: homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone

Coppertone's sport line has a bland, inoffensive odor with a hint of coconut oil. Although it flows very freely even at 70-degree temperatures and could be poured like half-and-half once it had spent some time in the sun, it lives up to claims that once it's rubbed in it "won't run into eyes and sting." It did give my skin a slight stickiness at first, but after it had dried it actually increased the natural friction of my hands, without a parched sensation—useful for those sweaty games of beach billiards. I'd certainly buy it again, especially if I thought I'd be active in the sun.

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Hawaiian Tropic Ozone Sport Sunblock (SPF "60+")
Price: $10.99 for 8-ounce bottle plus 2-ounce "travel size" bottle ($1.10 per ounce) Active ingredients: octocrylene, oxybenzone, avobenzone

This thick lotion took a longer time than any other brand to rub in, but its creaminess isn't a bad thing: It felt like a moisturizer, and it held up well in the sun. Its scent is fairly strong; I couldn't quite place it, but my wife correctly identified it as cherry soda. Hawaiian Tropic also has the highest SPF of any sunblock I tried. It advertises "triple play action," which sounds a little dirty but apparently refers to the fact that it's waterproof, sweat-proof (i.e., waterproof), and "non-migrating" (i.e., won't drip into your eyes, i.e., it's waterproof). The complimentary "snap-off travel size" bottle, small enough to fit in a pocket, is a nice touch.

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Neutrogena Healthy Defense Oil-Free Sunblock Spray (SPF 30)
Price: $7.99 for 4-ounce bottle ($2 per ounce) Active ingredients: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate

"Oil-free formula helps block the sun not your pores," declares the bottle of my experiment's winner, and it's true that Neutrogena made me feel a lot less basted than other sunblocks. Despite the relatively high price, a squirt or two of this clear stuff goes a long way. Like the BullFrog, it's mostly alcohol, which evaporates quickly. (I put it on right after shaving and found that it had, let's say, astringent properties.) Although it's pungent at first, once it dries it's got a pleasant, citrusy smell, like orange-blossom water. And it's far lighter on the skin than most of the other brands I tried—neither oily nor particularly drying. After a few minutes, my skin felt clean, gunkless, and primed for some safe basking. What could be better?

Thanks to Dr. Walter G. Larsen for his valuable assistance.

Douglas Wolk is the author of Live at the Apollo.

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