If you lead an active life and play sports regularly then you probably spend a lot of time outdoors. Working up a sweat is great for your overall health, however exercising outside exposes you to dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays and increases the risk of skin cancer. So, when spending extended periods of time in the sun it’s important to minimise this risk to the best of your ability.
Whether you’re a serious athlete or play sports socially you should take measures to reduce your sun exposure where possible. Wearing UV protective clothing (long-sleeved shirts, shorts, hats) and polarized sunglasses is a good starting point. Planning your training sessions or games when the sun is less intense (early morning and late afternoon) and exercising in areas with natural shade helps a lot too.
That’s not enough though! You’ll also need a high quality sunscreen to protect your exposed areas (face, neck, hands, arms and legs) and prevent sunburn and long-term skin damage.
Having extensively researched the must-have features for sunscreens for sports, SimplySunSafe recommends BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen as the best sunscreen for athletes. Read on for a detailed buyer’s guide, comparison table, and in-depth reviews of the top 5 sunscreens for sports.
To make sure you’re getting the best protection while playing sports outdoors, your sunscreen should meet the following criteria:
Broad spectrum protection
The best sunscreens on the market offer balanced protection against both UVA and UVB rays. This is because they work differently – UVB rays damage the outer layer of your skin causing you to tan or burn whereas UVA rays penetrate the dermis (the deepest layer of your skin) causing premature aging. Exposure to both UVA and UVB rays increase your chances of getting skin cancer. So, it’s essential your sunscreen protects you against both.
So how can you tell if your sunscreen is broad spectrum? The good news is, if you’re shopping in the US or the EU, sunscreen manufacturers must meet a minimum level of UVA protection in relation to SPF. So, all products on the market offer some degree of protection against both.
Sunscreens made with zinc oxide protect against the full range of UVA/B rays making them an awesome choice. Most sunscreens will have combination of different active ingredients (including zinc oxide) to ensure complete coverage. If you’re still unsure check the label for the words ‘broad spectrum’ or for ‘UVA/B’.
Best SPF for Sports
What Sun Protection Factor (SPF) do you reach for when you run out the door? Most people have some preference but how do they decide what’s right for them? Many choose their SPF at random based on the principle the higher the, the better. That’s because they don’t really understand how SPF works and the different levels of protection they offer.
The SPF indicates what fraction of UV rays will reach your skin after proper application. For example, if you’re using SPF 15, 1/15th of UV rays will reach your skin. This is why you can spend more time in the sun without getting sunburnt when you’re wearing sunscreen. You’re effectively multiplying the time you can spend outdoors before you get burnt.
However, it’s important not to oversimplify and assume that wearing factor 15 means you can literally spend 15 times more time in the sun because that’s not actually the case. There are lots of different elements at play such as time of day, amount of sunscreen applied and the reflection from other surfaces like water and sand.
For a better understanding of how much UVB protection different SPF factors offer, take a look at the table below.
|SPF Rating||UVB Protection|
SimplySunSafe recommends you choose a sunscreen with an SPF greater than 30 but no higher than 50. This is in line with the recommendations of dermatologists at the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Why not higher than 50? Well, as you can see in the handy table above there isn’t a big difference in coverage between SPF30, 50 and 100. The FDA has actually restricted the maximum SPF value on sunscreens to 50+ to limit unrealistic claims from manufacturers. In short if your SPF is 30 or over, you’re good to go.
Physical is better than chemical
Sunscreens can be grouped into 2 mains types – physical and chemical. What’s the difference? Well, the active ingredients and the way that they work to protect you from the sun. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays as they reach your skin whereas physical sunscreens reflect UV rays before they reach your skin.
For a number of reasons SimplySunSafe favors physical or combination sunscreens over chemical ones. Here are my top reasons why you should too. Physical sunscreens:
- work immediately upon application
- last longer
- are less likely to cause irritation
- have a longer shelf life
- don’t contain endocrine disruptors (chemicals which interfere with your hormones)
As you can see there’s lots of reasons to go for physical sunscreens over chemical ones but perhaps the most compelling is the last. SimplySunSafe shares the views of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) who warn consumers against chemical sunscreens, many of which contain endocrine disruptors which can interfere with thyroid and other hormone processes in the body. Pretty scary, right? Make sure your sunscreen doesn’t contain this nasty chemicals before you apply.
And, while you’re checking the label for the scary stuff, keep an eye out for the for a few choice keywords and active ingredients. If the label says ‘physical’ or ‘mineral’ you’re in the clear and can rest at ease knowing your sunscreen is not a chemical one. If you’re still concerned look for zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide among the active ingredients listed.
If you plan to try one of the products reviewed in this blog post, they’ve all been checked against EWG’s sunscreen database so they’re strongly recommended for both ingredient safety and UV protection. SimplySunSafe has got your back!
Regardless of whether you’re playing sports on the land or in the water, a water resistant sunscreen is a must for athletes. Why? Because when you exercise, you sweat and this makes your sunscreen less effective. Using a water resistant sunscreen will keep the UV rays at bay for longer while you’re playing your favorite sport.
If you didn’t already know, there’s no such thing as ‘waterproof’ or ‘sweatproof’ sunscreen. These terms were actually banned by the FDA because they are misleading to consumers.
Water resistant sunscreens will last for up to 40 or 80 minutes and this information should be indicated on the bottle. As always, you should reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if you’re sweating a lot (which no doubt you will be!). When you sub off or it’s half-time consider towelling off and reapplying. Your skin will thank you later.
Rub on lotion not spray
The best sunscreen for outdoor sports is one which is safe to use and easy to apply. That makes spray sunscreens a good choice, right? Not really. You should stay away from spray formulas for a 2 main reasons – safety and effectiveness.
Spray on sunscreens have yet to be deemed 100% safe for use. We know (for the most part) sunscreen is safe to apply to the skin but if accidentally inhaled it can be harmful to sensitive internal lung tissue. That’s why I don’t recommend spray sunscreens.
The other reason I don’t recommend them is because it’s very difficult to get good coverage when using spray formulas. That’s because it’s harder to apply a thick enough layer to provide adequate sun protection.
Best Sunscreen for Sports Comparison
|BADGER Sport Sunscreen||Tropical Sands All Natural||thinksport Sunscreen||Goddess Garden Sport||All Terrain TerraSport|
|Active ingredients||Zinc Oxide (22.5%)||Zinc Oxide (22.5%) & Titanium Dioxide (6%)||Zinc Oxide (20%)||Titanium Dioxide (6.4%) & Zinc Oxide (6.0%)||Zinc Oxide (16%)|
|Water resistance||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes||80 minutes|
5 Best Sunscreens for Sports
After thorough research that combined discussing issues with customers, reviewing customer feedback, examining manufacturer specifications, and participating in skincare forums, SimplySunSafe has chosen the 5 best sunscreens for sports. The 5 selected sunscreens provide broad spectrum, are physical sunscreens with an SPF of 30 or greater, are water resistant, and come in a rub on lotion formula.
The number one sunscreen for outdoor sports is BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen. This sunscreen met all the must-have requirements to provide excellent protection while you’re on the field. This is a water resistant, physical sunscreen, which offers balanced protection from both UVA and UVB guides.
SimplySunSafe loves this product because it is gentle on both the environment and your skin, it’s chemical free and is made from only 5 ingredients. Sometimes less really is more. BADGER Sport Sunscreen’s active ingredient is zinc oxide (22%) which provides great protection and is safe for users with sensitive skin. It’s fragrance free and has a pleasant natural smell. The other ingredients used to make this sunscreen are organic sunflower oil, organic beeswax, organic jojoba oil and sunflower vitamin E.
BADGER Sport Sunscreen is water resistant for up to 80 minutes making it a great choice for athletes. Just remember to reapply every 2 hours or more often if you sweat a lot. Be sure to towel off at half-time or breaks from play and apply a new coat so you don’t get burnt.
One tiny drawback is that this product leaves a white cast when applied. This is normal in sunscreens with high levels of zinc oxide so it’s a common feature of physical sunscreens. If this is a big turn off for you, you will probably want to try a combination sunscreen. But before you write it off, give it a go. One way to look at it is at least you have a visible reminder of when you need to reapply.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- Simple formula
- 80-minute water resistance
- Thick formula
Tropical Sands All Natural Sunscreen SPF 50 took out second place in SimplySunSafe’s best sunscreens for exercise. Like BADGER Sport Sunscreen it offers excellent broad spectrum protection. It’s active ingredients are zinc oxide (22.5%) and titanium dioxide (6%).
Compared to BADGER Sport Sunscreen, it’s ingredients list is considerably longer. Despite this, it’s still a great all natural option for consumers. It’s hypoallergenic and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals so it’s suitable for people with sensitive skin or for daily use.
It also contains nourishing ingredients such as green tea, shea butter, vitamin E and eucalyptus oil to name a few. Tropical Sands All Natural Sunscreen is added-fragrance free which leaves it with a mild green tea scent.
This product is biodegradable and water resistant too, making it a good choice for not just land sports but also water sports. The high quantity of mineral ingredients are what makes this product an excellent shield against the sun’s dangerous UV rays but it also means it doesn’t go on clear.
This concentrated lotion creates a visible protective barrier which some consumers may not like. Don’t waste your time desperately trying to rub this product in, instead apply it carefully in a thin even layer. With a little patience you’ll get great coverage and won’t end up looking ghostly pale.
- High concentration of active ingredient
- 40-minute water resistance
- Formula feels a little thick
Third in line for my best sunscreen for sports is another SimplySunSafe veteran – Thinksport Sunscreen SPF 50+. This product offers a similar level of broad spectrum protection to BADGER Sport Sunscreen and Tropical Sands All Natural Sunscreen since it’s active ingredient is zinc oxide (20%).
SimplySunSafe loves this product as it ticks all the boxes (broad spectrum, physical, water resistant, rub on, SPF 30+) at a very reasonable price making this a fantastic choice for people who spend a lot of time outdoors.
Like the other sunscreens reviewed so far, this brand ranks highly for consumer safety. This product is oxybenzone-free and meets all relevant FDA safety guidelines. Thinksport is so committed to consumer safety it doesn’t produce any spray sunscreens even though they’re an increasingly popular fixture in the market.
Another interesting fact about Thinksport is that they were the first sunscreen to pass Whole Foods premium care requirements. No wonder their sunscreen is recommended by dermatologists and used by professional athletes!
Thinksport Sunscreen’s mild formula is suitable for both sensitive skin and daily use. It doesn’t have any added fragrances so it won’t irritate and it contains lots of soothing natural ingredients such as such as sunflower, jojoba, olive, raspberry and cranberry seeds oils.
As with all good sports sunscreens, this product is water resistant and will last for up to 80 minutes. Due to its high zinc oxide content it can be tricky to rub in and will leave a white cast on most skin types. But, as always, I encourage you to look at this in a positive light. At least you’ll know when to reapply.
- High SPF
- Great value
- Reliable water resistance
- Thick formula
- Likely white cast
Goddess Garden Sport SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen is a physical sunscreen that provides balanced broad spectrum protection as its active ingredients are titanium dioxide (6.4%) and zinc oxide (6%). Compared to SimplySunSafe’s other recommended sunscreens, this product offers considerably less coverage but is still a safe and effective choice.
Goddess Garden Sport is certified organic and has been dermatologically tested so it’s perfect for sensitive-skinned users. It’s packed with nourishing ingredients like shea butter, coconut oil, aloe vera and vitamin E, and it’s free from harsh chemicals, parabens and phthalates. It’s also biodegradable, vegan friendly, and it even comes in recyclable containers! Pretty impressive, right?
As you can see, Goddess Garden is a great product for the eco-friendly consumer. This brand is also big on sustainability – they maintain a low carbon footprint. They support organic farmers, local schools and family-friendly organisations too.
Goddess Garden Sport is highly water resistant and will last for up to 80 minutes. This means it won’t run or streak when you’re on the field. Despite marketing claims that it goes on sheer, Goddess Garden is a physical sunscreen which means it will leave a white cast.
This product comes in both rub on lotion and spray formulas but I only recommend the spray based on the FDA’s concerns. For more info take a look at the section “Rub on lotion not spray” earlier in this post.
- Hydrating ingredients
- 80-minute water resistance
- Thick formula
- Lower levels of active ingredients
The last product which made the cut is All Terrain TerraSport SPF 30 Natural Sunscreen. Like the others reviewed in this post, this is a physical sunscreen that uses zinc oxide (16%) as its active ingredient. It’s water resistant too, so you don’t need to worry about sweating it off when you’re playing sport.
All Terrain TerraSport is another great green option. It’s made from biodegradable ingredients and is packaged in recycled, recyclable and/or biodegradable materials. It’s also cruelty and animal by-product free, so it’s vegan-friendly too. No complaints here!
This natural sunscreen is free from harsh chemicals, parabens, petroleum and PABA and contains lots of lovely ingredients like aloe vera, cucumber extract, vitamin E, jojoba oil, vitamin C, sea kelp extract, and sunflower oil. Unsurprisingly this gentle, fragrance-free formula is safe for sensitive-skinned users.
Even though TerraSport uses transparent and non-whitening zinc oxide, some users do still complain about the white cast. This product has also received negative feedback because it can split (in other words the oil and zinc separate) which can be a problem. Try kneading the tube before application to mix the ingredients and make application a breeze.
- Hydrating ingredients
- 80-minute water resistance
- Thick formula
- White cast
Hopefully this blog post will help you choose the best sunscreen for your sporting needs. Now you should be able to identify quality sunscreens for your exercise routine.
SimplySunSafe recommends BADGER SPF 35 Sport Sunscreen as the best sunscreen for sports. That said, all 5 of the products reviewed in this blog post will effectively protect you while you’re training or competing outdoors. Everybody is different so one of these sunscreens may work better for you than the rest. You may even need to try a few before you find your perfect fit.
If you play sports and know of a great sunscreen not featured here, feel free to leave a comment below. I’m always on the lookout for amazing sunscreens so I’ll do some research and may add it to this guide.