As endurance runners based in California, we know a thing or two about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to finding an effective face and body sunscreen that not only resists water and sweat, but stays on for many hours of running without making our eyes sting or skin tingle.
In this buyer’s guide to the best sunscreens for runners, we’ve included only the best mineral-based sports sunscreens that we’ve tried and tested running on the roads and trails, and would (and do) use ourselves.
It’s really important to understand that not all sunscreen is the same – and it’s not just about what SPF or application method (e.g. spray or lotion) you choose.
There are some key (but seemingly little-known) factors to consider when selecting a sunscreen brand suitable for wearing while running and sports, that you can not only trust to protect against harmful UV rays… but be confident it will not trigger allergies, skin irritation and general chemical toxicity.
If this is news to you don’t worry, I explain more later in this post to help you make an informed choice regarding what lotion or spray sunscreen brand you choose! You can find that information in our running sunscreen buyer’s guide below our sunscreen recommendations.
The Best Sports Sunscreens For Runners
Bare Republic Mineral Sport Sunscreen Lotion ($12.50)
- SPF: 50
- Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (15.9%), Titanium Dioxide (3.5%)
- Cost: $12.50 for a 5 fl oz tube
- Scent: Vanilla Coconut
Bare Republic offers a range of long-lasting, chemical-free active, non-whitening sunscreens in lotion, stick and spray form. This SPF 50 sport-specific sunscreen is the best sunscreen for runners from their range.
This sunscreen is vegan, provides broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, 80 minutes water resistant, has no chemical actives, no synthetic fragrances and no parabens. It’s also Hawaii Reef Compliant.
Ursa Major Force Field Moisturizing Mineral Sunscreen ($52 – $58)
- SPF: 30
- Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (Non-Nano, 14.95%)
- Cost: $58 for a 1.7fl oz / 50ml pump bottle (get 10% off with subscribe and save)
- Scent: Unscented
The Force Field sunscreen from Ursa Major is an unscented, lightweight, moisturizing, mineral-based SPF 30 that provides full-spectrum protection from UVA & UVB rays, blue light, and environmental pollution.
It’s a mineral sunscreen you can wear every day as a light facial moisturizer, not just for running and sports.
It does not contain any ingredients commonly avoided during pregnancy, and is vegan, gluten-free, and cruelty-free. It’s also Hawaii 104 compliant which means it does not contain any reef-harming ingredients (think oxybenzone and octinoxate).
BLUE LIZARD Sensitive Mineral Sunscreen with Zinc Oxide ($13)
- SPF: 50
- Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (10%) Titanium Dioxide (8%)
- Cost: $13 for a 5 fl oz bottle
- Scent: Unscented
Australian sunscreen brand Blue Lizard offers a range of sunscreens including sensitive, sports and baby-specific lotions and sprays.
Our top pick from their range is the Blue Lizard sensitive mineral sunscreen as that includes ONLY mineral active ingredients (the sports version includes a small percentage of the chemical active ingredient, Octisalate).
This fragrance-free sunscreen goes on smooth, provides broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays and is water and sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
Attitude Unscented Mineral Sunscreen ($25)
- SPF: 30
- Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (20%)
- Cost: $25 for 20 fl oz
- Scent: Unscented
Another excellent mineral sunscreen that works without chemical active ingredients, Attitude’s SPF 30 lotion provides UVA and UVB protection and is made with non-nano zinc oxide and plant- and mineral-based ingredients.
It’s dermatologically tested and has a hypoallergenic and unscented formula. It’s also certified to be biodegradable, never tested on animals and reef-friendly, meaning it’s free of potentially damaging ingredients for coral reefs and marine life.
This sunscreen is also available in a tinted formula and in an innovative plastic-free stick sunscreen format, which is a great alternative especially if you’re traveling and want a more solid format to pack in your duffel or suitcase. See the full Attitude sunscreen range at Amazon.
Zealios Sun Barrier Sports Sunscreen
- SPF: 45
- Active ingredient(s): Zinc Oxide (8%) Octinoxate (7.5%) Octisalate (3%)
- Cost: $15 for a 3oz tube ($13.50 with subscribe and save) or $19 for 10x 10ml travel-sized packets
- Scent: Unscented
Specifically designed by athletes, for athletes, this unscented Zealios sun lotion won’t sting eyes and can be worn above the eyeline. It’s paraben & oil-free and dries completely clear with no chalky or greasy residue.
Before we really studied the differences between mineral and chemical sunscreen, Zealios Sun Barrier SPF 45 was our go-to sports sunscreen to put on for running or spending any time adventuring outdoors.
Note that it isn’t purely mineral-based active ingredients in Zealio’s formulation. However, the two chemicals are not known to be concerning in the way that other chemicals found in various sunscreen brands (i.e. avobenzone and oxybenzone) are, and we’ve personally never had any probably with reactions to Zealios products.
Sport Sunscreens for Runners – Buyer’s Guide
Check your sunscreen is safe… why mineral sunscreens?
There are two main types of sunscreens to be aware of: mineral sunscreens, and chemical sunscreens.
Unfortunately, chemical formulas are designed to soak into your skin, which can not only cause irritation to sensitive skin when you’re wearing it, but can also introduce chemicals into your body’s systems that have no business being there.
It also means many chemical sunscreens are not ‘reef safe’ as their active chemical ingredients can harm sea life if you apply them and then go swimming or participate in watersports.
For these reasons, this list focuses on the best mineral sunscreens for sports that do not include the same level of chemicals in their formulation – although if you have any particular concerns ensure you check the brands’ websites before buying any as it’s possible their formulations may change!
There’s more useful information on this topic on the Environmental Working Group’s website.
These mineral-based lotions and creams work by staying on your skin’s surface and reflecting UVA and UVB rays (hence the word ‘sunblock’ being used to describe them), so they don’t always provide the same degree of ‘invisible’ sun protection.
However, given they’re helping protect you from the risk of skin cancer while also not leaching chemicals into your body and the environment, we consider this to be a fair trade-off.
What to look for in a sunscreen for running
Assuming you’re looking for mineral-based sun protection that blocks harmful UVA and UVB rays, then look for a product that states the active ingredient as either Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide – and some may have both.
If the sunscreen you’re looking at has other active ingredients, including the most well-known and commonly used avobenzone, octinoxate or oxybenzone, then it’s a chemical sunscreen.
Many people have reactions to one or more of these chemicals – for example, I personally cannot wear products containing avobenzone as it will cause an itchy rash.
You may find, for example, that a cream containing one of these chemicals causes your skin to go red and itch – although reactions can obviously be more severe than that.
So it’s kind of unbelievable that so many companies out there are still making these products with these ingredients… but it’s true!
That being said, some mostly-mineral sunscreens do still have other chemical active ingredients in them, so it pays to read the ingredients labels thoroughly before buying so you can make an informed buying decision.
As runners, it’s generally best to opt for sports-specific sunscreens labeled as water-resistant and designed for wearing while playing sports.
No sunscreen is water or sweat-proof, but runners need their sun protection to have a level of water-resistance that will help it stay on your skin for longer.
What SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is best for runners?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you go for a lotion with at least SPF 30 to keep your skin sufficiently protected – and that will still need reapplying every 1-2 hours or so.
For certain skin types, you may be better off choosing to wear sunscreen with a higher SPF, such as SPF 50 (although that still needs applying just as frequently).
For any runs where having adequate sun protection is a concern, we recommend that as well as using sunscreen you also use physical barriers in the form of UV-protective running hats, sunglasses, shirts and shorts that will block UV rays and reduces the amount of skin you need to protect with sunscreen lotion or sprays.
Wearing running-appropriate, lightweight sweat-wicking apparel that provides coverage to sensitive and larger surface areas of your body is particularly important for running in places with a high UV index.
This is the same for longer runs of two hours or more, where the sunscreen you applied before hitting the road or trail may no longer be as effective and you don’t want to carry or have to reapply your sunscreen when running.