Choosing the best sunscreen is like picking a favorite episode of True Blood—there are just so many options. This news should make the task a lot easier: sprays, lotions, and sticks can all do an equally solid job of protecting you from the wrinkle- and cancer-causing effects of UV rays. “Since each one works, it comes down to which type you personally prefer, so you increase the odds of using it regularly,” explains Jennifer A. Stein, MD, PhD, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.
That said, all three have certain advantages that might make one a better fit for your skin type and lifestyle. Lotions and creams tend to be more hydrating—good news for women who have dry skin. Spray sunscreens score points for being super easy to apply. It’s also a goop-free option for hairy skin areas (like the nape of your neck or your guy’s chest). “Just be careful not to inhale it by spraying away from your nose,” says Stein. As for sticks, this relative newcomer to the market goes on dryer and won’t run—perfect for around your eyes. Many are wax- or petroleum-based and less likely to wear off in water.
One word of caution about the sprays, however: While the protective ingredients are the same in sprays and lotions, some evidence suggests you might not use as much of the spray as you do the lotion, making it less effective. The folks at FutureDerm conducted a test and found that people tend to spray themselves for about half as long as is necessary to get equal coverage from a spray as they do with a lotion. So yes, sprays are convenient. But if you're going to use them correctly, think about spending double the time spritzing yourself as you think you should.
Whatever type you go with, choose one with a label that reads “broad spectrum,” meaning it shields you from UVA and UVB rays, both of which can boost your cancer risk. Go with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply the product every two hours. Oh, and don’t rely on makeup or your facial moisturizer for protection if you’re planning to spend serious time outdoors. “These are good for everyday use when you expect to be mostly indoors,” says Stein. “Problem is, most don’t have an SPF of more than 15, and that can put your skin at risk if you plan on spending significant time in the sun.”