If you're frustrated with the heavy sunscreen creams, then it's time to say hello to lightweight, fast-absorbing sunscreen gels. Sunscreen gels are transparent and tend to dry to a matte or satin finish, so you can say goodbye to greasiness! That's why we did our research to find 10 of the best gel sunscreens out there right now.
Our top pick was the famous Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen. Along with being vegan and cruelty-free, it's also totally invisible on the skin and has SPF 40. Read on for nine other great options, and check out our buying guide at the end to get the low-down on how to pick the best gel sunscreen on your own.
Dr. Levy is a board certified dermatologist practicing in NYC and Westport, Connecticut. She has expertise in treating inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. She has an interest in skincare and takes a personalized approach to all of her patients.
mybest US' editing team consists of experienced members who have backgrounds in writing, editing, translation, and more. We are dedicated to researching what makes a product or service the best to users in the US in order to create top-quality articles. From skincare, to kitchen appliances, and to DIY supplies, our mission is to find the best ones for you.
The expert oversees the Buying Guide only, and does not determine the products and services featured.
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Let's face it: many sunscreen lotions feel greasy on your skin, and some even leave behind an annoying chalky residue that can make you look like a ghost. The fact that we should reapply sunscreen every two hours for optimal protection doesn't help!
So if you're struggling with sunscreen creams or lotions, gels can make for a great alternative. They absorb quickly into the skin and usually dry to a matte finish, leaving your skin with a soft, smooth feeling.
Besides, since gels are mostly chemical-based, they protect your skin by absorbing UV rays. That means that, unlike sunscreens that work by creating a physical barrier, they won't leave a white cast!
Another positive of gel sunscreens is that many won't clog your pores. To get their consistency, gels are often made with silicone, which is both non-comedogenic and non-acnegenic. And despite their matte finish, they'll still seal in the moisture that your skin needs.
Gel sunscreens are definitely the easiest formulation of sunscreen to rub in, so they can be applied rather quickly without you haven't to worry about looking like Casper.
They are also good for applying under makeup since they won't change your skin tone or leave you looking pasty. Gel sunscreen soaks up oils as well, so those with oily skin tend to prefer gel sunscreen.
Here are some things you should look out for when looking for the right gel sunscreen for you, including broad spectrum protection, the right SPF rating, and more.
Our skin is prone to damage from two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. While UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn, UVA rays might cause tanning and accelerate the aging process of your skin. According to the American Cancer Society, unprotected exposure to both rays can potentially lead to skin cancer.
So for optimal shielding from both UVA and UVB rays, it's essential to choose a product with broad-spectrum protection. You can also look for products with 360-degree photoprotection, which protects your skin from UVA, UVB, infrared radiation, visible light, and even atmospheric pollutants!
I always recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen, since both types of UV rays can lead to skin damage, including cancers and accelerated aging (think wrinkles and sunspots).
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number is critical to take into consideration since it indicates how much protection from UVB rays (or sunburn) you'll get. As a rule of thumb, a higher SPF number will give you more protection.
Usually, an SPF 15 sunscreen blocks about 93% of UV rays, an SPF 30 blocks approximately 97%, and an SPF 50 block about 98%. These estimations are not linear, and keep in mind that despite how high the SPF number is, no sunscreen can offer you 100% protection from UVB rays!
Still, experts suggest using sunscreens with a minimum of SPF 15 for everyday use. Remember to use a sufficient amount (approximately one ounce for full body coverage) and reapply every two hours for optimal protection.
For facial daily-use sunscreen, SPF 30 and above is best. If you have skin conditions that are worsened by the sun like melasma, lupus, or rosacea, choose a higher daily SPF like 50+.
Don't forget to reapply several times a day if you are outside, and sooner if sweating or exposed to water - 80 minutes for heavy water exposure is a good benchmark.
Constant sweating and water exposure can cause your sunscreen to wear off quickly. If you're going for a swim or doing other activities under the scorching sun, consider using a sunscreen that's at least water-resistant.
However, "water-resistant" does not automatically translate to "waterproof". Water-resistant sunscreens can only keep you protected in water or while sweating for anywhere from 40 to 80 minutes.
That means you'll have to reapply more frequently, especially when you're constantly dipping in and out of the water. If you want something more durable, look for waterproof or sweatproof formulas.
Not all ingredients in sunscreen are compatible with all skin types. Take into consideration your skin type in order to choose ingredients that can protect and nourish your skin instead of making it worse!
If you have acne-prone or oily skin, make sure that your sunscreen doesn't contain any pore-clogging ingredients such as coconut oil. The list of comedogenic ingredients might be too overwhelming to remember, so we suggest choosing a product labeled as "non-comedogenic" or "oil-free".
An "oil-free" product doesn't contain any oil ingredients, including those that might block your pores. Meanwhile, a "non-comedogenic" product might still contain oil ingredients, such as jojoba or grapeseed oil. However, these non-comedogenic oils will not clog your pores. Instead, they give your skin some much-needed hydration!
Gel sunscreens are great for oily and acne-prone skin since they can help absorb oil and sweat. Make sure the product you use is labeled "non-comedogenic."
Mineral sunscreen is safe to use on acne-prone skin as well. Thoroughly wash off your sunscreen in the evening with a face wash or micellar water even if you do not wear makeup.
Those with dry skin will benefit from a sunscreen gel formulated with effective moisturizers. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, a natural sugar that holds moisture extremely well, or ceramides, a type of natural lipid that retains moisture.
These kinds of ingredients will attract moisture and seal it within your skin layers. Say goodbye to moisture loss!
Chemical ingredients are the reason why gel sunscreens often have a transparent, lightweight, and fast-absorbing formula. However, certain chemicals in gel sunscreens might be irritating and even painful for sensitive skin.
Pick a gel product with gentle ingredients like aloe vera or vitamin E to help soothe and protect sensitive skin from free radical damage.
Furthermore, make sure to avoid potential irritants such as parabens, alcohol, or fragrance. While those ingredients are considered generally safe for normal skin, they might lead to irritation or redness on sensitive skin.
Scientific studies show that the free radicals caused by UV rays can break down collagen, damage healthy cells, and lead to oxidative stress. They are also one of the reasons why your skin starts getting wrinkles, fine lines, and aging marks.
Unfortunately, even a sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection and a high level of SPF cannot completely protect your skin from free radicals.
But to somewhat prevent your skin from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, look for sunscreens with antioxidants such as vitamin C, E, or ferulic acid. They are all effective in neutralizing free radical damage and strengthening the health of your skin.
Adding an antioxidant to your sunscreen is one-stop shopping. The sunscreen and the antioxidant, like vitamin C, work together to protect you from the sun and prevent damage to your skin.
If you don't have time to apply two different products in the morning - an antioxidant and a sunscreen- choose a daily facial sunscreen with added antioxidants.
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Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Totally Invisible Gel Formula With Soothing Frankincense
Aquagel Defense 50 Sunscreen
3-in-1 Product With Antioxidant Benefits from Vitamin E, Moringa, and Edelweiss
360°Gel Oil-Free Sunscreen
Oil-Free Sunscreen with 360 Degree Protection for Optimal Suncare
Hydro Boost City Shield Water Gel
Gel With Hyaluronic Acid to Seal in Moisture
Land Sport Quik Gel
Lightweight, Fast-Absorbing Gel With Sweat Resistance
Reef-Friendly Sunscreen With Three Antioxidants
Spray Gel Sunscreen with Instant Bronzer
Enriched With Australian Naturals to Protect Skin
Anessa Whitening UV Sunscreen Gel
Whitening UV Sunscreen Gel With a Long-Lasting Formula for Superior Protection
Mermaid Skin Gel UV
Light, Refreshing Sunscreen That Doubles as a Moisturizing Make-Up Base
No Excuses Invisible Sunscreen Gel
Macro-Emulsion Technology Preserves the Maximum Efficacy of All Ingredients
This vegan, reef-safe, and cruelty-free sunscreen has a weightless, invisible consistency that absorbs quickly into your skin and won't leave behind a white cast.
Furthermore, it's enriched with moisturizing meadowfoam seed, red algae, and frankincense to help shield your skin from environmental aggressors and provide it with nourishment.
Some reviewers complained that the sunscreen didn't work well with makeup or very acne-prone skin. But for the most part, users commented that the gel felt light on the skin and blended in easily when applied.
This 3-in-1 gel can be used as a primer, moisturizer, and sunscreen! It protects your skin from UV rays while delivering long-lasting moisture. Plus, it's enriched with antioxidants like vitamin E, moringa, and edelweiss extracts to help rejuvenate your skin and give it a youthful, healthy look.
The lightweight formula also absorbs quickly and won't clog pores. However, reviewers were disappointed that this product couldn't withstand sweat and water. Some added that they broke out after using the product, so you might want to check the ingredients if you have any allergies.
Meanwhile, others mentioned that the product blended well into the skin and went on smoothly under makeup. They also loved that the product didn't leave behind a white residue and actually kept their skin hydrated.
This sunscreen is made with advanced filters and a Bioshield system to protect your skin from UVA, UVB, infrared radiation, and any other visible light. Furthermore, it's oil-free, lightweight, and absorbs quickly into the skin.
Some reviewers noted that this sunscreen was not moisturizing enough for dry skin. So, you might want to get a moisturizer separately!
Meanwhile, many reviewers complimented that the product sunk in quickly, didn't leave behind a white cast, and wore well over moisturizers or serums. Reviewers also loved that the gel was non-irritating and suitable for various skin types, including sensitive, acne-prone, or combination skin.
Infused with hyaluronic acid, this sunscreen can lock hydration within skin cells for up to 24 hours, giving you soft, supple skin. The formula also offers broad-spectrum protection to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Plus, this product is oil-free, alcohol-free, and non-comedogenic.
Some reviewers complained that the product burned their skin. So if you have sensitive skin or allergies, you might want to check the ingredient list just to be safe!
Meanwhile, many reviewers were impressed that the gel sank right in and deeply moisturized their skin in just a few minutes. Reviewers further said that it felt light and non-greasy on the skin.
This lightweight, fast-absorbing gel sunscreen is formulated with antioxidants and soothing plant extracts to give your skin some extra nourishment. Plus, this product is sweat-resistant for up to 80 minutes, making it suitable for extended outdoor activities!
Some reviewers complained that the product felt a bit sticky during application. Some also noted that the gel gave them a burning sensation when applied, so you might want to avoid using it near sensitive areas such as the eyes.
Meanwhile, many reviewers loved that the product wasn't greasy and didn't get on their clothes or car. Users also loved that the product didn't leave behind a white cast and was able to stay on for quite a while.
This vegan and reef-safe sunscreen contains non-irritating and non-comedogenic ingredients, so it's safe for all skin types and kids. Furthermore, it's enriched with vitamin C, E, and ferulic acid, to help neutralize the effects of free radicals while improving your skin's elasticity and quality.
Some reviewers complained that the sunscreen left a slightly greasy residue on their skin. On the other hand, many users commented that the gel kept their skin hydrated for a long time.
Reviewers also liked that the gel was free from GMO ingredients and harmful chemicals. Plus, it didn't cause any allergic reactions for many.
This sunscreen is infused with kakadu plum, tea tree oil, sunflower seed oil, and olive oil to neutralize the effects of free radicals while keeping your skin hydrated. Furthermore, the gel comes in a convenient pump for easy and controlled application.
Reviewers loved that the product was effective in protecting the skin from sunburns. Many others also complimented that the product provided a bronzing effect that looked pretty natural.
However, some reviewers noted that the bronzer might stain clothes, so be careful when applying!
This whitening UV sunscreen gel features Aqua Booster technology, which enhances the ability to fight off UV rays when your skin is exposed to water or sweat. Furthermore, it's formulated with m-Tranexamic acid, an ingredient that can effectively treat dark spots, calm the skin, and restore its protective barrier.
Hyaluronic acid, marine collagen, rosehip, and green tea also deliver long-lasting hydration and neutralize the effects of free radicals. The downside? Some reviewers complained that the product made their skin somewhat oily.
But most found it effective in preventing sunburn without drying out their skin. Other reviewers further said that the product had a lightweight, non-greasy consistency that glided smoothly on the skin. Reviewers also liked that the product had a mild citrus scent.
This sunscreen gel is lightweight and can be used under your makeup. It also contains various nourishing ingredients such as jojoba oil, white mulberry root extract, and artichoke leaf extract. These supply your skin with essential nutrients and give it a healthy look!
Some reviewers were disappointed that the sunscreen was not sweat- or water-resistant. Still, many reviewers loved that the product doesn't contain abrasive ingredients such as alcohol or fragrance.
Other reviewers further added that the product absorbed quickly into the skin and did not leave behind a greasy or white residue.
This lightweight facial sunscreen gel is crafted with anti-aging ingredients sourced directly from Jeju Island in Korea. Oxalis Triangularis extract and sunflower seed oil protect your skin against environmental aggressors.
Many reviewers were satisfied that the product protected their skin from sunburns while keeping their skin hydrated. Others commented that the product absorbed quickly into the skin, went on clear, and didn't leave behind a white cast.
Some further added that the gel worked well under full coverage makeup and didn't cause irritation or breakouts on sensitive skin!
Many people either forget to apply sunscreen regularly or don't use a sufficient amount. So take a look at our tips to see how to avoid such situations and get the optimal protection from your gel sunscreen!
Some sunscreens might take 15 to 30 minutes to sink into your skin fully and take effect. Make sure to pay attention to the product instructions and apply sunscreen before going outside!
It's also essential to apply sunscreen generously. An SPF 15 sunscreen applied liberally might provide a better shield than an SPF 30 sunscreen applied too thinly. Like we mentioned earlier, you need approximately one ounce of sunscreen at least to cover your body fully.
Many sunscreens actually lose their effectiveness after two hours, even if they're waterproof. If you're sweating or exposing your skin to water, their effectiveness might be gone immediately if you're using a non-water-resistant product.
So make sure to re-apply a generous amount every two hours! This will keep your skin safe from sun damage and sunburn.
If sunscreen is expired, its active ingredients might have broken down and lost their effectiveness. You won't get any of protection from UV rays!
Make sure to check the use-by or expiration date before using sunscreen. Otherwise, you may be surprised by an unpleasant sunburn!
Sunscreens won't protect you 100% from UV radiation. For some extra protection, you can wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, or other sun-protective clothing.
Also, UV rays are usually the strongest from 10 am to 4 pm. So if you're extra concerned about staying protected, try to stay in the shade during that period of time! If you can't avoid the sun, make sure to reapply your sunscreen and consider using extra methods of protection.
Sunscreen is a must, but it may be hard to get sufficient coverage in hard-to-reach areas like the back. Many people forget to lather their ears or behind the neck.
For this reason, I highly recommend using sun protection/UV protective clothing for a day spent outside in the sun. Sun shirts, rash guards, and hats with UV protection in addition to using sunscreen can make a huge difference in preventing sunburns and sun damage.
To keep your skin healthy, it's necessary that you supply it with essential nutrients. Check out our articles for some must-have skincare products!
This expert reviewed the contents of the buying guide for accuracy and provided factual corrections when necessary. They did not participate in the product selection process, nor are they affiliated with any of our choices unless explicitly stated so.
No. 1: Supergoop!｜Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
No. 2: Lancôme｜Aquagel Defense 50 Sunscreen
No. 3: Heliocare｜360°Gel Oil-Free Sunscreen
No. 4: Neutrogena｜Hydro Boost City Shield Water Gel
No. 5: Bull Frog｜Land Sport Quik Gel
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