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Is There Really A Difference Between Cheap And Expensive Sunscreen?

Choosing a sunscreen can be a surprisingly daunting task in the year 2023. Between Instagram ads and influencers extolling the virtues of a sprawling list of brands and the seemingly endless array of options at the drugstore, this daily-use product can evoke some serious decision paralysis.

And then there’s the sheer range of prices. While some bottles of sunscreen retail for less than $10, others go for more than $100.

But is there really much difference between the cheap and expensive sunscreen offerings on the market? Below, dermatologists (and one cosmetic chemist) break it down — and offer their advice for getting the most bang for your buck.

The non-active ingredients may vary.

“Expensive sunscreens may offer a more elegant product than cheaper sunscreens,” said Dr. Brendan Camp, a dermatologist. “They may feel lighter on the skin, absorb more easily, or contain ingredients that offer additional benefits, such as peptides, hyaluronic acid or antioxidants. It is important to note, however, that expensive and cheap sunscreens should provide the same degree of sun protection.”

Indeed, the active ingredients in different sunscreens are very similar regardless of how much or how little the product might cost. These are the important sun-blocking components of the formulation, rather than the non-active ingredients that can affect the look and feel of the product.

“There are only a certain number of FDA-approved active ingredients in sunscreens, so there are bound to be similarities across products,” Camp said. “Variations may occur in the vehicle, such as being oil-free or including ingredients that offer additional skin health benefits.”

The blend of these other ingredients can account for the price difference, so you

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