Hiking is the supreme outdoor activity and while the sun might not always be shining from a clear blue sky, your face will nevertheless be exposed to its damaging UVA and UVB rays – even on a grey and cloudy day, at least 40-50% of the sun rays will penetrate through the cloud cover. Different surfaces such as snow, water, sand and even grass reflect the sun rays upwards and thus it is not enough to wear a wide-brimmed hat as protection for your face. The potency of the UV rays also increases with altitude; 4% for every 305 meters (1000 feet) which makes it crucial to wear a sun cream with high protection (at least SPF30), no matter your natural skin tone. As there is a great chance that you will be sweating during your hike, it is necessary to reapply sun cream every 90 min or so – even if it is water-resistant (note that there is no such thing as a “water-proof” sun cream).
Keep in mind that areas covered by clothing might also need sun protection, if your hiking garments are not UPF-rated – read more in our article about sun protective clothing. If you are looking for sun protection for your eyes, check out our reviews of hiking sunglasses for men and women respectively.
1. Buying a Sun Cream for Hiking – What is important?
Most of us have childhood memories of being rubbed with a greasy white salve-like sun cream which left us sticky and white.
When buying a sun cream for hiking, you will want to get a cream which feels comfortable on your face without feeling greasy or leaving white stripes. The sun cream needs to provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays – which in the EU is a no-brainer, since legislation demands that sun cream must contain both, while some US products might only contain protection against UVB rays (unless they have UVA-filters such as titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX listed on the active ingredients list).
Below you will find reviews of the five best sun creams which are comfortable on the skin and contain adequate protection for both UVA and UVB rays. Three of them are water-resistant, while two are not – but nonetheless still suitable for less demanding hikes or people who tend not to sweat in the facial region.
2. The Best Sun Creams for Hiking Review
- La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF50 Mineral Fluid
- Avene Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+
- Eucerin Sun Mattifying Fluid Spf50
- PC4Men Daytime Protect SPF 30 Moisturizer with Antioxidants for Men
- EltaMd UV Clear SPF46
|Feature/Product||La Roche Posay Anthelios||Avene Ultra-Light SPF 50+||Eucerin Sun Fluid||PC4Men Daytime Protect||EltaMd UV Clear SPF46|
|Water-resistant||Yes (40 minutes)||Yes (80 minutes)||Yes||No||No|
|Skin Type||All||All||Combined to oily||All||Combination to oily|
1. La Roche Posay Anthelios SPF50 Mineral Fluid
Best for: all skin types and people who prefer physical sunfilters
The French pharmacy brand La Roche-Posay has a wide range of excellent sun protection in various formulas, but this sunscreen is something special because of its smooth and fluid formula which will satisfy even those who usually hate applying sun cream. It is also the only sunscreen on this list which only utilizes physical sunfilters rather than organic/chemical ones, which is an advantage if you have very sensitive skin or suffer from an allergy towards one or more of the organic sunfilters.
2. Avene Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+
Best for: all skin types, including sensitive and oily
Avene Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+ offers maximum water-resistance, lasting 80 minutes, which makes it perfect for people who sweat a lot or plan to cool off in a lake or river during or after a hike. This luckily doesn’t entail that the sunscreen is greasy or heavy on your skin; instead, it really does offer lightweight 24 hours hydration which will feel soothing on all skin types. Another advantage is the practical airless pump which allows easy dosage for fast and smooth application and this packaging should also prevent spills inside your backpack.
3. Eucerin Sun Mattifying Fluid Spf50
Best for: oily combination skin.
The super light-weight and non-greasy texture of this product makes it ideal for those with combination or oily skin types – even acne-prone. It also works well in warm and humid climates. Besides its high and water-resistant UVA/UVB protection, it contains the natural antioxidant Licochalcone A , which is proven to help protect the skin cells in the deeper epidermal skin layer as well as glycyrrhetinic acid, which supports the skin’s own repair mechanism. The compact packaging makes it extra easy to pack in your backpack.
Also available with SPF 30.
4. PC4Men Daytime Protect SPF 30 Moisturizer with Antioxidants for Men
Best for: most skin types, except the oiliest ones.
Behind the skin lines PC4MEN and Paulas Choice (the corresponding line for women) stands Paula Begoin – widely known in the US as the Cosmetic Cop as she for decades have been fighting to inform people about the cosmetic industry’s abundant use of crazy claims and dubious ingredients for their products. Her own lines are a response to this, being well-formulated and reasonably priced. This moisturizing sun cream is no exception. It is not water-resistant and should thus be applied more frequently to ensure full protection during a hike – unless you usually don’t sweat in the facial region.
Besides the name of this product, there is nothing which suggests that this weightless and shine-free cream cannot just as well be used by women.
5. EltaMd UV Clear SPF46
Best for: combination and oily skin, even acne-prone
EltaMd UV Clear SPF46 is formulated to suit people with more oily skin, which particularly young men can be prone to. It combines the physical sunfilter zinc oxide with the organic octinoxate as sunscreens with purely physical sunfilters have a tendency to feel too heavy and occlusive on oily skin. Although zinc oxide has a reputation for leaving a white hue, EltaMD UV Clear really does go on clear and non-shiny. This sun cream is not water-resistant, but in any case you should reapply sunscreen every 1½ to 2 hours – water-resistant or not – to stay protected.
3. The best product in the review