Runner Sunscreen Test: Is Expensive Better?

By Lacy J. Hansen for

I’ve been asked many times this summer if I go to the tanning booth. I’ve laughed and said, “No, I’m a runner and am outside a lot.” The laughter comes from the fact that if they could see my running shorts and singlet tan lines, it would be painfully obvious that I didn’t get this dark on purpose.

While brown skin seems to be the desired look in the summer, we all know that sun damage is very serious and potentially very dangerous. It seems the solution is to wear sun protection, but have you seen how many options are on the market? The choices are overwhelming. Does higher price mean better protection? Is “sweat proof” the only way to go for a runner? How about SPF or UVA or any of the other initials on the bottle? Is one better than another? This subject raises a lot of questions, so I took it upon myself to do a little testing.

Bear in mind, I’m just a consumer, not an expert. However, I collected four of the sun protection products from my cabinet before one of my morning runs this week. The products ranged in price and description, however they all claimed to be sweat proof. I used the tattoo stickers from a tanning salon and created quadrants across my back. First placing the sticker on my skin and then applying one of the products over that area.

Essentially, I was curious if my one hour sweating in the sun while wearing these products would leave any lines. To me, tan lines mean the sticker protected me, but the product did not. Clearly not lab-worthy testing, but it would settle my initial curiosity.

The four products I used were:

  • Walmart’s Equate SPF 50 Kids Sunscreen
  • SkinCeuticals Sport UV Defense SPF 45
  • Neutrogena Wet Skin SPF 30
  • Banana Boat Sport Performance SPF 30

The Equate brand is the least expensive and the SkinCeuticals brand is the most expensive, only available from the dermatologist. Neutrogena and Banana Boat are more of a mid-level prices product.

I left with butterfly stickers all over my back, looking a bit silly. My husband mentioned how dorky I looked and I retorted, “Who cares? Who’s going to see me?” Halfway through my run I literally ran into a friend and we shared our last miles together. He sheepishly said about a half mile in, “I wasn’t going to say anything, but, uh, why do you have stickers all over you?” Guess I spoke too soon about running this test unnoticed.

I returned home very sweaty and anxious to see if my little test yielded any findings. I removed the stickers and was a bit surprised by what I found. I had the marking of a butterfly on the skin area where I had applied the SkinCeuticals Sport UV Defense. The next slightly visible line came from the cheapest brand, the Equate kid’s spray. While there were lines from the store brand, they were much less defined than the dermatologist’s brand. The area where I had applied Neutrogena and Banana Boat showed no lines at all.

I’m sure there were flaws in my tests and I’m sure there are significant differences to each product. However, as a layman I would feel most protected by a product that left no tan lines on my skin. To me, that still implies that the screen or block did its job of keeping the sun’s damaging rays away.

Maybe I can keep my awful tan lines and the tanning booth accusations at bay by being faithful to a mid-range product the rest of the summer. And if I can save some sunscreen money, then that means I can spend more on running shoes!

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Jeff K.
Jeff Kletter5 years ago

Starting in 1994 as athletes had a lower incidence of most disease, except one, skin cancer, which was higher due to their prolonged exposure during training and competing.
KINeSYS sunscreen addressed all the issues these athletes had, for example: sunscreen took too long to apply, were too greasy, goopy, sticky, stung the eyes, blocked their pores, and made them break out and felt like an extra coat on the skin.
Sustainable since inception, using recyclable sprayers and bottles and produced using wind energy.
Happy running and keep protected,

Patricia H.
Patricia H.5 years ago

thanks for posting

Lindsay P.
Lindsay Partin5 years ago

I grew up on Coppertone (and didn't really use sunscreen much until I was 7 and had to have skin legion removed, possibly caused by sun exposure). I am very pale and always have been (gotta love that Norther European heritage!). I've used store brands and no add as well but I always end up going back to Coppertone. If I am going to be spending a significant amount of time outside (like waiting for the bus) I always make sure I put some on. And guess what? I don't get burned when I use it! I'd rather be pale then die of skin cancer. Growing up all my darker skinned friends always said I needed to get a tan, but I don't tan, I burn and peel.

Mary B.
Mary B5 years ago

I never use the stuff unless I'm going to be on the river in a canue all day.Frankly, I don't buy all the hype about natural sunlite being harmfull to us.Yes, we can get dryed out and need extra water, and it doesn't hurt to cover up when you start to get burned, but even tho I have typical Scots/Irish type of pale, easily frekeled skin, I refuse to live my life being afraid of the natural world.Also, I have found that once I left the child bareing years, my skin didn't burn as quickly so I think hormones must have something to do with it.

Sue H.
Sue H5 years ago

Glad you did the research. However, I wonder how non toxic your two top contenders are??