Best Sunscreen

Posted February 9, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Backpacking
Bullfrog Marathon Mist

The best sunscreen for most people is the Bullfrog Marathon Mist. In our long term testing it outperforms everything else.

May 21, 2014 – Updated to include information from latest Consumer Reports lab testing and alternative picks

Why We Love It

We live in Texas so we spend a lot of time doing the two activities that ruin most sunscreens, sweating and swimming.  Because it is hot most of the time we often wear shorts and no shirt.  We go through a lot of sunscreen.  We’ve tried pretty much everything on the shelves.  Time and time again we return to the Bullfrog spray on sunscreens.


Rubbing in sunscreen is a pain.  That hard to reach spot in the middle of your back, yeah good luck.  Leg hair, have fun with that.  If you have a romantic relationship with somebody, I hate to say it, but asking somebody to rub sunscreen on you is not sexy.  Many other spray on sunscreens are also a pain, applying unevenly or still requiring rubbing in.

By contrast the bullfrog spray on sunscreen applies easily.  Push the button and a mist comes out.  Put your arm in the path of the mist and it gets a nice even coat.  Simple.  Fast.


With traditional sunscreens you have to wait what seems like forever for them to dry before you get in the water, or they will just flow off of you.  The Bullfrog sunscreen dries in seconds.


Bullfrog is clear from the moment you apply it.  No more white streaks of sunscreen across your nose or forehead.


One of my other recent projects was making a book of Texas Swimming Holes.  I spent a lot of time in the water in the sun.  This stuff claims 80 minutes of life in the water and I think that is a fairly accurate measure.  It’s the same time their waterproof sunscreen also claims, and some other waterproof sunscreens claim.  I know I applied it less frequently than directed and never got sunburned.  Those with fairer skin may want to be more conservative.  All I know is that compared to most other sunscreens I’ve used this stuff holds up much better in the water than they do.

What If There Are Mosquitoes and Sun?

If you are reading this site you are probably the type of person who is going somewhere with both sun and mosquitoes.  Mosquitoes aren’t just a nuisance, they can spread disease.  West Nile, malaria, etc.  The CDC states that:

Repellents that are applied according to label instructions may be used with sunscreen with no reduction in repellent activity; however, limited data show a one-third decrease in the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens when DEET-containing insect repellents are used after a sunscreen is applied. Products that combine sunscreen and repellent are not recommended, because sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often and in larger amounts than needed for the repellent component to provide protection from biting insects. In general, the recommendation is to use separate products, applying sunscreen first and then applying the repellent. Due to the decrease in SPF when using a DEET-containing insect repellent after applying sunscreen, travelers may need to reapply the sunscreen and repellent more frequently.

It is also good advice to apply one first, and then later apply the other because scientific studies show that applying sunscreen and deet at the same time greatly increases the amount of deet you absorb through your skin.

What Others Say

When it comes to quackery, sunscreen leads the way.  We are not going to link you to a bunch of half baked opinions from across the internet.  Even review sites we respect recommend some sunscreens of dubious scientific value.  As a result this section will be more explanitative of how to interpret what others say than our typical review.

The only scientific evaluation of sunscreens was done by Consumer Reports [subscription required to view the article]. A summary of the article is also available to non-subscribers on Web-MD

They evaluated for both actual UVA protection and actual SPF (not just claimed).  In this report they evaluated Bullfrog WaterArmor Sport Instacool SPF 50+.  The evaluated product has the same percentages of the same active ingredients, comes in the same size spray bottle, has the same waterproof rating.  The only difference between the two is that they added a cooling agent, menthyl lactate. Every tested sunscreen that earned the recommended label had all 5 of these active ingredients in some proportion and zero other active ingredients at all.  No matter what sunscreen you buy make sure it has all 5 of these ingredients; avoid sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Bullfrog Water Armor Sport Instacool Avobenzone (3%) Homosalate (15%) Octisalate (5%) Octocrylene (10%) Oxybenzone (6%)
Bullfrog Marathon Mist Avobenzone (3%) Homosalate (15%) Octisalate (5%) Octocrylene (10%) Oxybenzone (6%)

Alternative Recommendations

If you like Lotions instead of Spray – Coppertone Water Babies SPF50

If you are already sunburned and want a cooling effect – Bullfrog Water Armor Sport Instacool

About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.


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