Ah, summer: a time so fleeting that if someone could figure out how to bottle it, they’d surely make a mint. Well, some have attempted to do just that and, given the prices of those bottles, they likely are making that mint. Within the world of commercial fragrance there exists a subgenre of sunscreen-inspired, or at least sunscreen-reminiscent fragrances. Some of the biggest perfume houses—Tom Ford, Creed, Bond No.9, Comme des Garçons, Margiela, and Estée Lauder, to name a few—have within their lines scents that evoke time spent in the sun. Most incorporate a note of coconut in their tropical melange (many also invoke pineapple and/or banana). Some specifically mimic the smell of sunscreen, like CB I Hate Perfume’s At The Beach 1966, whose prime note, per its website, is vintage Coppertone lotion. In general, this subgenre has a reputation for scents that are light, on the “feminine” side (insofar as that means anything in 2022), and don’t last nearly as long as they should, like summer itself. These are decidedly “summer” fragrances, though quite wearable in the colder months. For those who want a sensory reminder of warmer days, they function as the olfactory equivalent of a light-therapy lamp.
You may be wondering why one would elect to spray on a sunscreen scent imitation when one could just...use sunscreen. That’s fair, but also no fun. There is something about the hyper-reality inherent to this type of fragrance—the attempt to synthesize not just the nostalgic smells of summer but the overall experience—that is thrilling to behold.
There are so many fragrances out there attempting to capture this mood that we wanted to try them all to formulate a definitive ranking based on our impressions, noses, and experiences wearing them around. We tried more than 20 (mostly samples from third parties, though some directly from the houses and others in full-bottle form). From there, we graded based on wearability and two somewhat opposing criteria: how much a fragrance is able to convey a “photo-realistic” facsimile of sunscreen and/or how innovative a fragrance can be using sunscreen as an apparent jumping-off point. What’s wild is that all of these fragrances, while roughly going for the same effect, manage distinction. Below is the Top 15 that we settled on.