Though our summer may look a little different this year, the season will go ahead regardless, meaning we need to adequately prepare our skin for sun exposure. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last half century, you’re probably aware that sunscreen is an absolute must when it comes to looking after our skin and even in the winter we need to take responsibility for protecting it from harmful UVA and UVB rays (UVA is the longwave ultraviolet light that penetrates skin and causes long term damage and ageing, whilst UVB is the short wave light that causes skin to burn).
With so many products on the market, it can be tough to work out what the best sunscreen is for you and whether spending more money really means getting better quality.
According to skin cancer expert and Medical Director of CosmedicsUK, Dr Ross Perry, there are certain factors you should look out for when purchasing SPF for your body and there are certain myths surrounding things such as factor and ingredients that it’s important to get clued up on before buying.
So… what factor do I need?
Regardless of skin type, Dr Perry recommends using at least Factor 30 when in the sun. “I always advise a minimum of factor 30 or higher but it’s important to add that no SPF, not even 100, offers 100 per cent protection. It’s important to remember that both UVA and UVB radiation can lead to skin cancer. The overall difference in UVB protection between an SPF 100 and SPF 50 is really marginal and confusing for consumers as they seem to think it offers double the protection which is in fact not true. I generally advise, no matter the skin type to use an SPF of 30 which allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through, so ultimately there is very little difference.
“When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people with pale skin and this should still be applied frequently.”
What do I need to look out for?
One of the key things to be on the lookout for is a sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. “Aim to buy what’s called a broad spectrum SPF which basically means it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Even with a high SPF, if a sunscreen isn't broad spectrum, you won't be protected from all UVA rays. There will be a star indication for UVA which indicates it meets the EU standard and you need to be aiming for at least 4 stars when choosing sunscreen.”
When buying, ensure you take note of the shelf life of the product. “Most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years, so if you’re using old sunscreen make sure it’s within its expiry period,” says Dr Perry. This is usually indicated by an open cosmetics pot symbol with the number of months or years indicated inside.
A word about safety
Once you’ve chosen, application and sensible use is just as important as the sunscreen itself. No sunscreen can offer 100 per cent protection from damage that leads skin cancer, so you need to factor this in when using. “The most important thing to remember is no tan is a safe tan,” explains Dr Perry. “It’s best to seek the shade, wear a high SPF and stay out the sun when it’s at its peak rather than take the risk. You are at higher risk if you have lots of moles, have fair skin, red or blonde hair rather than someone with a darker skin.”
When applying, Dr Perry advises doing so at least 20 minutes before going outside to allow it to fully absorb ad then reapplying every two hours, “particularly if swimming or spending prolonged periods of time outside.”
“I would also advise wearing a wide brimmed hat, sunglasses and loose cotton clothing whilst also keeping out of the sun as much as possible.”
Each of these sunscreens were tested for absorbency, feel on the skin and effectiveness during peak sunlight.
Bioderma Photoderm Max Mist SPF 50+, 150ml
Key Features: Long spray, suitable for face and body
One of the most irritating things about most sunscreens is that they’re only formulated for the body, causing the skin on your face to break out if you apply it there. This offering from Bioderma, however, is suitable for both and even comes with a continuous wide-angle spray applicator, so you can apply it without actually touching your skin.
Offering a water resistant formulation with broad spectrum protection and a patented Cellular Bioprotection that works to activate the skin’s natural sun defences, it settles easily onto the skin with no residue. We loved how hydrating this one felt - particularly on the face - as well as the fact that it offered such high protection, which felt strong enough for sensitive skin.
Hawaiian Tropic Satin Protection SPF 30, 180ml
Key features: High water resistance, added Vitamin C and E
Using a lotion formula, Hawaiian Tropic has created a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and comes with the approval of the Skin Cancer Foundation. This one is chemical based with the main ingredients of octocrylene and ethylhexyl benzoate, meaning they convert the light and heat hitting the skin into non-damaging rays.
We found this one absorbed quickly without leaving a sticky feel and was particularly steadfast at staying put even when exposed to water and sweat. Following the instructions on the packaging, we reapplied every 80 minutes to ensure optimum protection and found that even after several applications our skin was left with a pleasant smell, soft texture and a glowing radiance.
Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Advanced SPF 50, 200ml
Key Features: Dry mist spray, hypoallergenic
Another affordable option, this one has been specially formulated to be kind to sensitive skin types - it’s both hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores up - excellent if your skin is prone to breaking out.
What we loved most about this one was how easy it was to apply. It’s a dry spray, meaning you can easily get to those hard-to-reach places such as the back of the knees or your back. We particularly liked this because it makes for easy application if you’re out somewhere alone and don’t fancy asking a stranger to apply it for you, or are in charge of excitable kids that don’t want to stand still for long. Quick drying and quickly absorbed, this one left behind no residue at all.
Avene Very High Protection Spray, SPF 50+, 200ml
Key Features: High protection for pale skin
From French brand Avene, this formula offers intense protection for pale and sensitive skin and is particularly adept at protecting from very intense sunlight, so if you’ve got plans to visit heat spots such as Australia within the next couple of years (travel restrictions permitting) it’s a trustworthy choice.
Containing thermal spring water and an antioxidant called pre-tocopheryl, it quickly absorbs into the skin and dries completely clear, so make sure you take care to cover every area during application.
UltraSun Sports Gel, SPF 30, 200ml
Key Features: water resistant
This Swiss pharmacy brand is renowned for its high quality sun care range and this sports option is no exception. Designed for those playing sport in the sun, it’s made with a gel formula, making it easy to spread with a quick absorption rate. Free from fragrance, preservatives and mineral oils, it offers UVB, UVA and infrared protection - something that not many sunscreens have. As it’s water resistant, it claims to withstand a substantial amount of sweat - something we’re happy to report is true, with even high-concentration spots such as the underarms, backs of knees and elbow crooks staying protected.
Aethic Sovee Triple-Filter Eco-compatible Sunscreen, SPF 40, 150ml
Key Features: eco-friendly
Agreed - this is a lot of money to spend on sunscreen but if you’re really keen to avoid doing any harm to the planet, this is the way to go - it’s the only patented eco-compatible SPF in the world right now. Made with a water based formula, this vegan sunscreen has been created with the help of a world-leading marine scientist to ensure that it doesn’t damage even the most fragile of marine organisms and offers a triple-threat broad spectrum, photo-stable protection.
Presenting as a creamy white lotion, this one absorbs and spreads quickly and easily, leaving a dry matte finish and pleasant natural scent behind. Though we did notice a slight white residue, which may be more apparent on darker skin tones, once fully rubbed in we felt secure that it offered long lasting protection. An added bonus is that some of the profits are donated to marine charity The Going Blue Foundation.
Soltan Protect & Repel SPF 50+, 200ml
Key Features: Insect repellent
The Boots Soltan range is widely recognised as one of the most well-regarded and trusted high street options there is. This lotion comes with the added protection of an insect repellent, so if you’re in an area prone to mosquitoes, this will take away the stress of carrying and applying multiple products.
Dispensing as a creamy lotion, it is a little more arduous to apply than a spray (particularly if you’re on a beach and dealing with sand) but is light enough to spread and absorb quickly. A little residue was left behind in high-contact areas such as the backs of knees and in between fingers but was easy to disperse after a little extra attention. One of the best things about this one is that, despite containing insect repellent, it lacks an unpleasant smell. It’s also water-resistant, so able to withstand a quick pool dip before reapplying.
Piz Buin Hydro Infusion Sun Gel, SPF 30, 150ml
Key Features: Chlorine and salt water protection
With a gel formula, this one won’t leave behind a sticky white residue like many other sunscreens, sinking into the skin quickly and without fuss. Aqua based, Piz Buin’s Hydro Gel offers hydration as well as protection from UVA and UVB rays. We liked the fact that this one has been created to provide protection from both salt and chlorinated water, which can break down SPF protection, so if you’re planning any length swims, it’s a great option. It’s also enriched with Vitamin E, which made our skin look radiant.
Thanks to its double usage for face and body, we particularly loved the Bioderma Photoderm Max sunscreen. For swimming, we thought the Piz Buin Sun Gel offered the most comprehensive protection and for an easily accessible high street pick, we’d choose the Boots Soltan range..