Best sun cream 2022: formulas for all-year-round protection

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  • The top rated sprays and best sun cream lotions for face and body…

    Suncare is a bit like flossing your teeth; you know it’s bad to skip it, but sometimes you just can’t be bothered. Even when you’re using the very best sun cream or best facial sunscreen it can feel like a chore.

    We are here to tell you: do not give it a miss. Don’t do a Gwynnie on us. Sun damage is not to be messed with.

    We say that because every year over 15,000 new melanoma (the fifth most common cancer in the UK) cases are recorded in the UK.

    ‘There is a misconception in the UK that we don’t need to wear sunscreen as the sun isn’t as strong,’ says dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi.

    ‘The UV index measures the strength of sun-burning UV rays outside, ranging from one to a very high 11. When it reaches three you need to apply sunscreen. In the UK, the UV index can hit six or seven in summer, so broad-spectrum sun cream is essential.’

    Anthelios Invisible Sun Protection Spray SPF 50+, RRP £20 | Feelunique
    Best for all ages
    Dermatologist-loved brand La Roche-Posay goes hand in hand with excellent suncare products. In this particular buy, oil-capturing polymers keep grease at bay and provide higher water resistance while thermal spring water soothes sun-sensitive skin.
    UVB protection: SPF50+
    UVA protection: PA++++ and UVA Seal

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    Lancaster Sun Protective Water SPF50, RRP £27 | Lookfantastic
    Best clear sunscreen
    High filters to thwart UV rays? Tick. Completely sheer coverage? Double tick. The fact that it can be applied to wet skin also deserves a mention. Those with dark skin tones can apply with abandon – there’s zero chance of this sunscreen leaving a grey cast behind.
    UVB protection: SPF 50
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    Sun Bum Original SPF30 Lotion, £15.59 | Lookfantastic
    Best for moisturising
    You rarely see ‘oil-free’ and ‘moisturising’ in the same sentence when it comes to sunscreen. Sun Bum is the exception. The cream may come out white but it goes on clear, absorbs fast and smells of a pina colada in a good way.
    UVB protection: SPF 30
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    REN Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen, £33 | Lookfantastic
    Best mineral sunscreen
    For a mineral sunscreen to not leave behind a sweaty or chalky finish is nothing short of a miracle. If that weren’t juicy enough, REN has also made sure its sun cream plays nicely with oily skin (thanks to mattifying rice starch) and is fully recyclable. Two words: we love.
    UVB protection: SPF 30
    UVA protection: Broad spectrum

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    Ultrasun Spf 30 Tan Activator, £22.40 | Amazon
    Best sun cream for tanning
    If the benefits of UV protection aren’t enticing enough, then the addition of an ingredient to activate the tanning process should be. Prepare to get your glow on – the safe way.
    UVB protection: SPF 30
    UVA protection: UVA Seal and PA +++

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    Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 30, £15 | Cult Beauty
    Best facial sunscreen
    Weightless, scentless and utterly undetectable – exactly what you want from a facial sunscreen. Plus, it doubles up as a primer and deflects UV rays without suffocating your pores. Your face has never been so safe.
    UVB protection: SPF 30
    UVA protection: Broad-spectrum

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    Nivea SUN Kids Protect & Care Caring Roll-On, £3.99 | Amazon
    Best for kids
    Putting sun cream on children is one of life’s biggest challenges. They don’t want it on and you don’t want to do it. So anything that makes life that little bit easier is a winner. Nivea’s SPF 50+ Roll-On is exactly that. Full body application in no time at all. Plus it has that gorgeous Nivea Sun smell, which makes cuddles with the tiny ones afterwards glorious.
    UVB protection: SPF 50+
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    Coola Pina Colada SPF30 Sunscreen Spray, £25 | Space NK
    Best cooling sun cream
    This is the ultimate summer holiday sun cream. Not only does it smell just like one – pineapples and coconuts – but it’s so easy to apply. So when you’re in and out of the sea, cafés and outfits, this spray makes for super simple reapplication.
    UVB protection: SPF 30
    UVA protection: Broad Spectrum

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    Eucerin Sun Allergy Protection Sun Creme-Gel SPF50, RRP £19.50 | Feelunique
    Best sun cream for sensitive skin
    For those who are really, really sensitive to the sun and have allergies triggered by free radicals, this is ideal for everyday use in the summer. There are two ingredients inside that protect the upper and deeper levels of the skin offering double the protection.
    UVB protection: SPF 50
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    Avène Intense Protect SPF50+ Sun Cream for Very Sensitive Skin, £20 | Lookfantastic
    Best French pharmacy sunscreen
    This might just be the cleverest sun cream around. It contains their brand new sun filter: TriAsorB. This has been years in development and it offers high protection against blue light, UVA and UVB. It was inspired by the natural photoprotective power of melanin. This is why the more melanin in your skin, the less likely you are of getting skin cancer. Suitable for everyone – from those with sensitive skin and skin conditions to pregnant women and children.
    UVB protection: SPF 50+
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    VICHY Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water Hydrating SPF50, £19 | Lookfantastic
    Best hydrating water formula
    By combining hyaluronic acid with mineral water and a high-factor SPF, you get the balance just right: your skin is hydrated and protected while the clear non-greasy formula suits all skin types and skin tones.
    UVB protection: SPF 50
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Lotion SPF 50+ PA++++, £18
    Best sunscreen with skin benefits
    You get a lot of bang for your buck with this sunscreen as red algae extract and antioxidant vitamin C also shield against the urban cocktail of pollution and UV.
    UVB protection: SPF 50+
    UVA protection: PA ++++

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    Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Sport Stick SPF 50, £25 | Face The Future
    Best sun cream stick
    There are really no excuses for not keeping on top of your sun protection with this handy little stick. So small it will fit into even the smallest of handbags, it’s ideal for on-the-go top-ups, as it’s clear and glides on easily to areas that most need it – like shoulders, the chest and the face.
    UVB protection: SPF 50
    UVA protection: PA ++++

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    Tropic Great Barrier Sun Lotion, £28
    Best reef-friendly sun cream
    Typically chemical sunscreens are considered terrible for our oceans, but Tropic has developed filters that are both kind to the sea and your skin. You’ll love the scent of sweet vanilla too.
    UVB protection: SPF 50
    UVA protection: UVA Seal

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    How to choose the best sun cream for your skin

    There are lots of little symbols and numbers on sun cream bottles, which can be confusing, so here’s a little guide to help you decipher the information.

    You want your suncream to protect against both UVA (the skin ageing rays) and UVB (the burning rays). Look for the term broad-spectrum, as this indicates the formula contains adequate protection against both types of rays. However, it’s a good idea to pay closer attention to the individual levels of both UVA and UVB protection.

    UVB protection:

    The SPF (sun protection power) number indicates the level of protection against burning.  The NHS recommends using SPF 30 and above. SPF 30 is clinically proven to be a sufficient amount of protection to reduce the adverse effects of sunlight.

    UVA protection:

    To protect against ageing, skin-damaging rays, you should look for UVA protection. You want to make sure your suncream protects against UVA rays because they travel deeper into the skin where they can trigger pigmentation, wrinkles and loss of firmness. This protection is indicated in various forms, depending on where the sun cream is from.

    UVA star rating: Here in the UK, our suncare brands will use the UVA star rating. It shows UVA in a circle with stars below indicating the level of protection. One star is minimum, two stars moderate, three stars good, four stars superior and five stars ultra.

    UVA Seal: This is the most common UVA rating. It’s the letters UVA in a circle and has been classed as sufficient protection.

    PA Rating: Seen mostly on American and International brands. The higher the number of + after the PA the better (the highest rating is PA++++). It’s not really recognised as the best way to show protection here in the UK.

    Why is it so important to use the best sun cream?

    We chatted with Jo Stoddart, Cancer Specialist at Bupa UK, about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun.

    What is melanoma?

    Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in the pigment cells in your skin – called melanocytes – and can spread to other parts of your body. Thought mainly to be due to sun exposure, the incidence is increasing and unfortunately in some cases can be life-threatening.

    What are the causes of melanoma?

    Melanoma is caused by various genetic and environmental factors. There are certain genetic factors, which will increase your risk of developing melanoma, including those who have a larger number of moles or moles that are atypical. Additionally, people with pale skin, red or blonde hair and blue or green eyes are at a greater risk than those with dark features.

    Family history is also important when it comes to your risk of melanoma, with it playing a part in around one in ten cases.

    Excessive exposure to sunlight or UV radiation from sunbed use is the main environmental factor that can cause melanoma. If you have had severe sunburn or intense exposure to the sun in the past, particularly in childhood, then you are also at a higher risk.

    What are the signs of melanoma?

    Melanoma may start in an existing mole on your skin or it may start on normal skin, creating a new, abnormal mole. There are key signs to look out for when checking your moles on a monthly basis.

    We suggest employing the ABCDE checklist when you check your moles, which should flag up the key signs that your mole could be a melanoma:

    A – asymmetry – one half of the mole looks different to the other
    B – border irregularity – the edges are uneven or jagged
    C – colour variability – the mole is a mixture of different colours
    D – diameter – the mole is bigger than 6mm across
    E – evolution – the mole has changed in size, shape or colour

    ‘But sunscreen is so sticky and unpleasant,’ we hear you say. And you’d be right. Historically sunscreen had a bad reputation for being gloopy and leaving behind white smears, especially on dark skin tones. (However, there are some that are the best sun creams for dark skin tones.)

    However, the formulations now are so different to days gone by. They absorb quickly, they have added skincare benefits and most importantly they are easy to apply.

    The latest SPF Waters

    New technology means that the latest sunscreens are now genuinely invisible on application. Oh-so sheer that they glide over the skin as light as coconut water.

    This is especially true of the latest SPF50 oil-in-water hybrids, which are as far from a traditional suncream as you can get.

    The waters use the same bi-phase technology found in the best eye make-up removers.

    ‘You need to have oil in sunscreen as that’s where the high, broad-spectrum filters are embedded,’ says dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi. The water phase is where the hydrating and antioxidant ingredients sit.

    Dispensed as a fine mist, those like La Roche Posay Anthelios Invisible Spray SPF50+ and Vichy Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water Hydrating SPF50, are so lightweight, you could almost forget you were wearing sun cream altogether.

    The bottom line? You’re more likely to want to use them every day.

    Use a separate sunscreen for the face

    The sun protection ingredients for facial use aren’t necessarily different from those you apply elsewhere. You’ll just find the textures thinner, less pore-clogging and designed to play nicely under make-up.

    The best facial sunscreens and the best SPF moisturisers are also flooded with additional skincare ingredients such as antioxidants to ward off sun-related issues such as wrinkles, pigmentation and dehydration.

    How to use sunscreen

    Rub it in well: per the NHS’s guidelines apply two tablespoons’ worth to the entire body (or two teaspoons if you’re only exposing your face, neck and arms) and re-apply every two hours.

    Remember that sunscreen can expire: This makes it less effective. Check the bottle for the open jar symbol, which indicates a product’s shelf life after it’s been opened. For sun cream this is usually 12 months. So even if it hasn’t hit its expiration date, if it’s over a year old, it won’t be as effective. And remember to always store your sun cream in a cool, dry place.

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