Best buys: the ultimate guide to sunscreens

young woman on beach with suntan lotion

Now I love spending time outdoors – especially in the summer. However, my family are renowned for our fair complexions so sunscreen tends to be high on our agenda. Some might say the typical English rose?! I wish! In fact, when I look in the mirror I always think I look rather pasty…! Anyway, with this sort of complexion, I have to be extra careful about sun protection. In fact, I have never, ever been someone who tans well – I always wear high factor sun lotion and I barely change colour! If I want to feel bronzed and beautiful, I have to crack open the self-tan. But even then, I stick to lighter versions in order to avoid the dreaded unnatural orange effect.

Sarah in shorts on sunscreen blog
I tend to wear Ultrasun sunscreen (more details below) – one designed for the face and another for the body. Apart from the fact Ultrasun doesn’t test on animals and it’s suitable for sensitive skin, I only have to apply it once a day!

With skin as pale as mine, you can imagine how much sun lotion I could get through. But all of us, regardless of skin tone, should take sun protection super seriously. Sunlight is a key source of vitamin D, and it also boosts our serotonin levels. But too much UV (ultraviolet) radiation can damage the DNA in our skin cells, and cause skin cancer. Sun exposure is also the main cause of premature ageing – think wrinkles, pigmentation and sagging. So this is why sunscreen is so important.

But skin damage doesn’t only become a problem on an exotic foreign holiday (remember those?!) or even when you’re sitting out in the garden. Did you know that around 80% of UV rays penetrate cloud? That’s why dermatologists recommend wearing sunscreen every day, even in winter in the UK. Now, in reality, in the depths of December, a moisturiser or make-up with added SPF will probably suffice instead of sun lotion. But the safest option is a stand-alone broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF30.

Woman tanned skin legs sunbathing on the white sand beach with the blue sky and sea in the background

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It’s a relative measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UVB rays. It relates to how long you can stay in the sun without burning, which of course depends on your skin’s own self-protection abilities. Now that’s not long at all in my case! For example, wearing an SPF15 sun lotion gives you 15 times the number of minutes before you burn, compared with no sunscreen protection at all.

Not everyone realises the difference between UVA and UVB – but it’s very important. It’s the latter that’s responsible for sunburn (and plays a key role in the development of skin cancer), while UVA causes ageing. Look out for sun lotions that are labelled “broad spectrum”, as they offer protection from both. I’m a huge fan of Ultrasun, and my family and I have used their products for years. They don’t test their products on animals and they say most of their products are vegan, too. If you’re looking for a general-purpose, everyday sunscreen, try the Family SPF30. It’s fast-absorbing, non-greasy and non-sticky, and it’s even suitable for sensitive skin. It’s available in three sizes – at around £48, the 400ml is fantastic value if there are a lot of you to protect! You only have to apply it once a day too, which suits me perfectly!

Ultrasun family sunscreen
Ultrasun 15ml sun protection gel, £26, is easy to apply and suitable for all the family and sensitive skin

Physical v chemical sunscreens

There’s a lot of debate about the pros and cons of physical (mineral) versus chemical sunscreens. What suits me might not suit you, so do experiment until you find the best option for your particular skin type. As the name suggests, a physical sunscreen creates a physical barrier, which acts like a shield to deflect the sun’s rays. These formulations are sometimes thicker, but tend to suit skin that’s sensitive or prone to redness and irritation.

woman on beach holiday

Another of my favourite physical sunscreens is a little gem called Brush On Block. This is an SPF30 mineral (physical) powder, all packaged in a self-dispensing, refillable brush format – genius! It’s super easy to apply (especially on those tricky scalp/parting areas), is sweat-and water-resistant and is suitable for sensitive skin. Priced at around £34, it lasts for ages and the refills are just £18.

Brush on block sunscreen
Perfect for all the family, Brush on Block doesn’t test on animals and is suitable for sensitive skin. This mineral powder costs £34 and will suit all the family

Chemical sunscreens sink deeper into the skin, and are designed to absorb the sun’s rays before they cause any cellular damage. Typically they are lighter formulations. However, they can cause irritation if your skin is sensitive, because they turn energy into heat.

Unseen Sunscreen from Supergoop! is a new-generation chemical suntan lotion that doesn’t contain oxybenzone (a common skin irritant). I love it because it’s weightless, completely invisible, and fragrance-free. It doesn’t feel greasy and it won’t clog pores. But it does provide reef-friendly, broad-spectrum sun protection  that doubles as a make-up primer – perfect! Expect to pay around £30 for 50ml.

Unseen sunscreen
Unseen sunscreen by Supergoop! costs from £15 for 15ml, is cruelty-free (certified by Leaping Bunny) and is sweat and water-resistant for up to 40 minutes

Vegan suncare

With sales of vegan skincare and make-up on the rise, it’s no surprise that demand is growing for vegan sunscreens too. If ethical suntan lotions are important to you, Green People is a brand worth looking out for. Its formulations feature anti-ageing antioxidants such as green tea and rosemary, in partnership with non-toxic UV filters. It offers a range of vegan, reef-safe and organic suntan lotions that incorporate broad spectrum UVA/UVB protection, and are kind to sensitive skin. The Edelweiss Sun Cream With Tan Accelerator costs £23 for 200ml.

Green People sunscreen
This cruelty-free, vegan Edelweiss sun cream costs £23 for 200ml, it’s suitable for sensitive skin and prickly heat and has a tan accelerator which helps you tan 28% faster

How much suntan lotion should I apply?

The best sun cream in the world won’t work properly unless you apply enough of it – and most of us don’t! So be generous with your sunscreen. Apply at least two teaspoons’ worth on your face, neck and lower arms. For the rest of your body, nothing less than two tablespoons will do. And remember to reapply often throughout the day unless you pick a once-a-day version. Spray formulations, or even a pump dispenser format, make sufficient application a lot easier. I think La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios Invisible Spray SPF30 is brilliant (£20 for 200ml). Formulated specifically for sensitive skin, it’s water-, sweat- and even sand-resistant, non-sticky, and leaves no white marks.

Anthelios invisible spray spf 30
La Roche-Posay doesn’t test its products on animals and the Anthelios invisible spray SPF30, costs £20. It’s ideal for those with sensitive skin, sun-intolerance or prickly heat

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