SPF 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 best sun cream, 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.
It can kill you. And yes, we are trying to scare you.
If we can’t convince you, Jo Stoddart, Cancer Specialist at Bupa UK, answered some questions on melanomas for us.
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 case 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.
What Are The Best Sun Creams To Buy?
- Best Overall Sun Cream: Vichy Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water Hydrating SPF50
- Best Value Sun Cream: Sunbum Sunscreen Lotion SPF30
- Best Sunscreen For Kids: Nivea SUN Kids Protect & Care Caring Roll-On SPF 50+
- Best Sun Cream For Dark Skin: Lancaster Sun Protective Water SPF50
- Best Facial Sunscreen: Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF30
- Best Sun Cream For Sensitive Skin: La Roche Posay Anthelios Invisible Spray SPF50+
- Best Reef-Friendly Sun Cream: Caudalie Beautifying Sun Care Oil SPF30
- Best City Sun Cream: The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Lotion SPF 50+
- Best Mineral Sun Cream: REN Clean Screen Mineral Mattifying Face Screen SPF30
- Best Sun Cream For Tanning: Ultrasun Body Tan Activator SPF30
- Best Sun Cream For UVA, UVB and Blue Light Protection: Avène Intense Protect SPF50+
- Best Sun Cream For On-The-Go: Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+
- Best Sun Cream For Sun Allergies: Eucerin Sun Protection Sun Allergy Protect SPF50
- Best Summer Holiday Sun Cream: Coola Pina Colada SPF30 Sunscreen Spray
- Best Sun Cream For Soft Skin: COSRX Aloe Soothing SPF50 PA+++ Sun Cream
Before we go into the individual merits of each sunscreen, let’s first talk new technology and nail down exactly how to prevent a slow burn.
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 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 Suncreen 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 are also flooded with skincare ingredients such as antioxidants to ward off sun-related issues such as wrinkles, pigmentation and dehydration.
How To Choose The Best Sunscreen For Your Skin
There are several other factors that go into what makes a good sunscreen.
Scan The Label For Broad Spectrum: You’ll want your suncream to protect against both UVA (ageing rays) and UVB (burning rays). Look for the words ‘broad spectrum’ alongside the SPF rating. You’ll also want it to be at least SPF 30 as this is clinically proven to be a sufficient amount of protection to reduce the adverse effects of sunlight.
‘There is a misconception in the UK that we don’t need to wear sunscreen as the sun isn’t as strong,’ says 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 a broadspectrum sun cream is essential.’
Understand The PA Rating: To clarify, SPF tells you how high your protection from UVB is. Sometimes in addition to ‘broad spectrum’ a product may give the PA rating. This indicates how much your sunscreen will shield against UVA rays, which travel deeper into the skin where they can trigger pigmentation, wrinkles and loss of firmness. The higher the number of + after the PA the better (the highest rating is PA++++).
How To Use Sunscreen
Rub It In Well: Apply a tablespoon’s worth to the entre body and re-apply every two hours.
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.
Scroll down for more of our best sun cream choices…
Each year 14,000 tonnes of sunscreen pollute the oceans and end up in coral reefs worldwide. The main culprits? Filters such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are not easily biodegradable and cause fatal coral bleaching. But there is an alternative. French skincare house Caudalie uses filters that are biodegradable and non-toxic to the marine eco system. Also nice: this sunscreen is a dry oil and antioxidant-rich polyphenols from grape seeds add another layer of wrinkle-fighting protection.
Oil-capturing polymers keep grease at bay and provide higher water resistance while thermal spring water soothes sun sensitive skin.
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.
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.
You rarely see 'oil-free' and 'moisturising' in the same sentence when it comes to sunscreen. Sunbum 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Which 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.
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.
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.
One tube of this sun cream sells every 30 seconds in the UK and it has sold out eight times already in 2021. From Korean brand COSRX is super hydrating and soothing on the skin. It takes some time to work into the skin, but the results are softer and more supple looking skin.
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 face.