The best sun creams for the ultimate skin protection

(Don't) feel the burn

Finding the best sun cream, sunscreen or sun tan lotion (whatever you call it) is essential. Burning ain’t cool, kids. Neither are weird tan lines. You have to find the right one to make sure you actually use it.

The important thing when picking out a good sun cream is to know what to look for.

When you look at the packaging, you want to look for something that protects against both UVA and UVB. So you’re looking for SPF and the PA rating. Just to clarify, SPF protects against UVB rays (which don’t penetrate as far down into the dermis) and stops your skin from burning. PA protects agains UVA, which do get down deep into the skin and cause your skin to age prematurely – think pigmentation, wrinkles and loss of firmness. You want your SPF to be as high as possible, 30 or 50 is ideal. With the PA rating, the higher the number of + after the PA the better. The highest rating is PA++++.

It can seem quite confusing, so if you’re struggling to remember which is which, think UVA – A for ageing, UVB – B for burning.

It’s also important to wear some form of sun protection every. Single. Day. ‘Wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days,’ says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at the Cadogan Clinic and author of The Skincare Bible.This is really important as sunscreen can help guard against skin cancer and premature ageing. Many people think you don’t need to worry about using sunscreen if it’s cloudy, but up to 80% of ultraviolet light from the sun will penetrate through cloud cover – so it’s still possible to get burnt even when the sun isn’t beaming.’

‘Choose a broad-​spectrum option, which provides protection against both UVA and UVB light, and make sure it’s a minimum of SPF 15–30.’

How much sun cream should you apply?

Fun fact: You might be bragging about wearing SPF 50 every day, but not appling enough = about the same protection as an SPF of less than 20. ‘Many of us are also guilty of under-application of product,’ explains Dr Anjali. ‘As a rough rule of thumb, aim for about a teaspoon per body area: one teaspoon for your face and neck, one for each arm, one for each leg, one for your chest and abdomen, and one for your back.’

How often should you top up?

Sun cream is not an ‘apply once and you’re set for the day’ situation; as well as putting on enough of it, you need to top up regularly to be protected. ‘Sunscreen should be re-applied every 90 minutes or so to get the stated factor on the bottle,’ says Dr Anjali. ‘It should also be re-applied after swimming or excessive sweating. It needs to be used on all areas not protected by your clothing.’

Mineral vs chemical sun creams

You also have two types of suncreams – mineral (also known as physical) sunscreens that contain ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which reflect the sunlight, or chemical sunscreens that absorb the UV rays and turn them into heat, which is then expelled from the skin. Mineral sun creams tend to suit acne suffers best, as they are less likely to clog the pores, but they can be quite white in appearance and have a thick consistency. However, chemical suncreams are usually preferred by many because they’re thinner and are easy to spread over the body.

Protecting yourself from the sun is so bloody important that you should actually be wearing one of the best SPF moisturisers every single day. Even in winter. Why not check out our holiday beauty products round up next?

Reef-safe sun cream

The past year or so has seen the biggest change to the sun cream industry in some time: the introduction of new, reef-safe formulas. According to a study carried out by Caudalie, 14,000 tonnes of sun cream end up in coral reefs every year. This is bad, because the filters and silicones inside the sun creams don’t biodegrade well and have a huge impact on the marine ecosystem and inevitably cause destruction of the corals, in turn causing a phenomenon called coral bleaching. (You will have seen pictures of formerly colourful reefs looking pale.)

The main filters that considered dangerous to marine life are Oxybenzone and Octinoxate. They both contaminate algae, which the coral reefs rely on for nourishment and respiration. In May 2019, Hawaii completely banned the selling of suncreams that contained these filters. Florida quickly followed suit…

In our round-up below, we will note when a suncream has been deemed reef-safe.

So whether you like an oil, a cream or a spray, we’ve carefully selected the best sun creams below.

The best sun cream for face

Avène B-Protect SPF50+, £12.74, Superdrug

 best suncream avene

This new SPF moisturiser from Avène is a triple threat. It protects against UV and pollution, all the while making your skin look perfected. It’s slightly tinted, which is great as it works in the city, as well as on holiday. Oh and it’s reef-safe.

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The best sun cream for tanning

Piz Buin Protect and Intensify SPF30, £17.99, Beauty Expert

best sun cream piz buin

If your aim of the game is to become a bronzed goddess, then this will be your new best friend. The original tanning brand has nailed it once more by creating a clever sun tan lotion that protects, but also intensifies your tan at the same time by hydrating your skin to stop future peeling and help your tan last for longer. Genius no?

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The best natural sun cream

Green People Scent Free Sun Lotion SPF30, £22.50

best sun cream green people

Green People products are completely natural and chemical free. They’re also vegan and organic. What more could you want really? This Scent Free sun tan lotion is perfect if you suffer from prickly heat (when your sweat gets trapped in the epidermis) on holiday, because it allows skin to breathe. And as you can see by the packaging, it’s reef-safe.

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The best sun cream for lips

Kiehl’s Butterstick Lip Treatment, £19.50, Selfridges

best sun cream kiehls

Don’t forget your lips. The skin on your lips is so much thinner than the rest of your body. Imagine the pain of trying to drink a cup of coffee with burnt lips or even trying to kiss with burnt lips. Exactly. Don’t make the mistake; always carry an lip balm with an SPF, like this Kiehl’s one. It’s super nourishing and feels just like the best lip balm, but with that added protection.

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If that wasn’t enough, scroll down for more of our best sun cream choices.

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