While we may be holidaying in the UK this year, there is still just as much potential to damage your skin by your paddling pool as there is a poolside resort. Even if it’s a stubbornly cloudy British summer, you should still wear SPF every day to protect your skin and help keep it looking youthful.
Sunlight contains two types of rays: UVA (longwave) and UVB (shortwave). UVA waves penetrate deep into the skin, which can cause visible premature ageing, such as wrinkles and dark spots. UVB waves are the kind that cause sunburn and skin cancer.
The SPF number on your sunscreen (between two and 50, but the NHS recommends using at least 30) relates to how well it protects from UVB, while the star PA rating denotes UVA protection; look for sunscreens with four or five stars.
There are two types of SPF: mineral and synthetic (sometimes called physical and chemical, respectively). In simple terms, mineral SPFs – either titanium dioxide or zinc oxide – absorb and deflect the sun’s rays. Synthetic SPFs, meanwhile, absorb, deflect and deactivate them. In terms of protection level, it doesn’t matter which you choose; simply choose according to your skin type, needs and environmental priorities.
Mineral sunscreens may leave a white cast, meaning those with darker skin will likely prefer a synthetic SPF. They’re usually a thicker consistency, and those with oily skin may find them too heavy, whereas synthetic ones are lighter and more fluid, and make a better base for make-up. That said, those with sensitive skin, including conditions like rosacea, sometimes find synthetic SPFs irritating.
You need to apply a good layer of your chosen SPF – though precisely how much will depend on the size of your face and neck, so we don’t subscribe to specific measurements – and you shouldn’t rely on the SPF in your foundation; chances are you don’t apply enough of it to be protected.
You should apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes – preferably 30 – before going outside, as the final step in your skincare routine, and give it time to set before applying make-up.
It’s also a good idea to top up your SPF throughout the day, especially if you’ve spent time in water, as even water-resistant sunscreen is not waterproof; if you wear make-up over your SPF you may wish to use a spray to apply over the top.
Our favourite facial SPFs are all over 30, and are a mix of synthetic and mineral formulas. We’ve tested them while paying particular attention to common facial sunscreen concerns: whether they leave a white cast, how well they absorb, how heavy or otherwise the formulation is, and how well make-up sits on top of them.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism acrossThe Independent.
The best sunscreens for your face for 2021 are:
Best for all skin types – Dermalogica prisma protect SPF30, 50ml: £58, Lookfantastic.com
Best for luxury – Omorovicza UV mineral shield SPF30, 100ml: £78, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best for city dwellers – Murad city skin broad spectrum SPF50, 50ml: £60, Murad.co.uk
Best for lip protection – Soleil Toujours hydra volume lip masque SPF15, 10ml: £20, Netaporter.com
Best for top-ups on the go – Kate Somerville uncomplikated SPF50 soft focus make up setting spray: £34, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best for those on a budget – La Roche-Posay anthelios ultra-light invisible fluid sun cream SPF50+: £18, Boots.com
Best for non-suncream-y texture – Ultra Violette queen screen luminising sun serum SPF50+: £36, Spacenk.com
Best for a make-up base – Supergoop! unseen sunscreen SPF30, 50ml: £30, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Best for pre-existing sun damage – SkinCeuticals advanced brightening UV defense SPF50: £45, Skinceuticals.co.uk
Best for darker skin tones – The Body Shop skin defence multi-protection lotion SPF50+: £18, Thebodyshop.com
Dermalogica prisma protect SPF30, 50ml
Best for: All skin types
Active ingredients: Homosalate, ethylhexyl salicylate, octocrylene
SPF level: 30
This is an option that will suit everyone. It has a lightweight lotion texture, which looks much like your average sun cream but isn’t at all heavy or greasy. Massaged in, it leaves skin hydrated, plump and not at all tacky, and it works beautifully as an extra dose of moisture for our dry skin. As well as protection from UV rays, it contains glycerin and coconut alkanes for moisture, Camellia Sinensis for antioxidant protection against free radical damage, and a sage extract that brightens and evens out skin tone.
Buy now £58.00, Lookfantastic.com
Omorovicza UV mineral shield SPF30, 100ml
Best for: Luxury
Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, sodium hyaluronate, zinc oxide
SPF level: 30
This, from the Hungarian skincare brand, is undeniably pricey, but if you’ve got the budget for it, it’s completely brilliant. It has a medium-weight, lotion-like texture and massages into skin easily, leaving it feeling nourished, soft and smooth as well as protected. The finish is glowy and lightly mattifying around greasier areas; on brave days we skip the make-up and leave it at this.
Buy now £78.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
Murad city skin broad spectrum SPF50, 50ml
Best for: City dwellers
Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide
SPF level: 50
With most of us confined to our homes rather than flying abroad this year, “City Skin” could not be more apt. This is a lightweight fluid that will work well for all skin types, whether oily, dry or sensitive (it’s fragrance free). As well as offering sun protection, it contains a polymer matrix that prevents toxins from penetrating the skin, so it’s defended from pollutants such as smoke and fumes that can also cause lasting damage. Skin looks brighter and more even-toned after application.
Buy now £60.00, Murad.co.uk
Soleil Toujours hydra volume lip masque SPF15, 10ml
Best for: Lip protection
Active ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, dipalmitoyl hydroxyproline
SPF level: 15
We hate the tight, sore, flaky feeling of sunburnt lips, but we don’t like applying our facial SPF over them. This, from the luxury suncare brand, offers SPF15 protection for your lips, along with peptides, hyaluronic acid and organic oils for hydrated, plump-looking lips. Our favourite shade is the bitten berry “cinquante cinq”: it has a relaxed, easygoing finish that’s perfect for holiday make-up, and protection. You can also find more recommendations in our guide to the best SPF lip balms.
Buy now £20.00, Net-a-porter.com
Kate Somerville uncomplikated SPF50 soft focus make up setting spray, 96ml
Best for: Top-ups on the go
Active ingredients: Homosalate, octocrylene, hydrolyzed hyaluronic acid, ethylhexyl salicylate, benzophenone-3, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, ethylhexyl methoxycrylene
SPF level: 50
We wouldn’t recommend a spray formula for your main SPF, simply because it’s hard to ensure you’re getting a good layer when you aren’t applying it manually. For topping up throughout the day, though, you can’t do better than uncomplikated. It’s an incredibly fine, weightless and matte spray that blurs imperfections and tamps down any oiliness that has developed during the day.
Buy now £34.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
La Roche-Posay anthelios ultra-light invisible fluid sun cream SPF50+, 50ml
Best for: Those on a budget
Active ingredients: Isopropyl myristate, ethylhexyl salicylate, ethylhexyl triazone, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, drometrizole trisiloxane, tocopherol
SPF level: 50
You’ll struggle to find a dermatologist or beauty editor who wouldn’t recommend this cult product for its brilliant finish and bargain price. It’s a lightweight, thin SPF that melts into skin easily leaving no white streaks, and is a great base for make-up. It also works well for both acne-prone and sensitive skin types.
Buy now £18.00, Boots.com
Ultra Violette queen screen luminising sun serum SPF50+, 50ml
Best for: Non-suncream-y texture
Active ingredients: Ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, ethylhexyl salicylate, bis-ethylhexyloxyphenol methoxyphenyl triazine, methylene bis-benzotriazolyl tetramethylbutylpheno
SPF level: 50
Ultra Violette is an Australian suncare-only brand that makes SPFs that blend protection with skincare, and this product dominated Instagram when it launched in the UK earlier this year. If you’re someone who hates a thick, gloopy SPF, its sun serum is for you: it has a very thin, serum-like texture and feels (and looks) more like skincare than your standard sunscreen. As well as being SPF50, it contains kakadu plum, which is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C for brightening and protection from environmental aggressors as well as the sun. Due to its popularity, it’s currently not in stock, but you can leave your email to be notified when it next becomes available.
Buy now £36.00, Spacenk.com
Supergoop! unseen sunscreen SPF30, 50ml
Best for: A make-up base
Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, ethylhexyl salicylate, octocrylene, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
SPF level: 30
For those who prioritise how an SPF behaves under make-up, the American suncare-only Supergoop!’s unseen sunscreen feels more like a primer than an SPF. It has the texture of a smoothing, blurring, silicone primer, such as Benefit’s porefessional, and a semi-matte finish with no white cast or greasiness. Perfect for those with oily skin or who are self-conscious about enlarged pores or uneven texture.
Buy now £30.00, Cultbeauty.co.uk
SkinCeuticals advanced brightening UV defense SPF50, 40ml
Best for: Pre-existing sun damage
Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, niacinimide, tranexamic acid, ethylhexyl triazone, drometrizole trisiloxane, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, octocrylene
SPF level: 50
If you’ve been a little lax in the past with your SPF application and you’ve developed dark spots as a result, this is for you. As well as offering SPF50, it contains 1 per cent tranexamic acid, which reduces uneven pigmentation, and 2 per cent niacinamide, which is great for balancing out redness, so it both protects against future damage and tackles the visible signs of past damage. It also has a light, silky texture and doesn’t leave a white cast, despite containing titanium dioxide.
Buy now £45.00, Skinceuticals.co.uk
The Body Shop skin defence multi-protection lotion SPF50+, 40ml
Best for: Darker skin tones
Active ingredients: Homosalate, octocrylene, ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane, ethylhexyl salicylate
SPF level: 50
At the lower end of the price spectrum, in texture this feels very similar to many of our more expensive picks: it absorbs swiftly and isn’t at all heavy or sticky on the skin, leaving it soft and hydrated. It contains aloe vera, which is soothing and cooling – perfect for sunny holidays – as well as red algae and vitamin C for brighter, smoother textured skin. It’s also our favourite for darker skin as we’ve never known anyone to experience a cast with it – although you can read our guide to the best sunscreens for dark skin for more options.
Buy now £18.00, Thebodyshop.com
The verdict: Facial sunscreen
If all the variations available are more than you can get your head around, Dermalogica’s prisma protect is good for all skin types. It has a very pleasant texture and leaves skin feeling soft, healthy and not at all heavy or greasy.
La Roche-Posay anthelios fluid is light and easily absorbed, while if you spend a lot of time in the city, Murad’s city skin is great for protection against pollutants as well as sun damage. Finally, if the damage has already been done, SkinCeuticals’s SPF helps reverse the appearance of sun damage as well as offering protection against future damage.
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Keep your pout protected for the sun with our best SPF lip balms that are hydrating and non-sticky