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13 best facial sunscreens

Protect yourself from harmful rays 365 days a year with these potent sun creams

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Face sunscreens should be an obligatory item of beauty kit. This is because no matter what the weather, radiation in the atmosphere is constantly reacting and damaging our skin. 

What radiation is damaging our skin?

Ultraviolet, or UV, is a type of energy produced by the sun and a major cause of most skin cancers. On cloudy days UV is still existent; up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds, which is why some people get sunburn on overcast days. The skin’s biggest known aggressors caused by sunlight are 1) UVA, which is 95 percent of UV radiation reaching the earth's surface. The waves are longer so they penetrate right down to the hypodermis. They are also present in relatively equal intensity during daylight hours throughout the year, not just summer. 2) UVB are short waves that cause sunburn and skin-reddening, which can lead to forms of skin cancer and there is also 3) infrared, that is 55 percent of the light that hits your skin on a daily basis. They penetrate through to the deepest subcutaneous layer.

How to choose your face sunscreen

Face sunscreens are often formulated differently from body sunscreens so they feel lighter and absorb quicker. Scientific advances mean that nowadays there isn’t a one-size-fits all option. You can find everything from tinted and oil-free to anti-ageing and even natural formulas to work for each individual, so be sure to choose the one that will work with your skin type, concerns and tone.

Fundamentally, always buy broad-spectrum, meaning UVA and UVB protection. The SPF number is the protection from UVB and the Skin Cancer Foundation considers “SPFs of 15 or higher acceptable UVB protection for normal everyday activity, and SPFs of 30 or higher acceptable for extended or intense outdoor exposures”. 

UVA does not currently have an FDA-approved measurement standard, but Japan has. It is called PA, an abbreviation for Protection Grade of UVA, ranging from a low protection PA+, moderate PA++ and high PA+++. Not all sunscreens use the Japanese rating system, but just make sure to get one that has the UVA stamp. 

Cosmetic Consultant Dr Ross Perry, founder and Medical Director of Cosmedics Skin Clinics, providing private aesthetic and medical skin treatments, also works for the NHS in reconstructive skin cancer work. He said: “If you are outdoors at all, sunscreen really is an absolute must. The job of sunscreen is to filter out harmful UVA/UVB rays, which are the main cause of skin cancer as well as premature ageing (lines, wrinkles, pigmentation problems and poor complexion). Wearing a facial sunscreen year round helps you retain more youthful looks. There are some excellent daily facial sunscreens that sit really well under makeup.”

While many products today, such as lip balms or foundations contain an SPF, the Skin Cancer Foundation advises to “use a separate sunscreen or reapply the cosmetics every two hours when outside. For the best results, if you are using a moisturiser and a separate sunscreen, the moisturiser should go on first, then sunscreen, then makeup”.

What types of sunscreen are there?

There are three kinds of sunscreen  — mineral (sometimes called physical), chemical/synthetic and ones that combine both. Mineral means the natural active ingredients blocking UV rays are zinc oxide and titanium oxide and sit on top of the skin to reflect UV light away. Chemical normally involves a combination of two or more of these active ingredients  — oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These absorb into the skin and convert the UV rays into non-damaging light and heat. The combined are a combination of both chemicals and minerals. It’s important to note that there’s nothing better or worse about either mineral or chemical sunscreens, just what will work best on your skin.

What should I choose?

Many people with problems such as acne or rosacea, tend to choose mineral as they can limit irritation and flare-ups due to the sunscreen not being absorbed in the skin. However anyone who is extremely active or perspires a lot should look into chemical or combined sunscreens as they won’t sweat off as easily. Just remember that sunscreens have an expiry date of three years, after which they lose their effectiveness, so be sure to use something with adequate protection.

How were they tested?

These face sunscreens were tested on men, women and children ageing from five-years-old to 70-years-old over a period of three weeks and were judged on their formulation i.e. thick or thin, the feel on the skin i.e. stickiness, white residue, and any skin changes when exposed to daylight. Overall the results indicate a good face sunscreen comes with a cost, but is a product worth investing in.

Dr Dennis Gross Dark Spot Sun Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen, £44 for 50ml, Cult Beauty

The internationally-recognised dermatologist has developed a mineral sunscreen, zinc and titanium oxide, to rival all in the marketspace. The lightweight white cream blends into the skin with ease, leaving no white residue. It is also non-sticky, able to be worn without realising you’ve put anything on your skin. Dr Gross has also added a Melatonin Defense Complex, which basically is a combination of the hormone melatonin, three forms of vitamin C and one kind of vitamin E. What this does is protect the skin from free-radical damage and also minimising the appearance of hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and wrinkles. Over a couple of weeks of wear, skin texture did improve and was a little bit brighter and plumper.

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ZO Skin Health Oclipse Daily Sheer Broad Spectrum SPF 50, 45ml for £57, ZO Skin Health

Dr. Zein Obagi is a board-certified practicing dermatologist and world-renowned skincare expert. Daily Sheer, which launched last year, is one of the easiest sunscreens to wear. It is fast-absorbing, drying matte and not sticky. It is also slightly pearlescent so that it leaves no white residue, like many sunscreens tend to do. The cream has a light sunscreen fragrance, which some may not like but we found still pleasant to wear. Daily Sheer is not only broad-spectrum but also protects against infrared and HEV light, in other words light emitted from phones, computers and tablet devices. Water and perspiration resistant for up to 80 minutes of exposure, it stayed on through excess sweating, with no irritation, breakouts or burning and you can easily forget you’re wearing sun protection. 

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Murad City Skin Broad Spectrum SPF 50 PA++++, 50ml for £60, John Lewis

This US skincare brand founded by Dr Howard Murad is known for creating award-winning products. City Skin is one of their latest creations in the sunscreen field, and developed for city-dwellers. Made from 100 percent mineral, broad-spectrum PA++++ and SPF 50, it protects from blue light, pollution, infrared, UVA and UVB. The positives of this cream are that it’s lightweight and has a subtle golden tint so glides on incredibly easily and leaves no white residue on the skin (for a mineral cream, this is rare). It is also unscented, which is great for face creams as sometimes they can be too pungent. It contains vitamin C to help brighten and even skin tone, and we did notice skin looked more even after wearing for a couple of weeks, but the downside is we were aware of it on our skin, feeling slightly sticky all day. 

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Natura Bisse, C+C Oil Free Macro Antioxidant Sun Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 30, £50 for 30ml, Space NK

For anyone who loves citrus and has dull skin, this is the cream for you. From the Spanish skincare brand’s C+C Vitamin line, the scent of orange hits your nose on application, and the cream, although taking slightly longer than some of the other creams to blend, leaves skin protected, non-sticky with no white residue. It boasts being the only cosmetic in the world to incorporate MacroAntioxidants, recently patented by the National Spanish Research Council. These are extracted from the skin of fruit, in this case, oranges, and are said to be more powerful than other antioxidants like resveratrol. It also contains provitamin D, vitamin E, F and collagen working together to help preserve the skin. After a week of wearing, skin appears brighter, even while developing a slight colour from the sun. 

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Aesop Protective Facial Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30 50ml, £39, Cult Beauty

The result of three years development, this new sunscreen from leading skincare brand Aesop is a fantastic addition to the suncare market. As well as having broad-protection, it contains green tea and tocopherol for antioxidant benefits, panthenol for skin soothing, coco-caprylate and squalane to hydrate and soften. Unlike most other sunscreens, that have a light chemical scent, this has a calming herbal scent as they’ve added rosemary leaf oil. The lightweight white cream rubs in extremely quickly, with zero white residue. Protection-wise it withstands bright midday sun. At a reasonably competitive price point for luxury skincare, this would be ideal for anyone who is regimental about using SPF all year round. 

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Obagi Medical Sun Shield Tinted Sunscreen SPF 50 in Warm or Cool 85g, £55, Pure Aesthetics

When you’re on holiday, or even at the height of summer, you often find that you don’t want to wear foundation. American pharmaceutical company Obagi Medical are dedicated to skin health and that’s why even their tinted sunscreens colour-match better than any around. The Warm shade is best for yellow, gold or olive undertones and Cool for blue, red and pink skin tones. While the cream may look the wrong colour when it comes out the tube, as soon as you start rubbing the colour almost instantly matches to your skin, becoming completely invisible and not changing your natural tone at all. Instead you’re left with skin that looks more even in complexion and healthy. Not only a UVA and UVB protector, this also tackles infrared light too. It is completely scentless, hypoallergenic and dermatologist-tested. It may be one of the more expensive creams but for people who want that no-makeup makeup look, this is the one for you. 

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La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Tinted Fluid SPF50+ 50ml, £20.92,  Amazon

Anthelios has become something of a cult rand from french skincare brand La Roche Posay. This tinted formula proves able to adapt on both light and dark skin. It is runny in texture and looks an odd colour when first placed on the skin but after blending, you realise how wearable it is, all the while being an impressive factor 50. A UVA, UVB and infrared protector, this cream contains patented Mexoplex, an oil that enhances the stability of sun filters. It also includes French thermal spring water, existent in all La Roche products. This tinted fluid looks great on its own or under makeup. 

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Lancer Sheer Fluid Sun Shield broad spectrum SPF 30, 60ml for £45, NET-A-PORTER

Developed by American dermatologist Dr Lancer, this solution uses innovative stem cell technology to tackle sun damage To say this solution is lightweight is an understatement as it practically runs out of the bottle. However this makes it incredibly light on the skin and invisible, despite being a white liquid. The Gamay grape stem cells reduce the appearance of sun damage and fight photo-ageing over time, sunflower sprout promotes radiance and chamomile extract soothes the skin. This is a good choice for anyone with temperamental skin as the solution is so light, along with containing a high percentage of zinc oxide, it causes less breakouts. 

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SkinCeuticals Mineral Radiance UV Defense 50ml SPF 50, £41, Look Fantastic

This American skincare brand were the first to market a weightless, 100 percent physical broad spectrum sunscreen that enhanced skin. Mineral Radiance is so good because its tint adapts to each individual’s natural skin tone, leaving an even colour and works on fair to dark skin. The only downside is when using minerals, the liquid has a slight chalky texture with a matte effect on the skin, which some people may not like. This sunscreen will however be ideal for anyone with blemishes, acne-prone or post-procedure skin as it will sit on the surface of the skin with little to no irritation.

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RÉVIVE Soleil Superiéur SPF 50 PA++++, $115 for 50g, SpaceNK

This cream comes with the heftiest price tag, but if you’re looking for an anti-ageing product, and are able to spend more, this is the cream for you. It took five years for Dr. Gregory Bays Brown, a Harvard-trained plastic and reconstructive surgeon, to develop this cream. It uses Renewal Epidermal Science (RES) Technology, which essentially stimulates cell turnover and help skin to renew itself. The cream itself is lightweight and easily absorbed, with only a small grape size amount needed, and after a couple of weeks we could see an improvement in texture, particular with lines and wrinkles.

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ENVIRON RAD Antioxidant Sunscreen SPF 15 100ml, £21, Harvey Nichols

In 1992, RAD was the first sun cream in the world to add free radical-fighting ingredients, vitamins C, E and beta-carotene to the combined chemical and mineral formula. Developed by South African plastic surgeon Dr Des Fernandes, although an SPF 15, it is endorsed by the Cancer Association of South Africa. It’s great that it comes in a handy 100ml hand luggage size, as well as being incredibly easy to use, leaving no stickiness or white sheen to the face, and being fragrance-free is an added bonus. It leaves the skin dewy and hydrated, but it does take about 10 to 15 mins to set, if used on the face with makeup. We would wait 10 mins before applying, just like when using a primer.

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The verdict

For a cream that ticks all the boxes, for both normal and sensitive skin, and won’t completely break the bank it has to be Dr Dennis Gross Dark Spot Defence, however if you are on a budget and looking for something that will deliver results it is Environ RAD Antioxidant Sunscreen.

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