How to choose the right sunscreen for your skin
Say hello, sunshine with our comprehensive sunscreen guide answers your most burning questions
Sunscreen is widely championed as the single most important product to have in your beauty regime, by dermatologists, aestheticians, and skincare aficionados alike. While slathering on some sun cream might seem easy enough, even a cursory look into the topic opens up a disorienting rabbit hole of information.
Last year, the FDA reported that six commonly used sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream and can linger there for extended periods of time, prompting additional safety studies.
Some of these ingredients are also harmful to the environment, so much so that Hawaii has banned the use of certain sunscreens in an effort to protect its coral reefs. That’s not all – questions abound about the effectiveness of the various SPF levels, physical versus chemical sunscreens, and how to get protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
So how do you choose the right sunscreen for your skin? Below, we break down some basic facts you should keep in mind and the most effective products for your particular concerns.
Sunscreen: the basics
- There are two types of sunscreen, physical/mineral and chemical/synthetic. At their most basic, physical or mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide (the only ingredients ‘generally recognised as safe and effective’ by the FDA at present) and are best suited to those with skin sensitivities or inflamed skin. In contrast, chemical or synthetic sunscreens contain various synthetic ingredients, including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. They are generally more lightweight and better suited to melasma or pigmentation sufferers.
- Only ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen protects from both UVA and UVB rays. As renowned dermatologist Dr Howard Murad explains, ‘UVA rays are known as the “ageing” rays and UVB as the “burning” rays. While UVB is responsible for causing sunburn and mutations to your DNA [ie, skin cancer], UVA rays are the most damaging to skin’s appearance.’
- Yes, you should wear sunscreen every day. According to Dr Murad, ‘No matter where you are, UV rays are present all year round, even on cold, cloudy days. UVA rays account for 95 per cent of UV that reaches Earth. They are the same strength all year round and can penetrate your skin through windows even on cloudy days, so if you’re sitting by a window indoors, you should still apply your SPF. UV rays contribute to premature ageing, collagen degradation and skin cancer. When you go outside, it takes just ten minutes for UV to kickstart the breakdown of collagen in your skin.’
Sunscreen: the brands
Vacation is a new sunscreen brand inspired by the colourful beachside vibe of 1980s Miami. The brand was born out of Poolside FM, the popular online radio station that blends party-ready summer tracks with 1980s VHS visuals.
A sunscreen produced by a radio station might seem like a guaranteed way to get a sunburn, but Vacation actually works. The brand even worked with Dr. Elizabeth Hale, Board Certified Dermatologist and a VP of The Skin Cancer Foundation, to develop its formulation. If that wasn’t enough, they also collaborated with perfumers Carlos Huber (Arquiste) and Rodrigo Flores-Roux (Givaudan) to develop Vacation’s signature fragrance.
This sunscreen from celebrated London facialist, Sarah Champman, is ideal for those looking to simultaneously improve the appearance of skin while protecting it from UV rays.
That’s because Chapman’s Skin Insurance SPF 50+ is formulated with stem cell technology that triggers your cells to repair the damage already evident on the skin’s surface while forming a protective barrier against future sun and pollution damage.
Perhaps most impressive is the product’s use of a light-scattering powder which blurs the appearance of surface imperfections and lends skin a natural, healthy glow.
Dr Barbara Sturm
Aesthetics doctor and skincare pioneer Dr Barbara Sturm calls her Sun Drops ‘a liquid sun umbrella’, and it’s true that the little bottle of serum contains a potent amount of sun protection.
Sun Drops is formulated to work as skincare as much as suncare, but for an added punch we recommend blending the Sun Drops with Sturm’s Glow Drops or Anti-Pollution Drops. The combination will decrease the appearance of pores, even tone, brighten skin, and protect from harmful UV rays.
If you can’t decide which you prefer, try all three with the Drops Discovery Set.
The Grey is a men’s skincare range designed to blend the sumptuous feel and effectiveness of female skincare with the straightforward simplicity of most men’s skincare brands.
The brand’s Daily Face Protect sunscreen does just that, with a rich, velvety texture and long-wear convenience. The cream has been treated with a special encapsulation processing technique that ensures consistent SPF value while using fewer filters.
That gives the cream an ultra-lightweight and breathable texture that is ideal for supersensitive and blemish-prone skin.
Ultra Violette’s sunscreen is specifically designed to be worn with other skincare and make-up products, making it an ideal match for those who regularly wear foundation.
A particular favourite is Ultra Violette’s Lean Screen SPF 50+ Mattifying Zinc Skinscreen. It’s notable among sunscreens as a high-SPF, physical/mineral cream that doesn’t leave a chalky residue. It’s especially well suited to acne-prone skin, since its mattifying texture combats oiliness, and zinc is a natural blemish combatant.
La Prairie’s Cellular Swiss UV Protection Veil is quite possibly the most luxurious sunscreen ever made. The brand began selling skincare in 1978, but its roots go back to the famed Clinique La Prairie, which opened in 1931. Located on the edge of Lake Geneva, the Swiss retreat has offered rejuvenation treatments to clients ranging from Pope Pius XII, to Winston Churchill and Marlene Dietrich.
The methods of Clinique La Prairie have been translated into the Exclusive Cellular Complex, an essential element of all La Prairie products and one so highly protected that its components are produced in two separate labs and then blended in a third, to ensure that no single chemist has access to the formula.
The Exclusive Cellular Complex certainly sets La Prairie’s sunscreen apart, making the UV Protection Veil a transformative skincare treatment as much as an SPF, designed to make skin appear visibly brighter, clearer, and smoother within days.
Black Girl Sunscreen
Black Girl Sunscreen is specifically designed with women of colour in mind. It is reef-safe, cruelty-free, vegan, and water-resistant for 80 minutes. Most notably, it leaves absolutely no ashy white residue.
The brand’s founder, Shontay Lundy, hopes that creating a sunscreen for women of colour will encourage more conversation around sun safety and education. ‘I named my product Black Girl Sunscreen because there are a lot of people who still think having dark skin means that you have full sun protection. While we do have more natural protection than people with lighter skin tones, we’re still at risk for burns, cosmetic sun damage and, most importantly, skin cancer,’ says Lundy.
Black Girl Sunscreen uses a unique blend of natural ingredients for its highly moisturising, silky smooth texture. These include sunflower seed oil for combatting redness, avocado for hydration, cacao for an even completion, and blemish-fighting jojoba.
Dr Dennis Gross
Dr Dennis Gross has become one of the most renowned dermatologists in the world through his at-home peels and high-tech gadgets. Yet, even he admits that nothing is more effective at preventing premature skin ageing than sunscreen.
His new All-Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense Sunscreen is a physical/mineral sunscreen that blends zinc oxide and antioxidants to try to prevent free radical damage from UVA/UVB rays. It is reef-safe, vegan, and formulated with only pharmaceutical-grade active ingredients for effective results. It also leaves behind no white residue.
We recommend this sunscreen for those with especially sensitive skin, or those particularly concerned with signs of photo-ageing.
City Skin Age Defense Broad Spectrum SPF 50 is a mineral sunscreen created for indoor and outdoor use. It is designed to shield skin from UVA and UVB rays, as well as 89 per cent of blue light from screens. Murad’s sunscreen is also designed to fight against harmful pollutants encountered by city-dwellers every day, making it ideal for those who live in urban areas or those who spend most of their day on screens.