How to choose the right sunscreen for your skin
Consult our definitive sunscreen guide to answer your most burning sunscreen questions and find the product that’s best suited to your skin type.
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
La Roche-Posay’s new Anthelios UVMune 400 is specifically designed to protect against the UVA filters that cause wrinkles and pigmentation. Using a special filter developed over ten years called this sunscreen is a highly effective barrier against the UV rays that penetrate the most deeply into skin at a manageable, drug store price-point.
Combeau is a dietary supplement that makes getting better skin an easy pill to swallow. The supplements are formulated with seven natural ingredients- hyaluronic acid, red algae, acerola, sea buckthorn, melon SOD B, saffron and zinc bisglycinate- that target the internal mechanisms which result in skin imbalances. While it should by no means be used as a sunscreen, it does help protect against the cosmetic damage caused by sun exposure with, according to Combeau’s research team, a single month’s use resulting in a 16 percent increase in skin’s resistance to UV rays.
Woods Copenhaggen is a new skincare brand that offers straightforward products formulated with Scandinavian ingredients. Their new sunscreen for face and body comes in SPF 30 and SPF 50 and is designed to leave skin with a not-too-dewy, not-too-matte finish.
Grown Alchemist’s Hydrating Sunscreen is a vegan and reef safe SPF30 that is formulated with rosehip oil and parsley seed extract to reverse signs of ageing while protecting against sun damage. The mineral-based cream is also formulated with hyaluronic acid to hydrate skin without leaving behind any thick residue.
Soleil Toujours is probably the chicest looking sunscreen there is. Even better, its elegant bottles contain highly effective mineral-based sunscreen that has been formulated with the brand’s ‘EcoSunComplex’ antioxidant blend for an added skincare boost.
The brand’s Mineral Ally Daily Defence is an everyday suncream that can be used on both the face and body. While, the Clean Conscious Set + Protect Micro Mist is sheer spray-on sunscreen that is prefect for regular makeup wearers to use as a setting spray after application.
SkinCeuticals Advanced Brightening SPF50 is a great choice for those with problem skin who want intense sun protection. The non-greasy formula includes tranexamic acid and niacinamide to reduce the appearance of pores and even skin tone.
Bamford’s sunscreen is an ideal choice for those who are serious about their sustainable skincare. The brand uses active botanicals sourced from the English countryside to produce highly-effective, all-natural skincare.
Their sunscreen uses a complex of antioxidant golden seaweed and calming Swiss pine extracts to protect against UVA and UVB rays. While its ultra-matte finish makes it ideal for those with larger pores and those who regularly wear foundation.
Budapest-based brand Omorovicza has garnered a cult following for its highly effective products that blend modern science with the ancient healing traditions of Hungary’s thermal baths.
Their lightweight SPF 30 offers sun protection with skincare benefits. It’s formulated with Vitamin C to brighten and correct skin-tone, Titanium Dioxide to blur skin imperfections, and the brand’s ‘Patented Healing Concentrate’ to leave skin luminous and wrinkle-free.
Oumere’s founder was inspired to branch into skincare after years spent in the lab as a biologist, focusing on the reproductive biology of black widow spiders. That unique background has made Oumere particularly effective at rejuvenating skin and turning back the signs of ageing.
The brand’s latest launch is Sun Luxe, a lightweight sunscreen formulated with broccoli seed oil and green tea extract for brighter, smoother skin.
Sun Luxe is ideal for those looking for a lightweight everyday cream, and is not recommended for long days spent lounging out in the sun (its SPF is not high enough) or swimming (it is not waterproof).
Skinceuticals Mineral Eye SPF is specifically made to protect the skin around your eyes, which is thinner and more delicate than the rest of the face, from UV rays. It is an SPF 30 that, best of all, it contains a lightly tinted primer to reduce the appearance of dark circles and provide a smooth base for any additional makeup application.
Natural Glow from Wild Nutrition is a skin protection supplement rather than a cream. The ingestible tablet formulation uses natural antioxidants to enhance the body’s production of collagen, melanin and keratin for firmer and more hydrated skin that is better protected from the sun. Furthermore, by enhancing your melanin levels, the supplement allows skin to develop a naturally deeper and longer-lasting glow following exposure to the sun.
It should be noted that Natural Glow should not be used as sun protection on its own but in addition to typical sunscreens.
Salt & Stone
Salt & Stone is a unisex, organic skincare brand from Los Angeles, founded by a professional snowboarder looking to create all-natural products that could withstand endurance sports.
In keeping with that mission, the brand’s lightweight SPF 30 is formulated with natural ingredients that will withstand a long day in the sun. It includes Hyaluronic Acid and Ashwagandha to soothe and moisturize the skin, while Non-Nano Zinc Oxide blocks UVA and UVB rays.
Seventy-One sunscreen is made for surfers. Its super water-resistant formula offers intense protection that is ideal for those who are spending extreme amounts of time in the sun and water. The sunscreen sticks are particularly handy, just chuck one in your beach bag and regularly apply for speedy sun protection.
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.