Banish all thoughts of the sunscreens of your childhood. Those thick white creams, which seemed to have the consistency of paint, layered uncomfortably with scratchy sand and sticky melted ice lollies. Sunscreens now are a whole new level of sophistication.
Although we may not be jetting to tropical shores any time soon, the good old British sunshine has made quite a few appearances this year already. Before you head out to the beach, park or garden remember that a decent sunscreen really is a non-negotiable whatever type of skin you have.
Lisa Bickerstaffe spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, gave us the sunscreen lowdown: “SPF stands for sun protection factor and refers to the level of protection from UVB radiation, linked to skin cancer.
“The British Skin Foundation recommends using SPF 30 or more. In addition, look for a 4- or 5-star UVA rating which will help protect from UVA radiation, associated with skin ageing as well as skin cancer”, says Bickerstaffe.
“‘Broad spectrum’ means the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. You may sometimes see a PA+++ rating, this is the American and Japanese rating system for UVA protection in sunscreen. PA+ being low protection, PA++++ high”, she adds.
If your sunscreen has the letters UVA in a circle, the British Association of Dermatologists states that this shows the level of UVA protection in the product meets EU recommendations.
When it comes to applying sunscreen, Lisa advises doing it “ideally 20-30 minutes before going outside, then reapply at least every two hours. Reapply again after swimming, sweating or towel drying. If your sunscreen says: ‘once a day’ better to reapply every two hours just to be on the safe side as sporting activity, swimming or sweating can all cause it to wash or wipe away.”
Before you reach for that sunscreen at the back of the bathroom cabinet, “bear in mind that if your sunscreen is out of date it will no longer be effective”.
Always remember that “sunscreens should be used in conjunction with other sun safety measures such as seeking shade between 11am-3pm when the UV index is highest, protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses”.
As well as sun protection, the latest sunscreens offer beautifying skincare benefits too, such as hydration and glow. Here is our pick of the best.
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Ultrasun family SPF30, 100ml
Ultrasun offers full solar spectrum protection from UVA, UVB, blue light and infrared rays. It also protects against heat rash and prickly heat. Family-friendly, we loved this for its perfect gel texture (neither too sloppy nor too thick) and ease of application: even wriggly children didn’t mind putting it on. We liked the environmentally-friendly way the instructions are printed on the inside of the box and loved the diagram showing how many fingers of sunscreen for each body part – so simple and easy to remember. Although we are a little sceptical about “once a day”, this would be a great option for applying to children before the start of the school day or on school trips.
Saltee body active sun lotion SPF30, 150ml
It was the cool coral pink packaging from British brand Saltee that first caught our eye. With avocado oil for absorbency it also includes coconut oil, aloe and MelinOil, a tan accelerator. This body active version is designed for those who will be getting active, sweating and getting in the water. Putting it through its paces by sanding and repainting a deck in the recent heat wave, it gave great (UVA and UVB) protection. No burnt bits at all. The fragrance is divine and the lotion itself, while reassuringly thick, rubs in beautifully.
Caudalie beautifying suncare oil SPF30, 150ml
With a new patented antioxidant complex including polyphenols and vitamin E, this suncare oil offers a “healthy glow effect” alongside UVA and UVB protection. Caudalie’s signature nourishing grapeseed oil, sesame and sunflower oils combine in a really light, non-greasy spray that leaves skin soft and hydrated. We particularly loved its subtle shimmery glow and the seductive frangipani fragrance which instantly transports you to a tropical beach. It is marine friendly with an Ocean Protect accreditation.
Vichy solar protective water SPF50, 200ml
Vichy has just launched this SPF50 version of its popular “solar water” following customer demand for a higher level of protection. This feels like you are spritzing yourself with refreshing lemon water but with the added bonus of SPF50. We loved this for its holiday feel, capturing the essence of the Mediterranean even in an English suburban garden. Easy to use, it sprays on evenly and with a quick rub in it vanishes. It also made skin feel beautifully smooth thanks to the presence of moisturising hyaluronic acid along with Vichy mineralising water. We tested it over several afternoons spent working from home in the garden and no burning.
Soltan once advanced 8hr protect suncare lotion SPF50+, 200ml
The ritual of a trip to Boots to purchase Soltan has become one of the great British summer holiday traditions. That familiar scent as evocative as Proust’s madeleine to millions of us. “Once advanced” is Soltan’s hero range with the highest available UVA rating (five stars). We tested the SPF50+ spray version complete with ergonomic finger holds and it kept our tester’s fair skinned family perfectly protected. For a budget-friendly option that is reliable and reassuring, it has rightfully earned its place on our must-have summer shopping list.
Mustela high protection sun spray SPF50, 200ml
This brand specialises in skincare for babies and mothers-to-be so this sunscreen is suitable from birth (although babies and toddlers should be kept in the shade) and for pregnant women. We found this yellowy cream had the typical thick sunscreen consistency which takes some rubbing in. Once applied however, it protected really well even when, on a trip to the supermarket, we got stuck in a queue in the glare of the sun. It contains avocado perseose, a patented natural ingredient which hydrates and reinforces the skin barrier. A good choice for little ones and those with very sensitive skin.
Coola pina colada sunscreen spray SPF30, 100ml
From the sky blue, flower-bedecked packaging to the natural pina colada fragrance this is a fun option with teen appeal. It contains 70 per cent certified organic ingredients, including cucumber, algae and strawberry extracts, and is infused with an antioxidant-rich plant protection complex and is reef friendly.
No heavy cream here, this sheer formula sinks into the skin easily leaving no white residue on body or clothes and it gave good protection. The aerosol-type spray shoots the product out in quite a burst, so you need to aim carefully to ensure thorough application. This 100ml version is the travel size, ready for those heady days when we can fly again.
La Roche-Posay anthelios invisible spray SPF50+, 200ml
French pharmacy brand La Roche-Posay has updated this product with a new formula this year: a polymer technology which combines higher protection with a more invisible product. Dermatologist approved following 16 clinical studies, the easy-to-apply mist claims to leave no trace on any skin tone. Formulated with thermal spring water, it is specifically aimed at sensitive and sun-intolerant skins and is a good family-friendly choice. We found it made our sensitive skin comfortable in the heat and could be relied on to keep us well protected.
Dermalogica protection 50 sport SPF50, 156ml
As the name suggests, this is a good choice for sports enthusiasts thanks to the high SPF and the fact that it is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Oleosome microspheres help to protect by keeping skin hydrated when moisture is lost through exercise and heat exposure. Protection aside, we loved the minimalist yellow and white packaging and no-nonsense tube. A really good, quality sunscreen, we tested it on a full day of intense gardening (not exactly the Tour de France, but still) in hot sun and it kept us safe and mercifully free from any red bits.
Zelens body defence sunscreen SPF30, 125ml
Definitely more St. Tropez than Skegness, this feels more beauty treatment oil than sunscreen. The “silky-touch oil” is fortified with antioxidants, to prevent free radical damage, and organic UV filters. It moisturises too and left our skin soft and supple after use. As an additional bonus, it is also designed to be used on hair. We loved the oil texture and felt very safe in the sun despite the sheer lightness of the formula. We thought it a very sophisticated, grown-up sunscreen. Bearing in mind the price, it makes an excellent luxury treat.
Sol de Janeiro bum bum sol oil SPF30, 90ml
It says “for Brazilian babe skin” on the bottle and we loved the idea that this might transfer a hint of "The Girl (or boy) From Ipanema" glamour. The Brazilians take their sun worshipping seriously and this oil delivers proper protection (including a claim of 80 minutes in the water – sadly we weren’t able to put that part to the test due to lockdown) and looks good while doing it. Containing moisturising cupuaçu butter, acai and coconut oils, the illuminating dry oil imparts a dewy shimmer onto the skin via gold flakes. The scent is so divine (the brand’s signature salted caramel and vanilla cheirosa ’62 fragrance) we have even taken to using it out of the sun as a moisturising body oil that gives skin a gorgeous golden glow.
The verdict: Best body sunscreens
For its quality, integrity and high level of protection for the whole family we found that Ultrasun family is hard to beat. It is also the first suncare brand worldwide to achieve BASF EcoSun Pass accreditation, which takes into account the negative impact on the environment of cosmetic ingredients including filters, biodegradability and aqua toxicity. Soltan once advanced is a reliable, more affordable choice that still delivers. We also loved independent British brand Saltee for its quirkiness and great product.
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