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10 best sunscreens for your face: Non-greasy SPFs for daily protection

Sun protection is non-negotiable, so we’ve found a formula for every skin type

Pippa Bailey
Friday 13 August 2021 16:25
<p>SPF should be worn even when it’s cloudy to protect skin from UVA and UVB rays</p>

SPF should be worn even when it’s cloudy to protect skin from UVA and UVB rays

While holidays abroad are a go, many of us may still be choosing to go on a UK staycation. But it’s important to remember that there is still just as much potential to damage your skin by your paddling pool as there is a beachside resort.

Even if it is a stubbornly cloudy British summer, you should still wear SPF every day to protect your skin and help keep it looking youthful. That’s because UVA waves can cause visible premature ageing, such as wrinkles and dark spots. And 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.

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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 the 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.

The best sunscreens for your face for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Dermalogica prisma protect SPF30, 50ml: £58,
  • Best for luxury – Omorovicza UV mineral shield SPF30, 100ml: £78,
  • Best for city dwellers – Murad city skin broad spectrum SPF50, 50ml: £60,
  • Best for lip protection – Soleil Toujours hydra volume lip masque SPF15, 10ml: £20,
  • Best for top-ups on the go – Kate Somerville uncomplikated SPF50 soft focus make up setting spray: £34,
  • Best for those on a budget – La Roche-Posay anthelios ultra-light invisible fluid sun cream SPF50+: £13.50,
  • Best for non-suncream-y texture – Ultra Violette queen screen luminising sun serum SPF50+: £36,
  • Best for a make-up base – Supergoop! unseen sunscreen SPF30, 50ml: £30,
  • Best for pre-existing sun damage – SkinCeuticals advanced brightening UV defense SPF50: £45,
  • Best for darker skin tones – The Body Shop skin defence multi-protection lotion SPF50+: £18,

Dermalogica prisma protect SPF30, 50ml

Best: Overall

  • Active ingredients: Homosalate, ethylhexyl salicylate, octocrylene
  • SPF level: 30
  • Formula: Lotion
  • Finish: Hydrating

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 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.

Omorovicza UV mineral shield SPF30, 100ml

Best: For luxury

  • Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, sodium hyaluronate, zinc oxide
  • SPF level: 30
  • Formula: Lotion
  • Finish: Semi-matte

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 the 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.

Murad city skin broad spectrum SPF50, 50ml

Best: For city dwellers

  • Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide
  • SPF level: 50
  • Formula: Fluid
  • Finish: Pearlised

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.

Soleil Toujours hydra volume lip masque SPF15, 10ml

Best: For lip protection

  • Active ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate, dipalmitoyl hydroxyproline
  • SPF level: 15
  • Formula: Oil
  • Finish: Dewy

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.

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
  • Formula: Mist
  • Finish: Matte

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.

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
  • Formula: Fluid
  • Finish: Semi-matte

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.

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
  • Formula: Serum
  • Finish: Glowy

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 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.

Supergoop! unseen sunscreen SPF30, 50ml

Best: For a make-up base

  • Active ingredients: Titanium dioxide, ethylhexyl salicylate, octocrylene, butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane
  • SPF level: 30
  • Formula: Cream
  • Finish: Semi-matte

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.

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
  • Formula: Cream
  • Finish: Dewy

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.

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
  • Formula: Lotion
  • Finish: Dewy

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 SPF for darker skin as we’ve never known anyone to experience a cast with it.

Sunscreens for your face FAQs

Why do you need separate sunscreens for body and face?

Just as you wouldn’t use the same skincare product for your face and body, it’s best to use sunscreens that are specially formulated for your face.

Unlike your body, facial skin is exposed to environmental factors meaning it’s also where some of your most delicate bits of skin is found, for example the area under your eyes. Facial sunscreens are formulated to the same standards as skincare products and are designed to be comfortable to wear on your face, as well as being more lightweight and easily-absorbed than sunscreens for your body. They also aren’t perfumed and you can invest in different formulations depending on your skin type; dry, oily or combination.

Should you apply facial SPF daily?

While it’s essential to apply facial SPF when it’s sunny, it’s also recommended to apply some kind of sun protection daily – whether that’s a dedicated sunscreen product or a moisturiser or foundation with SPF. UVA rays can still penetrate despite clouds or even window glass, so it’s best to help protect your skin against any possible rays.

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

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