Best sun cream 2022: formulas for all-year-round protection

The top rated sprays and best sun cream lotions for face and body…

Suncare is a bit like flossing your teeth; you know it’s bad to skip it, but sometimes you just can’t be bothered. Even when you’re using the very best sun cream or best facial sunscreen it can feel like a chore.

We are here to tell you: do not give it a miss. Don’t do a Gwynnie on us. Sun damage is not to be messed with.

We say that because every year over 15,000 new melanoma (the fifth most common cancer in the UK) cases are recorded in the UK.

‘There is a misconception in the UK that we don’t need to wear sunscreen as the sun isn’t as strong,’ says dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi.

‘The UV index measures the strength of sun-burning UV rays outside, ranging from one to a very high 11. When it reaches three you need to apply sunscreen. In the UK, the UV index can hit six or seven in summer, so broad spectrum sun cream is essential.’

How to choose the best sun cream for your skin

There are lots of little symbols and numbers on sun cream bottles, which can be confusing, so here’s a little guide to help you decipher the information.

You want your suncream to protect against both UVA (the skin ageing rays) and UVB (the burning rays). Look for the term broad spectrum, as this indicates the formula contains adequate protection against both types of rays. However, it’s a good idea to pay closer attention to the individual levels of both UVA and UVB protection.

UVB protection:

The SPF (sun protection power) number indicates the level of protection against burning.  The NHS recommends using SPF 30 and above. SPF 30 is clinically proven to be a sufficient amount of protection to reduce the adverse effects of sunlight.

UVA protection:

To protect against the ageing, skin-damaging rays, you should look for the UVA protection. You want to make sure your suncream protects against UVA rays, because they travel deeper into the skin where they can trigger pigmentation, wrinkles and loss of firmness. This protection is indicated in various forms, depending on where the sun cream is from.

UVA star rating: Here in the UK, our suncare brands will use the UVA star rating. It shows UVA in a circle with stars below indicating the level of protection. One star is minimum, two stars moderate, three stars good, four stars superior and five stars ultra.

UVA Seal: This is the most common UVA rating. It’s the letters UVA in a circle and has been classed as sufficient protection.

PA Rating: Seen mostly on American and International brands. The higher the number of + after the PA the better (the highest rating is PA++++). It’s not really recognised as the best way to show protection here in the UK.

Why is it so important to use the best sun cream?

We chatted with Jo Stoddart, Cancer Specialist at Bupa UK, about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in the pigment cells in your skin – called melanocytes – and can spread to other parts of your body. Thought mainly to be due to sun exposure, the incidence is increasing and unfortunately in some cases can be life-threatening.

What are the causes of melanoma?

Melanoma is caused by various genetic and environmental factors. There are certain genetic factors, which will increase your risk of developing melanoma, including those who have a larger number of moles or moles that are atypical. Additionally, people with pale skin, red or blonde hair and blue or green eyes are at a greater risk than those with dark features.

Family history is also important when it comes to your risk of melanoma, with it playing a part in around one in ten cases.

Excessive exposure to sunlight or UV radiation from sunbed use is the main environmental factor that can cause melanoma. If you have had severe sunburn or intense exposure to the sun in the past, particularly in childhood, then you are also at a higher risk.

What are the signs of melanoma?

Melanoma may start in an existing mole on your skin or it may start on normal skin, creating a new, abnormal mole. There are key signs to look out for when checking your moles on a monthly basis.

We suggest employing the ABCDE checklist when you check your moles, which should flag up the key signs that your mole could be a melanoma:

A – asymmetry – one half of the mole looks different to the other
B – border irregularity – the edges are uneven or jagged
C – colour variability – the mole is a mixture of different colours
D – diameter – the mole is bigger than 6mm across
E – evolution – the mole has changed in size, shape or colour

‘But sunscreen is so sticky and unpleasant,’ we hear you say. And you’d be right. Historically sunscreen had a bad reputation for being gloopy and leaving behind white smears, especially on dark skin tones. (However, there are some that are the best sun creams for dark skin tones.)

However, the formulations now are so different to days gone by. They absorb quickly, they have added skincare benefits and most importantly they are easy to apply.

The latest SPF Waters

New technology means that the latest sunscreens are now genuinely invisible on application. Oh-so sheer that they glide over the skin as light as coconut water.

This is especially true of the latest SPF50 oil-in-water hybrids, which are as far from a traditional suncream as you can get.

The waters use the same bi-phase technology found in the best eye make-up removers.

‘You need to have oil in sunscreen as that’s where the high, broad-spectrum filters are embedded,’ says dermatologist Dr Hiva Fassihi. The water phase is where the hydrating and antioxidant ingredients sit.

Dispensed as a fine mist, those like La Roche Posay Anthelios Invisible Spray SPF50+ and Vichy Capital Soleil Solar Protective Water Hydrating SPF50, are so lightweight, you could almost forget you were wearing sun cream altogether.

The bottom line? You’re more likely to want to use them every day.

Use a separate sunscreen for the face

The sun protection ingredients for facial use aren’t necessarily different from those you apply elsewhere. You’ll just find the textures thinner, less pore clogging and designed to play nicely under make-up.

The best facial sunscreens and the best SPF moisturisers are also flooded with additional skincare ingredients such as antioxidants to ward off sun-related issues such as wrinkles, pigmentation and dehydration.

How to use sunscreen

Rub it in well: per the NHS’s guidelines apply two tablespoons’ worth to the entire body (or two teaspoons if you’re only exposing your face, neck and arms) and re-apply every two hours.

Remember that sunscreen can expire: This makes it less effective. Check the bottle for the open jar symbol, which indicates a product’s shelf life after it’s been opened. For sun cream this is usually 12 months. So even if it hasn’t hit its expiration date, if it’s over a year old, it won’t be as effective. And remember to always store your sun cream in a cool, dry place.

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