Are you sitting at your desk now wishing you were out in the sun? ME. TOO. If you were to go out what would be one if the first things you’d do? Put on suncream, I’d imagine. Good. You’re ahead of some. However, if you’re inside now without suncream on under the illusion that a windowpane is providing a shield of any kind from the pernicious effects of the sun’s rays, let me disabuse you. No, actually, let the below man disabuse you. This 69-year-old drove a truck for 28 years, during which he sustained the sun damage you can see on the left side of his face through the window of his truck. The disparity between the two sides of his face says it all.
Now that we’ve put the quite frankly ludicrous idea of wearing sun protection only when on holiday or spending a significant amount of time outside, let me add that there is no suncream on this good earth that can protect your skin if you choose to lie out day after day in strong sun. None. So it’s up to you – go for a tan now and be a victim to photoageing and potentially cancer (90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun according to the Skin Cancer Foundation), or invest in a good sun cream and a good fake tan. And a hat.
I know, I know, the topic of suncream isn’t overly sexy or glamorous and, let’s face it, the last person who probably banged on about this was your mum, but it is absolutely crucial that you wear it EVERY DAY. Just get in the habit. If you need extra moisture, pop a good hydrating serum underneath. Job done.
The good news is that unlike back in the day when your mum probably chased you around the garden with handfuls of sticky goo, suncream now comes in sophisticated formulas. Most now act as skincare as well as sun protection, some while masquerading as make-up, others as a body shimmer. Basically, the cosmetics industry has got it covered. Here are the answers to some questions you might have and also a list of the best sunscreens of 2018 for when you next buy one //
What’s the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen?
One of the big conversations happening in wake of Hawaii banning chemical sunscreens containing ingredients that are toxic to coral reefs is about chemical versus physical sunscreen. Both are effective but work differently – a physical suncream sits on the surface of your skin deflecting the sun’s rays, while a chemical suncream will absorb the UV rays.
Do I need one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays?
ABSOLUTELY. Whenever you buy a suncream be it for your face or body, look to see if it carries both UVA and UVB protection. UVA rays are responsible for ageing, while UVB account for burns and the superficial on the surface stuff. Many suncreams don’t block out the A as shielding from UVB rays is the only legal requirement, so look for a good star rating or +++ signs on the bottle.
Is a higher SPF factor always better?
Not necessarily. SPF measures UVB protection, not UVA or ultraviolet, so an SPF 50 may stop your from burning within, say, two hours out in the sun, but it won’t necessarily protect you from ageing rays. It’s also worth bearing in mind that most people don’t put anywhere near the amount of sunscreen on to even get the protection of the full SPF factor cited on the bottle.
An SPF 30 is perfectly respectable and my usual choice, while many experts say anything over SPF 50 really offers minimal extra bonuses but may be slightly more tacky and lull you into an false sense of security. I’d personally always opt for something between a 30 and 50, because the key thing is reapplying often and generously – no factor makes it safe to lie out in the sun all day.
How long does sunscreen last?
For the answer to this, you’re going to have to look on your sunscreen bottle – there’ll be a symbol somewhere that looks like an open pot with a ’12m’ or ‘6m’ stamp on it, denoting how long the protection is valid for. I’ve yet to see one that lasts for over 12 months so if you are hoping to use last summer holiday’s leftover sunscreen this year, think again.
But don’t I need to go unprotected in the sun for Vitamin D?
Yes, our body needs the sun to produce vitamin D – but you can’t store it up (so a binge session in August won’t fill your vitamin D coffers and see you through winter), and you’ll have to supplement to keep levels high during the UK winter anyway.
I have used an SPF every day for the past ten years, taking vitamin D supplements from Sept – April and was tested for vitamin D during the deep, dark winter from which England has just emerged. I was found to have entirely sufficient vitamin D levels.
Also, when considering the vitamin D argument to exposing unprotected skin to the sun, balance this with the research that links too much ultraviolet radiation to a suppressed immune system – while you may be loading up on vitamin D, you may well be compromising your health in other ways.
Best Face Sunscreens
Best for brightening / Murad Essential-C Day Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 30 PA+++, £60 / Not only is this one ultra lightweight, making it ideal under make-up, but the Vitamin C will help lift pigmentation and the skin to retain moisture while curbing inflammation.
Best for pigmentation / Institut Esthederm Photo Regul, £55 / In the case of IE, you need to forget SPF ratings as they don’t work like that. What they do, in a nutshell, is optimise your skin’s defences to protect itself. It sounds a bit bonkers but I can confirm that by following the directions (and, vitally, using the right product for the strength of sun I was under), I emerged from a two week holiday with no burns, a light tan and reduced pigmentation.
Best if you sweat/swim a lot / Shiseido WetForce Expert Sun Ageing Protection Lotion, £32 / Get this if you play sport in the sun/sweat a lot/love to dip in the pool often – the ingredients in this one react with water to enhance its protective properties. It’s also super lightweight and dries down slightly powdery so ideal if you don’t like to feel moisture on your skin. It is scented so if you’re very reactive perhaps one to avoid.
Best if you want a tinted formula / Exuviance Sheer Daily Protector SPF 50 PA ++++, £27.98 / Containing antioxidants and a slight tint (that works well on me and has been tested across all the Fitzpatrick skin types, this is the one I use most often and really trust.
Best if you’ve very oily skin / Eucerin Oil Control Sun Gel-Cream, £12 / Not too dear, very reliable, and great at regulating oil, this is the one to opt for if you are somewhere humid, or find that your skin just loves to get greasy over the course of a day.
Best for acneic skin / Eau Thermale Avene Cleanance Sunscreen SPF 50, £16.50 / Equally, if you struggle with spots, this is a really good shout. And don’t be lured into false security by thinking the sun will ‘help’ your acne – it won’t, and after your skin’s repopulated with spots, you’re likely to have a smattering of pigmentation to go with it.
Best if your skin is reactive / Eau Thermale Avene Mineral Fluid SPF 50, £17.50 /… But if your skin is very reactive, this wholly mineral sunscreen might be on the money. It’s also extremely lightweight for an SPF 50, so I’m pretty impressed all round by this one.
Best if you’re concerned about ageing /Sisley Sunleya Age Minimising Global Sun Care SPF 30, £174 / Whopping title, whopping price tag, blooming wonderful product. If I could afford to slather my body in this stuff, I really would. It smells like plants (trademark Sisley). If ageing is your concern, this is it for you – Sisley skincare is unbeatable in my opinion at fighting the wilt.
Best if you’ve just had laser treatments / Heliocare 360 Fluid Cream Sunblock, £23.99 / The choice of many dermatologists and of laser wizard Teresa Tarmey, this lightweight suncream is extremely reliable.
Best if you’re going to be photographed / Eve Lom Daily Protection+ SPF 50, £70 here / This one contains six sorts of sunscreen with no reflective zinc or titanium dioxide (those marrying this summer, this may really be THE ONE). It is infused with skincare ingredients from collagen-boosting niacinamide, smoothing lactic acid and antioxidants and vitamins. It is also a joy to use – softening and quickly absorbed so makes for an ideal primer.
Best for hydration / Perricone MD Photo Plasma SPF 30, £47.20 / This is the silkiest, smoothest suncream on the planet, containing Perricone’s signature Ester and Alpha Lipoic Acids to rejuvenate and bolster your skin barrier. Please use the scoop if you get it though – the jar makes it a big of a pain for dispensing and you don’t want to put bacteria in it.
Best organic sunscreen / Coola Classic Sunscreen SPF 50, £30 / If you are keen for things to be kept organic, this is a really good suncream to go for – it’s mostly made of organic ingredients but doesn’t behave or look like the thick, greasy unguents traditionally associated with organic suncreams.
Best Body Sunscreens
Now of course all the above can and should be taken down the neck and décolleté, but obviously you’ll need a bigger pot to do the body – and potentially a spray for top ups, if that’s your thing.
– Institut Esthederm Adaptasun Protective Milky Body Spray for Strong Sun, £41 / This suncream is really hydrating and feels good on, but isn’t a formula that can just be misted and then left – you have to rub it in. I have no issue with that, but if you do…
– Coola Sunscreen Spray, £36 / This is the easiest way to get suncream on – the mist is continuous, you can just spray and go, and it comes in loads of fun scents (and an unscented version if that sort of thing turns you off).
– Lancaster Sun Sport Cooling Invisible Mist SPF 30, £19.85 / Ideal for topping up mid-tennis match, this cooling spray also smells really good (trifling point, but my God is the smell of suncream evocative and this one makes me think of long lazy days poolside).
– Sisley Milky Body Mist SPF 30, £91.50 / If you like to go to a beach all day and your skin gets dry and uncomfortable as the day progresses, try this one – the mist is really hydrating and stops skin from feeling tight in the slightest.
– Zelens Body Defence Sunscreen Silky Oil SPF 30, £55 / If you’re wearing a mini or arms out and want to add a little sheen as well as protecting skin, this oil is a good choice – it isn’t overly greasy but does make skin look lustrous.
Best Extra Bits Sun Products
I realised while researching this that lots of sun-related issues fall outside of just putting suncream on – and that there are a wealth of products designed to protect and be handy to use. So these are they.
– Sisley Sun Stick Solaire SPF 30 Tinted, £69.50 / Sisley make two of these puppies – a tinted and untinted. I opted for the former so I could use is as a sneaky bronzer-cum-SPF on-the-go (though obviously if you have darker skin, this may simply blend in).
– Korres Mandarin Lip Butter Stick in Rose SPF 15, £8 / It’s easy to forget that your lips, too, are vulnerable to sun damage. Instead of applying a sun cream to them, I like to use a tinted lip balm with an SPF in instead. This one is reliable and reasonably-priced.
– Coola Makeup Setting Spray SPF 30, £39 / I wear make-up throughout the day in London so find topping up my SPF tricky (I like the powder listed below but there are only so many times you can put powder on your skin without it looking caked), but have been using this and am impressed. it doesn’t change the appearance of make-up or cause it to run, and it contains hyaluronic acid to up hydration. Clever.
– Jane Iredale Powder Me SPF 30, £35 here. Very, very, very clever little pot from the Iredale team. This powder can be patted on to dust the skin with the applicator or a brush and provides broad spectrum protection that doesn’t run. Oh, and there’s a mirror on the top of the bottle. Handy.
– Skinceuticals Mineral Eye UV Defense SPF 30, £28 / If suncream makes your eyes water, it might be prudent to invest in one specifically for the area that won’t cause irritation. This mineral version by Skinceuticals is very good.
– Rita Hazan Lock + Block Protective Spray, £21 / Hair protectants abound – but they often involve creams or oils. If you like your hair to look precisely the same as usual, but just with some protection, this is brilliant. It also provides a little lightweight hairspray to keep everything bouncy.