We all know that a nasty sunburn is the quickest way to ruin a beach day, but SPF is more than just a summer essential. Whether you’re jetting off for some winter sun or soaking up the rays on home soil, SPF is a year-round necessity, not just a suitcase companion.
So, we get the point: wear your SPF whatever the weather, but which sun cream should we use? From varying SPF strengths to UVA filters and specific skin concerns, there’s a lot to consider when searching for the right product to protect your skin. That’s where we come in.
The Recommended spoke to three expert dermatologists to get the inside scoop on why we should be wearing SPF and what to look for (and avoid) when choosing the right product.
Jump to the best sun creams:
- Best all-rounder: La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50+ Sun Cream
- Best fast-absorbing sun cream: Garnier Ambre Solaire Dry Mist
- Best sun cream for babies: Child’s Farm Sun Cream SPF 50+
- Best sun cream for kids: NIVEA SUN Kids Swim & Play Ultra Protect SPF 50+
- Best oil-free sun cream: Heliocare 360 Oil-Free Gel SPF 50
- Best water-based sun cream: Ambre Solaire UV Water SPF 30
- Best cruelty-free sun cream: Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30
- Best moisturising sun cream: The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF50
- Best matte sun cream: COOLA Mineral Matte Cucumber SPF30
- Best for sensitive skin: Holland & Barrett Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Our sun cream experts
Dr Walayat Hussain is an expert dermatologist with over 20 years of experience in the field. Specialising in the treatment of skin cancers, Dr Hussain is accredited by the prestigious American College of Mohs Surgery and is one of the UK’s most widely published dermatologists. Dr Hussain Currently practices at the Nuffield Health Hospital in Leeds and is dedicated to providing the best care for his patients.
Dr Anton Alexandroff is a leading dermatologist, specialising in treating skin diseases and conditions, including dermatitis and psoriasis, as well as treating skin cancers. Dr Alexandroff has published over 40 peer-reviewed research papers and is a fellow of The Royal College of Physicians, the British Association of Dermatologists, and The Royal Society of Medicine, amongst others.
Dr Adil Sheraz is a consultant dermatologist with over a decade of experience in general adult dermatology and cancer care. Currently working as a consultant at the Royal NHS Free Trust, Dr Sheraz also regularly provides undergraduate and postgraduate teaching to medical students at King’s College Hospital, London and is widely published in medical journals.
What is SPF, and what does it stand for?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and is “a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection”. Our expert Dr Sheraz tells us, “the SPF only refers to the sunscreen’s potential to block UVB rays and not UVA”. So, what are UVB and UVA rays? UVA rays, or ultraviolet A rays, are longer waves of radiation that “are part of the natural energy produced by the sun” and are associated with skin ageing. UVB, or ultraviolet B rays, are shorter waves of radiation that can cause the skin to burn. A star rating on sun cream products often signals UVA protection. The higher the star rating, the greater the protection the product provides.
How long does sun cream last?
NHS UK recommends applying sun cream liberally twice before going out in the sun, once thirty minutes before going outside and once right before leaving. The NHS also recommends reapplying sun cream every couple of hours, especially if you plan on swimming, something Dr Sheraz agrees with, telling us “any sunscreen whether it’s water-resistant or not needs to be reapplied every 2 hours”.
Why should you wear SPF every day?
When asked why it’s so important to wear sun cream, Dr Hussain told us, “sunburn and sun damage to the skin is the biggest risk factor for the development of skin cancer”. Dr Sheraz agreed, adding that, according to Cancer Research, “melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have more than doubled (140%) in the UK” and that “sunscreen is a vital part of our armoury to fight against the increasing number of melanoma cases we are seeing”. As well as highlighting the importance of SPF in helping to prevent cancer, Dr Alexandroff touched on how using SPF “also reduces the risk of a skin condition called melasma (pigmented skin on face mostly in female patients especially female patients of colour, pregnant patients and patients on a combined contraceptive pill)” while Dr Sheraz noted the anti-ageing benefits saying “sunscreen will also slow down the visible photoaging process in the skin, reducing the formation of wrinkles, fine lines and pigmentation”.
What should you look for when buying sun cream?
Our experts tell us that the UVB and UVA protection factors are key things to look out for when shopping for sun cream. Dr Sheraz told us, “SPF numbers range from 2 to 50+. Choose an SPF that is suitable for your skin type. In general, I do not recommend anything less than 30. If you have fair skin, blue eyes and blonde hair, then you will almost definitely need an SPF 50”. Dr Alexandroff also notes this and recommended products with “5 star UVA protection” and “water-resistant” formula.
What should you avoid when looking for sun cream?
When asked what to avoid when shopping for sun cream, Dr Alexandroff mentioned a few key ingredients to steer clear from. Dr Alexandroff told us how “avobenzone” is “a common cause of sunscreen allergy” and “oxybenzone kills coral reef” and is “also a synthetic estrogen and can accumulate in the body and potentially cause disruption of your hormones”.
Dr Sheraz advised us to “avoid spray sunscreens in children, as some chemicals may be inhaled, the effects of which are not fully understood”. Dr Sheraz added, “If you have sensitive skin, rosacea or acne, then you may consider avoiding chemical sunscreens and using a pure mineral one which tends to be less irritant”. He also advised us to “avoid sunscreens that claim ‘all day’ protection. Any sunscreen, whether water-resistant or not, needs to be reapplied every 2 hours”.
Which is the best sun cream?
Dr Alexandroff recommends “La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMUNE 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50” for all skin types, telling us “it protects against UVB, UV and ultra-long UVA, it is not perfumed, it’s checked by dermatologists and is very water-resistant”. Dr Sheraz agreed with this recommendation and also gave a shout-out to “Holland & Barrett Mineral Sunscreen if you have sensitive skin” and, for acne-prone, oily skin, he suggests “Heliocare Gel Oil-Free Sunscreen”.
What SPF should I use?
Best all-rounder: La Roche-Posay Anthelios UVMune 400 Invisible Fluid SPF50+ Sun Cream
Recommended by both Dr Alexandroff and Dr Sheraz, La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios SPF 50 is a trusted favourite that works to provide top-quality protection in an undetectable formula.
Dr Alexandroff sang this product’s praises for its “hypoallergenic”, “very water-resistant”, and “anti- eye-stinging formula tested by ophthalmologists”. This sun cream also delivers ultra-long UVA protection in a lightweight consistency that can be apple seamlessly under make-up.
Best fast-absorbing sun cream: Garnier Ambre Solaire Dry Mist
For a barely-there feel
Equipped with the expert-recommended SPF 50 rating, this ultra-fine mist sun cream works to provide high-level protection with a non-greasy feeling.
Garnier’s Ambre Solaire Dry Mist is non-sticky and water-resistant for resilient protection. This lightweight sun cream is formulated with advanced UVA and UVB protection and absorbs instantly for a barely-there feel, leaving no white marks or residue.
Best sun cream for babies: Child’s Farm Sun Cream SPF 50+
Maximum protection for little ones
Suitable for sensitive skin, this sun cream provides high-level, water-resistant protection for babies and young children.
This sun cream is approved by dermatologists and paediatricians and is made with a vegan, fragrance-free formula that is gentle on the skin without compromising protection. This product works to deliver outstanding protection from both UVA and UVB rays, as recommended by experts, and is made with sustainable packaging that is 100% recyclable.
Best sun cream for kids: NIVEA SUN Kids Swim & Play Ultra Protect SPF 50+
With a five-star UVA protection rating and SPF 50+ formula, the Nivea Sun Kids Swim & Play sun cream is designed to protect active kids without slowing them down.
This product is free from oxybenzone, as recommended by Dr Alexandroff, and is also made without microplastics for a sea-safe formula. This sun cream is three times more water-resistant than standard waterproof products and is sand and sweat resistant for resilient protection.
Best oil-free sun cream: Heliocare 360 Oil-Free Gel SPF 50
For a matte finish
Recommended by Dr Sheraz for oily and acne-prone skin, the Heliocare 360 Oil-Free Gel SPF works to protect and mattify the skin while preventing premature ageing.
This vegan, matte sun cream is recommended for acne-prone skin due to its non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic formula (meaning it doesn’t block pores or cause breakouts). This product is equipped with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB ratings as well as an SPF 50 formula and works to provide high-quality protection without irritating the skin.
Best water-based sun cream: Ambre Solaire UV Water SPF 30
This lightweight mist works to make streaky white marks and that greasy feeling a thing of the past with an undetectable formula that protects and moisturises the skin.
Enriched with soothing aloe vera, this non-sticky sun cream is crafted with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB filters that help to protect against burns and long-term sun damage. The hydrating formula leaves the skin soft and hydrated for up to eight hours.
Best cruelty-free sun cream: Green People Scent Free Sun Cream SPF30
This natural, cruelty-free sun cream is unscented, reef-safe and eczema friendly, providing quality protection for the most sensitive skin types.
This sun cream provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection using safe, non-toxic UV filters. This gentle formula is enriched with aloe vera, green tea and edelweiss and works to nourish and soothe the skin. Its non-pore-clogging formula is suitable for use on combination and acne-prone skin.
Best moisturising sun cream: The Body Shop Skin Defence Multi-Protection Essence SPF50
A hydrating defence
This Body Shop sun cream blends the essential protection of sun cream with the hydrating benefits of the moisturiser for a product that nourishes the skin all year round.
It covers all bases by combining hydration and sun and anti-pollution protection in a lightweight, non-greasy formula. This sun cream is made with an SPF rating of 50+ and an improved matrix of UV filters that work to prevent premature ageing. This formula is also enriched with vitamin C and red algae, helping to support brighter, healthier-looking skin.
Best matte sun cream: COOLA Mineral Matte Cucumber SPF30
This targeted sun cream for oily skin absorbs easily into the skin leaving lightweight protection and a matte, natural-looking finish.
This cucumber-scented sun cream is enriched with rosehip oil and vitamin c that protect against environmental aggressors, while shea butter works to hydrate the skin. This sun cream delivers the all-important broad-spectrum UVA protection and promises to protect the skin without clogging pores for a clear complexion.
Best for sensitive skin: Holland & Barrett Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50
Recommended by Dr Sheraz for sensitive skin types, this gentle sun cream is chemical-free, vegan friendly, and reef-safe, protecting your skin and the environment.
This product meets Dr Alexandroff’s recommendations of a gentle formula that provides UVA and UVB protection without irritating the skin with its kind-to-skin ingredients. This product is also made of natural antioxidants and oils that nourish the skin while also providing high-quality protection.
Want to read more expert-recommended product round-ups? Check out our Cosmetics page for a full list of recommendations, including our list of the best mascaras, the best foundations and the best fake tans.