The 11 best sunscreens for healthy skin 2024

Best sunscreens
Our beauty writer weighs in on the best sunscreens for various skins types

As a beauty expert, there are two cardinal rules to live by. One, drink more water; two, wear SPF daily. It is basic beauty lore. Even so, during my almost decade-long tenure as beauty director of Elle magazine, I did not always practise what I preached, and I have the freckle-shaped skin damage to show for it. The benefits are obvious: research has proved that daily application of sun-protection factor 15 or above lowers your chance of developing certain skin cancers by 50 per cent, plus, of course, it discourages premature skin ageing.

My issue with SPF was the reaction and tolerance of my sensitive skin, which, if I’m honest, felt more of an immediate priority on a day-to-day basis than protecting the future of my face. And I’m not alone in this. A YouGov survey conducted by skincare company Face The Future showed that only 22 per cent of the UK apply SPF daily, and just 53 per cent of British women are worried about ageing from sun damage. 

In my case, I hadn’t found the right product for my skin, but they’ve come on light years since the white-cast, comedogenic formulas that gave SPF a bad name. The sun protection market has shown consistent and significant growth and, in turn, beauty brands have expanded their ranges to tackle specific skin concerns, launching suncare products to solve many problems. But with greater choice comes greater confusion.

The facts are clear, though: SPF is vital. It is important for protecting your skin from both burning and ageing ultra-violet radiation, essential for your health, and, as I have come to experience with the right products, can deliver a skin-beautifying boost, with benefits.

What to look for in a sunscreen

Your key non-negotiables are broad spectrum (protection against both UVA & UVB rays), and a minimum SPF of 30 (but ideally 50). To protect against all harmful rays – such as blue light, visible light and infra-red too – a full-spectrum SPF is even better.

Dr David Jack is an aesthetic doctor and skincare expert with a skin clinic on Harley Street. He tells me: “It is paramount to not only consider SPF as a way of preventing sunburn, but as the critical element in a comprehensive, anti-ageing skincare strategy.” But not all SPFs are created equal. “A minimum of SPF 30 will block approximately 97 per cent of UVB rays, with higher SPFs offering greater protection. The level of UVA [the deeper-penetrating UV rays] protection is less than this.”

Mineral versus chemical sunscreen

If, like me, you have skincare concerns and might be SPF-avoidant, it is best to opt for a non-comedogenic sunscreen. This simply means non pore-blocking and therefore the difference between a good and a bad skin day. Most mineral sunscreens are non-comedogenic, but lots of modern chemical formulas have been adapted to make sure they aren’t causing skin irritation. Mineral sunscreens include natural ingredients, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, that sit on the skin to physically block the sun’s rays; chemical formulas use effective ingredients such as oxybenzone that are absorbed into the skin to convert UV rays into heat, which is then released from the body.

Dr Jack believes the distinction between the two is largely irrelevant when it comes to efficacy. “It is the level of protection that matters. The use of daily SPF is important year round (not just in the summer) as UVA levels tend to be at similar levels throughout the year and can even penetrate through glass.”

Apply it correctly

Many studies have shown that we don’t use sunscreens properly. With that in mind, it is up to you to get the most protection from your SPF. The number of times sunscreen should be reapplied over the course of the day is dependent on your level of activity, the amount of sun exposure and the type of product. Dr Hiva Fassihi is a consultant dermatologist for skincare company La Roche-Posay and recommends applying your SPF 20-30 minutes before going outside, with reapplication of sunscreen every two-three hours.

She shares some useful tips: “The amount of UVA and UVB protection a sunscreen provides is related to how thickly it is applied on to the skin, so be generous with your sunscreen application.”

For the average adult, use 30-50ml of SPF – about the size of a shot glass – to cover the whole body. For the face, remember the two-finger rule; dispense two strips of sunscreen along your index and middle finger and apply for full facial coverage.

And keep topping it up. Dr Fassihi warns us to “ignore ‘once daily’ or ‘water resistant’ branding and always reapply your sunscreen every two to three hours, and straight after swimming or towelling, in order to maintain protection”.

Best sunscreen for oily skin

Ultra Violette Lean Screen Mineral Mattifying SPF 50+, £34

A mineral-only sunscreen that has a subtly matte finish to take and keep the sheen off. Ultra Violette is something of a covetable cult makeup-like brand of the SPF world.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • With vitamin C for antioxidant protection as well as extra, non-comedogenic moisturising ingredients

  • Pump application

Best sunscreen for dry skin

CeraVe Facial Moisturising Lotion SPF 50, £16.50

An easily absorbed daily moisturiser with SPF included so it is a multi-tasker that delivers a full 24 hours of hydration. It’s like a drink or water for thirsty skin.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Ceramides and hyaluronic acid provide skin-barrier strengthening benefits.

  • Pump application

Best sunscreen for acne-prone skin

Dr Sam’s Flawless Daily Sunscreen SPF 50, £31

Dr Sam Bunting from Harley Street Clinic explains: “SPF is super-important for blemish prone skin as it protects against post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, those pesky dark marks that spots leave behind.” This actively calms reactive skin with a soft focus finish so it works as an excellent base for concealer.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • It contains 5 per cent niacinamide which helps to brighten and boost skin whilst helping keep pores clear and skin calm

  • Pump application

Best sunscreen for sensitive skin

La Roche Posay Anthelios UV MUNE 400 Invisible Fluid, £20

Brilliant for all skin types, but specifically formulated for sensitive and reactive skin, it is ultra water, sand and sweat resistant, lightweight and totally invisible.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Gives unique extra protection against the deeper penetrating UVA rays responsible for premature ageing.

  • Fluid application

Best anti-aging sunscreen

Institut Esthederm Into Repair SPF 50+, £66

With full spectrum protection, this is designed for Hypersensitive, intolerant skin, with loss of firmness. Also brilliant for very fair, post- treatment, or sensitised skin. A brilliant high-value option.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Regenerative active ingredients to help firm the skin, smooth fine lines, and stimulate collagen and elastin production

  • Tube application

Best sunscreen with tinted formula

Obagi Tint Sun Shield in Cool or Warm, £64.09 

The option to choose a warm or cool toned tint is brilliant for the most complimentary and complexion enhancing finish. It gives a beautiful natural glow and skin feels enriched and protected. A personal favourite.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and dermatologist-tested

  • Tube application

Best sunscreen for outdoor activities

Lancaster Sun Sport Cooling Invisible Mist, £25.60

This super-fine mist can even go onto wet skin and is resistant to both water and sweat. It’s a great, skin-cooling and comforting  all-rounder with serious staying power and true ease of use. One for the gym bag.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • A significant cooling effect to refresh the skin with brilliant broad spectrum protection

  • Mist application

Best budget-friendly sunscreen option

Garnier Ambre Solaire Super UV with Vitamin C, £9.50

Ultra lightweight and serious value for money, it has a light invisible, non greasy finish and the perfect addition to your facial skincare routine.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • With vitamin C, glycerin and vitamin E, it is anti-dark spots, glow-boosting and helps to even out skin tone

  • Fluid application

Best sunscreen for water activities

UltraSun Very High SPF 50 Sports Spray Formula, £28

A transparent and fast absorbing non-greasy formula with the most serious staying power. Marketed as ‘one application’ which is tempting, but always top up after the water to be safe.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic with antioxidant Vitamin E

  • Pump application

Best sunscreen for lips

Sun Bum Moisturising SPF 30 Lip Balm, £3.83

While many SPF lip balms can feel quite drying or non-absorbent, this has a  lovely creamy formula that effectively protects and nourishes your thinner-skin, and therefore extra prone to sun damage, lips.

Additional skincare benefits:

  • Aloe and vitamin E for superior and hydration

  • Bullet balm application

Best sunscreen for families

Altruist Family Sunspray, 12.50

Created by a dermatologist and skin cancer surgeon, the SPF 50 spray is suitable for the whole family, including babies from six months old, so you only need one bottle for the beach.

  • Paraben free, gentle for the most sensitive skin and dermatologist specification broad spectrum

  • Trigger spray  application

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