Best sunscreen for your face 2021 – tried and tested formulas you’ll love

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  • Slathering on the best sunscreen for your face might not be the most glamorous part of your beauty regime, but trust us when we say it’s the step that’ll make the biggest difference. 

    It’s a phrase we hear time and time again, but prevention really is better than cure, and wearing the best sun cream will not only reduce the chances of developing sunburn and skin cancer symptoms, but keep premature ageing at bay. That means less liver spots and skin pigmentation, fewer fine lines and an all-round brighter complexion – and you’ll

    “SPF is the one universal item that every dermatologist worth their salt will agree needs to be part of your daily skincare routine,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist at 55 Harley Street. “Sunscreen protects against solar radiation, in particular UVA and UVB. There are other forms of radiation, including infrared and high-energy visible light, and some sunscreens will also provide additional protection against these.”

    The best sunscreen formulas for your face have come on leaps and bounds in recent years. They’re no longer gloopy and paint-like in texture with a tell-tale white cast, but lightweight, comfortable and a joy to wear.

    How to choose the best sunscreen for your face 2021

    The best sunscreen for your face is dependent on your skin tones, as people with different colourings have differing needs and requirements. “The Fitzpatrick scale classifies skin colour and its ability to tan into six skin types ranging from type 1 skin (fair skinned, blonde/red headed) to type 6 skin (black African/Caribbean skin),” says Dr Adam Fridmann, Consultant Dermatologist at The Harley Street Dermatology Clinic.

    “Those at the lower end with paler skin will only ever burn, or tan minimally, however, those people with darker skin at the mid or higher end of the scale have a natural ability to produce melanin to protect the skin and tan easily. SPF 15 is fine for those with olive or darker skin types and SPF 30 for most white, Caucasian skin. Very fair pale skin could benefit from increasing the SPF to 50.”

    The Fitzpatrick scale classifies skin colour

    Credit: Goodto/Canva

    Unfortunately, not all sunscreen manufacturers have cottoned on to the importance of suitable shades for all skin tones. For that reason, if you’re at the higher end of the Fitzpatrick scale, you may find that some sunscreens for face leave you with a white cast. Formulas that are lightweight, or describe themselves as “invisible” or “suitable for all skin tones” are the best options here.

    Bear in mind there are two key types of sunscreen, physical (sometimes also known as mineral) and chemical. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays so your skin doesn’t have to, while physical filters work as a barrier to reflect them away. Traditionally, mineral sunscreens were heavy, very opaque and tricky to rub in, which is why many people preferred chemical versions. But the tables have turned in recent years, with research revealing that ingredients such as oxybenzone, sometimes found in chemical sunscreen, can have a devastating effect on marine life and coral.  Ultimately, it’s down to personal preference. Don’t be afraid to play around with different formulas until you find the right one.

    Best sunscreen for your face 2021

    Overwhelmed by the amount of choice on shelf? Our Deputy Beauty Editor Jess Beech tested tens of SPFs to help you find the best sunscreen for your face. Remember, the best SPF is always the one you want to wear.

    1. Dr. Dennis Gross All Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense SPF30

    Best sunscreen for face for most skin types

    Dr. Dennis Gross All Physical Lightweight Wrinkle Defense SPF

    As we’ve already touched upon, mineral sunscreens have previously had a bad reputation for being thick, difficult to rub in and leaving a white cast. Luckily Dr Dennis is debunking all those myths for us, having created a mineral sunscreen that’s easily-absorbed and suitable for all skin tones. We were concerned that a high factor, mineral sunscreen would result in spring break outs, but there were no spots to be found, even on typically oily areas across the T-zone. As an added benefit, it’s packed with antioxidants which work behind the scenes to banish the pesky free radicals which can speed up the ageing process.

    VIEW NOW – £46 | CULT BEAUTY

    2. Heliocare 360° Oil Free Gel SPF50

    Best sunscreen for face for oily skin

    Heliocare 360° Oil Free Gel

     

    SPF and oily skin don’t tend to play nicely together. And if you’re anything like our Deputy Beauty Editor Jess, you’re more likely to bring home a face full of tiny white heads from your holiday than a glowing tan. Enter Heliocare. The oil-free formula glides onto skin before becoming quickly dry to the touch. Once on, we found it sits nicely under make-up, and doesn’t contribute to the dreaded 3pm shine. It didn’t block our pores either, leaving skin clear and fresh. The colour is ever-so-slightly tinted, which makes it a great all-rounder for all skin tones.

    VIEW NOW – £31 | AMAZON

    3. La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Aquagel SPF30

    Best sunscreen for face for dehydrated skin

    La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Aquagel SPF30

    Hyaluronic acid is a hero hydrator that can hold up to 1000 times its own weight in water. It occurs naturally in the skin, but stocks deplete as we age, so doubling down with skincare will only make your complexion feel plumper. This SPF is full of the good stuff, and for that reason left our skin skin feeling fresh and glowy quicker than you can say “all inclusive”. A little goes a long way, so apply slowly, you can always add more. Because of the added skincare benefits, there’s no need to layer over a moisturiser or serum unless you think your skin needs it.

    VIEW NOW – £34.50 | BOOTS

    4. Garnier Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness Super UV SPF50+

    Best sunscreen for face for dry skin

    Garnier Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness Super UV SPF50+

     

    If you’re on a budget, Garnier Ambre Solaire Anti-Dryness Super UV is a real bargain. It’s suitable for all skin types, but really earns its keep when used on skin that’s sensitive, dry or easily irked. There’s no added fragrance and it won’t sting if some does end up near your eyes.  As for the texture, we found it was slippery, but not greasy, and so you don’t need a huge amount to get a decent layer of coverage. The addition of glycerin helps skin to hold onto moisture, even in warm, drying conditions.

    VIEW NOW – £6 | BOOTS

    5. Ultrasun UV Face & Scalp Mist SPF50

    Best sunscreen for face for all skin tones

    Ultrasun UV Face & Scalp Mist

    Be honest, do you really take your sun cream all the way to your hairline, or does the prospect of greasy hair cause you to stop half way up your forehead? If that sounds like you, you’re not alone. In fact, according to Ultrasun MD Abi Cleeve, this is one of the sites where skin cancer is becoming most prevalent. To help you ensure you’re getting the best possible protection, without compromising on your roots, this lightweight spray has been designed as an extra step. We’ve been keeping one in our bag, and one on our desks, for fuss-free top-ups whenever and wherever necessary. It’s completely transparent, so won’t leave you with tell-tale white dots on your skin.

    VIEW NOW – £18 | Ultrasun

    6. Eucerin Actinic Control Fluid SPF100

    Best sunscreen for face for very pale skin

    Eucerin Actinic Control Fluid SPF100

    New for 2021, this is Eucerin’s first medical SPF. Instead of simply protecting skin against UVA and UVB damage, it has been specifically formulated to prevent non-melanoma skin cancers including actinic keratosis. Actinic Keratosis appears on the skin as dry, scaly spots and is often clay-like in colour. It can become malignant if left untreated. Remember to check your skin regularly for any changes, and visit your GP if you’re concerned. As for the formula, we found it to be impressively lightweight for an SPF 100. The yellow-ish colour absorbs quickly with no white cast.

    VIEW NOW – £25 | Boots

    7. Coola Full Spectrum 360 Sun Silk Drops SPF30

    Best sunscreen for face for everyday

    Coola Full Spectrum 360 Sun Silk Drops 

    We love a product that does just as it says on the bottle, and this SPF really does deliver on a silk-like consistency. It’s lovely and light, and feels cool on the skin, which is a welcome treat on warm days. The finish is quite luminous, which might not suit all tastes, but definitely gave our lacklustre skin a pick-me-up. Use the built-in pipette to easily dispense a few drops onto the back of your hand before liberally massaging in. It pays to use extra on your hands too, as these can be one of the first places to show signs of ageing.

    VIEW NOW – £44 | CULT BEAUTY 

    8. Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield SPF30

    Best sunscreen for face under make-up

    Murad Invisiblur Perfecting Shield

    We have tried a lot of sunscreens over the years, but none deliver quite like Murad. The Invisiblur Perfecting Shield is a real favourite of the GT team, mainly as it doesn’t feel at all like sunscreen. It has a luxurious, velvety texture and creates such a smooth canvas that it doubles as a primer as well. We like wearing it on no-make-up days too to take the edge off of large pores and other imperfections. If that’s not enough to sway you, the skincare benefits might. Mushroom peptides and cucumber extracts work behind the scenes to restore firmness and moisture.

    VIEW NOW – £65 | JOHN LEWIS

    9. Kate Somerville UncompliKated SPF50 Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray

    Best sunscreen for face over make-up

    Kate Somerville UncompliKated SPF50 Soft Focus Makeup Setting Spray

    Can’t face the idea of adding another step to your beauty regime? This two-in-one make-up setting spray and SPF might just be the best facial sunscreen for you. It’s pricey, but we think it’s a treat to use, flexing an expensive-feeling mist action that evenly dispenses product across your face and neck. It looks good too, with light-diffusing silicones leaving skin looking like it’s been graced by a soft-focus filter. It is quite mattifying, which works well for oily and combination skin, but may give too flat a finish if your complexion is naturally dry.

    VIEW NOW – £34 | LOOK FANTASTIC

    10. ZitSticka Megashade

    Best sunscreen for face for spot-prone skin

    ZitSticka Megashade

    Zitstika

    The brand that brought us their game-changing, spot-reducing stickers are at it again, this time formulating a gentle sunscreen especially for those with sensitive or breakout-prone complexions. Going one step further than being simply non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t block your pores) it also contains tea tree oil, a natural anti-inflammatory with anti-bacterial properties The formula is shockingly white when it comes out of the pipette, but quickly dials down to a transparent finish as you rub it in. It’s lightweight, and doesn’t make your face feel hot or caked in product. The finish is smooth and silky with a subtle glow. The ideal base for make-up. 

    VIEW NOW – £35 | Zitstika 

    Is SPF30 or SPF50 better for your face?

    An SPF 30 will protect you from 97 per cent of UVB rays. That number rises to 98 percent protection with SPF 50, according to dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross. If you find SPF50’s too heavy, you may be less likely to apply liberally and regularly. In which case, the loss of 1 percent protection by switching to an SPF30 is outweighed by the level of coverage your skin is getting.

    SPF stands for sun protection factor, and the number indicates how many minutes you can spend in the sun before burning from UVB rays. UVB rays vary in intensity depending on the weather, and you’re most at risk during spring and summer, when the sun is highest in the sky. What SPF doesn’t take into account is UVA. These pesky rays are present all year round, and can penetrate through clouds and glass. While over-exposure to them won’t necessarily leave you burnt and sore, they do travel deeper into the skin’s layers and speed up the ageing process.For this reason, it’s really important to select a broad spectrum sunscreen for the face that protects against both UVB and UVA rays.

    Good application is also vital for adequate protection. “It’s important to bear in mind that we need to apply over half a teaspoon of SPF sunscreen to the face, neck and backs of ears,” says Dr Adam Freidmann, Consultant dermatologist for Stratum Dermatology Clinics. “Applying less will reduce the protection to a higher degree than is proportionate – for example, only applying half the required amount can actually reduce the protection by as much as two thirds.” Pay special attention to easy-to-miss spots like the top of your ears and temples.

    Is the SPF in my moisturiser enough?

    Some foundations and moisturisers may claim to offer SPF, but unfortunately they don’t offer the same high level of protection as “pure” SPF. “SPF moisturisers are useful for short bursts of sun exposure but not suitable for longer stints outside as they may not give sufficient protection,” explains Dr Adam Fridmann. “This is because they are applied first thing in the morning, rather than being reapplied every two hours as recommended for an SPF and are often applied in a much thinner layer meaning that the SPF level may not be what is promoted on the bottle.”

    Should you wear sunscreen on your face everyday?

    Sunscreen for the face is an all-year-round requirement, not just for the summer months. Due to our latitude in the UK, we get very very little UVB between October and March – this is the sun’s ray often associated with burning. In the spring and summer, however, it is worthwhile switching to a separate sunscreen to be used after your regular moisturiser. 

    However, this isn’t a case of one size fits all and some common sense also needs to be employed. Dr Anjali Mahto told us, ” If you are regularly using exfoliating products during the winter such as AHAs and BHAs, you are better off with a separate regular sunscreen. Similarly, if you participate in outdoor sports or work and are likely to be outside for longer than twenty minutes or so at a time you should wear daily sun protection. The same applies if you live in a sunny climate or close to the equator; wearing a regular daily sunscreen throughout the year is strongly advised.”

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