You will have heard it a million times before: wearing a face SPF every day is key to healthy – and healthy-looking — skin. A good sunscreen blocks the harmful effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, which wreak havoc on the health of our skin and its cells, leading to decreased collagen and elasticity, fine lines, pigmentation, and an increased risk of skin cancer if an SPF is not used.
Historically, SPFs have been sticky and greasy, quick to clog pores, and prone to imparting a grey hue over darker skin tones. The good news is that now, thanks to much-improved formulas and innovative technology, there are plenty of facial sunscreens that protect your skin while also being a pleasure to use. Look for formulas that have both UVA and UVB protection (find out more about sun protection here), a minimum of SPF 30, and a formula that suits your skin’s specific needs.
Another factor to consider in your sunscreen selection is its effect on the environment. While the science around exactly how damaging sunscreen is to our oceans is inconclusive, what ingredients should we be looking out for to make the best choice possible? Here, the marine biologist Professor Cinzia Corinaldesi from the Università Politecnica delle Marche and Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55, provides a five-step guide.
Avoid oxybenzone and octinoxate
The main chemicals to watch out for are oxybenzone and octinoxate, which are commonly used in sunscreen to absorb UV light. “We [have] demonstrated that oxybenzone, octinoxate and enzacamene caused complete coral bleaching even at very low concentrations,” says Professor Corinaldesi. Octocrylene is another chemical that’s potentially harmful to marine life, with the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory compiling a handy list of the ingredients we should try to avoid.
“Certain organic filters have been identified in water sources worldwide and there seems to be a suggestion that they are not easily removed by common wastewater techniques,” adds Dr Mahto. “Many of the filters have also been found in various species of fish worldwide — the impact of this is uncertain on the food chain.”
Opt for a mineral sunscreen instead
Mineral sunscreens, which typically contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are thought to be less harmful to coral reefs in comparison to their chemical counterparts. “Mineral sunscreens rely on inorganic filters, which form a physical barrier on the skin surface,” explains Dr Mahto.
It’s worth remembering, though, that some research suggests zinc oxide can also pose a danger to marine life. “Our studies indicate that zinc oxide nanoparticles are very harmful to marine organisms,” says Professor Corinaldesi, but adds that titanium dioxide with surface coatings — as found in Green People’s scent-free SPF 30 — “has a much lower impact on coral reefs”.
Look for non-nanoparticles
Particle size matters, too. While nanoparticles can be absorbed by coral reefs, research suggests that larger non-nanoparticles (a label you’ll see on lotions) are better for the environment. Ren’s Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 uses non-nano zinc oxide, while Stream2Sea’s sunscreens contain non-nano titanium oxide. “Consumers should look out for sunscreens that use non-nanoparticles because nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are expected to be more harmful to marine organisms than non-nanoparticles,” explains Professor Corinaldesi.
Read beyond the ‘reef-safe’ or ‘ocean-safe’ labels
The increase in demand for eco-friendly sunscreens means that a lot of brands are now marketing their products as ‘reef-safe’ or ‘ocean-safe’. This usually means they don’t contain oxybenzone and octinoxate — the two chemicals banned in sunscreen by countries such as Hawaii — but they could still contain other chemicals on the Haereticus Environmental Laboratory list that are potentially harmful to the environment. “Consumers should check the ingredients on the label of the products,” Professor Corinaldesi comments.
Don’t forget the packaging
Beyond the ingredients in sunscreen, it’s important to consider the packaging as well, with discarded sunscreen bottles contributing, in part, to the 8m tonnes of plastic that end up in our oceans every year. Brands such as Green People are using recyclable plant-based packaging made from sugar cane; a much more eco-friendly option compared to traditional plastic containers.
From barely-there textures to subtly-tinted creams for when you don’t feel like wearing makeup, shop British Vogue’s edit of the 20 best SPFs for your face below.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Sun Cream Gel SPF50+
If you suffer from blemishes, you may find that sun protection leaves your skin feeling greasy and prone to breakouts. La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios Anti-Shine Sun Cream Gel is specifically designed for people with those concerns, offering a non-comedogenic, feather-light formula with a velvet finish alongside SPF 50 protection.
£17.50, available at LookFantastic.com.
Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily Defense SPF 50
Doubling up as both a moisturiser and an SPF 50 sunscreen, Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily Defense is an industry favourite, perfect for those with sensitive skin thanks to its oil-free, fragrance-free formula. It doesn’t leave a chalky residue either, making it a good choice for darker skin tones.
£30, available at Kiehls.co.uk.
Skinceuticals Advanced Brightening UV Defense SPF 50
With tranexamic acid and niacinamide, this is a supercharged SPF that’s as good at protecting skin from the sun as it is preventing and reducing discolouration. Put simply, it’s an excellent choice if you want an SPF that works really, really hard.
£45, available at LookFantastic.com.
Shiseido Clear Suncare Stick SPF50+
Utilising Shiseido’s WetForce technology, which makes the formula work harder when it comes into contact with water or sweat, this Clear Suncare Stick is particularly brilliant for holidays, humid environments, or when playing outdoor sports. The handy stick packaging means it slots easily into your bag and can be rolled onto areas of the face and body as and when needed.
£28, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Supergoop! Glowscreen SPF 30
Making great SPFs its speciality, Supergoop’s latest launch is the Glowscreen SPF 30, a formula that offers the dewiest, most luminous glow, as well as an SPF of 30. With hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5, niacinamide, and protective cocoa peptides, it doubles up as a skincare staple too – and you’ll actively look forward to applying it each day.
£15, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Avene Intense Protect SPF 50
Especially good for those with sensitive or reactive skin types, Avène’s Intense Protect is as light as silk and ultra-gentle. Not only does it contain the brand’s soothing thermal spring water and pre-tocopheryl, a powerful antioxidant, but it also houses TriAsorB, the first organic sun filter that absorbs and reflects UVA, UVB, and blue light. A must-try.
£20, available at Lookfantastic.com.
Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF 50
Drying perfectly matte, making it a great base for make-up, Heliocare’s 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF 50 is a cult classic loved by those in the know. Ideal for acne-prone and sensitive skins, it protects against UVB, UVA, infrared‐A and visible light.
£29.45, available at Dermacaredirect.co.uk.
Drunk Elephant Umbra Sheer Physical Daily Defence SPF 30
Non-toxic to marine life, this formula protects skin from UVA and UVB while offsetting free radical damage from the environment, thanks to potent antioxidants grape juice, sunflower shoot extract, and astaxanthin.
£29, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Kate Somerville UncompliKated SPF 50
Facialist to the stars, Kate Somerville also has this easy-to-use spray-on SPF in her product repertoire. Not only will it protect skin from the sun, but thanks to a light-diffusing silicone powder and hyaluronic acid in the formula, it helps to set make-up, mattify and hydrate skin. What’s not to love?
£32, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Dr Barbara Sturm Sun Drops SPF 50
Offering a customisable approach to sun protection, Dr Barbara Sturm’s Sun Drops can be worn undiluted as a serum or a few drops can be added to your regular skincare for lightweight SPF 50 protection. It’s a high price point, but it goes a long way, and works well on all skin tones.
£110, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Ren Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Face Sunscreen
A silicone-free formula that protects against all forms of light, Ren’s SPF offering is kind to the environment and forms a non-comedogenic barrier that fends off external aggressors.
£30, available at LookFantastic.com.
Clarins UV Plus Anti-Pollution SPF 50
From blue and UV light to pollen and indoor pollution, this intelligent formula is packed full of antioxidants to protect the skin from all manner of external aggressors. Using organic mango leaf extract, it is delightfully lightweight in texture and promises eight hours of hydration while doing its protective thing.
£44, available at Selfridges.com.
Sisley Paris Tinted Sun Care Stick SPF 50
A formula just as luxurious as its packaging, this Sisley number comes in a stick applicator to make applying your sun care a breeze (and will prevent SPF spillages while travelling). With a slight tint to it, expect a little complexion perk up, while ingredients like shea, camellia oil and mango butter hydrate and smooth skin.
£78, available at Spacenk.com.
Ultra Violette Supreme Screen Hydrating Facial Skinscreen SPF 50+
A multitasking formula, Ultra Violette’s Supreme Screen Hydrating Facial Skinscreen offers factor 50 protection, and contains an array of skincare ingredients – from peptides to vitamin C-rich kakadu plum – to combat free radicals. It is clear (so won’t leave a white cast) and helps to protect from blue light, while also leaving skin primed and ready for make-up. Put simply: it’s excellent.
£34, available at Spacenk.com.
Tan-Luxe Super Gloss Serum
For those who still want to look like they’ve spent an optimal time in the sun (even if that’s not the case), this serum delivers an immediate sun-kissed bronze glow while deeply hydrating skin (thanks to hyaluronic acid and squalane) and protects skin from the sun.
£35, available at Cultbeauty.co.uk.
Lancer Sheer Fluid Sun Shield SPF 30
A formula that is packed with skin-saving ingredients, Dr Lancer’s SPF will improve skin texture, boost glow, and prime skin ready for make-up – all while doing its main job of fending off UVA and UVB. A brilliant option and great for all skin tones.
£45, available at Net-a-porter.com.
Medik8 Advanced Day Total Protect
Great for all skin types, especially those prone to breakouts, this SPF feels like a moisturiser but acts as an all-bases-covered skin-protecting formula. From blue light to pollution, it’s got your skin covered for every eventuality, plus it contains multi-weight hyaluronic acid and skin-softening emollients to leave skin in excellent nick in its wake.
£55, available at Feelunique.com.
Chanel UV Essentiel Multi-Protection Daily Defender SPF 30
When you live in a city, the effects of pollution on your skin are as much a threat as sun damage. Luckily Chanel has the solution in the form of the brand’s UV Essentiel Multi-Protection Daily Defender, which gives broad-spectrum SPF 30 or 50 protection as well as creating a barrier against pollution and free radicals.
£46, available at Allbeauty.com.