14 best facial sunscreens for different skin types
by Lisa Harrison
If you’re planning a sizzling summer in the sun, make sure your beauty regime includes an SPF moisturiser that will protect your skin from harmful rays every day.
In fact Dr Ross Perry, skin cancer expert and medical director of CosmedicsUK, advises: “I would recommend you wear a facial sunscreen 365 days a year, not just in summer. Bare skin should always be protected.”
“If you’re outdoors at all, sunscreen really is an absolute must. The job of sunscreen is to filter out harmful UVA/UVB rays, which are the main cause of skin cancer, as well as premature ageing. Even in winter, the sun can still penetrate. So although the sun is further away than in summer, get into the habit of wearing a high SPF sunscreen all year round – even on dull days.”
UV rays: UVA and UVB – what’s the difference?
The sun emits UV rays and overexposure can damage the DNA in skin. There are two types that reach the earth’s surface, UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB and are responsible for premature ageing, causing lines and wrinkles.
UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and play a greater role in causing skin cancer, although UVA rays do also play a part.
What is SPF?
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how long a sun cream will protect you from UVB rays. No sun cream can block out all UVB rays but different SPF factors allow you to be in the sun for a certain length of time without burning, compared to if you weren’t using any sun cream at all.
For example, SPF 15 means that you can be out in the sun 15 times longer than it would normally take for your skin to burn. For example, if you can sit in the sun for 20 minutes before your skin starts to go red, then applying SPF 15 would mean you could stay out in the sun for 5 hours without burning. So for SPF 25, it’s 25 times longer; SPF 30, 30 times longer and so on.
In summer, you should use a facial sun cream with a minimum SPF of 30 and in winter this can be reduced to SPF 15. Whichever cream you decide to use, you should always make sure that it protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays (look for a broad spectrum sunscreen) and always re-apply regularly.
Dr Perry suggests using a non-greasy formulation, which feels nice and sits well under makeup. Take a look at our tried-and-tested picks below to find the best one for you.
Sunscreens listed in price order
£8, BootsBest for: A holiday
Key specs – Volume 75ml; SPF: 50; How to use: Apply generously before sun exposure (enough to give a visible layer before rubbing in), let it dry then re-apply to ensure adequate coverage
This has the classic Nivea scent, which is somewhat reassuring, especially in a sunscreen product. The mousse comes in a can and we overestimated the initial amount to use - one big squirt was enough for two faces, so this could be quite an economical product.
It rubs in easily and although there were no white marks, there was a bit of an oily sheen left on the skin, leaving it feeling a little greasy. It would be a good product for a holiday rather than everyday use.
£9.86, EscentualBest for: Fair skin with freckles
Key specs – Volume 40ml; SPF: 50+; How to use: Apply evenly and generously before exposure to the sun
This unfragranced cream is thin and runny, meaning a little goes a long way. And considering its high SPF, it absorbs into skin easily without leaving any white film or greasy residue.
We found it was super easy to apply too, and left a beautiful matt finish that left skin feeling smooth and soft. It’s also waterproof (although we would still recommend reapplying after being in water), so it would be a good option for those who like to spend time in the sea or swimming pool.
£12.99 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: Sensitive skin
Key specs – Volume 50g; SPF: 50; How to use: Apply daily to cleansed skin on face and neck
This unperfumed cream smells like an everyday lotion but it’s quite thick and heavy with a mousse-like texture. It does absorb quickly though, without feeling overly greasy and there was no sticky residue after application.
This moisturiser left skin feeling smooth and silky, and there were no visible white marks on the skin, which can often be the case with such a high SPF cream. It feels like a thick barrier to the sun’s rays too - our skin didn't redden in the heat. We think this is a good option if you’re out and about in the sun every day.
£11.33, EscentualBest for: Oily skin
Key specs – Volume 50ml; SPF: 50+; How to use: Apply just before sun exposure and re-apply often to maintain protection
This gel-like cream comes in a pump-action tube and is rather runny in consistency. It needed a good three pumps to get enough coverage for the entire face, too.
It’s unscented – although we felt it had an underlying sun cream smell - and it absorbed quickly, while also reducing any oily patches on the skin. We found it helped even out skin tone, too.
The high SPF makes it a good everyday cream to use.
£16, Oriflame SwedenBest for: All skin types
Key specs – Volume: 50ml; SPF: 35; How to use: Apply every morning to cleansed skin, avoiding the eye area
This Swedish skincare brand has been around for more than 50 years, so we were keen to see what sun protection it could offer.
Its day lotion is quite a thick cream and we had to use a generous amount on the face and neck to achieve decent coverage. There was also a very subtle scent of cranberry and gooseberry (two of its ingredients), but we didn’t find this too overpowering.
It felt more like a sunscreen than a daily moisturiser, but it also kept our skin well hydrated. Absorption was quick, despite feeling thick, and there was no oily residue remaining. Skin felt matte after application, which meant applying makeup was easy, too. In fact, it was quite a good base as it helped to brighten overall complexion.
£16.50, Cult Beauty Best for: Combination skin
Key specs – Volume: 200ml; SPF: 30; How to use: Apply one teaspoon to the face, neck and ears. Apply 10 to 15 minutes before going out in the sun
We love this Danish brand’s quirky, minimalist packaging, while the thick cream can be used on the face, neck, body and hands.
Ecooking says it’s a waterproof, non-greasy product and we did find that it rubbed in easily despite its thick consistency and left a lovely matt sheen on the skin. There’s no obvious fragrance either, which is appealing.
Overall, we think it would make a great addition to your daily beauty routine.
£16.99, John Lewis & PartnersBest for: Extremely delicate skin
Key specs – Volume: 100ml; SPF: 50; How to use: Apply liberally to clean, dry skin at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure
This is a concentrated and gloopy cream that has the texture of a standard sunscreen. It took quite a while to absorb into the skin and for a short time our tester looked like Queen Elizabeth I, with a rather white face. It also left a slight slick of oily residue and a bit of sheen on the face, and you’ll need to use quite a lot to get full coverage.
That said, it did leave skin feeling silky soft and smooth, and helped even out red patches. This would be a great cream to use if you’re out in the sunshine frequently and have skin that is prone to burning, as you feel like you’re getting a good level of protection.
£18, Green PeopleBest for: Dry skin
Key specs – Volume: 50ml; SPF: 30; How to use: Apply a generous amount to the face 20 minutes before exposure to the sun
What’s particularly appealing about Green People’s products are that they were originally created for allergy-prone skin and contain all natural and organic ingredients. This sunscreen comes in an easy-to-use pump dispenser and is light yellow in colour with a rather nutty aroma and mousse-like texture.
Straight after applying to the face, skin had a white sheen and it took a bit of effort to rub in. This also meant makeup was a little tricky to apply straight away, but it did leave our skin feeling instantly hydrated and plump.
£18, Look Fantastic Best for: Fair skin
Key specs – Volume: 150ml; SPF: 20; How to use: Shake well and apply evenly onto face at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun
This smells like summer holidays and transported us to a sun-drenched beach. The fragrance is sweet and fresh, and Greek brand Korres is known for using natural ingredients in its products.
It's a spray cream, which comes out as a white liquid and is rather runny, so you have to be quick to apply it or risk it dripping down your hands. A little squirt certainly goes a long way though and it gives good coverage.
We found this sunscreen rubbed in easily too, and skin felt soft and smooth without any stickiness or oily residue.
£18.95 (price correct at time of publishing), AmazonBest for: Sensitive skin
Key specs – Volume: 75ml; SPF: 30; How to use: Spray a golf ball-sized amount to hands and work into a liquid consistency before applying to face and neck
This is a lovely light mousse by Swedish brand Evy. It’s easy to use and comes in a handy little bottle, which is a handbag-friendly size.
It’s so light and absorbs into skin well, leaving no trace behind other than clear matte skin, so it could easily replace your usual moisturiser. It’s also perfume free, so it’s ideal if you’re not keen on heavily scented products. Containing vitamins C and E, collagen and silk extracts, plus hyaluronic acid, skin had a definite glow after use.
£19.95, Skin ShopBest for: Reducing redness
Key specs – Volume: 50ml; SPF: 25; How to use: Apply to entire face after cleansing and before any other products
Kalme offers a range of skincare products with the aim of reducing redness - mission accomplished on our tester’s skin.
This cream smells earthy and wholesome with the scent lingering on the skin. It absorbs easily and we only needed a pea-sized amount to smooth over the face and neck.
It felt a little sticky immediately after application but this soon disappeared after a few minutes. Makeup was easy to apply over the top and we found it also reduced blotchy patches and evened out our skin tone. This would be great for combination skin.
£30, SKN Rehab Best for: Mature skin
Key specs – Volume: 50ml; SPF: 30; How to use: Apply daily to a cleansed face and neck
The green and purple packaging for this cream looks rather posh and certainly looked good in our bathroom cabinet – SKN Rehab products are used by Harley Street doctors. So, as one of the more expensive products tested, how did it compare?
The cream is quite heavy and thick, which makes it feel like you’re applying sun cream – although a little more difficult to rub in. The pump action did make it easier to dispense though, and meant you wasted less product.
We found it looked very white on the skin after initial application but quickly absorbed, leaving skin feeling smooth and soft to the touch. Applying makeup was easily done straight away, too.
£57, Skin CityBest for: Hydration
Key specs – Volume: 100ml; SPF: 30; How to use: Apply liberally to clean dry skin on the face and neck at least 15 minutes before sun exposure
This brand is, apparently, loved by celebrities including Kelly Rowland and Lea Michelle. The sunscreen is pale yellow in colour and has a rather chemical odour – a bit like glue – and lingered on skin after application, too.
The pump-action tube, however, made it easy to dispense and left no mess. The cream was rubbed in easily and quickly evened out our skin tone by eliminating red patches, while the aloe vera helped to hydrate and soothe skin. It also contains extremozyme antioxidants, which protect and repair collagen and cell DNA.
It’s one to invest in if you’re looking for a more luxury specialist product.
£67, Liberty London Best for: Anti-ageing
Key specs – Volume: 30ml; SPF: 50; How to use: Apply before going out in the sun, repeat often for secure sun protection
The packaging for this product looks like something you would find in a spa, and it also comes with a spa-like price tag. But the brand was founded by a specialist skincare doctor, so we expected good results.
This cream has the added bonus of protecting against premature ageing with its broad spectrum protection. It’s also lightly perfumed with a subtle sweet and fresh citrus scent, but there’s an underlying chemical odour to it too.
It didn’t rub in too easily but left no residue after application. We think this would be a good option to put in your handbag when you’re heading out into intense sun.
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