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Best sunscreen 2021: Protect your skin with the best sun creams, sun lotions and sun blocks

Sherwin Coelho Sarah Matthews
25 Jun 2021

Stay safe from harmful rays with our pick of the best long-lasting, water-resistant and non-comedogenic sunscreens for kids and adults

Believe it or not, the best thing you can do for your skin is to apply a good sunscreen daily. Not only will this reduce the chances of your skin ageing prematurely, but it will also protect you against harmful skin cancers. And if you think sunscreen is only essential on sunny days, think again. For maximum protection, you're supposed to apply it even when it's cloudy outside – and even if you spend most of your time indoors.

It’s no wonder that doctors, dermatologists and beauty experts will all tell you that protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is of paramount importance. Sadly, not all sunscreens are the same. As is often the case, it’s worth investing in a quality product that will do the job effectively, and give you much-needed peace of mind whether you’re at the beach, park or just lounging in your garden.

The level of sun protection offered is, of course, the most obvious difference between competing brands of sunscreen. However, there are also products designed to suit specific needs such as sensitive skin and acne-prone skin, as well as options designed specifically for children who have more delicate skin. You can even get sun protection in a non-cream form if you’d prefer an oil, spray or mousse.

If you don't know your SPFs from your UVAs and UVBs, read on as we shed some light on what to look out for with our handy buying guide below – before listing our favourite currently available sunscreens.

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Best sunscreen: At a glance

How to choose the best sunscreen for you

When it comes to sun cream, it’s all about the SPF, which stands for “sun protection factor”. A product’s SPF rating indicates the amount of protection it provides against ultraviolet B radiation (UVB), which is the main cause of sunburn. The scale runs from two to 50+, with the latter being the strongest form of UVB protection available. To put that into context, SPF15 sunscreen blocks around 93% of UVB radiation, while SPF50+ block around 98%. The British Association of Dermatologists recommends you use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

What's the difference between UVB and UVA rays?

The sun emits two types of ultraviolet radiation. UVB is responsible for sunburn and can increase the risk of skin cancers, while UVA affects the skin's elastin, leading to wrinkles and premature ageing (although it’s also linked to developing skin cancers). Certain sunscreens carry a UVA star rating from zero to five, which indicates how much UVA radiation they absorb, relative to UVB radiation. Don't be alarmed if there isn't a number on the bottle, though: the rating system was devised and is owned by Boots so not all brands carry it.

The British Association of Dermatologists suggests that an SPF of 30 and a star rating of four out of five is “generally considered as a good standard of sun protection” (as long as this is paired with protective clothing and periods spent in the shade). The EU recommendation is that creams should offer UVA protection that is at least a third of the SPF so if you see a bottle with the letters UVA in a circle, you can be assured that it meets this minimum requirement. Sunscreens that offer strong protection against both UVB and UVA radiation are termed “broad spectrum” products.

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What ingredients should I look out for?

Sunscreens fall into two categories: chemical, which convert UV rays into heat, and physical, which contain mineral ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to reflect the UV rays away. Chemical formulas tend to be thinner, so they're easy to apply on a daily basis – although you should wait at least 20 minutes for the product to soak in before heading out into the sun. Physical sunscreens are less likely to clog pores, so they're better for sensitive and blemish-prone skins, but they can rub off easily and may leave white marks on the skin. Some sunscreens combine chemical and physical formulas for a belt-and-braces approach.

Are once-a-day sunscreens effective?

A sunscreen that promises all-day protection from just one application may sound like the stuff of holiday dreams – but be aware that activities such as swimming or even just reclining on a sunlounger can cause the cream to rub off. In reality, you may need to reapply several times throughout the day to stay protected. Still, this kind of product is your best bet if (for example) you’re heading off to work in an environment where you can’t top up your sunscreen throughout the day.

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The best sunscreens you can buy

1. Garnier Ambre Solaire Sensitive Advanced Spray SPF50+: The best all-round sunscreen

Price: £7 (200ml) | Buy now from Boots

Affordable, easy to apply and suitable for all skin types, this dry spray from Ambre Solaire scores highly on all fronts. It dispenses as a fine mist and you can spray at any angle so it’s great for protecting those tricky-to-reach body parts – not to mention hosing down hyperactive kids. The SPF50+ formulation is designed for sensitive skin, meaning there's no alcohol and it's both hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores.

Buy now from Boots

2. SunSense Kids Roll-On SPF50+: The best sunscreen for kids

Price: £9 (50ml roll-on) | Buy now; £16 (125ml bottle) | Buy now

Gloopy lotions don’t mix well with sand, so if you’re travelling with children, we'd recommend using a spray or a roll-on to slather on the SPF. This deodorant-style applicator from Aussie brand SunSense is easy to use with one hand, and the small 50ml bottle is handy to slip into your changing bag or carry-on suitcase. It's is also available to buy in a larger bottle form, which is ideal if you’re worried about running out of the 50ml roll on!

Offering both UVB and UVA protection, it has an SPF of 50 with a three-star UVA rating. Apart from that, it's unscented, water-resistant for up to four hours and specially formulated for delicate skin, so it can be used on babies from six months old.

Buy now from SunSense

3. Avène Very High Protection Spray SPF 50+: The best for sensitive skin

Price: £22 (200ml) | Buy now from Amazon

If you're susceptible to redness, allergies or prickly heat – or have very fair skin – it's best to keep things simple on the sun protection front. This high-coverage cream from French skincare brand Avène is free from fragrance, parabens and chemical filters, as well as being non-comedogenic. It may be thick, but this broad-spectrum SPF50+ product feels soothing on the skin and is easy to apply via a spray pump dispenser.

4. Alpha-H Daily Essential Moisturiser SPF50+: The best facial sunscreen

Price: £18 (30ml) | Buy now from Cult Beauty

It may seem pricey, but this lightweight cream doubles up as both an excellent moisturiser and a high-coverage SPF50+ sunscreen. It's good for all skin types, offering a healthy dose of hydration without feeling greasy.

Enriched with vitamin E, aloe vera and honeycomb extract, it has antioxidant properties and leaves a matte finish, meaning it also works well as a makeup base – and it's easy to control how much you're applying using the nifty pump dispenser.

Incorporating a daily SPF moisturiser into your routine can save you minutes in the morning as well as freeing up space in your toiletry bag, and it's a great way of protecting your face from the sun without even thinking about it.

Buy now from Cult Beauty

5. La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL SPF50+: The best for acne-prone skin

Price: £16 (50ml) | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re prone to acne, you might feel hesitant about adding an extra layer of product to your skincare mix – but this super-lightweight formulation has been specially developed for oily and sensitive skin types. It's hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic and free from preservatives, parabens and fragrance, and it mattifies quickly on application to help combat shiny T-zones.

One of the standout ingredients is Air Licium, which forms a resistant layer on the skin's surface and has the capacity to absorb up to 100-times its weight in water, as well as excess sebum.



£17.61 (£35.22 / 100 ml) Buy now

6. Ultrasun Transparent Sports Gel SPF30: The best water-resistant sunscreen

Price: £14 (100ml) | Buy now from Amazon

Designed for active types, this clear, non-greasy gel from Swiss brand Ultrasun rubs in smoothly and sinks in quickly. It offers SPF30 protection for up to eight hours and is water-resistant – although, as always, it's best to reapply after lengthy swimming sessions.

It's free from fragrance, mineral oil, silicones and preservatives and can be used for up to two years after opening, so it could well see you through more than one holiday. It also contains antioxidants (including grape seed extract), which may offer an extra layer of protection against harmful infrared rays (IR), as well as UVA and UVB rays.

7. Piz Buin Mountain SPF50+ Sun Cream: The best for skiers and snowboarders

Price: £8 (50ml) | Buy now from Amazon

High-altitude skiing calls for a high SPF cream. The sun is stronger up a mountain than it is at sea level, even though it doesn't feel like it when you're surrounded by snow and bundled up in hats, gloves and goggles. Areas like your nose, chin and ears are particularly vulnerable so it's a good idea to look for a cream that offers protection from severe cold and wind, as well as UVA/UVB rays.

Piz Buin's Mountain Sun Cream offers SPF50+ protection and is enriched with edelweiss to provide antioxidant properties, along with a Cold Shield Complex to guard against extreme weather conditions. It's sweat and water-resistant, while the 50ml bottle is small enough to stuff into your ski jacket pocket.

8. Soltan Protect & Repel Lotion SPF50+: The best for complete protection

Price: £7.50 (200ml) | Buy now from Boots

Not only does this sunscreen from Boots’ Soltan range offer the highest level of sun protection, SPF50+, it also incorporates an insect repellent to give you protection from pesky mosquito bites as well. This is extremely handy when travelling abroad to countries where itchy insect bites are a common occurrence.

Many insect repellent products leave behind an unpleasant odour, but Boots has gone the extra mile when designing this cream, creating a suntan lotion that won’t have you wrinkling your nose when liberally applying it. Plus it’s water-resistant, so even if you go for a dip in the pool to cool off you’ll still be protected from the sun's harmful rays and irritating bugs.

Buy now from Boots

9. Skinny Tan Protect & Glow lotion: best gradual tan with sunscreen

Price: £12 | Buy now from Skinny Tan

If you’re someone who likes to use fake tan in the summer, you’ll know that adding sunscreen on top often leads to patchiness and streaks. Most of the time, that means you’ll either have to compromise on your tan or the health of your skin. However, this sunscreen is the best sunscreen that also includes a self-tanner, allowing you to kill those two birds with one stone.

Like other gradual tanners, this gives a healthy-looking glow to your skin all while protecting it from the sun. It’s available in SPF 30 and 50, is water-resistant, has a five-star UVA rating, and is vegan and cruelty-free. By removing a step from your getting-ready routine, it’s also really convenient as well as being lightweight so you won’t need to wait around for ages for this to sink into your skin.

Buy now from Skinny Tan