When it comes to taking proper care of our skin, prevention is always better than cure – and this is especially true when it comes to sun damage.
While we all likely slather on the sun lotion during a hot-weather holiday, many of us neglect to wear an SPF moisturiser in our everyday lives, despite the fact that sun damage can, of course, be caused on home soil too.
Alongside the sunburn you can see (particularly if you like to sunbathe), the sun also damages your skin on a deeper level, with the effects – think lines and pigmentation – coming to the surface years down the line.
Why a facial sunscreen is so important
Dr. Hiva Fassihi, La Roche-Posay consultant dermatologist, stresses the importance of wearing SPF on your face every day – even when the sky is cloudy. “It makes a difference, not only from the perspective of protecting against skin cancer, but also from an ageing point of view in the long-term,” she says.
The sun emits ultra-violet radiation, which is split into UVA and UVB rays. “UVB has a shorter wavelength and it’s a bit more damaging in that it can cause sunburn and is associated with causing skin cancers in future life. UVA is slightly different, though it can also cause skin cancers. It penetrates deeper in the skin and causes problems with photo-ageing, breaking down collagen and elastin. It’s important we use sunscreens that cover us against UVB and UVA, both for skin cancer prevention and for ageing.”
Thankfully, all good facial sunscreens now offer the necessary ‘broad-spectrum’ protection. What’s more, the best SPFs on the market are a far cry from the thick, pore-clogging creams of old, offering lightweight textures, advanced skincare benefits and flattering dewy tints.
Face SPF: mineral or chemical?
Of course, with more choice often comes more confusion – and it’s now a tricky task to locate the best face SPF for you. Sun protection is split generally into two forms: chemical and physical, (sometimes referred to as ‘mineral’). Chemical filters penetrate the skin's surface and absorb the UVA and UVB rays, while physical filters sit on the top, reflecting the rays back from the face.
As consultant dermatologist Justine Hextall explains, there are pros and cons to both. “Chemical blocks often rub in more easily and are felt to have better protection against UVA. However, they can sometimes cause irritation and allergy." This is of particular concern for rosacea sufferers, as chemical filters emit a low level of heat energy when converting the rays, meaning they could contribute to a flare-up.
"Physical blocks usually contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and are better tolerated. The downside is that these thick white creams are often considered less cosmetically acceptable, particularly with darker skin tones,” adds Hexall. However, there are now some innovative new physical sunscreens that use ingredients such as clear zinc, or contain a flattering tint, meaning they’re appropriate for use on all skin tones.
How to make facial SPF work with make-up
It's true that SPF doesn't always play well with make-up – especially when you're required to top up the sunscreen every few hours.
Many brands will have you believe that the solution to this is simply to wear a foundation containing SPF, but this may not be enough. As dermatologist Dr Hiba Injibar explains, no foundation can be trusted to act as your sole sun protection. "If your foundation contains SPF, don't necessarily rely on it for the most effective level of protection. Make-up isn't always evenly applied and it wears off easily throughout the day," she says.
The solution actually lies in strategic layering. "After applying your SPF, wait for a few minutes to allow your suncream to set. Be generous with the application. If you're continuously in the sun, make sure you're reapplying every three to four hours. I know it's hard but if you have the time, try to take off all of your make-up and reapply, because ideally SPF should go directly onto skin," Injibar explains. "This is obviously not realistic in every situation, so if you don't have the time, use a loose powder that contains SPF to top yourself up. Just make sure that first application is thorough and directly onto the skin."
From the SPF moisturisers that protect your skin properly to clever tints and spritz-on mists for topping up throughout the day, these are the very best sunscreens for face that promise not to ruin your make-up, clog your pores, or make your skin feel hot and bothered.
The best face SPFs to wear all year round
La Roche-Posay has long been a go-to for reliable facial SPFs, but the latest addition to the Anthelios range seriously raises the bar.
A true feat of formulation, it feels as light as water (and looks genuinely invisible on skin) yet delivers SPF 50 protection.
The real draw here is the brand's innovative new Mexoryl 400 filter, which protects not just from the usual UVA and UVB, but the longer wavelength rays that prompt collagen breakdown too. Used as well as (not instead of) the brand's core filters, this is one facial protector that packs a serious punch. Everyone should give it a try.
If you stubbornly refuse to believe that a high-factor sunscreen can look, feel and even smell appealing, you've met your match.
Arriving from Australia – the country with the strictest SPF regulations – Ultra Violette is the brand best placed to change sunscreen's old-fashioned reputation. It's slick, sensorial, and packed with skincare benefits that mean it does so much more than shielding you from the sun. This lightweight serum contains vitamin C-rich kakadu plum alongside lightweight chemical filters, and imparts glossy radiance to boot. It even smells like roses.
This one is a chemical sunscreen, but if you prefer something mineral, the brand's zinc-only Lean Screen is equally worth trying.
A cult hero, this SPF face moisturiser has a water-weight, gel-like consistency that makes it ideal for oily, breakout-prone skin. It contains gentle chemical filters: for something entirely mineral-based, opt instead for the lightly tinted, long-loved UV Mineral Defense Sunscreen.
Vichy has really raised the bar with this facial sunscreen, which offer multiple benefits while feeling truly as light as water.
The milky fluid contains chemical broad-spectrum SPF50 alongside pore-balancing niacinamide, firming peptides and biome-protecting probiotics. A trustworthy everyday sunscreen for a very welcome price.
This hydrating and antioxidant-rich shield is designed specifically for city wear. It works to protect your skin against the damage caused by free radicals (the pollutants in the air that can cause premature ageing), by providing a physical yet invisible block against UV rays and pollution.
At the luxury end of the spectrum sits Sisley's sublime facial sunscreen, which feels just as it should: like a prestige face cream. It features high SPF 50 protection alongside softening camellia oil and antioxidant edelweiss. A great choice for those who prefer a satiny finish over a dewy glow.
For something that feels entirely luxe, look to Chantecaille. The brand's classic Ultra Sun works as both a sunscreen and a primer, blurring pores and balancing oil before foundation (or when simply worn alone). It's oil-free and extremely light, meaning even the most sunscreen-phobic will be impressed.
A practical addition to your bag, this facial sunscreen spray is designed to work equally well under or over make-up, so you can reapply without disturbing your foundation. Use it in place of your traditional face mist when temperatures are high.
A tinted SPF is a great way to forgo the foundation, combining protection and a light veil of coverage in one easy product.
Dr. Sam Bunting can be trusted to create something that both works well and looks good on skin. This lightly tinted option evens out skin tone and skims over blemishes without feeling heavy or cake-like. It's completely mineral-based and suitable for those with very sensitive and rosacea-prone skin.
If you don't want to trade in your traditional moisturiser for one with SPF, you can supercharge it instead by adding in a few drops of Dr Barbara Sturm's clever booster. The concentrated creamy serum delivers high SPF50 protection, and can be applied straight onto skin or blended into any other product.
It's true that some mineral SPFs can leave your face looking ashy, or with an unwanted white cast – but you can trust Summer Fridays to get it just right. This brand-new launch demonstrates exactly how a mineral sunscreen should be: lightweight, easily absorbed, and leaving behind nothing but a beautiful, transparent sheen. Neither oily nor drying, it's simply a must-try for every skin type.
An SPF powder is a useful thing to keep in your bag on sunny days: while it won't replace your sunscreen entirely, it's helpful to reduce shine and keep your protection topped up. Supergoop's offering is ultra-fine, feels silky on skin, and sets foundation before that midday shine has a chance to appear.
Famed facialist Sarah Chapman understands that, in order to make her clients actually use sun protection, the formula has to be appealing.
Her own Skin Insurance SPF50 is truly a joy to apply and wear: it's lightweight yet skin-softening, and now comes in this 'invisible' iteration that really is undetectable on the skin.
Clarins' latest UV Plus sunscreen is a wise choice for city-dwellers, and it contains filters that ward of pollutants, as well as UV rays.
There's a translucent option for those who prefer an invisible product, but this subtly rose-tinted version does the skin-brightening job better. It's ultra-lightweight too, so oily types will be impressed.
Clé de Peau Beauté's facial SPF is undeniably aimed at the luxury market, but don't expect a thick, rich cream. In fact, this sublime formula is as light and cooling as water, transforming into an invisible, weightless shield on application – no massaging in required. There's a light scent, and the protection is high enough for heatwaves and holidays. It makes a smooth base for foundation, too.
Patches of pigmentation can worsen in the sun, meaning a good facial SPF is even more important. This advanced new cream from Skinceuticals is here to help: as well as serious SPF 50 protection, it contains niacinamide and tranexamic acid, which work together to brighten existing dark spots. It might be a heavy-hitter, but it feels supremely light on skin. A brilliant all-rounder.
This solid twist-up stick can be simply swiped onto skin when needed, delivering a completely clear shield from the sun's rays. It's designed to be gentle enough for the most vulnerable areas – think around your eyes and the bridge of your nose – and is small enough to slip into a pocket.
This one appears thick on first squeeze, which may put the acne-prone off – but trust us when we say it melts into skin to absorb shine and balance blemishes, leaving you protected from both burning and breakouts. It contains an antimicrobial active that works to prevent excess sebum production, and lightly mattifies an oily complexion.
Cerave has finally launched a high-factor SPF for face, and it does not disappoint. This affordable formula acts as both your moisturiser and SPF, meaning you can cut down on your skincare layers and know your complexion is well-protected. The texture is reasonably thick, but rest assured the brand's signature ceramide base will keep all skin types happy.
Heliocare's high-protection sunscreens are trusted by so many dermatologists. Ideal for oily and congestion-prone skin, this oil-free formula contains broad-spectrum physical sun filters alongside antimicrobial ingredients that help to regulate sebum production, ensuring your skin stays balanced, no matter the temperature. If you've found most sunscreens break you out, this is the one to try.