Beauty & Wellness


The ultimate SPF guide

Words by Chanelle Ho

08 May 2024


Discover the best options for protecting face, body, and hair from the sun.

Wearing sun cream might be one of the first beauty rules you ever learn – it's no secret that you should incorporate SPF into your everyday skin routine (even when it's cloudy and grey) to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

'Sun damage can cause up to 80% of premature ageing, from fine lines and pigmentation to wrinkles and loss of collagen,' says Ava Chandler-Matthews, co-founder of Australian suncare brand Ultra Violette. 'Sunscreen works by forming a film on the skin and diffusing these harmful rays, but it's essential to look for one with a broad spectrum to shield you from both UVA rays (responsible for ageing) and UVB rays (responsible for burning and DNA damage).'

Sun cream is our skin's best friend, but it's got a bad rap for feeling greasy, chalky, pilling under makeup, and leaving an unflattering white cast. The great news is that modern sun creams offer incredible formulas – they're featherlight, easy to apply, and undetectable on the skin, meaning there's really no excuse to skip the SPF in your daily skin routine.

But when, why and how often should you apply SPF? We asked the experts to answer all your burning SPF questions (no pun intended) and share the best editor-approved sun creams to buy.

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What's the difference between chemical and mineral sun cream?

Mineral (or 'physical') sun creams typically include active ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which work by sitting on the skin's surface to bounce UV rays away. They're better suited for sensitive skin types, and while low-quality formulas are known to leave a chalky cast on the skin, nowadays, they're easier to apply and lighter in texture as formulas develop – plus, they're effective from the moment they're applied.

Chemical sun creams work by absorbing UV rays and converting them into heat, which is then released by the skin and comes into effect at least 20 minutes after application. They tend to be thinner and lighter in texture, making them easier to apply; however, if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, some ingredients traditionally found in chemical SPFs, such as oxybenzone and octinoxate, can irritate the skin.

Having said that, they are two of the main sun cream ingredients that contribute to coral reef damage (the Hawaiian government banned these ingredients in 2018) and are potential hormone disruptors, so many brands avoid using these in their formulas.

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Will SPF last all day?

'SPF works by creating a film on the skin, and it gradually breaks down throughout the day – from being in sunlight, touching your face, holding a phone to your ear or scratching your skin,' explains Chandler-Matthews. 'As this film breaks down, protection levels weaken, so it's important to reapply your SPF every two or three hours when in direct sunlight or during peak UV-index months.'

Her top tips for easy reapplication? 'Keep a small bottle in your bag and top up every few hours with a spray formula. They're much easier to use and refresh your makeup while protecting your skin at all hours of the day.' Our beauty editor likes to top-up her SPF whenever she reaches for a lip balm or hand cream, making sun protection as habitual as keeping lips and hands moisturised.

How much SPF should you apply?

'You should be using at least a quarter of a teaspoon, approximately 2mg per centimetre of the skin, to ensure your SPF provides enough coverage to be effective,' says Chandler-Matthews. 'Even if you're using a foundation with SPF 50+, you'd need to apply a lot to get adequate coverage. Try introducing an SPF wardrobe and layering your SPF as needed so you have the right level of protection.'

The best SPFs for face, body and hair to build the ultimate SPF wardrobe…

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Supergoop! Glow Screen SPF 30

This next-gen daily sun cream primes and protects your skin, keeping your makeup in place all day while shielding you from UVA and UVB rays. Its lightweight and deliciously dewy formula has hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 to keep skin luminous and hydrated all day, leaving you with a supple, plump, and protected complexion.

MZ Skin Expert UV Protector SPF 50

If you're seriously skincare savvy, you'll love this new SPF from Dr Maryam Zamani's MZ Skin. It might have a hefty price tag, but it's worth every penny. The cutting-edge formula not only shields from harmful UV rays but also delivers hydrating and anti-ageing properties, thanks to Arabian cotton stem cell extracts and niacinamide, for a gorgeous, healthy glow – something that MZ Skin users will know all too well.

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Ultra Violette SPF 50 Preen Screen Reapplication Mist

For days and nights out where reapplying your sun cream will be a bit of a faff, this is a travel bag must-have because, let's face it, you're not going to be that responsible that you remove and redo your makeup just to reapply your SPF. Simply mist over makeup to top up your shield for extra sun protection. Plus, it gives a soft glow to the skin and has a super-fine mist that's undetectable and won't sting your eyes.

Dr Sam Flawless Daily Sunscreen SPF 50

It's silky. It's soft. It's lightweight. It's non-comedogenic. It's fragrance-free. Could this be the ultimate sun cream for sensitive and acne-prone skin? We think so. Created by Dr Sam Bunting (the go-to cosmetic dermatologist for London's beauty editors), this mineral sun cream is simple and uncomplicated in the best way. It has a soft-focus finish that doesn't pill under makeup or clog pores and absorbs quickly without leaving a white cast on the skin. Yes, please.

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RMS SuperNatural Radiance Serum

From RMS, the brainchild of celebrity makeup artist and the queen of clean, Rose-Marie Swift, this new tinted serum-sun cream hybrid offers a glowy, tinted shield for a 'your-skin-but-better' finish. It's mineral-based, great for sensitive skin types, and is packed with natural peptides to boost your skin's radiance levels.

Glossier Invisible Shield SPF 30

If you loved Glossier's original sun cream, you'll be pleased to know that its new and improved version still has that breathable, non-greasy feel but with a higher SPF level. The clear gel texture leaves zero white cast on any skin tone, and it's packed with soothing and smoothing ingredients, making it the perfect makeup primer.

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Sol de Janeiro Rio Radiance SPF 50 Body Oil

Heading to the beach? You'll want to pack this in your beach bag. This dry body oil deeply nourishes the skin while providing broad-spectrum SPF. The subtle shimmer combined with its delicious, good-enough-to-eat scent makes you look and feel irresistible.

Ultrasun Body Tan Activator SPF 30

Ultrasun is one of those brands you can always rely on to get the job done – simple and effective; no fuss and no frills. This innovative body SPF activates melanin production to speed up and prolong an even tan while protecting you from the sun. It's super hydrating, water-resistant, and free from ingredients that can irritate sensitive skin types.

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Oribe Invisible Defense Universal Protection Spray

Shield your strands from UV rays that can cause colour-fading and frazzled ends with this weightless mist that protects from sun damage, heat styling and pollution. The moisturising formula keeps locks hydrated and frizz-free so you can sport perfectly tousled, beachy waves all day.

Hair Rituel by Sisley Hair Protective Fluid

You'd use SPF on your skin, so why neglect your scalp? This weightless mist effortlessly protects your scalp and strands from the harmful and drying effects of sun, sea, and sand. It offers broad-spectrum protection for a soft, shiny, and healthy swish, and it's safe for coloured, bleached or highlighted hair, too. Bonus points for its delicious citrus and woody fragrance.

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Words by
Words by

Chanelle Ho

Chanelle is our London-based beauty writer and loves nothing more than a new product launch or innovative treatment. She also writes about exquisite spas and where to find them, both in the UK and worldwide.

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