Ever seen the film Sexy Beast? The opening scene is a sight to behold: Ray Winstone squeezed into a pair of tight yellow swimmers, his well-oiled thighs glistening under the relentless Almerian sun. It’s a time capsule of tanning goals past.
These days, slathering yourself in oil is about as cool as the internal combustion engine, and turning the same shade as an overcooked Richmond sausage about as desirable as eating one.
Sun exposure is a well-known cause of melanoma (that’s skin cancer) and premature ageing. But that doesn’t mean we should never venture outside again. Due to both country’s sun-starved position in the northern hemisphere, most British and American readers are deficient in Vitamin D (which is essential for healthy bones), of which sunshine remains the best (free) source.
A little exposure is good for us – provided we’ve got the necessary protection. With that in mind, here’s everything you need to know about sunscreen including how it works and the best brands to buy into this summer.
What Does SPF Stand For?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor.
What SPF Should I Use?
“When choosing a sunscreen, look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or more) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, a consultant dermatologist at the British Skin Foundation.
What’s the difference between the different rays? Just think B is for burning and A is for ageing – and both are responsible for the development of skin cancer. It’s also worth taking a higher SPF for delicate areas like the face, at high altitude and tropical destinations. Oh, and you can’t add them together (SPF 15 plus 20 does not make 35, sorry).
How Does Sunscreen Work?
“There are two main types of sunscreen,” explains Dr Mahto, “chemical and physical (mineral). Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that behave as filters and reduce the level of UV penetrating the skin. Physical or mineral sunscreens are products that typically contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which physically block out ultraviolet radiation.
“Physical ones can often be less user-friendly as they can be chalky, thick and do not easily wash off. However, individuals that have extreme sensitivity to UV radiation may benefit from these.
How Much Sunscreen To Use?
Just like your hair gel, how much sunscreen you use has a big effect on the end result. However, unlike hair styling products, it’s difficult to use too much.
“The average-sized adult should apply more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen (about 3ml) to each arm and the face/neck, and just over one teaspoon (6ml) to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body. Use about a quarter of a teaspoon for the face,” says Dr Mahto.
How Often To Reapply Sunscreen?
“Chemical sunscreens take approximately 20 minutes before application to become effective and should therefore be applied before going outdoors,” advises Dr Mahto.
“Ensure you reapply every two hours and straight after swimming and towel-drying. Don’t forget to protect your skin with clothing, and wear a hat that protects your face, neck and ears, [and] spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm when the sun is strongest.”
Best Sunscreen For Men
Best Everyday Sunscreen
Lab Series Day Rescue Defense SPF 35
Your daily SPF should be good for all seasons. Ones that smell like ‘tropical breeze’, however, might be less suitable for the office. Lab Series Day Rescue Defense SPF 35 is light, invisible and keeps a lid on that oily sheen. It’s good for bald heads, too.
Best Sunscreen For Face
Ren Skincare Clean Screen Mineral SPF 30 Mattifying Face Sunscreen
When it’s boiling outside, most of us don’t require extra help developing a shiny face. Ren’s mattifying physical sunscreen helps to keep the sheen at bay (it’s also non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog your pores) and has blue light protection, so will fight the evil rays from your phone, too.
Best Sunscreen For Body
Vichy Capital Soleil Beach Protect Anti-Dehydration Spray SPF 50
Dehydrated skin is going to shed a post-holiday glow double-quick. This ultra-hydrating spray from French cosmetics brand Vichy is enhanced with hyaluronic acid to help combat the drying effects of sun, sand and chlorine to make sure your tan lasts longer.
Institut Esthederm No Sun Lotion
Unless we’re talking about brick walls, no sunscreen can block out rays entirely. However, for very high sun protection when it’s needed (such as for scar tissue or post-cosmetic skin treatments) Institut Esthederm’s No Sun Lotion is the go-to.
Best Sunscreen For Sensitive Skin
Weleda Edelweiss Sunscreen Lotion Sensitive SPF 50
If you have sensitive skin then, generally speaking, physical sunscreens are better than chemical sunscreens. Weleda’s sensitive mineral sunscreen comes in SPF 30, is free of nano filters (reef-friendly) and contains organic ingredients.
Best Organic Sunscreen
Green People Scent Free Sun Lotion SPF 30
Green People’s sun lotion ticks a lot of boxes: 84 per cent organic ingredients, marine life-friendly, good for sensitive skin, fragrance-free and comes in sugar cane-derived plastic packaging that hopefully won’t still be here 400 years from now.
Best Sunscreen For Acne-Prone Skin
Kiehl’s Ultra Light Daily UV Defense Aqua Gel SPF 50 PA++++
Acne-prone skin requires non-comedogenic (pore-clogging) formulas. We’re big fans of Kiehl’s original Ultra Light Daily UV Defense for everyday wear. This gel formulation is easier for normal and combination types to wear in warmer months and for oily skins to wear year-round.
Best Sunscreen For Tanning
Ultrasun Tan Activator for Body SPF 30
Let’s dispel a myth here: sunscreen won’t stop you from tanning. All SPFs allow you to tan, and a low SPF will let you change colour (burn) more quickly. To get off the ‘pale n’ pasty’ starting block quickly, use a self-tan with SPF to develop an artificial glow until your natural colour develops. Equally, a product like Ultrasun’s Tan Activator encourages natural melanin production while protecting the skin.
Best Sport Sunscreen
Lancaster Sun Sport Cooling Invisible Body Mist SPF 50
A refreshing spritz is always welcome on a hot tennis court or golf course. Even better, in the case of Lancaster’s Sun Sport Cooling Mist, is when it delivers ultra-broad, sweat-resistant protection and can be used directly on wet skin.
Best Sunscreen For Oily Skin
Jack Black Oil-Free Sun Guard Very Water Resistant SPF 45
It isn’t just faces that are at risk of getting congested when using sunscreen. Chests and backs that are prone to spotty breakouts should go for Jack Black’s oil-free formula that won’t budge – even on the ‘Big One’ at the waterpark.
Best Spray Sunscreen
Sisley Paris Milky Body Mist Sun Care SPF 30
Sunscreen sprays are ideal for full-body applications, cutting down time and mess. However, most guys have been burned (quite literally) at one time or another by missing out areas or not applying enough. Cream sprays make it easier to see if you’ve missed a bit, and this one from Sisley gives the skin a five-star treatment at the same time.
Best Sunscreen For Black Skin
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Invisible Fresh Mist Spray SPF50+
There’s a common misconception that black skin can’t burn, which can be a painful piece of misinformation. “While the risk of sunburn is lower in darker skin, precautions should be taken in the sun regardless,” says Dr Mahto. You’ll also want something that doesn’t leave white streaks on the skin, like La Roche-Posay’s excellent Invisible Mist.
Best Lip Balm With SPF
Aesop Protective Lip Balm SPF 30
It’s easy to forget about the lip area, but there are times when extra sun protection is needed for this sensitive area, especially for snow and water-based sports. A moisturising balm with an SPF will protect and prevent chapping, and won’t leave a horrible taste in your mouth like some lotions.