Summer is by far my favourite season. I’m happiest when I’m on the beach, warmed by the sun and wrapped in a towel, with the crunchy feeling of dried saltwater on my skin and in my hair.
Sadly for a sun worshipper like me, this scenario breaks every rule in the beauty book. As a beauty editor, I know better than anyone about the damage the sun causes. Not only does it prematurely age your skin, but in Australia, (as you probably know) we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
Which is why I’ve made it my personal mission to discover exactly which sunscreens are most effective – leaving me to indulge my guilty pleasure safely (and with the help of an array of oversized hats and cover-ups). Over the past few weeks, I’ve called in a range of sunscreens to bring you the definitive (and no-bullshit) guide to the very best. I’ve also addressed a few common SPF questions.
Your burning (or not-so-burning!) sunscreen questions:
What’s the difference between chemical vs physical sunscreen?
Chemical formulas absorb into the skin and then absorb UV rays, convert them into heat and then expel them from our bodies. Meanwhile, physical sunscreens sit on top of your skin and reflect the sun’s rays. They are usually a little more difficult to rub in (but the formulas are improving).
Do I really need to wear SPF every day?
YES! The Australian Cancer Council recommends sun protection whenever the UV levels reach 3 or higher. To give you an idea, in Australia, the average summer day has a UV index of around 12-14. You can tabs on UV levels with (free) Sunsmart app (and be warned: UV levels have nothing to do with the temperature).
Are you really expected to reapply sunscreen over your make-up at lunchtime?
The short answer? Yes. “If the maximum UV index is going to be 5 or over (which is most places in Australia at most times of year),I’d definitely recommend reapplying before stepping outside and picking up your lunch or going for a walk to get a coffee,” says Ultra Violette founder and SPF expert Ava Matthews. She adds that even 15 minutes of unprotected exposure can cause damage.
So, ahem, how? Reapplication can be tricky, Matthews admits, but there are SPF sprays and mineral powders that can be used over make-up (like Ella Bache Great spf 50 Sunglow Spray and Colorscience Sunforgettable Total Protection Brush SPF 30). “Our Queen Screen can be reapplied over makeup with a sponge and pressed on to the skin. We are actually working on something to help make this easier!” Stay tuned….
Do you need SPF while driving?
Yes. UVB rays (burning rays) don’t penetrate glass but UVA rays (the ageing rays) “absolutely do”, says Matthews. In other words: to avoid wrinkles and fine lines, wear sunblock in the car (especially on the backs of your hands if driving).
What is a ‘reef safe’ sunblock?
Good question. There is growing evidence that chemical sunscreens can harm coral reef systems. That’s why many tropical resorts, like those in Fiji, encourage tourists to wear “reef-safe sunblock”, and why Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate (which are the two main culprits causing coral bleaching and baby coral deformations) altogether.
Horrifyingly, a single drop of chemical sunscreen can pollute an area the size of six Olympic swimming pools. Imagine the impact of thousands of swimming bodies on packed beaches up and down the Aussie coastline in summer…
And now for the PRIMER guide to the best sunscreens…
BEST FOR FACE (AND UNDER MAKE-UP): Ultra Violette Clean Screen Mattifying Mineral Sunscreen
I have really sensitive skin on my face, so a lot of sunscreens make me react or breakout. But this mineral (physical) formula is perfect for me. I wear it on top of my serums and underneath my foundation (in summer I don’t bother with moisturiser when I’m wearing spf). I also have a tube for touch-ups-on-the-go and I press it gently over my foundation during the day.
Honourable mentions: La Roche Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid 50+ comes a very close second. (This is the sunscreen that fellow PRIMER beauty editor Sherine swears by). Hunter Lab’s SPF50+ mineral sunscreen stick, which is lightweight and rolls on without any white residue, is another brilliant option for your face – and easy to throw in your beach bag or handbag.
Honourable (tinted) mentions: Rationale Beautiful Skin Superfluid SPF 50 the perfect no make-up make-up blend – but to wear it on its own I need to be having a very good skin day. Invisible Zinc Sheer Defence Tinted Moisturiser SPF 50 is an oldie but a goodie, more suited to dryer skin types as it’s quite creamy – but it has a beautiful glow-y finish.
BEST FOR THE BEACH: La Roche-Posay Anthelios Wet Skin Sunscreen SPF 50+
‘Wet’ sunscreens (i.e. you can apply them to wet or dry skin) are relatively new to market. So, in the name of research I was keen to test this new one out. It provided max SPF protection and is a fragrance-free, lightweight gel that feels more like a cream (no stickiness). There were no white slime-y smears on wet or half towel dried skin and I like that the brand is renowned for being suitable for sensitive skin and is backed by leading dermatologists around the world.
Honourable Mentions: Before discovering La Roche-Posay while researching this story, SunBum 50+ Original was my beach bag staple and will continue to be on high rotation this summer. I love that it’s Oxybenzone Free & Octinoxate Free, Cruelty Free, Vegan, Oil Free, Paraben Free, Gluten Free and PABA Free.
BEST FOR SENSITIVE SKIN + KIDS: We Are Feel Good Inc Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50+
Kids are the harshest critics. My little tribe constantly complain about sunscreen being smelly, sticky, shiny and ghost-y. But all three agree on this one. They love that it doesn’t smell like anything and it’s not too greasy. While it’s a chemical sunscreen, it is oxybenzone and octinoxate free (and therefore reef-safe).
Honourable mentions: Baby Bum Premium Natural Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30+ rubs in, offers a moisturised sheen and is gentle enough for little beach lovers.
BEST FOR EXERCISING: Invisible Zinc Sport Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+
This is by far the thickest and creamiest formula. You really need to give it a good rub for a transparent finish but it’s perfect for swimming, water sports, perspiring and exercising outdoors. You may remember wearing fluoro zinc on your nose back in the day, well this physical sunscreen works exactly the same way, however, thanks to technology the zinc particles are now microscopic.
BEST FOR LIPS: Lanolips Tinted Lip balm in Nectar SPF30
It’s easy to forget your lips, but lip cancer is a thing – which is why you should consider a lip sunblock. I’ve been a Lanolips loyal supporter since launch and love the subtle peachy tint in the new ‘nectar’ shade, the super-hydrating formula and glossy balm-like finish, not to mention a whole lot of SPF protection, too.
Honourable mentions: Ultra Violette Sheen Screen SPF 30 Hydrating Lip Balm in Nude: like a tinted treatment for lips with added protection.