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The best sunscreen for your face

Young girl with eyes closed having sun cream put on her nose by mum
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Between late spring and early autumn, the UK can get a fair bit of sun, and us Brits are always keen to get out in it. Getting some sun on your face isn’t just good for your mood (and your tan) – it’s also a great way to top up your vitamin D level.

If you’re looking forward to getting outside this summer, just make sure you’ve stocked up on plenty of sun care essentials to keep your skin properly protected. And remember that when it comes to your face, having appropriate coverage is really important. Too much sun puts you at risk of skin cancer and noticeably ages the skin.

Do I need a separate sun lotion for my face?

Buying a separate sun lotion for your face isn’t essential. The NHS doesn’t provide any specific guidance for using separate sunscreens for your face and body, and you might find that using the same one is easier, cheaper, and more convenient.

However, using a separate sun lotion can be helpful if you have reactive or sensitive skin on your face. Some types of sun cream might not be suited to the skin on your face as they might cause breakouts of spots, dryness, or flare-ups of eczema. Buying a separate facial sun cream designed for sensitive skin can be a good way to avoid these problems.

Another benefit to having a separate facial sunscreen is that they tend to come in smaller, more portable sizes. This makes it easy to pop a bottle in your pocket or bag when you go out for the day, allowing you to top up when needed.

What should a facial sunscreen contain?

UVA and UVB protection

All sunscreens should offer protection against UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are responsible for premature ageing and pigmentation, and they can also cause skin cancer. UVB rays cause redness and burning, and are responsible for most cases of skin cancer.

The level of UVA protection in a sun lotion is presented as a star rating out of five – if the UVA logo is in a circle, this means it meets EU standards. The level of UVB protection is presented as the numerical SPF rating.

The NHS recommends that a sunscreen should have:

  • An SPF of at least 30
  • At least a four star rating

Chemical absorbers vs mineral-based reflectors

Most sunscreens are chemical absorbers, which work by absorbing UV light. Common ingredients in this type of sunscreen are oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, and octocrylene. In some people these ingredients can cause skin irritation.

The alternative type of sunscreen is a mineral-based reflector, which reflects UV light – this type tends to be better for sensitive skin e.g. skin prone to eczema. If you want to try a mineral-based reflector, look for a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

One thing to note is that mineral-based reflectors can leave a white cast on the skin, which may be particularly noticeable on the face.

How should I apply sun cream to my face?

Sun cream should be applied to any exposed areas of the skin when you’re going to be out in the sun. This includes your ears, lips and neck, not just your face. If you’re going to be out for long enough to burn, the NHS recommends applying twice: 30 minutes before you leave, and then once again right before you go out.

The British Skin Foundation recommends applying half a teaspoon of sunscreen to your face and neck. This is probably more than you’re currently using, and it may feel like a lot, but just remember that full coverage is necessary to provide proper protection.

You’ll want to reapply regularly – the standard guidance is every two hours. If you’re sweating a lot, wiping your face, or going in the water you’ll want to reapply it even more regularly. Even water-proof sunscreens need to be reapplied throughout the day.

Can I use a facial moisturiser containing SPF instead of sunscreen?

You may already use a facial moisturiser that has SPF, and find this more convenient to use than a separate sunscreen.

Just make sure your moisturiser offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays. If you can only see a reference to the SPF rating on the label, and not the level of UVA protection, then it probably doesn’t provide all the protection you need. If you’re going out in the sun it’s best to apply a facial sun cream over your moisturiser.

What is the best sun cream for the face?

The best sun cream for your face will depend on your skin type:

  • If you have sensitive skin, a product containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide may be best. You should also look for products labelled for sensitive skin.
  • If you have very fair skin that burns easily, it’s best to use an SPF of 50.
  • Even if you dark skin, an SPF of 30 is still recommended.

We stock a wide range of sun creams, including:

How else can I protect my face in the sun?

In addition to wearing sunscreen, you should cover up when you’re in direct sunlight. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is a really good way to protect your face, ears and neck. During the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm) try to spend time in the shade, and remember to stay hydrated too.